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August 5, 2019

Developments from the 2019 Session of the Connecticut General Assembly: New Laws Affecting the Schools (and Public Employers)

By Mark J. Sommaruga, Esq.

The 2019 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly passed major labor and employment legislation that addressed, inter alia, remedies for sexual harassment and employment discrimination and increases in the minimum wage.  In addition, our legislature passed significant bills affecting Connecticut schools, such as changes in 1) the school climate/bullying laws, 2) “special education” and related laws (with respect to “anti-retaliation provisions” and responsibility for Section 504 accommodations at magnet schools), and 3) the expulsions statutes.  As you will see, several of these enactments will require revisions of policies.   

This summary provides a concise description of the new laws (including a bill from the July “special session”), with relevant commentary regarding their .  For more detailed information regarding these legislative changes, please contact one of our attorneys

EDUCATION

SCHOOL CLIMATE

Public Act 19-166 (“An Act Concerning School Climates”), which was signed by the Governor on July 8, 2019, makes several changes to the school bullying and “safe climate” statutes.  Effective upon its passage, the Act creates a 33-member “social and emotional learning and school climate advisory collaborative”, which will be responsible for, among other things, developing a biennial state-wide school climate survey, a model positive school climate policy, a “plain language” notice of rights and remedies available for parents and guardians (which interestingly makes reference to the right to file a complaint with the State Board of Education under Connecticut General Statutes §10-4b), and a student suicide risk assessment.  The Act requires the State Department of Education to post on its website by August 1, 2021 the model policy and school climate survey that the collaborative develops.  In addition, boards of education will be required to post on their websites the “plain language” notice of rights and remedies available for parents and guardians by June 30, 2021.  The Act (confusingly) requires boards of education, in consultation with the collaborative and the State Department of Education, to provide on the “department” website certain training materials to school administrators regarding bullying prevention and intervention.

Effective July 1, 2021, the Act changes the definition of bullying to “an act that is direct or indirect and severe, persistent or pervasive, which 1) causes physical or emotional harm to an individual, 2) places an individual in reasonable fear of physical or emotional harm, or 3) infringes on the rights or opportunities of an individual at school”.  It is interesting that the term “student” has been replaced by “individual” and that the Act’s revised definitions of “school climate” and “positive school climate” now make reference to school employees; it is unclear whether this will lead to staff members being able to bring bullying claims.  The Act further specifies that when contacting parents and guardians whose children have been involved in bullying, the schools must let the parents know “the results of the investigation” into the alleged bullying incident (i.e., merely whether the incident was substantiated).  Schools will also be required to inform these same parents or guardians that they may refer to the “plain language” notice of rights and remedies on their websites.   

IMPACT: School districts may (eventually) need to revise their school climate plans/bullying policies in the future in order to conform to the afore-referenced changes.  School districts should also be on the lookout for the “plain language” notice of rights that will be drafted by the State, along with a model policy.

GRADUATION DATES AND SCHOOL CALENDARS

Public Act 19-195 (“An Act Concerning The Establishment Of A Firm Graduation Date And The Date For The First Day Of School Sessions”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, now allows boards of education to establish a firm graduation date for students in Grade Twelve for that school year which at the time of establishment provides for at least 180 days of school.

IMPACT: Besides the practical scheduling , school districts may need to revise any graduation or school calendar policies in order to conform to the afore-referenced revision.  Previously, school boards had to wait until April 1st to set a “firm” graduation date.

PHYSICAL EXERCISE AND “PLAY”

Public Act 19-173 (“An Act Concerning The Improvement Of Child Development Through Play”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (July 8, 2019), supplements the current physical exercise requirement for elementary school students by providing that local or regional boards of education are also permitted (but not required) to include an additional amount of time, beyond the 20 minutes required for physical exercise, devoted to “undirected play” during the regular school day.  The Act also creates a task force to study issues relating to and the feasibility of including time devoted to undirected play during the regular school day in public elementary schools, with the task force to then submit its findings and recommendation to the General Assembly by January 1, 2020.

IMPACT: While greater revisions may be in the offing based upon the task force’s report, school districts may need to revise any physical exercise policies if they wish to utilize the above mentioned “undirected play” option. 

SCHOOL COUNSELORS

Public Act 19-63 (“An Act Concerning A Comprehensive School Counselor Program”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires the State Board of Education, in collaboration with the Connecticut School Counselor Association, to adopt guidelines for a comprehensive school counseling program by July 1, 2020.  The guidelines would “ensure that all students have access to a comprehensive school counseling program that provides academic, social-emotional and post-secondary and career readiness programming by a certified school counselor with adequate training.”

HOMELESS STUDENTS

Public Act 19-179 (“An Act Concerning Homeless Students’ Access To Education”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, codifies the protections that homeless students receive under the federal McKinney-Vento Act and state student residency statutes. The Act provides that with respect to a school district denying school accommodations due to a claim that the student is homeless, the party claiming ineligibility based on residency shall have the burden of proving that the party denied schooling is not a homeless child by a preponderance of the evidence. The Act expressly provides that whenever a homeless child’s residency appeal is denied by a local or regional board of education, the child shall continue in attendance or be immediately enrolled in the school selected by the child in the school district. In those circumstances, the board of education shall 1) provide the homeless child (or his/her parent or guardian) with a) a written explanation of the reasons for the denial of accommodations that is in a manner and form understandable to the child or parent or guardian, and b) information regarding the right to appeal the decision of the denial, and 2) refer the child (or his/her parent or guardian) to the school district’s McKinney-Vento/homeless student liaison.

IMPACT: School districts may need to review and revise (if necessary) residency and McKinney-Vento/homeless student policies in order to conform to the afore-referenced revisions. 

CURRICULUM

The General Assembly has passed several curriculum related bills. Public Act 19-12 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of African-American Studies In The Public School Curriculum”), which was signed by the Governor on June 21, 2019, adds African-American and black studies and Puerto Rican and Latino studies to the required programs of study for public schools and requires all boards of education to include these topics in their curriculum commencing with the 2021-22 school year. 

Public Act 19-128 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of Computer Science Instruction In The Public School Curriculum, Programs Of Teacher Preparation And In-Service Training Programs For Teachers), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, specifically adds computer science to the mandated programs of studies/curriculum to be offered by the public schools.  However, this Act also makes several revisions to teacher preparation and certification laws relating to computer science and subject shortage areas.  The Act requires teacher preparation programs leading to professional certification to revise their computer science curriculum to ensure that they are grade level and subject area appropriate.  The Act requires the Office of Higher Education (in collaboration and consultation with the State Department of Education) to develop an alternate route to certification program for computer science teachers.  The Act requires the State Board of Education to 1) adopt regulations by July 1, 2020 with respect to computer science teaching certification standards so as to create a computer science endorsement; 2) approve and adopt by January 1, 2020 a computer science subject area assessment for teacher certification; 3) beginning July 1, 2020, allow computer science certificate applicants or currently certified teachers in other subject areas seeking to teach computer science to substitute a satisfactory score on the assessment for the subject area certification requirements; and 4) beginning July 1, 2020, allow applicants for teacher certification in any subject shortage area to substitute achievement of a “satisfactory” score (as opposed to the current “excellent” score requirement) on the subject area assessment for the State Board of Education’s usual subject area certification requirements.  The Act requires that the “student success plans” created by local and regional school districts for their Grade 6 (and older) students consider career and academic choices in computer science, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The Act establishes the “computer science education account” in the General Fund.

