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Taking advantage of their new, large majority in the General Assembly, Democrats passed ambitious laws in the last legislature. Now, many are becoming law.

Among the state’s most significant bills passed in 2019, a minimum wage increase, a ghost and plastic gun ban and a bill to raise the legal age to buy tobacco are now in lawful effect. All three passed and were signed by Gov. Ned Lamont near the end of the legislative session that ended in June and became law on Oct. 1.

All three bills were generally supported by Democrats and opposed by many Republicans. Accordingly, many Democrats were excited that these three bills, along with many others, all passed in the same legislative year. In an interview with the News, Rep. Quentin Phipps D-Middletown called the recent legislative successes in the General Assembly exciting and a direct result of the campaign he and many of his colleagues ran.

“I ran on a progressive agenda to make sure working families can provide for themselves and have a safety net,” Phipps told the News. “Things like raising the minimum wage … are exactly what we all ran on. I think that’s why we won and that’s why we were able to be successful.”

In the 2018 midterm elections, state Democrats secured significant majorities in both chambers — 23–13 in the Senate and 92–59 in the House. Previously, Democrats had controlled the House by a narrow margin and were tied with Republicans in the Senate. Last year, voters also replaced unpopular Democratic Gov. Dan Malloy with Lamont, breathing fresh energy into the legislative charge that followed the election. Once in office in early 2019, Democrats began aggressively pursuing their new agenda.

Although Democrats held large majorities in both chambers, they still faced significant opposition from Republicans who tried to block much of their legislative program this past year. Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano ’81, R-North Haven, told the News that he was concerned about the impact of many of the bills that passed the legislature in 2019.

“There … were far too many new laws that took effect this month that were crafted by one party that I fear will do serious damage to our state and hurt the very people that need the most help.” Fasano said.

Unlike Fasano, many Democrats saw the new laws — including raising the minimum wage — as an effective manner of providing needed assistance for many citizens.

The minimum wage will be raised by one dollar an hour each year, starting with an increase to $11 last week, until it reaches $15 in 2023. After 2023 it will be indexed to federal economic indicators so that it continues increasing slightly each year to offset inflation. According to the Department of Labor, wages will increase for 130,000 people in Connecticut this year, and over 500,000 by 2024. Lamont said he was proud to sign the legislation, speaking to its effect of equalizing opportunity for many people in Connecticut shortly after signing it.

“With this new law, thousands of hardworking women and men — many of whom are supporting families — will get a modest increase that will help lift them out of poverty, combat persistent pay disparities between races and genders and stimulate our economy.” Lamont said during a bill-signing ceremony in May.

Among the successful legislation that became law this month was a bill to ban ghost guns — guns assembled from parts purchased separately, often online — as well as plastic guns. Ghost guns are an issue for many Democrats because they are made without a serial number, and are therefore hard to trace. Many advocates for gun control also view plastic guns as a pressing problem because they can easily slip through metal detectors. The law does allow citizens to make guns at home, as long as each gun is registered with the state and receives a serial number, which typical ghost guns lack.

Connecticut also raised the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 in an effort to reduce tobacco product usage among youths. Due to recent vaping-related illnesses and continued research on the effect of nicotine on young brains — which continue developing long after the age of 18 — lawmakers and public officials viewed this legislation as necessary, even as the state will lose an estimated $6.3 million in annual tax revenue, according to Lamont’s administration.

“Considering that nearly nine out of 10 smokers start by the time they turn 18, this legislation will help reduce levels of nicotine dependence and over time, decrease the number of tobacco-related deaths across our state,” Lieutenant Gov. Susan Bysewicz said in her Oct. 1 press release.

According to Fasano, the new tobacco age law received significant bi-partisan support, unlike many of the other well-publicized bills that Democrats passed.

With broad success in passing progressive legislation in 2019, Phipps told the News that he expects Democrats in Connecticut to continue pushing forward in 2020 by focusing on legislation such as criminal justice, cannabis laws, education systems in Connecticut and infrastructure.

The 2020 regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly begins on Feb. 5.

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu