In implementing the budget agreement today, the Connecticut General Assembly approved of significant changes for the CHRO – changes that will ultimately lead to the creation of a new Office of Administrative Hearings. The bill now goes to the Governor; her signature is expected.

Here are the highlights, courtesy of the Office of Legislative Research:

Training for CHRO Members

The bill requires each member of Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) to receive at least 10 hours of introductory training within two months of his or her appointment and before voting on any CHRO matter. A member who does not comply with this requirement within six months of his or her appointment is considered to have resigned from the commission. Each year thereafter, the member must receive five hours of follow-up training.

Reduction in Human Rights Referees

The bill reduces the number of human rights referees over the next approximately two years. On the date the bill passes, the number is reduced from seven to five. They serve until (1) the term they were appointed to fill expires or July 1, 2011, whichever is earlier, and (2) a successor is appointed and qualified. The governor fills any vacancies with the advice and consent of the General Assembly to serve until July 1, 2011.

Beginning July 1, 2011, the number of referees is reduced from five to three. Just as under current law, the governor appoints them with the advice and consent of the General Assembly to serve a three-year term.

The governor may remove any of the referees for cause.

Create Task Force for Department of Administrative Hearings

The bill establishes a 24-member task force to develop recommendations for establishing within the CHRO a Division of Administrative Hearings that would conduct impartial hearings on contested cases brought by or before the departments of Children and Families, Transportation, and Motor Vehicles; CHRO; and the Board of Firearms Permit Examiners.  Among the people: an attorney selected by the Connecticut Bar Association

The task force must make recommendations to the General Assembly by February 1, 2010 on:

1. the viability of placing the division within CHRO;

2. the scope of matters it will hear;

3. any federal considerations or restrictions, including funding issues related to hearing cases from the departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, and Children and Families;

4. the need to train administrative law adjudicators (ALA) in all matters and areas of the law to be heard by the division;

5. the requisite number of ALAs necessary to hear matters assigned to the division and the concomitant level of support staff;

6. procedures for appointing the chief ALA;

7. the transfer of state agency affirmative action plan responsibilities from the CHRO to DAS; and

8. the transfer of contractor affirmative action plan compliance responsibilities from CHRO to the Office of the Attorney General.

The legislation is not as far reaching as was originally outlined in the original budget proposal by calling for a task force creation, rather than the creation of the department first. Nevertheless, this budget bill starts the process of significantly changing the way state law discrimination claims are heard at the state agency.