Additionally, the Act allows the Department of Economic and Community Development (within available appropriations) to develop by July 1, 2020 a model internship program to help Connecticut businesses provide college internships in the fields of technology and advanced manufacturing; the Department shall make the model available on its website.  The Act adds computer science to the list of training and job placement areas in the Connecticut Employment and Training Commission’s statewide plan for implementing, expanding, or improving upon career certificate, middle college, early college high school, and Connecticut Early College Opportunity programs.  The Act allows the DECD to identify and coordinate state resources to meet the needs of industries with anticipated job growth areas.

MORE ON MANUFACTURING

Public Act 19-58 (“An Act Promoting Careers In Manufacturing To Public School Students And Establishing A Task Force To Study The Demand For Career And Technical Education Teachers”) which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, provides that guidance counselors and school counselors may provide materials concerning manufacturing, military and law enforcement careers when discussing career options with students.  The Act further requires local and regional boards of education to develop goals for career placement for students choosing not to pursue an advanced degree.  The Act amends the requirement for school district mandated “success plans” for each student (beginning in Grade 6) by providing that such success plans must  provide evidence of career exploration in each grade including, but not limited to, careers in manufacturing.  The Act accordingly requires the State Department of Education to revise and issue to local and regional boards of education guidance regarding changes to such student success plans.  Finally, the Act requires the Commissioner of Education (in consultation with the executive director of the Office of Higher Education and the chairperson of the Technical Education and Career System’s board) to conduct a study relating to the demand for career and technical education teachers in the state's technical high schools, traditional public high schools and community college advanced manufacturing technology centers.  The Commissioner shall then submit a report regarding this study to the General Assembly by February 1, 2020.

Public Act 19-103 (“An Act Establishing A Pilot Program For The Expansion Of Advanced Manufacturing Certificate Programs”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires the Board of Regents for Higher Education (on or before January 1, 2020) to establish a pilot program for the expansion of the advanced manufacturing certificate programs to public high schools.  The Board of Regents shall establish the criteria for selecting the schools, which shall include, among other things, a focus on economically distressed communities and areas where there is a need for a workforce trained in advanced manufacturing.  The Board of Regents may not select more than one public high school per year in which to establish such a program.  Any local or regional board of education, separately or jointly may apply to participate in the pilot program; each board of education selected to participate in the program shall then enter into a memorandum of understanding for the operation of the advanced manufacturing certificate program with the Board of Regents. Beginning in the fall of 2020, each advanced manufacturing certificate program shall enroll 1) public high school students in Grade Eleven or Twelve from the school districts that have entered into the memorandum of understanding to simultaneously earn high school credits from the public high school and college credits and an advanced manufacturing certificate from the regional community-technical college or independent institution of higher learning chosen by the Board of Regents to operate the program, and 2) adults for classes during the evening and weekend hours to earn such an advanced manufacturing certificate. The Board of Regents for Higher Education shall report annually to the General Assembly on the operation and effectiveness of the pilot program and any recommendations to expand the program.

SCHOOL “ACCOUNTABILITY”

Public Act 19-130 (“An Act Concerning The Opportunity Gap), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, expands the use of priority school district grants so as to include scientifically based reading research and instruction, numeracy instruction, and support for chronically absent students and reducing the district chronic absenteeism rate.  For a priority school district that does not see an improvement in its accountability index score, the Commissioner may then develop a plan for expenditure of such grants, including the use of grants the purposes set for the above.  This Act requires the Connecticut Technical Education and Career System [“CTECS”] to identify and develop a list of careers in critical construction trades that are essential to the needs of the state.  The CTECS is also required to develop a plan to create or expand existing programs to meet the identified needs.

MINORITY TEACHER RECRUITMENT AND EQUITY

Public Act 19-74 (“An Act Concerning Minority Teacher Recruitment And Retention”) which was signed and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires the Minority Teacher Recruitment Policy Oversight Council, in consultation with the Minority Teacher Recruitment Task Force, to develop and implement strategies (and utilize existing resources) to ensure that at least 250 new minority teachers and administrators, of which at least 30% are men, are hired and employed by local and regional boards of education each year in the state.

The Act revises the minority educator loan reimbursement grant program administered by the Office of Higher Education so as to increase the amount such person could receive under the program.  The Act also extends access to the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority’s teacher mortgage assistance program to those 1) who graduated from a public high school in an educational reform district, and 2) who graduated from a historically black college or university or a Hispanic-serving institution.  The Act also expands the exception to the provision allowing re-employment for one year (without the usual limitation on earnings) of retired teachers to such individuals.

The Act makes numerous changes to the teacher certification statutes.  The Act requires the Commissioner of Education 1) to enter into agreements with other states concerning educator certification reciprocity, and 2) establish or join interstate agreements to facilitate the certification of qualified educators from other states.  Similar to Public Act 19-128, the Act provides that the State Board of Education shall allow an applicant for certification (or a teacher) seeking to teach in a “subject shortage area” to substitute achievement of a satisfactory score (as opposed to the current “excellent” score requirement) on any appropriate State Board of Education approved subject area assessment for the subject area requirements for certification. The Act also provides that any person who held a valid teaching certificate issued by the State Board of Education and such certificate has expired shall not be required to successfully complete the subject matter assessment in the endorsement area for which such person is seeking renewal or advancement of such certificate if such person has either 1) successfully completed at least three years of teaching experience or service in a public school or a nonpublic school under a valid teaching certificate issued by the State Board of Education or issued by another state in the past ten years in such endorsement area, or 2) holds a master's degree or higher in the subject area for which such person is seeking renewal or advancement of such certificate.

This Act further amends the teacher certification requirements by authorizing the State Board of Education to issue an initial educator certification to an applicant who holds a bachelor’s or advanced degree from a higher education institution that is regionally accredited or has received an equivalent accreditation and completes an approved teacher preparation (or alternate route to certification) program.  The Act allows an applicant to substitute either a satisfactory score on a subject area assessment or relevant advanced coursework in place of an appropriate subject area major, rather than having to have both in order to substitute for the typical subject area major requirement.

Public Act 19-100 (“An Act Concerning The Inclusion Of Instruction In Culturally Responsive Pedagogy And Practice In The Preservice Training, Professional Development And In-Service Training Provided To Teachers”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires a person seeking an initial educator’s certificate to complete a course providing instruction in “culturally responsive pedagogy and practice”; in addition, any program of school and district leadership preparation leading to professional certification would have to include instruction in “culturally responsive pedagogy and practice”.  The Act also mandates the inclusion of such instruction in professional development and in-service training provided to teachers.

