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Connecticut News

Connecticut House passes bills to expand outdoor dining and absentee ballot access

hartford_wcjohnphelan_190205.jpg
John Phelan
/
Wikimedia Commons
The Connecticut state Capitol building in Hartford

The Connecticut House passed the two bills with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

One extends a pandemic provision that allows restaurants to expand outdoor dining for another year, overriding local restrictions. The other changes the wording of the state’s absentee ballot law.

The outdoor dining bill is aimed at assisting the state’s restaurant industry that’s been battered by the pandemic, said House Democratic Majority leader Jason Rojas.

“It’s something that was very well received by the restaurant community and seemed to work well in most municipalities. I’m sure not without some hiccups here and there. And we are just looking to extend that for another year,” he said.

Lawmakers might consider making it permanent next year, said House Speaker Matt Ritter.

“Maybe work through how to make it more permanent, I believe is the goal,” he said.

Opponents argued that the provision would open the door to the override of other restrictive local zoning, including controversial suburban housing density rules.

The House also approved a bill that would allow voters easier access to absentee ballots.

It would replace the word illness with sickness in existing law to conform with the language in the state’s Constitution.

“Illness for sickness may not seem like a lot,” said Ritter, but it would allow more people to be eligible for an absentee ballot. “You may not personally have an illness, but the sickness of COVID, which kind of permeates through society and could endanger the person you are caring for.”

Both bills passed with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority. They now go to the Senate for action.

A bill that would amend the Connecticut Constitution to allow no-excuse absentee ballots was approved by the General Assembly last year. But it has to return for a second vote next year. If it passes, it would be placed on the 2024 ballot for voter approval. Only after that would the amendment take effect.