Thanks largely to the efforts of AARP members and volunteers, the 2015 legislative session included passage of a number of bills that will benefit older residents in Connecticut and their families, including new support for family caregivers, a ban on deceptive variable rate electric contracts, a new uniform power of attorney law and more.
One of the most significant victories was the bi-partisan passage of the CARE Act (Public Act 15-32), a top legislative priority for AARP in 2015 that received unanimous support in both houses and was signed by the Governor. The new law (effective October 1, 2015) will help support unpaid family caregivers when their loved ones transition home from the hospital by:
- Allowing patients to designate the name of a family caregiver upon admission into the hospital;
- Providing adequate notice to family caregivers before their loved one is discharged; and
- Giving family caregivers an opportunity to receive live or video instruction of the after-care tasks included in the discharge plan to be performed by the caregiver.
Family caregivers in Connecticut are the backbone of our health care system. Making sure they are prepared to safely care for a loved one after hospital discharge will go a long way toward easing their anxiety and help reduce costly hospital readmissions.
BAN ON VARIABLE ELECTRIC RATES
Another significant victory for consumers came with the passage of legislation (Public Act 15-90) to end variable rate electric contracts for residential ratepayers.
AARP has been a leader in efforts to reign in electric rates in Connecticut and to strengthen protections for consumers who purchase their electricity from third-party electric suppliers. Governor Malloy signed the legislation this summer, putting an end to deceptive variable rate contracts used by some third-party suppliers to lure ratepayers with a low “teaser” rate, only to have the rate skyrocket after several months. The law also sets up a process for the state’s Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) to further investigate and develop regulations to address what happens when a third-party contract expires and the ratepayer fails to pro-actively renew or choose another supplier. The law takes effect October 1, 2015.
The new law builds on significant AARP-supported electric consumer protections that were passed in 2014, including a requirement that your electric bill include your current contract rate, the Standard Offer rate, and what rate you can expect to pay the following month. This change should make it easier for ratepayers who purchase electricity from a third party supplier (not UI or Eversource CT) to avoid large spikes in their electric bills, such as occurred in January of 2014. The billing statement redesign will begin July 1, 2015 so be sure to check your statement closely each month to make sure you aren’t over-paying for electricity.
Additional AARP-supported bills that have been signed by the Governor include:
- UNIFORM POWER OF ATTORNEY (Public Act 15-240) -- This legislation will help family caregivers navigate financial challenges by making sure power of attorney laws are consistent and honored from state to state. The law will also add stronger consumer protections for seniors and their families.
- FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION AND ELDER ABUSE (Public Act 15-236) -- The bill strengthens state law regarding elder abuse by adding certain emergency medical service providers as mandated reporters of elderly abuse; provides victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation with legal remedies (a civil cause of action) against their perpetrators; establishes a portal of training resources to help detect and fight financial exploitation; and requires certain employees of banks and other financial institutions to receive mandatory training on elder fraud, exploitation and financial abuse.
- PAID FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE – The State Budget Implementer Bill (SB 1502, Sec. 422) included language that instructs the Labor Commissioner with several other agencies to develop an implementation plan for a Paid Family and Medical Leave Program (Also known as Paid FMLI) in Connecticut. The plan must include an analysis of any staffing or infrastructure needs, as well as mechanisms for collecting and distributing compensation. A full report must be submitted to the legislature in February 2016. AARP supports flexible workplace policies, including Paid FMLI, as a way to help family caregivers continue to care for their loved ones without worrying about losing their jobs or having to sacrifice their own financial security. We believe this legislation is a good first step in making Paid FMLI a reality in Connecticut.
- ELECTRIC UTILITY FIXED CUSTOMER SERVICE CHARGES – The State Budget Implementer Bill (SB 1502, Sec. 105) also included language to address last year’s onerous increase in the fixed customer service charges billed by the state’s two utility companies. AARP fought against these unjust increases that are added to your bill before you even turn on a light and disproportionately impact the elderly and those with fixed or low-incomes. Connecticut currently has the highest fixed customer charges in the Northeast region and there is no current standard for what expenses a utility company may use the charge to recover. While AARP had supported a total cap on fixed charges comparable to other Northeast states, the legislation will help limit future fixed charge increases by clearly defining what expenses the charge can be used to recover.
- RETIREMENT SECURITY – The final State Budget also continues Connecticut’s commitment to complete the work of the CT Retirement Security Board, established in 2014 to study the feasibility and develop a plan for the creation of a new retirement savings plan for Connecticut residents who do not have access to a retirement savings plan, such as a 401K, through their employer.
Speaking of the State Budget, it goes without saying that this was a difficult year for state budget negotiations. With lawmakers facing large deficits, many health and human services programs were targeted for significant cuts, including AARP-supported programs that help elderly residents live independently in their own homes, and provide needed respite to family caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s. In his budget proposal, the Governor called for steep cuts and increased cost-sharing for clients of the CT Home Care Program for Elders, as well as significant cuts to the Alzheimer’s Respite Program. Due to the efforts of AARP members and the public who called and sent letters to their legislators, the impact of the Governor’s original proposals was greatly mitigated in the final budget agreement. While the final budget did not restore all of the cuts, rest assured that AARP will continue to fight on behalf of the state’s elderly residents and their families to fully fund these critical programs in the future.
If you are interested in helping AARP fight on the issues that matter to you and your family, here's how you can get involved: