Laying Down the Laws: 2012 state legislation impacting the private sector

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"">state capitol copy "">here 2102 draws to a close, Connecticut lawmakers are gearing up for a new legislative session.

Here’s a look at the consequences of some of "//">buy valium recent decisions, and the ups and down of the political process.

Paid Sick Leave

caduceus_flagOn January 1, 2012, Connecticut became the only state requiring some employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid sick leave to service workers.

Among other provisions, employees can earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours, with a maximum of 40 hours per year. They must work at least 680 hours before becoming eligible.

“People seem to be figuring it out,” says Jonathan B. Orleans, an attorney with Pullman & Comley. “There are a bunch of aspects we anticipated would cause some problems. It is difficult to know which employees are covered and which are not. There are issues about the rights of employees under the statute to carry over unused leave from one year to the next.”

As of late November 2012, however, only three complaints had been filed, according to state Department of Labor attorney Heidi Lane. One concerned an employee who wasn’t covered because he was a temporary worker. Another dealt with an employer who didn’t give a worker sick leave but, when informed about the law, immediately complied.

Lane attributes the lack of complaints to “lots and lots of training, in seminars and on the phone.”

“There are many questions from businesses still,” she acknowledges. “It seems to be they’re in compliance but they need to talk a little bit about how to handle certain things.

“A common one is an employee has already used 38 hours of paid sick leave. They have two hours left, but they take eight for a sick day. Our position is those two hours are protected and they could use the remaining six toward whatever attendance policy the employer has. Some have more generous policies, and employees can they take it in half-day increments.”

Many questions concern eligibility.

“The legislature only included 68 categories of service workers,” Lane says. A librarian is covered, for example, but a library aide or technician is not. Neither are truck drivers and mechanics.

For union members, if a collective bargaining agreement was in effect on January 1, the law doesn’t apply until their contract expires.

Another quandary is that the law works on a calendar year.

“A lot of employers use their own fiscal year,” Lane says. “That’s very hard for some employers because they sort of have to rewrite their policies for the paid sick employee.”


New Energy Plan

natural_gas_flame_money_zOn October 5, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy unveiled a major initiative emphasizing energy efficiency and greater access to cleaner sources of energy.

The Connecticut Comprehensive Energy Strategy aims to “make our state’s businesses more competitive, and it can ensure that we preserve and protect our environment for generations to come,” Malloy said in announcing his plan at a business energy conference co-sponsored by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association [CBIA].

A central part of the strategy is to increase the use of natural gas to 75 percent of businesses and more than 250,000 homes in the state over a seven-year span.

The proposal also recommends raising the charges on consumer electric bills paying for residential and commercial energy conservation programs, and retooling those programs to offer more incentives for higher-cost efficiency upgrades.

Connecticut lags behind other states in residential heating with natural gas, which has been cheaper than oil in recent years. Only 31 percent of Connecticut homes use it, compared with 48 percent in Rhode Island, 47 percent in Massachusetts and 70 percent in New Jersey.

A stumbling block is the price — it costs around $7,500 to convert to natural gas. The state already helps low-income families make the conversion, and the plan outlines ways to help others, through loans payable on utility bills.

“We’re very supportive of the overall theme of the strategy bringing cheaper, cleaner more reliable energy to Connecticut,” says Eric Brown, associate counsel at the CBIA. “There’s many good things in there that we think will make Connecticut more competitive in coming years and decades. Some details have to be worked out, such as how to fund it, but we are supportive of the initiatives to maximize energy efficiency and to expand access to natural gas in the state.”

Calling the initiative, “overall a solid and positive piece of work,” Brown adds that CBIA is eager “to work with stakeholders” on implementation.

“It’s all become possible with the creation of the agency [the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection] and the governor, who is very adamant about addressing our dubious position as one of the most expensive states to do business,” Brown says. “We’re excited about the prospects.

The Independent Connecticut Petroleum Association is less enthusiastic. The organization has criticized the strategy, citing concerns about too much emphasis on natural gas.

A series of public meetings and technical reviews ended in early December.

Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba says the draft plan will be finalized during the first week of January. The General Assembly will consider the proposed legislation when it convenes on January 9.


Budget Deficit

The state deficit looms larger than the $284 million estimate made back in May, when the legislature approved a $20.5 billion budget plan for fiscal 2013.

Deficit projections swelled to $365 million by November 28, when Gov. Malloy announced $170 million in cuts to more than 275 programs ranging from social services [$82 million] to magnet schools [$2 million] and UConn [$10.2 million].

Nearly a week later, on December 3, state comptroller Kevin P. Lembo hiked the deficit projection to $491 million, by adding another $50 million largely from Medicaid spending. Lembo’s calculation, however, does not take into account reduction of the deficit resulting from the governor’s recent emergency cuts.

As of press time, the General Assembly was expected to meet on the matter during the week of December 17.


