Connecticut General Assembly leaders, in announcing a task force on Newtown massacre-related issues Tuesday, said they hope to pass a major bill by the end of next month to respond to the tragedy – but they denied feeling pressured by the fact that New York state lawmakers are already ahead of them in passing legislation to curb gun violence.
“I think that taking quick action is important, but taking smart action is more important,” said House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.
He made the comment at a Legislative Office Building press conference in which he and other House and Senate leaders announced formation of a “special bipartisan task force on gun violence prevention and children’s safety.”
The idea, he and the other leaders said, is to coordinate efforts of various legislative committees to pass a comprehensive bill promptly.
Observers say the first legislation to be passed will likely seek to expand the state’s existing ban on assault weapon, tighten background-check procedures for gun buyers, and prohibit high-capacity ammunition magazines – such as the 30-bullet magazines used on Dec. 14 by Adam Lanza to kill 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
However, the first bill passed this year, whatever is in it, won’t be the only one, the leaders said. That’s because the task force will deal not only with gun control, but also legislation to improve school security and improve the mental health system in hopes of identifying disturbed people like Lanza before they hurt others.
Such issues can’t be resolved in just the six weeks left before the end of February – but will will require work going deeper into the legislative session that ends June 5, the lawmakers said.
They were asked by reporters if they feel added pressure because New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo already has reached an agreement with his state’s legislators on a bill imposing tougher gun restrictions. The New York Senate approved the bill on Monday, with House action to follow. Among other things, the Empire State’s bill would limit capacity of magazines to seven rounds, down from the existing 10, and make it easier to take guns from those with mental illness.
“With regard to the question of New York – we are the state of Connecticut. We are the ones that suffered this tragic loss, and we are the ones that have to deal with it,” said House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk. “We are responsible and responsive to our constituency, and I don’t think any state – regardless of how quickly they act, or what they do – should put any pressure on us to do anything other than … thoughtful, meaningful and effective legislation as quickly as possible. And I think that’s what’s guiding us.”
Said Sharkey: “No, I don’t feel any pressure, myself, that other states are doing this. I think ultimately … Connecticut is going to be the place where people are looking will be looking for guidance, up in Washington as well as around the country.”
“We haven’t even had a chance to digest yet what is being proposed and passed in New York State,” Sharkey said, “But I think we owe it to the public to be careful in what we do: Move quickly, and respond quickly but do it in an intelligent way that takes into account many many different perspectives on what will be effective … in protecting our kids, protecting our schools and protecting the public.”
Here are comments from other top legislative leaders:
–”The eyes of the nation are on Connecticut to see how we respond to the horrific tragedy in Newtown and the plague of gun violence, said Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn. “Our children’s safety is not a partisan issue and I am pleased to join with Democrats and Republicans in crafting a bipartisan plan to reduce violence, improve school security and address access to mental health services.”
– “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 December 14th require a response from our government and our society at large” said said state Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield. “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.”
–”The evil of gun violence has touched too many Connecticut families,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven. “It is our goal to work in a bipartisan way and rise above politics to put in place common sense policies to reduce incidents of violence, increase access to mental health services and improve school security.”
–”Last month’s tragic events in Newtown have left all of us asking how it could have been prevented,” said House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. “As a father of two elementary school age children and someone who works with children in the school system, I’m confident that Republicans and Democrats can work together to ensure that our schools and children are kept safe.”
The task force, will include dozens of members – including the top Democrats and Republicans on each of various committees, as well as some other appointees chosen by the leaders – and it will meet for the first time on Friday.
The task force will hold at least one informational public hearing at which members would gather facts and citizen opinions to help coordinate Newtown-related proposals that will be deliberated by more than a half-dozen other standing committees of the legislature, such as appropriations, public safety, and public health. House and Senate action would follow committees’ votes.