HARTFORD — As revelers rang in the new year, a host of new laws took effect in Connecticut, including expanded sales taxes, mental health parity requirements for insurers, an effort to help rehabilitate more blighted properties, and extended periods between driver’s license renewals.
January 1 marked one of several dates when large blocks of new laws take effect in Connecticut. Some of the latest new laws:Tax changes
A handful of items and services will be subjected to the state’s 6.35% sales tax as of Jan. 1. They include safety apparel, metered and other previously exempt parking, dry cleaning and laundry, other than coin operated. Interior design services for individuals will also become taxable in 2020.
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont originally unveiled plans in early 2019 to create a level playing field and expand Connecticut’s sales tax base by repealing various exemptions and imposing the tax on certain tax-free goods and services, from haircuts to child car seats.
He told lawmakers that expanding Connecticut’s tax base “helps to make the sales tax more robust, fairer, and raises the revenue we need to get our budget into balance.” But like past governors who tried the same thing, Lamont faced strong opposition and ultimately agreed to this much shorter list of sales tax changes.
Lamont and lawmakers did agree to repeal the state’s biannual $250 business entity tax, an unpopular fee charged to most businesses in Connecticut.Mental health
Certain health insurance policies will no longer be able to impose more stringent limits on mental health and substance abuse, compared to other illnesses, beginning Jan. 1. Also under the state’s new Mental Health Parity Act, substance abuse services must be covered if they are required by a court.
“Diseases of the brain should not be treated any differently than diseases of the body, and Connecticut’s laws should reflect that,” Lamont said when he signed the bill into law in July.
Beginning in March 2021, insurance companies will be required to file annual reports with the state, certifying they’re complying with the new parity law.
Required coverage under certain policies for breast ultrasounds and hearings aids will also be expanded in the new year.Blighted buildings
A new law authorizes a Superior Court judge to appoint a “receiver,” an entity or a person, to take over rehabilitating or disposing abandoned properties — industrial, residential or commercial — in communities with at least 35,000 inhabitants. Interested parties can petition the court to take over a property that has been abandoned for at least a year.
The legislation is considered to be another tool for municipalities to address blight.
Among other things, Connecticut’s cities and towns can impose fines and special assessments on owners of blighted properties, and create agencies that can condemn abandoned and blighted buildings and transfer ownership to qualified homesteaders.Driver’s licenses
Connecticut drivers may not have to spend as much time in the Department of Motor Vehicles as they used to.
A new law allows the DMV commissioner to renew driver’s licenses up to every eight years, instead of every six years. The legislation also extends the length of time between registration renewals from two years to three years.
Fees for an initial license, which is limited to seven years, are $84. For an eight-year license renewal, they will be $96, which is proportionate to the $72 fee for previous initial and renewed six-year licenses. It works out to be $12 a year.
Lamont has predicted the changes will lead to shorter wait times for those who need to conduct business in person at the DMV. It is part of the administration’s efforts to streamline interactions residents have with state government.Police training
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection will now be required to expand its free training on juvenile matters for state and local police.
Beginning Jan. 1, it must include techniques for handling incidents involving juveniles and adults with autism spectrum disorder, nonverbal learning disorder or cognitive impairment.
Emergency medical services personnel, firefighters, police officers and others will also be required to keep a paper or electronic copy of a “communication aid” that describes techniques to serve and interact with juveniles with such impairments.