A Recap of the Legislative Session

The General Assembly wound up its annual work on June 3, 2015.  As in all years, much was done and much was left undone when the clock struck midnight.  The legislature met on June 29 and 30 in special session to address what it hadn’t quite gotten to earlier.  Here are a few takeaways on how the CHRO was affected.

New CHRO Employees

I’ve seen some articles and blog posts recapping the session, but the biggest impact on the CHRO escaped everyone’s notice (except ours)!  H.B. 7061, the state’s biennial budget, added funding for roughly 11 new positions, around $1,000,000 in salary and benefits.

Removal of the Municipal and Quasi-Public Agency Exemption

The budget implementer explained why: the current exemption for state-funded municipal public works contracts and quasi-public agency projects is no longer.  With the repeal of the exemption, the new employees—investigators and attorneys—are targeted to review, monitor and enforce compliance with contracting rules that already apply to other state public works contracts.

With this much needed change—a priority both of the CHRO and the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus—state contracting requirements will at last follow state dollars.  This will provide a boost to small businesses as well as minority and women-owned business enterprises that have been too often shut out of state contract awards.

CHRO’s Case Processing Enhancements

Although S.B. 1111, the CHRO’s legislative proposal, was not reported out of the  Judiciary Committee, media reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.  The CHRO expected the bill to resurface later in the session–there was no suspense here.  Sure enough, in something of a nail biter in the final hours of the last day of the regular session, a modified version of a section of S.B. 1111 known as Senate Schedule B was attached as an amendment to S.B. 446.  Governor Malloy signed S.B. 446 and it is officially known as Public Act 15-249, effective October 1, 2015.

Looking at Senate Schedule B, it is easy to see why the budget implementer picked up on the missing sections of S.B. 1111 (repackaged as LCO 8223).  Senate Schedule B refers to various statutes—CONN. GEN. STAT. §§ 46a-82 and 46a-84, to mention two—as being amended by this act.  But they[‘re not.  The only statute amended by Schedule B is CONN. GEN. STAT. § 46a-83.

The most likely explanation, which we got from a legislative staff member, is that Senate Schedule B was intended to be Senate Schedule C, and LCO 8223 should have been adopted first as Senate Schedule B.  That would account for the missing statutory amendments.  In the rush to beat the clock, LCO 8223 was accidentally overlooked.  The implementer restored it to its rightful place.

S.B. 446 removes the exemption for domestic workers effective January 1, 2016 found in the definition of “employee”.  Connecticut will join the states that extend the protection of law to persons in the domestic service.

The changes made to CHRO case processing by P.A. 15-249 are relatively modest.  Commission legal counsel will now be responsible for reconsiderations and early legal intervention determinations, not the executive director or designee.  But the Legal Division has been the designee for these decisions all along; this is simply a case of statutory language catching up with agency practice.

Time frames for serving complaints and for conducting the renamed case assessment reviews (from merit assessment reviews) have been shortened to conform to EEOC regulations and reflect efficiencies brought about by P.A. 11-237 and better case management.

The requirement that mediations and investigations be conducted by different persons will hardly be noticed.

The ambiguity surrounding who may issue investigatory subpoenas has been resolved.  (CONN. GEN. STAT. § 46a-83(h) says only that it is the “commission”.  Does that mean the nine-member body appointed under CONN. GEN. STAT. § 46a-52 or does it mean a CHRO employee like a commission legal counsel?)  From now forward, it will be a commission legal counsel.  This little-used provision may see greater emphasis because of the failure of many respondents to comply with the CHRO’s requests for information (called a “Schedule A”).

P.A. 15-249 introduces a new concept called pre-answer conciliation.  Present state law allows the parties to engage in alternate dispute resolution at their own expense, but the CHRO generally requires an answer to be filed first.  Few parties took advantage of it.  The CHRO hopes the new cost-free process will lead to quicker resolution and save employers expenses.

Two other sections of S.B. 1111 also found their way into the budget implementer.  These sections were part of LCO 8660, an uncalled amendment to H.B. 6086, “An Act Expanding the Set-Aside Program to Include Municipalities”.  H.B. 6086 was reported out of the Government Administration and Elections Committee, but could not be acted on before the end of the session.  It remained unfinished business for the special session and the budget implementer.  (A parallel bill originating in the Senate, S.B. 831, “An Act Eliminating the Municipal Exemption from the Contract Compliance Requirements in State Contracts”, was reported out of the Judiciary and      General Administration and Election Committees, but died in Appropriations.)

Unpaid Interns are Protected from Sexual Harassment

Already signed into law by Gov. Malloy, P.A. 15-56 (S.B. 428) extends many of the protections enjoyed by paid employees to unpaid interns.  Connecticut joins states such as New York, Illinois and California in doing so.  As the CHRO said in our testimony before the Labor and Public Employees Committee, “Interns are easily victimized.  They undertake months of free labor hoping to gain real world experience and make connections in their chosen fields.  They do not come to work to be sexually harassed or called foul words because of their race or color.  They may need  accommodation because of a mental or physical disability….Thank you for your willingness to correct this oversight in Connecticut statutes.”

After October 1, 2015 it will be illegal for an employer to sexually harass an intern; to retaliate against an intern for opposing a discriminatory practice or for participating in a CHRO proceeding; and to refuse to hire, discharge or discriminate against an intern in such things as the terms and conditions of employment because of race, color, religious creed, age, sex, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, intellectual disability, learning disability or physical disability, including but not limited to blindness.  Well done, Connecticut!

This legislative session will be remembered for its lifting of the municipal exemption, the protection of unpaid interns, and its increase in the agency’s position count.  Greater resources of oversight authority and treasure will help the CHRO make further strides in advancing the civil rights of all people in this state.