May 18, 2021

Senator Haskell Votes for Criminal Justice Reform, Public Health Reform and Domestic Violence Prevention

HARTFORD, CT – Today, State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport) joined the Senate in approving three significant bills that build a safer and more just Connecticut. Senate Bill 1, “An Act Equalizing Comprehensive Access to Mental Health Behavioral and Physical Health Care in Response to the Pandemic,” declared racism a public health crisis, addresses public health disparities and ensures our state is better prepared for future pandemics. Sen. Haskell additionally voted in favor of Clean Slate legislation, designed to automatically erase the criminal records of those who have served their time and not committed another crime. This bill will reduce recidivism, prohibiting discrimination against previously incarcerated individuals in areas like employment, education and housing. Finally, the Senate approved legislation that empowers courts to protect survivors of domestic violence, including those who suffer from repeated threatening, humiliating or intimidating behavior that deprives them of freedom and autonomy. This legislation establishes legal aid for domestic violence victims with restraining orders, ensuring they have an advocate beside them in the courtroom.

“SB 1 is a promise to the people of Connecticut: we will not be caught unprepared by another public health crisis. This bill ensures that we stock up on Personal Protective Equipment, evaluate where our public health strategy fell short, and address the longstanding inequalities of our healthcare system,” said Sen. Haskell. “We know that the life expectancy for black men is shorter than it is for the population-at-large. Now, it’s time to do something about it. As we start to emerge from this pandemic that has disproportionately harmed communities of color, it’s hard to imagine a more critical initiative for the state senate to take on.”

SB 1 is a comprehensive bill that evaluates our state’s response to COVID-19, takes steps to ensure we are more prepared for the next crisis, and declares racism a public health crisis. The bill also creates a commission on Racial Equity in Public Health to document and make recommendations to decrease racially disparate outcomes in public health.

The bill also addresses health equity by requiring the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to develop a mental health toolkit to help employers support employee mental health needs that have arisen due to COVID-19. SB 1 supports women’s health by convening a working group that will advance breast health and breast cancer awareness and require the Department of Public Health to consider establishing a state certification process for doulas.

According to Pew Charitable Trusts article from June of 2020, “Black women are up to four times more likely to die of pregnancy related complications than white women. Black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police as white men. And the average life expectancy of African Americans is four years lower than the rest of the U.S. population.” Also, per Pew, “pervasive racism is the cause,” for these inequities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also commented on the issue, “racism—both interpersonal” and structural, negatively affects the mental and physical health of millions of people, preventing them from attaining their highest level of health, and consequently, affecting the health of our nation.”

“I believe in second chances, and so do most of my constituents,” said Sen. Haskell. “The Clean Slate bill is about helping those who have served their time behind bars succeed after their release, allowing them to find a job, secure housing and apply for an education without facing discrimination.”

Senate Bill 1019, referred to as the “clean slate” bill, would automatically erase the criminal records of previously incarcerated individuals convicted of certain crimes after a determined amount of time has passed without another conviction. The bill impacts convictions that occurred on or after January 1, 2000. A previously convicted individual would have to petition for erasure of offenses that took place prior to 2000.

  • Eligible misdemeanors would be automatically erased after seven years from last conviction
  • Eligible Class D or E felonies and unclassified felonies punishable up to 5-year prison sentences would be erased after 10 years from last conviction

Convictions involving Class A, B, and C felonies, family violence crimes or sexual offenses would not be eligible for automatic erasure. Under Senate Bill 1019, certain illegal drug possession convictions before October 1, 2015 would not be considered the last conviction when determining if enough time has gone by for erasure. For example, convictions could be possession of under four ounces of cannabis or an amount of non-narcotic or non-hallucinogenic drugs. This is due to a law effective in October 2015 that changed most forms of such convictions from being felonies to Class A misdemeanors. The automatic erasure provisions would take effect on January 1, 2023. Individuals would still have the option to seek a pardon and erasure, under the current pardon application system in Connecticut, before the automatic erasure time threshold is reached or if the conviction(s) are not eligible for automatic erasure.

If the bill is signed into law, Connecticut would join states including Utah and New Jersey that have passed “clean slate” laws.

“Domestic violence is an issue that impacts every Senate district, and I’m so grateful for the work of Senator Kasser and Senator Flexer in ushering this through the Senate,” said Sen. Haskell. “These laws help to build a justice system that respects the safety and dignity of survivors, ensuring they can participate in court proceedings remotely, have access to counsel and ensure their locks are changed in a timely manner.”

SB 1091 is the result of months of work by Democrats to update Connecticut’s domestic violence laws to allow more favorable and fair treatment of victims seeking restraining orders, divorce, child custody, and other matters in family court. If passed by the House and signed into law by the governor, Connecticut would join at least 17 states that have already incorporated more than physical violence into the criteria necessary for issuing a restraining order.

SB 1091 creates a more efficient restraining order process, allowing victims to email marshals the forms needed to serve a restraining order on the alleged abuser. Currently, the forms must be physically delivered by the applicant to the courthouse. The bill also allows victims the option of testifying remotely in court proceedings — and not in presence of their alleged abuser — if they have a hearing for a restraining order, a protective order, or a standing criminal protective order.

The bill requires that a safe space be provided to victims of family violence in all court locations constructed after July 1, 2021; it allows the state Department of Social Services to expedite general assistance to victims of domestic violence by not factoring in the income of the alleged abuser when determining the amount of assistance available to them; it requires court officials to consider cash-only bonds when previous family violence court orders have been violated; and it establishes a process for tenants to change the locks on their apartments after obtaining a protective order or a restraining order.

The bill’s creation of a new, so-called “Civil Gideon” program will, through the Connecticut Bar Foundation, provide grants to non-profits to provide legal services in the five judicial districts with the highest number of applications for restraining orders: Fairfield (Bridgeport), Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk and Waterbury.