Ceci Maher

State Senator

Ceci Maher

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working Together For Our Communities

May 18, 2023

Sen. Maher Leads Passage of Comprehensive Priority Legislation Focused on Improving Children’s Health and Protecting Literary Freedom

HARTFORD, CT – State Senator Ceci Maher (D-Wilton) led passage of Senate Bill 2 “An Act Concerning the Mental, Physical and Emotional Wellness of Children”, priority legislation for the caucus that, among other important factors, aims to protect libraries from the onslaught of book bans that have been prevalent across the nation. The bill also contains several provisions crucial to fostering positive health and wellness for Connecticut children. Sen. Maher serves as Senate Chair for the Committee on Children, which passed this bill earlier in the legislative session, and said that this bill has great potential to help many throughout Connecticut.

“This is a good bill and I am glad it moves another step closer to becoming law,” said Sen. Maher. “In the past year, book bans have been used as a tool to further marginalize the LGBTQ and Black and Hispanic communities. These bans are also an attack on our freedom of speech and have no place in our state. SB 2 is a comprehensive bill that protects against politically fueled book bans, which has remained an issue over the past year.”

The American Library Association (ALA) recently reported last year there were 1,269 attempts to ban books across the country, a sizable increase from the 729 in 2021. Last year, Texas banned 801 books from July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022 according to Statista. Florida banned 560 books and Pennsylvania banned 457 last year as well. According to PEN America, Between August and November, Missouri banned nearly 300 books in at least 11 school districts. These bans are targeted specifically at books regarding the LGBTQ community and communities of color. According to PEN America, “more than 40% of the banned titles address lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer themes or have prominent queer characters.” Per Statista, “40 percent of banned titles featured protagonists or other key characters of color.”

Rewarding Libraries that Protect Literary Freedom

SB 2 enables libraries that prioritize and protect literary freedom, by establishing a system to review books that have been challenged via a policy set by their governing board, to have access to a state grant which could provide a library with approximately $1,300 to $3,000 per library.

Per the legislation, ” no principal public library shall be eligible to receive a state grant, if such principal public library does not maintain and adhere to collection development, collection management, and collection reconsideration policies which are approved by their governing body. The collection reconsideration policy shall offer residents a clear process to request a reconsideration of library materials. In the instance of a book challenge, these policies shall govern.”

Establishing the Office of the Behavioral Health Advocate

Per the bill, SB 2 establishes an Office of the Behavioral Health Advocate in the Insurance Department and sets forth their requirements and guidelines for appointment and to respond to vacancies. One employee must be an attorney. One must be a patient care navigator. The bill continues: the advisory committee for the Office of the Behavioral Health Advocate shall consist of seven members appointed legislatively and shall make an annual evaluation of the effectiveness of the Office of Behavioral Health Advocate.

Addressing Birth to 3

Per the bill language, “the bill makes permanent the $200 general administrative payment the Office of Early Childhood commissioner must make to certain Birth to Three early intervention service providers that will sunset under current law on June 30, 2024.” This will go into effect July 1, 2023, if signed into law. Under the bill and current law, the commissioner must make these payments to providers for each child: with an individualized family service plan on the first day of the billing month; whose plan accounts for less than nine service hours during the billing month, as long as the provider delivers at least one service during the month.

Help for At-Risk Teenagers

SB 2 makes it possible for the State Department of Education (SDE) to hire one full-time employee responsible for awarding a grant to, and collaborating with, a nonprofit organization specializing in identifying and providing services for at-risk teenage students with depression, anxiety, substance abuse struggles, and trauma and conflict-related stresses, per the bill language. The bill continues: the organization must use the grant to train school behavioral health providers to provide them services. The bill allocates $15,000, for the 2024 fiscal year, to SDE from the federal funds the state received under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to fund the awarding of a grant to a nonprofit organization to train school behavioral health providers to identify and provide services for these students. This will go into effect July 1, 2023, if signed into law.

Lowering licensure costs for mental health and behavioral health workers

The bill lowers the following licensure costs: initial Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) licenses are lowered from $315 to $200; LMFT associate licensure lowered from $220 to $125; License renewals for LMFTs are lowered from $320 to $200; License renewals for LMFT Associates are lowered from $220 to $125; they are currently renewed every two years, and they will now be renewed every year. The bill also adds to the number of times the LMFT-A license may be renewed to compensate for its shift to annual renewals.

Creating Mental Wellness Days

SB 2 requires employers to allow workers to use accrued paid sick leave for a “mental health wellness day” to attend to their emotional or psychological well-being. Currently, existing law allows service workers to use paid sick leave for their, or their spouse’s or child’s (1) illness, injury or health condition; (2) medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of a physical or mental illness, injury, or health condition; or (3) preventive care. Per bill language, the legislation applies to specified service worker occupations covered by existing law, they are as follows: certain food service industry jobs; health care; hospitality; retail; sanitation industry workers

If signed into law, this will go into effect on October 1, 2023

Due to the clear need for this bill, SB 2 received support during the public hearing period of the legislative session. Nicole Chen of Yale Dems spoke in favor of SB 2, saying, “this bill would allocate further resources towards improving children’s access to mental, physical, and emotional health services.” Chen added “this shortage of mental health services for children in Connecticut demands a solution. We should prioritize this issue, increasing funding along with access to professional services and training, in order to ensure children the chance at help.”

Sen. Maher stated: “The components of this bill ensure we’re continuing to provide the necessary resources and support to address the holistic health of our young people. I am proud of the work my caucus put into crafting a strong, necessary piece of legislation and I am optimistic it will be signed into law.”

The bill heads to the state House of Representative for further debate and action. It previously passed the Committee on Children by a 13-6 tally before landing in the state Senate.