This report was updated with additional input from First Selectamn Llodra and the Newtown Legislative delegation since its original posting.
Newtown State Rep Mitch Bolinsky and First Selectman Pat Llodra were among officials to issue responses upon the passage of Senate Bill 1149, An Act Making Technical Changes to the Statutes Concerning Public Records. The new law will impose protections and limitations regarding the release of certain crime scene evidence from the Sandy Hook School shootings on 12/14 and homicide investigations statewide.
According to a Connecticut Mirror report, in the first hours of June 5, the final day of the 2013 session, the Senate and House quickly voted to close public access to police photographs of the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School and, at least temporarily, an audio account made by police as they stepped among the 20 dead children and six educators.
The Senate passed the bill, 33 to 2. The House quickly followed with a vote of 130 to 2. The dissenters were Sens. Edward Meyer of Guilford and Anthony Musto of Trumbull and Reps. Stephen Dargan of West Haven and Peter Tercyak of New Britain, all Democrats.
Rep Bolinsky said he was both relieved and at peace about the legislation that had just passed, when he posted on his state website around 3 am.
“I also am deeply grateful to all my colleagues in the House and Senate for their understanding the importance of providing this critical personal protection for the families of all victims of violent homicide in Connecticut,” he continued. “I doubt anyone can imagine the horrors experienced on 12/14 and since by the families who suffered the ultimate loss. However, we must not forget the effects on so many surviving children, anxious parents, first responders and the extended Sandy Hook and Newtown family that day.”
Rep Bolinsky noted that much emotional energy goes into every day of healing.
“Release of graphic, horrifying and personally invasive images and reminders will result in perpetual and potentially crippling setbacks,” the Newtown lawmaker added. “Following federal guidelines is the right thing to do and will allow affected individuals progress in the process of renewal at their own pace and without fear of setback being imposed upon them from outside influences, whether accidentally or purposefully.”
The first-term lawmaker said he had been fighting hard to accomplish the repression of the 12/14 images and personal information for months.
“Against the wishes of special interests, we have succeeded in moving this legislation forward and protect the memories of the Sandy Hook Angels, as well as the privacy and healing process for their families, survivors and their families, as well as the greater Newtown community,” Rep Bolinsky continued. “There has been a surprising amount of resistance to something that seems so simple and humane to me.”
He said the process developing the legislation has “been an interesting effort.”
“We’ve had our motivations second guessed and even heard a few absurd conspiracy-theories,” he said. “Despite the difficulties, today’s bi-partisan amendment will provide our families and community with piece of mind. This is good legislation; a good example of a compassionate government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Reps DebraLee Hovey and Dan Carter, whose separate districts encompass southern and western neighborhoods of Newtown issued a joint statement Wednesday afternoon regarding the privacy legislation.
Rep Hovey said balancing the freedom of the press and protecting the rights of families as they deal with the murder of a loved one has been a priority for the Newtown delegation, and the entire legislature, since 12/14.
“I am proud to support this legislation because it makes certain that crime scene images of minor children are not disseminated and will not be used to cause further distress to already grieving families,” she stated.
Rep Carter said the legislation strikes a sensible balance between respecting personal privacy and making appropriate information open and available.
"Just because the government may need to collect personal information or photos to conduct an investigation, shouldn't make all of the information releasable to the public," he added.
Mrs Llodra was on her way to Hartford early Wednesday morning to attend a Newtown memorial tribute at the capital, and told The Bee that she planned to stay, if necessary, to help advocate for the privacy legislation if it had not yet been passed.
In a brief text to The Bee, she thanked Gov Dannel Malloy, Lt Governor Nancy Wyman, supporting members of the general assembly and Newtown’s legislative delegation which was led by Senator John McKinney.
“These fine representatives have shown again the depths of their compassion, their commitment to serving the common good, and their capacity for making laws that are fundamentally sound, right, and good,” Mrs Llodra said. “Thank you also to our Sandy Hook families who continue to demonstrate grace, dignity, and great integrity.”
Upon her return from Hartford, Mrs Llodra told The Bee that an attempt by Town Clerk Debbie Aurelia and her staff to block the release of detailed death certificates -which was initially proposed as a separate bill - was subsequently amended into and then removed from the final legislation.
The first selectman said Newtown will be required to honor the standing FOI statute, and will produce copies of requested death certificates to myriad news agencies and individuals requesting them. At the same time, Mrs Llodra credited Ms Aurelia and her staff for bringing victims' privacy issues to the attention of state lawmakers.
"If it wasn't for Debbie and her staff bringing the death certificate concerns to the attention of the legislature, I'm not sure we would have ended up with the heightened level of protections now available to crime victims across the state," she said.
Mrs Llodra added that there was no reason why a death certificate exemption proposal could not be reintroduced by Ms Aurelia and other supporters during the next legislative session.
Gov Malloy also issued a statement around 3 am Wednesday, saying his goal with the legislation was to provide some measure of protection for the families affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“But the fact is, all families have a right to grieve in private. Those who lose loved ones to violence have a right to protect themselves against further anguish,” Gov Malloy said. “This is a difficult issue, requiring all of us to balance deeply held beliefs and important public policy values. I commend the legislators on coming to an agreement that respects the privacy of grieving families.”