IMPACT: School districts may need to revise their in-service/professional development opportunities policies in order to conform to the afore-referenced revision. 

GUN SAFETY AND TRAINING

Public Act 19-5 (“An Act Concerning The Safe Storage of Firearms In The Home And Firearms Safety Programs In Public Schools”), which was signed by the Governor, expands the firearm safe storage laws so as 1 ) to require persons to securely store a firearm whether the weapon is loaded or unloaded and the person in control of the premises knows or reasonably should know that a minor under the age of 18 (as opposed to the current age 16 requirement) is likely to gain access to it without his or her parent's or guardian's permission, and 2) clarify the definition of “firearm”.  These storage requirements take effect on October 1, 2019.  In addition, the Act revises the laws related to firearm safety programs that may be offered by local and regional school districts by expanding the age range for which schools may offer such programs to Kindergarten through Grade Twelve (instead of through Grade Eight).  The Act further requires the State Board of Education to develop guides to aid school districts in developing these firearm safety programs; the Act allows the State Board to consult with the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association when developing the guides.  The revisions with respect to school firearm safety programs took effect on July 1, 2019. 

BACKGROUND CHECKS AND “MISCELLANEOUS”

Public Act 19-91 (“An Act Concerning Various Revisions And Additions To The Education Statutes), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, revises the laws concerning employee fingerprinting and background checks so as to cover any school or school district authorized to receive national criminal history record information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and would explicitly include as such covered “eligible school operators” local and regional boards of education, the Technical Education and Career System, state or local charter schools, cooperative arrangements and inter-district magnet school operators (other than those operators who are a third-party not-for-profit corporation approved by the Commissioner of Education). This Act requires applicants seeking a position with these schools to identify specifically any criminal charges that are pending against them.  This Act provides that even where a regional educational service center arranges for such fingerprinting, it is the State Police Bureau of Investigation that will directly provide the results of the background check to the school.  The Act clarifies that nothing in the background check statutes should be construed as causing a school to disseminate the results of any national criminal history records check (as opposed to information regarding the applicant’s eligibility for employment or prior involvement in abuse or neglect).  In addition to “eligible school operators”, this Act requires background checks for employees of a "nongovernmental school operator", which is defined as an operator of an interdistrict magnet school that is a third-party not for-profit corporation approved by the Commissioner of Education, a state or local charter school, an endowed or incorporated academy approved by the State Board of Education, a private special education facility approved by the State Board of Education, or the supervisory agent of a nonpublic school. 

The Act contains various “non-background check” provisions.  The Act requires the State Department of Education to conduct a study concerning the authorization of towns and cooperative arrangements to be considered a “local education agency” for purposes of regional cooperation and in order to maximize efficiencies and cost-savings without establishing a regional school district; ostensibly, this provision was enacted at the behest of Regional School District No. 4.  This Act requires the State Department of Education to update the health education component of the Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework to include “sexual harassment and assault, adolescent relationship abuse and intimate partner violence, and human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation”.  The Act extends the term limits for school governance council voting members from two terms to four terms.  This Act requires each local and regional board of education to make its grade level curriculum available on its website by August of each year (beginning with the 2020-2021 school year).  Finally, and very importantly, this Act amends the expulsion statutes by providing that an expulsion for on school grounds activity due to a violation of school policy may only take place if there also is a “serious disruption of the educational process”.

IMPACT: School districts may need to change portions of their background check policies in light of the above background check requirements.  In addition, school districts will need to revise their student discipline and expulsion policies to conform to the above referenced revision. 

SPECIAL EDUCATION

Public Act 19-184 (An Act Concerning Various Issues Relating To Special Education), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, prohibits a board of education from disciplining or otherwise punishing any teacher, administrator or school paraprofessional who 1) discusses or makes recommendations concerning the provision of special education and related services for a child during a planning and placement team meeting, or 2) discusses or makes such recommendations to the parent or guardian (or the child) outside of a planning and placement team meeting. 

The Act revises statutory provisions regarding the language and communications plans for hearing impaired students.  The Act expressly provides that such plans shall not only be included in individualized education programs, but also in accommodations plans developed pursuant to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.  The Act mandates that such language and communications plans ensure procedures for alerting the child of an emergency situation and for ensuring that the specific needs of the child are met during the emergency.  The Act also 1) requires school security and safety plans for each school to include provisions relating to emergency communication plans for students identified as deaf, hard of hearing or both blind or visually impaired and deaf, 2) revises the school safety infrastructure criteria for school building projects to include provisions relating to such emergency communication plans for such students, and 3) requires the State Department of Education to establish a working group on language assessments for students identified as deaf, hard of hearing or both blind or visually impaired and deaf, along with programs an interventions for such students.

The Act applies the same division of responsibility between interdistrict magnet schools and sending school districts for special education students to Section 504 students, with the sending districts responsible for the additional “reasonable” costs for educating a student, but the magnet school responsible for ensuring that the student receives the services mandated by the Section 504 plan (whether the services are provided by the magnet school or the sending school district).

Furthermore, the Act requires boards of education to electronically notify parents or guardians if their child has been identified as gifted and talented (along with contact information with respect to, among others, persons responsible at the school district and the State Department of Education for gifted and talented students).  The Act requires the State Department of Education’s IEP Advisory Council to conduct a study by July 1, 2020 concerning the authorization of private therapists to provide special education and related services directly to students at school during the regular school day, with the Department to then issue a report with its recommendations to the General Assembly. The Act requires any private special education provider that has a contract with a local or regional board of education to inform the board about complaints of mistreatment of students against the provider.  Finally, the Act establishes a working group to study issues relating to the gap of services for children three to five years of age, during the period in which such children are no longer eligible for services provided by the birth-to-three program, and not yet eligible to receive special education and related services until such children are enrolled in kindergarten. The working group would review and evaluate the eligibility criteria for special education that creates a gap and prevents children from experiencing a continuity of services, and to issue a report with its recommendations to the General Assembly by January 1, 2020. 

Public Act 19-49 (“An Act Concerning Transitional Services For Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, amends the state special education laws so as to explicitly provide that commencing not later than the date on which the first individual education program [“IEP”] takes effect for a child who is at least 14 years of age and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, such IEP shall include 1) “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills”, and 2) “the transition services, including courses of study, needed to assist a child in reaching those goals”. The Act states that nothing in it shall be construed as requiring the Department of Rehabilitation Services to lower the age of transitional services for a child with disabilities from 16 to 14 years of age.

SMOKING AND “VAPING”

Public Act 19-13 (An Act Prohibiting The Sale Of Cigarettes, Tobacco Products, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems And Vapor Products To Persons Under Age Twenty-One”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, raises from 18 to 21 the legal age to purchase cigarettes, other tobacco products, and electronic nicotine delivery systems and vapor products.  Furthermore, the Act bans smoking and the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems and vapor products on the grounds of schools (not just within school buildings) and child care centers.

