Martin M. Looney

Senate President Pro Tempore

Martin M. Looney

An Advocate for Us

February 22, 2024

HARTFORD – Today Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, Senator Mae Flexer, and Senator Doug McCrory announced Senate Democratic Caucus priority bills concerning domestic violence, education, and abortion. The press conference was the third of three press conferences this week regarding the caucus policy priorities for Senate Democrats.

“The Connecticut Senate Democrats will continue our leadership on issues of protecting victims of domestic violence, funding education, and protecting women’s rights to reproductive healthcare,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney. “We will once again bolster special education funding after increasing funding last session, expand upon a recent initiative to provide legal assistance for victims seeking temporary restraining orders, and propose a Constitutional amendment to shield the Roe v. Wade protections placed into statute in 1990. Each year brings new challenges and, at the same time, new opportunities for us to advocate for Democratic principles to address these issues and continue to meet the needs of the people who look to state government for assistance and support.”

“The Dobbs decision was the worst case scenario we could have imagined after Donald Trump installed his right-wing judges on the Supreme Court,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. “Since then women across America have endured relentless assaults on their healthcare choices by right-wing Republicans at the state level. However, those justices and conservative states have made clear that they will not stop with abortion and are currently targeting same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, in vitro fertilization, and the use of contraception. Through this Constitutional amendment we will not only be protecting abortion rights from a swing in control of the General Assembly but also so many other fundamental freedoms and rights that Connecticut residents expect.”


Senate Bill 4, An Act Concerning Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Deviance, will protect victims of domestic violence and sexual harassment through expanded legal assistance, civil remedies for the recipients of unsolicited nude photos, and new limits on nondisclosure agreements for victims of harrasment.

The bill will contain provisions including:

  1. A right of action for victims of cyberflashing, allowing them to seek a $500 civil penalty from offenders
  2. An expansion of an existing program that connects economically disadvantaged residents seeking temporary restraining orders with attorneys prepared to help
  3. A prohibition against settlement contracts that bar victims of sexual harassment from disclosing their experiences

Senate Bill 4 will provide victims of a form of online harassment known as cyberflashing a simple legal recourse to seek damages from their offenders. The bill establishes a private right of action, allowing recipients of unwanted photos of genitalia to sue the sender for an automatic civil penalty of $500, plus legal fees, to be paid by the offender.

The proposal mirrors similar laws passed recently in California and Virginia. States have increasingly sought to crack down on unsolicited “dick pics” as the prevalence of technology and direct messaging apps have contributed to an increase in the practice.

Studies have suggested that cyberflashing is widespread, unwanted and predominantly directed at women. A 2017 Pew Research study found that 53% of women ages 18 to 28 had reported receiving explicit images they had not asked for. Meanwhile, a 2018 national study by the online dating app Bumble found that roughly one-third of female users received unsolicited sexual images from senders they had not met and nearly all of them — 96% — were unhappy about it.

Senate Bill 4 seeks to give adult victims their day in court and the $500 automatic threshold eliminates the need for victims to demonstrate damages caused by the unwanted harassment.

Domestic Violence
A separate provision of Senate Bill 4 aims to help victims of domestic violence by expanding the scope of an existing program that provides legal assistance for low-income residents seeking temporary restraining orders.

The proposal builds on a 2022 law establishing a grant program, which supports non-profit groups that help to connect victims of domestic violence with lawyers immediately upon entering a courthouse to seek a restraining order. The program is administered by the Connecticut Bar Foundation.

“We’ve been leading in Connecticut on these issues, expanding access to legal assistance,” Sen. Flexer said. “Entering a legal process in a court can be incredibly intimidating, and anything we can do to help people obtain a restraining order is an important initiative in protecting victims of domestic violence.”

Senate Bill 4 calls for $600,000 to broaden the initiative by extending legal aid to victims applying for temporary restraining orders at courthouses in Danbury, Middletown, and Torrington.

The program is already assisting victims in the Judicial Districts of Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, Stamford-Norwalk, and Waterbury. In order to be eligible, residents must be considered indigent by the court, meaning they receive public assistance or have an income less than the federal poverty level.

The U.S. legal system has ensured since 1963 that defendants in criminal cases have access to legal counsel. Public defenders are provided to criminal defendants who can not afford a lawyer. The same is not true for civil cases, including serious cases that pertain to victims seeking restraining orders.

A 2016 study by the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice found that women with access to civil legal services in family law and protective order cases reported significant reductions in revictimization and improvements in their psychological and economic well-being.

This initiative enabled more than 300 people receive counseling and case assessments between March of 2022 and February of 2023. The assistance also has helped 237 people secure temporary restraining orders.

Nondisclosure Agreements
Senate Bill 4 would create new limits on workplace nondisclosure agreements in an effort to prevent these agreements from silencing victims of sexual harassment.

“People who stand up to sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace need to be supported for their bravery, not coerced into silence. This bill will ensure that all employers know that it’s morally and legally reprehensible to try and sweep sexual harassment and discrimination under the rug with an NDA,” Sen. Flexer said.

