by Christian Wade
Connecticut lawmakers are moving to expand the authority of the Attorney General’s office to fight fraud and abuse in state government.
The proposal, which passed the state Assembly on a 138-7 vote, would expand the scope of the state’s False Claims Act to allow the AG’s office to investigate fraud and other government spending abuses beyond state-administered health or human services programs.
Attorney General William Tong initially proposed the changes, called the bill’s approval a “bipartisan victory” for the state’s taxpayers, and urged the Senate to approve the measure and send it to Gov. Ned Lamont’s desk for consideration.
“Every public dollar, worker, program, and agency should be equally protected from fraud, abuse and corruption,” Tong said in a statement. “That’s not the case in Connecticut today, but with this strong support from the House, we are a big step closer to full fairness and accountability.”
At issue is a 2009 law signed by then-Gov. Jodi Rell gave the AG’s office authority to investigate and civilly prosecute fraud and abuse of taxpayer funds.
But Connecticut’s false claims law is “exceptionally weak,” Tong says because it applies only to spending in state-administered health or human services programs. He said the law is “far more limited” than other states in the region.
More than 100 agencies, offices, and quasi-public agencies spend tax dollars on behalf of the state government, but the current law covers programs at only nine agencies, Tong said.
The proposed legislation would authorize the AG to call witnesses and subpoena documents for investigations. It would also allow the AG to seek recovery for the cost of investigations and prosecutions by up to three times the amount of damages allowed by state and civil penalties.
Tong said expanding the law would also allow his office to investigate cases involving wage theft and violations, false claims regarding minority contracting requirements, defective and shoddy equipment and false safety certifications that create dangerous construction site conditions.
“No state agency, contract, or public dollar is immune from fraud, abuse, and corruption,” he said. “Connecticut needs the same laws and protections as every one of our neighboring states so that my office can pursue bad actors and get money back for taxpayers.”
To date, the AG’s office has recovered more than $181 million in “misspent” public dollars through federal and state investigations under the false claims act, Tong said.
The bill’s primary sponsor, state Rep. Matt Blumenthal, who chairs the Government Administration and Elections Committee, said with billions of dollars in federal funding flowing into the state from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Connecticut needs an AG’s office that’s “empowered to root out fraud” in state spending.
“For far too long, far too many taxpayer dollars have been shielded from scrutiny,” he said in a statement. “Removing this loophole from our state False Claims Act will provide long-overdue accountability and restitution for fraud, wage theft, and other misconduct.”
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