IMPACT:  School districts may need to revise their smoking and vaping policies and notices, along with other interrelated policies, such as discipline/student conduct policies.  In addition, it is important to remember that employees cannot take a “smoking break” on school property.

SCHOOL SECURITY

Public Act 19-52 (“An Act Concerning School Security”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 26, 2019), requires the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection to update school security and safety plan standards not later than January 20, 2020 and every three years thereafter, and to distribute these standards to all Connecticut public schools.  The Act further requires the Department to 1) evaluate and seek methods for simplifying the documentation requirements a) for reporting by local and regional boards of education on school security and safety plans and drills, and b) with the assistance of the School Safety Infrastructure Council, for school security infrastructure grant applications, with the Department (and as appropriate, the Council) to issue a report to the General Assembly by January 1, 2020, and to then implement the new requirements by July 1, 2020.  Finally, the Act requires the Department to develop criteria to identify qualified school security consultants, with the Department then maintaining a registry of such consultants, which shall be updated at least annually by the Department, be made available to the public upon request and be published on the Department’s web site.

SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION (from the July Special Session) 

Public Act 19-1 (July Special Session) (“An Act Concerning Authorization of State Grant Commitments for School Building Projects”), which was signed by the Governor on July 23, 2019, authorizes state grant commitments for various specified school building projects in our state.  In addition, the Act makes various (and conforming) changes to several school construction related laws.  The Act makes it optional (as opposed to mandatory, as is currently required) for the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management to provide comments and recommendations to the General Assembly with respect to the list of proposed school building projects.  The Act requires that any school building committee established by either a town or regional school district for the purpose of undertaking a building project where state grants are sought include at least one committee member with experience in the construction industry.

The Act revises the state grant reimbursement rate for “diversity school” construction projects from the current rate of 80% of the reasonable project costs to instead be based upon the school district’s standard reimbursement rate (which can vary from anywhere between 10% to 70% for new construction, based upon town wealth), plus an additional 10% on top of that.  A “diversity school” project is for the purpose of creating a new school in order to address racial disparities within a school district.  The Act expands the types of projects eligible for “emergency” construction grants (which do not require legislative approval) so as to permit such grants for school security projects, including but not limited to improvements to existing security infrastructure or installing new security infrastructure.

The Act makes several changes to the school construction procurement processes that specifically exist for architectural services, construction management services and other “project consultantservices.  Unlike the other provisions of this Act, which took effect upon passage (July 23, 2019), these procurement related provisions take effect on July 1, 2020.  With respect to architectural services, the Act makes a minor modification in the criteria used for determining which architect is the “most responsible and qualified proposer” so as to include the “organizational and team structure” of not only the entity submitting the proposal, but also any subcontractors used by it.  The Act further specifies that the process that governs the procurement of architectural services (i.e., a public selection process that leads to a pool of up to four “most responsible and qualified proposers”) will now also apply to contracts and orders for “other consultant services”, which include but are not limited to consultant services rendered by an owner’s representatives, construction administrators, program managers, environmental professionals, planners, and financial specialists.  The Act specifies that costs associated with an order or contract for such consultant services will NOT be eligible for state financial assistance unless the order or contract receives prior approval from the Department of Administrative Services (“DAS”).  Finally, the Act creates a separate procurement process for construction management services, which used to be governed by the same process as architectural services.  While most of the same requirements will apply, the Act will revise the criteria for selecting construction managers so as to include whether the proposer intends to self-perform any project element and the benefit to the “awarding authority” (i.e., the school district) that will result from such self-performance.  The Act allows an awarding authority, upon the written approval of the Commissioner of DAS, to permit a construction manager to self-perform a portion of the construction work if the awarding authority and the Commissioner determine that the construction manager can self-perform the work more cost effectively than by using a subcontractor.  The Act provides that all work not performed by the construction manager must be performed by trade subcontractors selected by a process approved by the awarding authority and the Commissioner.  The Act requires that the construction manager’s contract include a “guaranteed maximum price” for the cost of construction, which must be determined within 90 days after the selection of the trade subcontractors.  The Act states that construction shall not begin prior to the setting of the guaranteed maximum price, except for work relating to site preparation and demolition.

IMPACT:  Obviously, if your school district had a grant commitment approved, then your district may proceed to celebrate.  In addition, school districts should obviously pay attention to this bill if they are contemplating a school construction project.  Finally, school districts may need to revise any applicable policies governing the procurement processes for school construction projects.

SUN SCREEN AND STUDENTS

Public Act 19-60 (“An Act Allowing Students To Apply Sunscreen Prior To Engaging In Outdoor Activities”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, allows any student who is six years of age or older to possess and self-apply an over-the counter sunscreen product while in school prior to engaging in any outdoor activity, provided a written authorization signed by the student's parent or guardian is submitted to the school nurse.  The Act further provides that local and regional boards of education may adopt policies and procedures to carry out this new statutory provision.  The Act then states (logically) that if and when a board adopts such policies and procedures, the self-application of over-the counter sunscreen products by students shall be in accordance with such policies and procedures.

IMPACT: In addition to exercising this option to develop a specific policy to address the application of sunscreen, school districts could instead simply modify their administration of medication policies so as to allow students to apply sunscreen.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE

Public Act 19-146 (“An Act Requiring The Provision Of Information Concerning Domestic Violence Services And Resources To Students, Parents And Guardians”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires the State Department of Education to publish information that it receives from the Judicial Branch’s Office of Victim Services concerning services and resources available to victims of domestic violence on its website and disseminate it to local and regional school districts. In turn, these school districts are now required to provide such information to 1) any students, parent or guardian who expresses safety concerns at home due to domestic violence and 2) any parent or guardian of a student who authorizes the transfer of such student’s education records to another school.

EARLY CHILDHOOD

Public Act 19-34 (“An Act Concerning The Staff Qualifications Requirement For Early Childhood Educators”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, again delays and revises the imposition of certain increased qualifications for early childhood educators.  Public Act 19-61 (“An Act Requiring The Office Of Early Childhood To Develop An Early Childhood Educator Compensation Schedule”) which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires the Office of Early Childhood to 1) develop an early childhood educator compensation schedule for early childhood program providers and 2) submit this schedule with recommendations to the General Assembly by January 1, 2021.  Public Act 19-121 (“An Act Implementing The Recommendations Of The Office Of Early Childhood”) is an omnibus bill that would implement various recommendations of the Office of Early Childhood.

YES-MORE TASK FORCES AND STUDIES

The General Assembly approved bills that continue to display legislative affinity for task forces and further study of issues.  For example, Special Act 19-8 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Analyze The Implementation Of Laws Governing Dyslexia Instruction And Training”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 28, 2019), establishes a task force to analyze and make recommendations on issues relating to the implementation of the laws governing dyslexia instruction and training in the state. The task force shall submit a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by January 1, 2021.  Furthermore, Public Act 19-68 (“An Act Establishing The Connecticut Apprenticeship And Education Committee), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 26, 2019), modifies the Commissioner of Education’s committee to coordinate education for public school students on manufacturing careers by: 1) renaming it the “Connecticut Apprenticeship and Education Committee;” 2) broadening the Committee’s scope to include additional industries, including insurance, health care, financial technology, biotechnology, STEM, construction trades, hospitality industries, and other appropriate industries; 3) revising the Committee's membership; and 4) modifying the information included in the Committee’s required annual report to the General Assembly and extending the first reporting date to July 1, 2020.

