In an unprecedented show of bipartisanship, the Connecticut General Assembly has formed a task force to address issues of gun violence, school safety and mental health care.
State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), who represents a portion of Weston, will co-chair a subcommittee of the task force on school safety with state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann (D-West Hartford). The other subcommittees will focus on reducing gun violence and increasing access to mental health care.
As part of the process, four public hearings are scheduled, all in room 2C of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford:
• Friday, Jan. 25, 9:20 a.m. — school safety.
• Monday, Jan. 28, 10 a.m. — gun safety.
• Tuesday, Jan. 29, 10 a.m. — mental health issues.
A fourth public hearing by the entire task force — all three subcommittees — will take place Wednesday, Jan. 30, 6 p.m., at Newtown High School, 12 Berkshire Road.
The task force, which was convened in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown late last year that claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults, held an organizational meeting Friday, Jan. 18.
Although Gov. Dannell Malloy has named his own task force to address these issues, Ms. Boucher said the leadership of the General Assembly formed this task force “since the General Assembly will have to pass a bill and it will be very controversial. Connecticut has national attention focused on it.”
Appointments to the three subcommittees within the task force were announced by Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden), House Republican Leader Larry Cafero (R-Norwalk), Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. (D-Brooklyn), Senate Republican Leader John McKinney (R-28 — Weston’s other state senator, whose district also includes Newtown), House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin), and Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney (D-New Haven).
Mr. McKinney and Mr. Sharkey are co-chairmen of the overall task force.
“I have had the privilege of representing Newtown, Connecticut, in the state Senate for the past 14 years and the tragic events that occurred there on Dec. 14 require a response from our government and our society at large. I am pleased that this task force is set up to work across party lines to make legislative recommendations based on facts and evidence in the areas of mental illness, school safety and gun control,” Mr. McKinney said.
Each subcommittee has 16 members, eight Republicans and eight Democrats split evenly between House and Senate members. Each is co-chaired by a Republican and a Democrat.
With the exception of those who represent Newtown, they are all members of the education, higher education, safety, and judiciary committees.
Ms. Boucher said the morning session of her subcommittee’s public hearing on Jan. 25 will include remarks from representatives invited from state and local school organizations, law enforcement, first responders, school and community college security organizations, facilities managers, and first selectmen’s and mayors organizations.
“At 1, we will open the public hearing” to all comers, she said. “I am committed to stay there until the last person is heard.”
Speakers will be limited to two to three minutes each and there will be a lottery to determine the order of speakers.
Ms. Boucher said her subcommittee will look at three major topics:
• Mechanics — This category would include school construction standards, security cameras, bulletproof glass, etc.
• Security — Should there be armed guards in schools? Should there be mandatory reporting of specific incidents?
• Mental health — How will school social workers and others deal with circumstances that involve mental health issues?
With the state on financial thin ice, money is a big issue, Ms. Boucher admitted.
“Are there must-haves that have financial implications?” she asked. “Will there be opportunities to cut in other places … so there is a neutral effect on the budget?” Could outside groups like PTAs pick up some of the costs? Will there be actual mandates, guidelines or regulations?” she asked. “I think within a community, this is a template for best practices in school security.”
Some items may have little or no financial cost — such as reporting — but may have privacy implications.
“There is no way to eradicate guns in our society, or violence in our society or gun violence in our society … but how do you mitigate the damage?” Ms. Boucher said.
“Right now I have heard from parents who are very nervous about guns. That’s why we need to do as much as we can to restore a sense of security for parents, kids and teachers and faculty. This is a terrible thing to have to train people for, but it is becoming such that they have to be prepared for everything,” she said.
The legislature plans to pass a bill by mid-February, she said.
Ms. Boucher may be reached at [email protected] or by calling 800-842-1421.