Connecticut lawmakers suspend session, fail to pass artificial intelligence legislation, but pass mail-in voting reform

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers have entered the 2024 legislative session with hopes of passing one of the first major U.S. bills to stop artificial intelligence bias and protect citizens from harm.

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers have entered the 2024 legislative session with hopes of passing one of the first major U.S. bills to stop artificial intelligence bias and protect citizens from harm.

But a veto threat from Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, a former businessman who expressed concern that the legislation could stifle innovation and turn Connecticut into an outlier compared to other states, killed the bill in the final days of the session, which ended Wednesday evening.

“It’s disappointing that Connecticut is missing out on an opportunity for leadership in the artificial intelligence space,” said Democratic Sen. James Maroney, who has been working on the issue with lawmakers from across the U.S. for two years. He expressed optimism that something would happen in Connecticut next year.

The artificial intelligence legislation was one of several bills proposed during the short, three-month legislative session that sought to address major, important issues ranging from climate change to codifying abortion rights in the state constitution. It all fizzled after it missed a deadline to adjourn the Democrat-controlled General Assembly at midnight.

But lawmakers had some successes this session.

The legislation vindicated the General Assembly, which is making numerous nursing home reforms, including prohibiting facilities from placing new residents in rooms with more than two beds.

Additionally, on Wednesday evening, the Senate gave final approval to a bill that would address the proliferation of THC-containing drinks sold in convenience stores and other places. The regulations prohibit sales to people under 21 and only allow beverage sales at package stores or cannabis dispensaries, including those that sell both recreational and medical marijuana. Senators also voted to ban the use of synthetic cannabinoids in cannabis and prohibit their sale to licensed cannabis facilities.

Also late Wednesday, the Senate rushed to pass a bill to tighten mail-in voting rules after people were captured on video stuffing stacks of ballots into mailboxes in Bridgeport last year. The bill requires mandatory cameras monitoring drop boxes and better tracking of ballots, as well as new protections for election workers.

“I don’t think it goes far enough,” Republican Sen. Rob Sampson said of the bill, calling what happened in Bridgeport a “fiasco” that warrants stronger action. He tried to amend the bill to include requiring voters to show ID at the polls, but all four measures failed.

This session, lawmakers also passed a Democratic bill that updates Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation paid sick leave law from 2011 and requires all employers, including single-employee employers, to provide their employees with time off through 2027. The bill expects on Lamont’s decision signature.

House Speaker Matt Ritter, a Democrat, noted that the sick leave bill was “close to completion” last year and benefited from lawmakers knowing what might be passed this year. Other major accounts did not have this advantage.

“There are certain bills you can’t pay because of time,” he said.

Other high-profile proposals were also rejected Wednesday, including bills to cap the cost of e-books for libraries, expand protections for some tenants, ban the sale of energy drinks to children, ban admissions to public and private universities and provide benefits to Connecticut residents who work remotely for New York companies with a financial incentive to challenge their income tax laws in that state.

One reason for the failure of some ideas this year, including a push to extend the state’s HUSKY health insurance program for immigrants over age 15, may be Democrats’ unusual decision not to open the second year of the two-year budget passed last year.

Traditionally, the short legislative session is devoted primarily to second-year budget adjustments.

Instead, late Tuesday night, the Senate gave final legislative approval to a plan to spend at least $360 million of remaining federal Covid-19 funds on key areas including higher education, nonprofit social service agencies, public utilities and mental health care for children. health. The same bill also granted Lamont expanded authority to transfer money between state accounts.

“When we agreed not to open a budget and didn’t make one, we really limited what we could do,” Ritter said.

Republican lawmakers sharply criticized the decision not to reopen the budget. Some predicted Connecticut would now face future deficits, relying on one-time pandemic relief funds to cover operating costs.

“Democrats failed to do their job on the budget and left the difficult decisions up to the governor,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora. Democrats rejected that criticism.

In the final minutes of the session, Senate Republicans sharply criticized their Democratic colleagues for proposing an obscure bill to create a $3 million fund for low-wage workers, calling it a slush fund. Although Democrats did not explain the intent of the bill, which passed with only Democratic votes, a coalition of labor unions later praised the legislation as a step toward creating a relief fund for striking workers.

Susan Haigh, Associated Press