MISCELLANEOUS

As its title would suggest, Public Act 19-31 (“An Act Concerning The Legislative Commissioner’s Recommendations For Technical Revisions to the Education and Early Childhood Statutes”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 26, 2019), makes technical changes to various education and early childhood related statutes (including the removal of obsolete references). Public Act 19-139 (“An Act Concerning Education Issues”), which was signed by the Governor and generally took effect on July 1, 2019, repeals an expedited teacher tenure provision for teachers or administrators who were previously tenured in one district and subsequently transfer into a priority school district.  The Act further establishes a working group to study issues related to implementing the pre-service teacher performance assessment known as “edTPA,” which was adopted by the State Board of Education, with the working group to submit a report with its recommendations to the General Assembly by January 1, 2020.  Finally, the Act will continue to permit “non-Sheffmagnet schools that are not in compliance with the state’s minority student enrollment requirements to continue to be eligible for magnet school operating grants for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 fiscal years if such a school submits a compliance plan to the Commissioner of Education (and the Commissioner approves it).  

Public Act 19-122 (“An Act Concerning An Exemption From The Licensing Requirements For Child Care Services”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (July 12, 2019), amends the statute that exempts certain child care services from state licensing requirements if they are administered by, among others, public school systems and municipalities so as to also include services provided by “Leadership, Education, and Athletics in Partnership, Inc.”, which is a New Haven based nonprofit youth development organization.  Public Act 19-164 (“An Act Concerning Social Workers”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, prohibits any person from using the title “social worker” (or any associated initials) or advertising services as a social worker unless he or she 1) has a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education [“CSWE”], 2) a doctorate in social work, or 3) if educated outside of the U.S. or its territories, completed an education program CSWE deems equivalent.  The Act exempts from the prohibition 1) state employees with the title social worker and 2) municipal employees with this title hired before July 1, 2019.  In addition, any person who holds a professional educator certificate issued by the State Board of Education with a school social worker endorsement, can continue to use the title of school social worker to describe such person's activities while working in a public or nonpublic school in our state.

LABOR & EMPLOYMENT

MINIMUM WAGE

Public Act 19-4 (“An Act Increasing The Minimum Fair Wage”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect beginning on October 1, 2019, increases the minimum wage from the current $10.10/hour to $11.00/hour on October 1, 2019, $12.00/hour on September 1, 2020, $13.00/hour on August 1, 2021, $14.00/hour on July 1, 2022, and $15.00/hour on June 1, 2023, with the minimum wage thereafter being subject to annual indexing/adjustment for inflation (commencing on January 1, 2024).  

The Act provides for a lower minimum wage for those under the age of 18 (except emancipated minors) for the first 90 days of employment, namely, 85% of the minimum wage or $10.10/hour, whichever is greater; thereafter, such minors would receive the “typical” minimum wage, except those in institutional training programs specifically exempted by our Department of Labor.  The Act provides that commencing October 1, 2020, no employer may take any action to displace (in whole or in part) an employee, including reducing the employee's hours, wages or employment benefits, for purposes of hiring persons under the age of 18 years at a rate below the minimum wage.  If the Commissioner of Labor determines that an employer has violated this provision, the Commissioner shall suspend the employer's right to pay the reduced rate for employees for a period of time as specified in regulations that are to be adopted.

The Act provides that after two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the state's gross domestic product, the Commissioner of Labor shall report his or her recommendations in writing to the Governor regarding whether any scheduled increases in the minimum wage should be suspended.  The Governor may then submit his or her recommendations regarding the suspension of such increases to the General Assembly.

In addition, the Act revises the “tip credit” reduced minimum wage for certain hotel and restaurant employees.  Effective July 1, 2019, the Commissioner of Labor will recognize, as part of the minimum wage, gratuities in an amount equal to the difference between the minimum fair wage and the employer's share per hour for persons 1) who are employed in the hotel and restaurant industry (including a hotel restaurant) and 2) who customarily and regularly receive gratuities.  This "employer's share" is 1) $6.38 per hour for such persons other than bartenders, and 2) $8.23 per hour for bartenders.  Furthermore, the Commissioner of Labor is required to conduct a study regarding workers in this state who receive gratuities.  When the study is concluded, the Commissioner shall make recommendations regarding the optimal methods of obtaining the following information: 1) which groups of workers in this state receive compensation in the form of gratuities, 2) the demographics of such workers, 3) the amount of gratuities received by such workers, and 4) any difference in wage growth between workers who receive gratuities and workers who do not receive gratuities.  The Commissioner shall then submit a report regarding this study to the General Assembly by January 17, 2020.

IMPACT: Employers will obviously have to be cognizant of ensuring that “lower wage” employees are paid consistent with the afore-referenced revisions. 

SEXUAL HARASSMENT AND DISCRIMINATION COMPLAINTS

Public Act 19-16 (“An Act Combatting Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, greatly affects Connecticut employers not only with respect to actions they must take to prevent harassment in their workplaces, but also increases exposure to potential liability for employment discrimination claims in general.  This Act amends the current laws that require employers with three or more employees to post a notice stating that sexual harassment is illegal (and the remedies available to victims) by also requiring these employers to send a copy of this information to employees by email within three months of their hire if 1) the employer has provided an email account to the employee or 2) the employee has provided the employer with an email address. The email’s subject line must be similar to “Sexual Harassment Policy.”  If an employer has not provided email accounts to employees, it must post the information on its website (if it has one).  An employer can comply with this requirement by providing employees by email, text message, or in writing with a link developed by the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities [“CHRO”] and available on its website about the illegality of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims.

The Act amends the anti-sexual harassment training requirements.  Employers with three or more employees must provide two hour of such training to all of their employees (not just supervisory employees) within one year of October 1, 2019 (and six months after any employee is hired).  There is an exception for those employers who provided such training to all of their employees after October 1, 2018.  The training requirement for employers with less than three employees is limited to supervisory employees.  The Act requires CHRO (by October 1, 2019) to develop and make available to employers a free online training and education video or other interactive method that fulfills the Act’s training requirements.  The Act provides that employers who fail to provide such notices and training may be fined up to $1,000 (and authorizes CHRO to enter an employer’s premises during normal business hours to assure compliance with these mandates).  Previously, the maximum fine for a failure to post was only $250.

