The decriminalization bill would make the possession of a half-ounce of marijuana or less akin to receiving a speeding ticket rather than a criminal offense. First-time offenders would face a $150 fine; second and subsequent offenses would draw a penalty of at least $200 but no more than $500.

As part of a compromise, the Senate amended the measure to stiffen the punishment for young people caught with the drug. The possession and use of even a small amount of marijuana by a person 21 or younger would result in a 60-day driver's license suspension. Those 18 and under would be referred to juvenile justice authorities. Another amendment, also endorsed by the Senate, requires those with three or more offenses to obtain drug counseling at their own expense.

There were 9,290 marijuana arrests of individuals 18 and older in Connecticut in 2009 — three-quarters of them for possession of less than a half-ounce of the substance, according to the legislature's non-partisan Office of Fiscal Analysis. OFA estimated the state would save $885,000 annually in prosecutor and public defender salaries as well as court costs. OFA also found that the state could net up to $1.4 million annually in fines and fees.

"We are in a time of very scarce resources,'' Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney of New Haven said in his concluding comments. "We need to allow our police and prosecutors and all the resources of the criminal justice system to be prioritized on serious offenders, on dangerous offenders, on violent offenders."

Thirteen states, including Oregon, California, New York and, in 2008, Massachusetts, have already decriminalized marijuana.

If the House approves the bill, it would become law once the governor signs it.

Bond Package

The House voted Saturday for a bond package that includes borrowing more than $1 billion in each of the next two years. The borrowing is important because about 11 percent of the state's $20 billion annual budget goes to pay off the state's debt.

House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk said that the expansion of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington and $154 million for the creation of a technology park at the Storrs campus are both fine projects, but the state must consider its funding requirements in a still-struggling economy.

The state legislature has already set aside more than $2 billion for UConn for various projects since 1995, and Cafero said the state's flagship university needs to reshuffle the money it has already received. But the legislature, which is filled with UConn graduates, has not asked the university to do that.

"Instead of reprioritizing, we just add on more and more and more money,'' said Cafero, a UConn graduate. "Right now, as we speak of the $2 billion, almost $740 million of that money has not been spent yet. In fairness, much of it has been committed. … Wouldn't it be prudent for the University of Connecticut to reprioritize? The economy we find ourselves in today is different from 1995.''

Cafero offered an amendment to remove the $154 million technology park from the bond package, but it was defeated by a wide margin in the Democratic-controlled House.

Health Insurance Exchange

In a 108-30 vote, the House granted final legislative approval for a bill that would create a quasi-public agency that would serve as a clearinghouse for those seeking to buy health insurance. The Senate previously approved the bill, 23-13.

The state is seeking to comply with the federal health care overhaul signed into law last year by President Barack Obama calling for health insurance exchanges to be created in all 50 states by 2014. Connecticut has received nearly $1 million to start the process.

The exchanges are designed to make it simpler for uninsured Americans to buy coverage. Through pooling, both businesses and consumers would have more leverage to receive better, cheaper rates. The exchange would be managed by a 14-member board, which would certify the health benefit plans.

Opponents, say there are still too many questions in the complicated world of health care, and Republicans nationwide have been trying to repeal the national health care law.

Batting Cage Helmets

After an initial skirmish that led to a compromise Saturday, the House voted 101-22 for a bill that requires youths under the age of 18 to wear a batting helmet in commercial batting cages. The compromise wording specifies that the measure does not create a statutory cause for court action if a minor was injured in a batting cage without wearing a helmet. Although the bill was passed, there are no financial penalties for minors who fail to wear a helmet.

Republicans had complained previously that the state government was getting too involved in a private business with another regulation.

While Cafero said that it is a good idea to increase safety for children, he added, "That doesn't mean every policy should be reduced to law.''

Cafero said that the policy should be BYOBH — bring your own batting helmet.

Rep. T. R. Rowe, a Trumbull Republican and a baseball player who has used the batting cage in Shelton, said, "The fact that we've got to spend time legislating common sense … is unfortunate.''