A bill that would seemingly have soared through its vote in the Human Services Committee on Thursday morning was instead tied up in debates, though the bill is still likely to be sent to the General Assembly. 

The bill aims to address the state’s food deserts, areas where there is no or limited access to affordable healthy foods, by offering tax incentives for those who want to open grocery stores. 

At issue on Thursday was some recently added language that requires business owners to enter into a labor peace agreement with a labor union.

Some committee members expressed concerns that this provision would limit the number and type of stores that could open. In turn, they said it would limit the effect of the bill on certain outlying areas of the state that need grocery stores but are unlikely to attract larger companies due to a small customer base.

To combat this, Rep. Jay Chase (R-Winsted) proposed an amendment to remove that language, essentially allowing anyone who wanted to build or open a grocery story to do so, regardless of labor agreements. Committee Chair Sen. Matt Lesser (D-Middletown) opposed the amendment, arguing that it would expand the scope of the bill and increase the costs, making it more difficult to pass through the legislature.

The amendment ultimately failed seven votes to eleven with three members of the committee either absent or choosing not to vote. An additional motion to move the bill to the Finance Committee rather than pass it to the floor of the General Assembly also failed by a similar margin.

“I totally agree with this bill,” said Rep. Chase after his proposed amendment failed and before reluctantly voting against moving it forward. “It’s gonna box out my community. Am I happy about that? No. Am I excited about the initiative that we want to put forward? Absolutely. But we want those small stores to be able to have a chance at the apple too.”

 “Please don’t disconstrue [sic] my no,” said Sen. Lisa Seminara (R-Avon) ahead of the final vote. “This is very detrimental to my district and the people in my district. I have a very diverse district but I do have a significant number in the northwest corner and by not allowing smaller mom-and-pop stores to partake in this really affects my people.”

The bill seems likely to pass through the committee following a vote of eleven yes votes to seven no votes with three committee members absent or unable to vote.

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An Emmy and AP award-winning journalist, Tricia has spent more than a decade working in digital and broadcast media. She has covered everything from government corruption to science and space to entertainment...

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