The bill would prevent settlements that resolve sexual harassment complaints from including nondisclosure agreements designed to prevent victims from disclosing details of the harassment as a condition for receiving compensation or continued employment.


Senate Bill 5, An Act Concerning School Resources, will bolster state support for Connecticut schools through a significant change in how the state funds special education, automatically enroll Baby Bond recipients in a child care subsidy program, and adopt forward-looking updates to the way students and teachers interact with technology. The bill contains proposals that will:

  1. Fully fund the special education Excess Cost Grant
  2. Automatically enroll children who receive a Baby Bond in the Care4Kids child care subsidy program for low and moderate income families
  3. Provide training on Artificial Intelligence and invest in an AI tool that protects student privacy
  4. Expand a pilot program currently teaching students responsible social media use through a curriculum on digital literacy
  5. Update records to ensure conformity between school blueprints maintained by first responders in case of emergencies

“This bill represents an important commitment to supporting special education costs in communities across Connecticut,” Sen. Doug McCrory, D-Hartford, said. “Through this investment and the introduction of safe tools to promote digital literacy, we are ensuring our students are well-prepared to thrive in a rapidly evolving world.”

Special Education Funding
Senate Bill 5, proposes to fully fund Connecticut’s Excess Cost Grant, ensuring that municipalities across the state receive the necessary financial support to provide high-quality education to students with disabilities.

Special education programs are a vital and costly responsibility that falls largely on municipalities. As a result, the enrollment of a student with special needs can have an unexpected impact on a local budget.

The Excess Cost Grant program is one of the ways by which the state of Connecticut assists towns and cities with the extra cost associated with educating students with special needs. Under the program’s formula, municipalities are meant to be reimbursed when an individual student’s education costs outpace 4.5 times the district’s per-pupil expenditures.

However, the formula has gone underfunded for years amid persistent fiscal pressures. In 2022, the legislature created a tiered reimbursement structure to ensure that the state’s poorest municipalities are given funding priority during years when appropriations are not adequate to fully fund the Excess Cost Grant formula.

Last year’s state budget included a $25 million boost for the program, increasing appropriations from roughly $156 million in fiscal year 2023 to more than $181 million in FY24. Despite this increase, funding fell well short of the $255 million necessary to fully fund Excess Cost in FY24.

Senate Bill 5 commits the state to doing better by students and their communities by ensuring that the Excess Cost Grant is fully funded as an entitlement program.

Automatic Care4Kids Enrollment 
Senate Bill 5 will pair Connecticut’s first-in-the-nation Baby Bonds investment initiative for kids who qualify for HUSKY health care at birth with its Care4Kids child care subsidy program for low and moderate income families.

This proposal is expected to be revenue neutral because the children who receive the bonds are already eligible to receive the child care subsidies. However, automatic enrollment will ease the process for eligible families.

Launched last year, the Baby Bonds program makes a $3,200 investment on behalf of every child whose birth was covered by HUSKY, Connecticut’s Medicaid program. The money is placed in a trust with the goal of giving eligible children more economic opportunities when they turn 18 years old. Between July 1 and Dec. 20 last year, the program invested on behalf of 7,810 babies.

Care4Kids helps to pay for child care services to support Connecticut families who earn less than 60% of the State Median Income. In order to be eligible, a child must be under the age of 13 or 19 if the child has special needs. As of November, there were 19,977 children enrolled in the program statewide.

Artificial Intelligence
Senate Bill 5 prioritizes student privacy while paving the way for the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in Connecticut schools. In an effort to provide a secure environment for educational growth, the bill calls for an investment in an educational AI tool that complies with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), a federal law that protects the privacy of student records.

These long standing privacy protections may prevent the use of widely available AI tools like ChatGPT, which rely on access to a wide range of data and may not be aligned with federal student privacy laws.

To maximize the benefits of AI in education, Senate Bill 5 also calls for the allocation of funds for comprehensive training programs for teachers and students. Under the bill, educators would receive specialized training on how best to utilize AI to enhance learning outcomes, while separate instruction would familiarize students with AI’s potential workforce development applications, equipping them with the skills needed for the jobs of tomorrow.

Social Media Curriculum
In recognition of the impact and potential pitfalls of social media on student life, Senate Bill 5 extends the Social Balance curriculum pilot program. This innovative online platform offers teachers and parents access to a wealth of resources and videos focused on developing students’ digital literacy skills, particularly those associated with navigating social media responsibly.

Although social media can help foster creativity and connections among young people, recent studies have linked its use by adolescents with several potentially deleterious effects.

Pew Research survey published in 2022 found that nearly half of teens reported experiencing cyberbullying. Meanwhile, a 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that habitual checking of social media by early adolescence may have neural implications on their psychological adjustment.

The Social Balance curriculum program seeks to help middle school and high school students harness the benefits of social media while recognizing its risks through a curriculum that prioritizes real-world relationships.

Senate Bill 5 would expand the Social Balance pilot program from 10 districts to approximately 50 schools across Connecticut. The state’s Regional Educational Service Centers will help expand the curriculum through school recruitment and teacher development.

School Safety
Understanding the critical importance of safety in educational settings, Senate Bill 5 requires that emergency responders have access to accurate and matching blueprints of schools, ensuring swift and coordinated responses in emergency situations.

This measure will ensure that fire fighters, EMS and police departments are not operating with outdated information when they respond to emergencies at Connecticut schools.

Amendment to the State Constitution Concerning Equal Rights, Reproductive Autonomy and Privacy

Despite Connecticut’s long legacy of strong, legislative support for abortion rights, state laws are always subject to the whims of future legislatures, enshrining abortion rights and other rights – such as marriage equality – in the state Constitution is a more concrete guarantee of personal freedoms for generations to come. Sen. Flexer said today that a bill to amend the Connecticut Constitution will be raised this session in the Government Administration and Elections Committee, which Sen. Flexer co-chairs.

The proposed constitutional amendment, “A Resolution Proposing an Amendment to the State Constitution Concerning Equal Rights, Reproductive Autonomy and Privacy,” was introduced in the GAE Committee on Wednesday as a joint resolution. Though the final language of the resolution has yet to be decided, it is expected to address not only abortion rights but other personal freedoms – such as marriage equality, interracial marriage, and the use of contraception – that had been considered settled Constitution law until a Trump-appointed U.S. Supreme Court recently implied otherwise.

Any proposed amendment to the state Constitution requires the approval of a three-fourths majority of each chamber’s membership in order to appear as a referendum question on the following year’s Election Day ballot, or it needs to be passed by a simple majority of both chambers in two different, consecutive General Assemblies in order to appear as an Election Day referendum question. The proposed change must then be approved by Connecticut voters.

“There is a very high bar for changing the state Constitution, as it should be. It should be reserved for matters of the utmost importance, such as abortion rights.” Sen. Flexer said. “Month after month, year after year, women in America have been the target of right-wing Republican attacks on their health care options. It’s gotten to the point where women have to flee extremist-led Red States under threat of criminal prosecution – just to have an abortion to save their life. Now we have some conservative Supreme Court justices talking about rolling back other American freedoms regarding who we can marry and whether we can use birth control. It’s dystopian. It’s not America. And we here in Connecticut are going to use every tool we have to fight to ensure that these types of right-wing public policy crimes against Americans will never, ever occur in our state. We’re drawing a bright line here in Connecticut with this Constitutional amendment.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which is a leading research and policy organization committed to advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, abortion laws in America have become fragmented and increasingly polarized based on state political party control. Many Republican states have abortion restrictions or bans in place that make it difficult, if not impossible, for women to receive health care, while others – like Connecticut and other New England states – have taken steps to protect abortion rights and access.

The Guttmacher Institute characterizes Connecticut as “protective” of abortion rights due to our laws. But almost half of American states – 21 out of 50 – are characterized as “most restrictive” or “very restrictive” by the Guttmacher Institute when it comes to state abortion policies since the Trump appointee-dominated U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade in June 2022, thereby eliminating the federal right to an abortion.

Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, West Virginia and South Carolina are all listed as “most restrictive,” while Arizona, Utah, Nebraska, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida are listed as “restrictive.”

For example, in Texas, abortion is completely banned with very limited exceptions. In South Carolina, abortion is banned after six weeks, and in Florida, abortion is banned at 15 weeks, prospective abortion patients are forced to get an ultrasound even if medically unnecessary, and state Medicaid coverage for abortion care is banned except in very limited circumstances.

The effects of Republican Party control over state abortion policies have been immediate and shocking.

In the January 2024 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers estimate that 65 000 rape-related pregnancies occurred in the 14 U.S. states that banned abortion after the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, with nearly half of those rape-related pregnancies occulting in Texas.

ProPublica reported in November 2023 that in at least 70 public cases across 12 states, women with pregnancy complications faced severe health risks and were denied abortion care or had treatment delayed due to Red State abortion bans. Some women nearly died or lost their fertility as a result.

The story of Kate Cox – the married Dallas mother of two who had to escape Texas for an abortion after receiving a lethal fetal diagnosis – was so compelling that she will now be President Biden’s guest at his State of the Union speech to Congress in March.

There is also concern about Trumps’ conservative U.S. Supreme Court – which are lifetime appointments – overturning other long-established personal freedoms in America.

In writing for the majority when overturning Roe v. Wade in June 2022, Justice Samuel Alito argued for a narrower interpretation of the rights guaranteed to Americans, noting that the right to an abortion was not spelled out in the Constitution. In a concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas went further, saying that other rulings similar to Roe – such as same-sex marriage and the right for couples to use contraception – should be reconsidered.

This moral minority of right-wing judicial opinion flies squarely in the face of America’s wishes. A June 2022 Gallup poll showed 70% of all American adults said same-sex marriages should be recognized by law as valid, while support for interracial marriages reached 94% in a September 2022 Gallup poll.

A FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey conducted June in 2022 found that 80-90% of all Americans approve of the use of condoms, birth control pills and IUDs for contraception, while 70% (including 62% or Republicans) approve of the use of emergency contraception medication like Plan B.

Contact: Kevin Coughlin | 203-710-0193 |
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