This Act requires an employer to obtain an employee’s consent in writing to “immediate corrective actions” that an employer may take to remediate sexual harassment, such as employee relocation, reassignment, or a different employee work schedule.  The Act extends the deadline for filing a discriminatory employment practices complaint with CHRO (for complaints alleging an act of discrimination occurring on or after October 1, 2019) from 180 days after the alleged act to 300 days.  This Act also expressly grants parties to CHRO administrative hearings the right to inspect and copy documents from the other party.  This Act grants CHRO the authority to award a broad range of damages (including damages for “emotional distress”) and attorneys’ fees in employment discrimination cases; the Act indicates that the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded shall not be contingent upon the amount of damages requested or awarded.  It is not clear if this grant of authority to CHRO will apply to only complaints filed on or after October 1, 2019, or all complaints pending with CHRO.  The Act also gives courts the authority to award punitive damages in state court employment discrimination complaints.  The Act gives CHRO the authority to directly bring a civil action in the courts concerning alleged discriminatory practices, instead of a case proceeding to a typical CHRO administrative hearing, if CHRO determines that 1) this would be in the public interest and 2) the parties mutually agree, in writing, to the case proceeding in this way.   

IMPACT: In addition to the potential costs (and exposure to liability) imposed vis-à-vis the CHRO complaint process provisions, employers must be ready to comply with both the revised training and posting requirements.

FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE

Public Act 19-25 (“An Act Concerning Paid Family And Medical Leave”), which was signed by the Governor on June 25, 2019, provides paid family and medical leave benefits to all eligible employees (namely, all private sector employees except private schools, all non-union state employees, public sector employees whose unions collectively bargain for them to join this program, and sole proprietors or self-employed persons who have voluntarily enrolled in the program) who have earned $2,325 from one or more employers during the employee’s highest earning quarter during the previous five quarters.  Specifically, this Act creates a “Family and Medical Leave Insurance Program” that will offer 1) up to 12 workweeks of “family and medical leave compensation” to covered employees during any 12 month period, and 2) two additional weeks of compensation to such an employee for a serious health condition that occurs during a pregnancy that results in incapacitation.  The Program will be funded by employee contributions to the “Family and Medical Leave Insurance Trust Fund”, to be collected from covered employees starting on January 1, 2021, and would begin to provide compensation to covered employees starting on January 1, 2022.  The Trust Fund will be managed by the Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance Authority, which will annually determine the employee contribution rate (which cannot exceed .5%).  The benefit is supposed to be 1) 95% of the covered employee's base weekly earnings up to 40 times the minimum wage, plus 2) 60% of that covered employee's base weekly earnings that exceeds 40 times the minimum wage; the total weekly benefit cannot exceed 60 times the minimum wage.  However, if employee contributions are insufficient to maintain the Program’s solvency, the Act authorizes the Authority to reduce benefits as may be necessary.  Employers would be allowed to meet their obligations under this Act via a private plan; such a private plan must be approved by the Authority and must, among other things, provide the same rights and benefits offer under the Program. 

The Act also makes other changes to the state’s Family and Medical Leave Act [“FMLA”]. Effective January 1, 2022, the Act 1) extends the applicability of the state’s FMLA to all private employers with at least one employee (as opposed to the current 75 employee threshold)[1], 2) changes the state FMLA’s minimum eligibility requirement for employees, from working at least 12 months for the current employer and at least 1000 hours during the previous 12 months, to having been employed three months prior to the request for leave (regardless of how many hour worked), 3) aligns the maximum amount of leave under the state FMLA with the federal FMLA requirement (i.e., 12 weeks of leave during any 12 month period), 4) broadens the definition of “parent” and adds siblings, grandparents, grandchildren  and “any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family member” to the list of family members for whom an employee can take FMLA “caregiver” leave, and 5) limits an employer’s ability to require an employee taking FMLA leave to use his or her employer-provided paid leave (so that the employee is able to retain at least two weeks of such paid leave).  This Act further would create a “non-charge” against an employer's unemployment compensation experience rating when an employer lays off an employee due to the return of another employee who had been out on FMLA leave.

IMPACT: Unless bargained by unions for paid family and medical leave, public sector employers are generally NOT covered by this Act.

LEAVE FOR “CIVIL AIR PATROL”

Public Act 19-95 (“An Act Concerning Employment Protection For Members Of The Civil Air Patrol.”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, prohibits employers from discriminating against, disciplining, or discharging an employee because the employee is 1) a “civil air patrol” member, or 2) absent from work responding to an emergency or training as a civil air patrol member.  The “civil air patrol” is the civilian auxiliary of the U. S. Air Force.  The Act requires employees who are civil air patrol members to provide “as much notice as possible” to their employers of any absences, along with requiring them to notify employers of their status as members of the civil air patrol.  The Act provides that it should not be construed as prohibiting an employer from 1) treating the employee’s absence as unpaid time off or 2) complying with a collective bargaining agreement or employee benefit plan entered into before October 1, 2019.  The Act gives employees the right to bring lawsuits for damages for violations of this Act.  The Act provides that state employees who are civil air patrol members shall be permitted to leave work to respond to emergencies, natural disasters, and life threatening events without loss of pay, sick leave or overtime accumulation; such state employees may (with the authorization of the employee’s “appointing authority”) be permitted to attend trainings without loss of pay, sick leave or overtime accumulation.  Finally, state employees who are injured on or after October 1, 2019 while serving in the civil air patrol may receive sick leave with pay.

IMPACT: Employers may need to revise their military leave related policies.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AND PUBLIC SAFETY EMPLOYEES

Public Act 19-17 (“An Act Concerning Workers' Compensation Benefits For Certain Mental Or Emotional Impairments, Mental Health Care For Police Officers And Wellness Training For Police Officers, Parole Officers And Firefighters”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on July 1, 2019, expands workers’ compensation benefits to include post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by parole officers, police officers (whether state or municipal) and firefighters resulting directly from witnessing while in the line of duty a deceased minor, someone’s death, or a traumatic physical injury that results in the loss of a vital body part.  However, such benefits are more limited than “normal” workers’ compensation claims. This concept has been bandied about by the legislature since the 2012 tragedy in Newtown.  In addition, Public Act 19-111 (“An Act Concerning Additional Compensation For Certain Retired Public Safety Employees”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, authorizes a municipality by a 2/3’s vote of its legislative body (or board of selectmen if the legislative body is a town meeting) to compensate any retired uniformed member of its paid fire department or retired regular member of its paid police department if he or she: 1) has a permanent and severe disability caused by a serious bodily injury that arose out of, and in the course of, his or her job and was suffered in the line of duty (and within the scope of his or her job); 2) retired from service as a result of such disability; and 3) is under the age of 65.  Such compensation must equal the difference between 1) the amount the retired employee receives in workers’ compensation and other benefits and 2) his or her regular pay at the time of retirement.  Once it approves the compensation, the municipality must pay it annually until the employee reaches age 65.  Participating municipalities must establish procedures for evaluating and determining a retired employee’s compensation eligibility.

MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM

Public Act 19-124 (“An Act Concerning The Municipal Employees' Retirement System And Authorizing Bonding For The City Of Bridgeport's Pension Plan A Fund”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, increases the required employee contribution rate for participants in the Municipal Employee Retirement System [“MERS”] by 1% per year commencing on July 1, 2019 and continuing with subsequent increases on July 1, 2020, July 1, 2021, July 1, 2022, July 1, 2023, and July 1, 2024.  As the title suggests, the Act also authorizes bonding for the City of Bridgeport's “Pension Plan A” fund.  

MUNICIPAL ARBITRATIONS

Public Act 19-107 (“An Act Concerning The Review Of Municipal Arbitration Awards”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, clarifies the 25 day deadline for a municipal employer to reject an interest arbitration award under the Municipal Employee Relations Act; the Act provides that if the 25th day falls on a weekend or a holiday, the deadline will be extended through the next business day.

WHISTLEBLOWER PROTECTIONS

Public Act 19-69 (“An Act Extending Whistleblower Protections To Employees Of Businesses Receiving Financial Assistance From The State”), which was signed by the Governor and takes effect on October 1, 2019, extends “whistleblower” protections to employees of entities receiving economic development financial assistance from the state who provide information to the Auditors of Public Accounts concerning corruption by any such entity “that has failed to meet its contractual obligations or satisfy any condition of the financial assistance agreement”.

YES, EVEN MORE TASK FORCES AND STUDIES

Special Act 19-6 (“An Act An Act Establishing A Workforce Pipeline And Job Creation Task Force”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 13, 2019), establishes a workforce pipeline and job creation task force “to prepare the state's future workforce for well-paying manufacturing and technical jobs located in Connecticut”. The task force shall submit a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by January 1, 2020.  Special Act 19-11 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Debarment And Limitations On The Awarding Of State Contracts”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 18, 2019), establishes a task force to study Connecticut’s debarment procedures (relating to employers who engage in “wage theft”) and how such procedures relate to other states and other Connecticut employment statutes.  The task force shall submit a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by February 1, 2020.  Special Act 19-10 (“An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Remedies And Potential Liability For Unreasonably Contested Or Delayed Workers' Compensation Claims”) which was signed by the Governor and took effect upon passage (June 21, 2019), establishes a task force to 1) identify the extent of unreasonably contested or delayed workers' compensation claims, 2) study methods to expand remedies regarding potential liability for unreasonably contested or delayed workers' compensation claims, and 3) clarify the law regarding bad faith handling of workers' compensation claims.  The task force shall submit a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by January 1, 2020.  Finally, Public Act 19-142 (“An Act Establishing A Council On The Collateral Consequences Of A Criminal Record”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, establishes a 20-member Council on the Collateral Consequences of a Criminal Record, which will 1) study discrimination faced by people in the state with a criminal record and 2) develop legislative recommendations to reduce or eliminate discrimination based on a person’s criminal history.  The council must submit a report on its legislative recommendations to the General Assembly by February 1, 2020.  PLEASE NOTE: the original version of this Act would have broadly prohibited discrimination based on a person’s criminal arrest or conviction history.

AND FINALLY, THE BUDGET IMPLEMENTER

Whenever a budget is enacted, the General Assembly must pass a bill to “implement” the budget (i.e., the so-called “Implementer”).  The 2019 Implementer, which is 580 pages long, and is officially entitled Public Act 19-117 (“An Act Concerning The State Budget For The Biennium Ending June Thirtieth, 2021, And Making Appropriations Therefor, And Implementing Provisions Of The Budget”), which was signed by the Governor on June 26, 2019, contains many provisions that will affect Connecticut’s schools and public sector employers (besides just the budget).  The following is a cursory description of significant related highlights contained in this year’s Implementer, with these provision taking effect for the 2019-2020 fiscal year (i.e., July 1, 2019), unless otherwise noted.

CHOICE PROGRAMS AND EQUITY: The Act increases the per pupil funding for interdistrict magnet school programs by 2%.  It also extends the Commissioner of Education’s authority to award magnet school transportation grants.

UNEXPENDED SCHOOL BUDGET FUNDS: The Act increases the amount of unexpended education funds that a town could deposit into a non-lapsing account at the end of each fiscal year to 2% of the total budgeted appropriation for education (from the current 1%). This Act also requires that any expenditure of funds from this account be authorized by the local board of education of the town and be for educational purposes only. 

MINIMUM BUDGET REQUIREMENT: The Act extends the minimum budget requirement [“MBR”] through the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 fiscal years.  The Act modifies the MBR by allowing towns to use a five-year look-back period for reductions in student enrollment for purposes of permitted reductions to the MBR.  The Act also permits a school district that has 1) elected to act as a self-insurer, 2) experienced a loss incurred as a result of one or more catastrophic events during the prior fiscal year, and 3) increased its budgeted appropriation for education during said prior fiscal year as a result of such loss to NOT include the amount of such increase in the calculation of its budgeted appropriation for education for the subsequent fiscal year.  The Act further requires the State Department of Education to 1) compile a MBR calculation worksheet for each school district, 2) provide the worksheet to the appropriate school district, and 3) make each worksheet available on its website.  The Act also provides waivers for the Towns of Plymouth and Portland for meeting the MBR in 2018-2019 and reduces the penalty for towns that failed to meet the MBR in 2018-2019 (with such towns having a year to make up the shortfall, and if even if they do not, the penalty will merely be the amount of the shortfall, as opposed to twice the shortfall).

POSTING OF BUDGET INFORMATION:  The Act requires each local and regional board of education to each quarter 1) post its current and projected expenses and revenue on its website, and 2) submit a copy of such expenses and revenue to the municipal legislative body or board of selectmen, as applicable.

REGIONALIZATION TASK FORCE: The Act establishes a 32-member task force to study ways to encourage greater and improved collaboration among the state and municipal governments and regional bodies. Any recommendations or initiatives resulting from the task force must be optional for municipalities.  Among other things, the task force shall exam 1) the functions, activities, or services that municipalities currently perform individually but that the State’s Office of Policy and Management might perform more efficiently on behalf of those willing to opt in; 2) the functions, activities or services currently performed by the state or municipalities that may be provided in a more efficient, high-quality, cost-effective, or responsive manner by regional councils of governments, regional educational service centers, or other similar regional bodies; 3) cost savings of government services, including joint purchasing, for municipalities and their respective local or regional school districts; and 4) cost savings through the sharing of government services, including joint purchasing, among municipalities.  This task force then shall issue a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by February 5, 2020.

GRANTS: The Act renews numerous education grants provided by statute (e.g., Sheff magnet schools, no nexus and excess cost special education grants, vo-ag grants), although it would maintain the ECS rate adjustment for certain towns agreed to during the previous legislative sessions.  In addition, certain of these grants remain subject to “available appropriations”.

SPECIAL EDUCATION EXCESS COST GRANTEXTENSION:  This Act requires the State Department of Education to pay a special education excess cost grant to Regional School District No. 14 for excess costs incurred during the 2018-2019 school year, notwithstanding certain statutory grant application filing deadlines.

