Bills advance on civil rights, solitary confinement, gun control

The State Capitol

The State Capitol

Carol Kaliff / Carol Kaliff

HARTFORD — Legislative action is fast and furious in the waning days of the 2021 session. Here are some brief recaps of legislation from the state Capitol on Friday.

The Senate voted 26-9 to allow the state attorney general to pursue cases of civil rights violations. It heads to the House.

Attorney General William Tong hailed the bipartisan vote in the Senate as “an historic step forward for civil rights enforcement in our state.”

The vote comes just days after the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, amid a rise in anti-Asian violence, bigotry and acts of antisemitism, and as authorities investigate “heinous nooses” hanging from an Amazon construction site. Those are reminders, Tong said, “that we can never take our civil rights and liberties for granted.”

Solitary confinement bill goes to the House

The Senate also voted 26-10 Friday to pass a bill that would prevent the Department of Correction from ordering solitary confinement for more than 72 hours within a 14-day period. The bill, which now heads to the House of Representatives, would require the DOC to first de-escalate crisis situations and use less-restrictive measures on the incarcerated.

It culminates a multi-year effort by state Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, who brought in boxlike rooms to the Capitol building for passersby to sit inside for a simulation of solitary confinement — complete with an eerie soundtrack.

“I have spent hours in the cell and I have to tell you then, in not too long a period of time … I became disoriented,” Winfield said in the Senate debate. “It’s impossible to keep track of time. You lose sense of things that are important to have as a human being. This is about the way in which we treat people who have done things to land in prisons, but are still human beings.”

Law based on Dulos case wins final approval

Heading to Gov. Lamont’s desk is a law to expand the criminal definition of domestic violence to include non-physical violence or "coercive control." If signed into law, the expanded definition of domestic violence, which includes a pattern of threatening, humiliating, or intimidating acts that harm a person and deprive them of their freedom, autonomy and human rights, will apply to restraining orders, divorce and custody cases.

The bill also establishes a new program to provide legal representation for victims of domestic violence who apply for restraining orders. And if a victim receives a restraining order, and rents her home, she now has the right to change her locks to keep her home safe. The bill also allows someone to be charged for a hate crime if they assault a person "in substantial part" because of their race, religion, country of origin or sexuality.

The bill was inspired in large part by the high profile case of New Canaan mother Jennifer Dulos who vanished in May 2019 and whose estranged husband was charged in her death and disappearance before his own death. The couple had been engaged in a lengthy divorce battle.

“Let’s not think about one victim of domestic violence or even two victims of domestic violence, but as been said, this is an issue that affects so many in so many communities around our state and have for so long,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, prior to the 134-8 House vote.

‘Red-flag’ legislation heads to Lamont

After little debate, the Senate adopted a measure strenthening Connecticut’s so-called red flag legislation. First adopted more than 20 years ago, the measure would make it easier for law enforcement to obtain court orders and seize firearms as well as other deadly weapons from people whose family members or medical professionals fear could harm themselves or others — before a crime is committed.

The vote was 23-12 on party lines, with Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, absent. The House has already approved the measure, which now goes to the governor’s desk.

John Kissel, R-Enfield, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said “ample laws regarding gun regulations and rules” already exist in Connecticut and the bill, as proposed, is an “encumbrance on individuals’ constitutional rights.”

“On balance, I just think that lawful gun owners have done more than their fair share over the past couple years,” Kissel said. “I don’t see any need at this point in time for new gun laws.”