Donovan’s Dashed Aspirations

Donovan_bannerThe state House Speaker’s bid for the 5th congressional district seat faltered in mid-August when former State Rep. Elizabeth Esty won the Democratic nomination. On November 6, Esty won the seat outright, defeating the Republican challenger, State Sen. Andrew Roraback.

A union-backed candidate, Christopher Donavan was heavily favored to prevail in the primary until May 31, when federal prosecutors announced the arrest of his campaign finance director Robert Braddock Jr. for alleged illegal fundraising. A federal grand jury investigation led to seven more arrests.


Medical Marijuana

medicalMarijuanaThe state’s Department of Consumer Protection is gearing up to implement legislation allowing the palliative use of marijuana for certain medical conditions, which became law on May 31.

“The doctors are the gatekeepers, and have to start the process by certifying that the patient is qualified,” explains department Commissioner William M. Rubenstein. Approved conditions include cancer, glaucoma multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, posttraumatic stress disorder and testing positive for HIV/AIDS. Qualified patients can register if they are Connecticut residents who are older than 18 and do not live in a correctional facility.

“As of October, we set up a temporary registration for qualified patients,” Rubenstein says. Around 65 people had registered as of late November.

The department has until July 1, 2013 to submit regulations regarding permanent patient registration, production and dispensing of marijuana.

In crafting those regulations, Rubenstein and his staffers are examining how other states have put similar legislation into practice. Since 1996, 17 other states and Washington, D.C. have enacted laws legalizing medical marijuana.

“We want to make sure we’re considering everything, so we can provide for a product that can guarantee quality and consistency, and that growing and dispensing places are safe from theft and diversion,” Rubenstein says. Medical marijuana, he adds, typically is produced from clones, not seeds, and is grown inside buildings rather than greenhouses.

Rubenstein hopes production will be underway before the end of 2013. “We can license up to ten growers, with a minimum of three,” he says.

As his department fields inquiries from aspiring producers, local municipalities are taking action.

Citing security and other concerns, the Bridgeport zoning commission recently turned down a proposal to grow marijuana in a warehouse.

In September, Canton’s zoning commission passed regulations authorizing the sale of medical marijuana only in pharmacies, and is considering others allowing indoor production of pot in industrial buildings. The Simsbury zoning commission is considering public feedback on the subject, such as whether the town might benefit from allowing marijuana growing.

“What we’re advising towns is to wait until they see the proposed regulations,” Rubenstein says. “A lot of their concerns and fears may be alleviated by looking at the regulations.”

Rubenstein anticipates a statutory requirement stipulating that the product can be sold only in pharmacies will be a problem. “We don’t think they will sell it,” he says, “because of a conflict with federal control substance law, [which does not recognize the use of marijuana for medical purposes].

One option could be “standalone dispensaries, which look and feel a lot like pharmacies.”

Under the new law, Rubenstein says, employers cannot discriminate against employees “merely because they’re a registered patient [authorized to use marijuana palliatively] but they’re free to set their own rules in the workplace.”

Jonathan B. Orleans, an attorney with Pullman & Comley does not believe “the impact on employers is going to be enormous.

“The most important thing is to recognize that this statute does not affect the employer’s right to prohibit the possession or use of marijuana in the workplace.”


Connecticut Health Care Exchange

The quasi-public agency was established on July 1, 2011 to meet the requirements of the federal Affordable Care Act (a/k/a Obamacare), which requires everyone to have health insurance purchased privately or through exchanges that must start enrolling customers in October 2013 for plans effective on January 1, 2014.

The Connecticut exchange will be an online marketplace to shop for health insurance plans.

Insurance rates will be based on a percentage of income, with subsidies for low-income residents.

Around 350,000 state residents are uninsured, according to recent estimates.

Using a  $107 million federal grant to help implement the law, Connecticut, along with 15 other states, is creating its own exchange. Others will use a federal health insurance exchange.

Connecticut’s exchange will offer four tiers of coverage–– bronze, silver, gold and platinum –– based on level of benefits. It also will have “navigators,” another federal requirement, to help consumers understand the system.

Connecticut Health Care Exchange CEO Kevin Counihan predicts the Nutmeg State’s exchange will be the “most sophisticated” exchange in the nation.

Under the federal law, employers with 51 or more employees face a $2,000 fine per employee for not providing insurance or a $3,000 penalty per employee if they drop insurance.

Rather than provide traditional health coverage, employers may choose to offer employees a monthly dollar amount to purchase their own “defined contribution” health plan through the exchange.

Steve Glick, president of Chamber Insurance Trust [CIT], which offers insurance services to businesses and chambers of commerce in Connecticut, says the chambers “are already developing a defined contribution program which will be the model for distribution of health care.”

Glick also said the state’s for-profit private carriers are going to have competition on the exchange from companies like Harvard Pilgrim, a non-profit health insurer, and HealthyCT, a new non-profit co-sponsored by the Connecticut State Medical Society.


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