“DALIO FOUNDATION” AND FUNDING: The Act establishes “The Partnership for Connecticut, Inc.” as a nonprofit corporation.  The Act requires that the corporation be funded in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, with 1) $20 million from the philanthropic enterprise and (2) upon confirmation of this contribution, $20 million from the state.  The same funding levels will be maintained through the 2023-24 fiscal year.  This corporation will be subject to Connecticut statutory provisions governing nonprofit corporations.  In an apparent attempt to avoid having to comply with Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act, the Act specifies that the corporation must not be construed 1) as a department, institution, public agency, public instrumentality, or political subdivision or 2) to perform any governmental function.  The main purposes of this “philanthropic enterprise” are to 1) strengthen public education in Connecticut, 2) support financial inclusion and social entrepreneurship, 3) provide a philanthropic designee of the enterprise, 4) promote upward mobility in the state by connecting at-risk high school-aged youth and young adults to educational and career opportunities; 5) support economic development in under-resourced communities through microfinance and social entrepreneurship, 6) promote and expand on the collaboration between the state and one or more philanthropic or nonprofit entities designated by the enterprise to carry out the bill’s purposes; and 7) provide additional resources for the above purposes.

TECHNICAL EDUCATION: This Act delays by two years the “independence” of the Technical Education and Career System from the State Department of Education.

AFTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS: Among other things, the Act allows after school grant recipients to expend program funds to provide after school program transportation.

PRESCHOOL/EARLY CHILDHOOD: Among other things, the Act requires the Office of Early Childhood to conduct a study on enrollment and availability of slots in preschool programs. 

YOUTH SERVICES BUREAUS: This Act transfers from the State Department of Education to the Department of Children and Families responsibility for administering the youth service bureau programs.

MINORITY EDUCATOR INCENTIVES: The Act establishes the minority educator loan reimbursement grant Program as part of the existing Connecticut minority teacher incentive program the Office of Higher Education administers.  The Act also expands the existing Connecticut minority teacher incentive program to provide grants, within available appropriations, to minority students enrolled in alternate route to certification programs.

RETIREMENT FUNDING: The Act 1) creates a Connecticut Teachers’ Retirement Fund Special Capital Reserve Fund in order to provide further security to Fund bondholders, and 2) beginning in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, requires the State via the Comptroller to pay 50% of the portion of the State Employees’ Retirement System fringe recovery rate attributable to the unfunded liability of the System. 

“PARTNERSHIP 2.0”/STATE HEALTH INSURANCE PLAN FOR MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES:  Among other things, this Act allows the State Comptroller  to offer other types of health care plans to “non-state” public employers in addition to (or instead of) the state employee health plan.  However, the Act specifically prohibits the Comptroller from offering high deductible plans (e.g., health savings account compatible plans).  The Act requires the Comptroller to adjust premiums paid by non-state public employers who enroll in the state employee health plan on or after July 1, 2019, to reflect 1) the cost of health care in the county in which the majority of such employer’s employees work and 2) differences from the benefits and networks provided to state employees.  However, the Comptroller must phase-in the premium adjustment during a two-year period beginning July 1, 2020 (with one half of the adjustment in the first year and the other half in the second). 

HIGH DEDUCTIBLE HEALTH PLANS TASK FORCE: The Act establishes a task force to study high deductible health insurance plans and the of such plans upon Connecticut enrollees, with the task force to issue a report with its findings to the General Assembly by February 1, 2020.

WORKING PAPERS”: The Act exempts employers from the requirement to obtain a certificate showing the age of an employee under age 18 (i.e., “working papers”) when they employ minors through a regional workforce development board’s youth development program.

UNEMPLOYMENT COMPENSATION: The Act requires that when an unemployment compensation claimant is eligible to use a “special base period” for determining the benefit amount, the special base period quarters must be consecutive quarters.  The Act limits the unemployment compensation benefit eligibility penalty imposed on fraudulent claimants (which disqualifies such claimants from being able to collect up to 39 weeks of benefits when otherwise eligible) to claims that were deemed payable before October 1, 2019; the statutory repayment  penalties will still remain in effect as is.  The Act authorizes the Commissioner of Labor to enter into an unemployment compensation “consortium” with other states.

YES-TAXES!: While this alert is not to meant to discuss the many changes to various taxes and fees, it is worth noting that the Act 1) delays for two years the scheduled increase in the teacher pension income tax exemption from 25% to 50%, and 2) authorizes the Department of Revenue Services to collect data and establish a commission with respect to the study of an employer payroll tax system (in lieu of our current income tax scheme), with this commission then issuing a report on its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly by January 15, 2020. 

MUNICIPAL AUDITS (AND MORE ON REGIONALIZATION)

Public Act 19-193 (“An Act Concerning Municipal And Regional Opportunities And Efficiencies”), which was signed by the Governor and took effect on July 1, 2019, requires the Office of Policy and Management [“OPM”] to refer municipalities and regional school districts (and any other entity subject to the Municipal Auditing Act) to the Municipal Finance Advisory Commission [“MFAC”] in situations where the OPM secretary finds 1) the audit was not prepared in accordance with the Municipal Auditing Act’s provisions and the audited entity did not request from OPM a waiver of these provisions, or 2) there is evidence of unsound or irregular financial practices or management letter comments or lack of internal controls in relation to commonly accepted municipal finance standards.  The OPM secretary shall prepare a report concerning its finding, including but not limited to recommendations for corrective action.  Upon receipt of this report, the CEO of a municipality or superintendent of a regional school district must submit to OPM an attestation of the OPM secretary’s findings and a plan for corrective action.  This Act also now requires OPM to refer municipalities to MFAC if a municipality has 1) a negative fund balance percentage; 2) in the three preceding fiscal years, a) reported a fund balance percentage of less than 5% or b) issued tax or bond anticipation notes to meet cash liquidity; 3) in the two preceding fiscal years, a) reported a declining fund balance trend or b) a general fund annual operating budget deficit of 2% or more of its average general fund revenues; 4)  in the preceding fiscal year, a general fund annual operating budget deficit of 1.5% or more of its average general fund revenues; or 5) received a bond rating below “A” from a bond rating agency.

This Act amends the membership of the Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations, along with its reporting deadlines to the General Assembly; the Act also requires the report to explicitly address the potential on local governments of state mandates. This Act allows municipalities to enter into interlocal agreements regardless of conflicting provisions in state statute, or in any local charter or ordinance. The Act provides that any board of education from a “Tier III” municipality referred to the Municipal Accountability Review Board [“MARB”] on or after January 1, 2018, must submit collective bargaining agreements and amendments to MARB (for its approval or rejection) within 14 days after any such agreement is reached: MARB then has 30 days to so act upon the agreement.  Finally, the Act gives regional councils of governments (“COGs”) the authority to borrow funds to purchase property for the purpose of providing administrative office space and program functions. 

Pullman & Comley, LLC

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[1] Public sector employers such as school districts, along with private schools, are not covered by the state FMLA, but may be subject to the federal FMLA.

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