Two of Newtown’s three state representatives expressed dismay and frustration following a split recommendation by the legislative working group on gun violence, after a bipartisan package of reforms suddenly morphed into two sets of recommendations on Tuesday, March 5.
Three subcommittees of a special task force were charged with making recommendations on gun violence, mental health care and school safety. But Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the gun violence panel’s task was more controversial than that of the other three groups.
‘‘I think what we’ve done…does advance the process and get us closer to something we can vote on sooner rather than later,’’ Rep Looney said.
But Republican Reps Mitch Bolinsky and DebraLee Hovey, both representing parts of Newtown, were not pleased about the final outcome which both said moved somewhat cooperatively until the 11th hour, when Rep Bolinsky said the panel “Blew itself up.”
“Maybe naively I was under the impression this was moving along in bipartisan fashion,” Rep Bolinsky told The Bee the morning after the gun working group’s announcement. “There seemed to be plenty of places to compromise and make reasonable changes.”
Rep Hovey, also a Republican, was also under the impression Democrats and Republicans would reach consensus and produce a united recommendation.
“I thought we were seeing collaboration and compromise, and if you review the transcripts, you can see Republicans on that panel moved further than anyone might have expected to get there,” Rep Hovey said. “Then they pulled the rug out from under us, negotiating under false pretenses. We were misled.”
Both also took Governor Dannel Malloy to task for asserting his own recommendations before the task force had completed its work.
“I’m so disappointed with the governor and his whole freelancing thing,” Rep Hovey said. “I’m not interested in politicizing this tragedy, and I won’t question another person’s motivations, but what the governor did was distressing.”
Rep Bolinsky was not so diplomatic.
“The governor undermined the process by not expressing confidence, and putting pressure on the task force,” he said. “When he announced his own proposals I felt he exhibited a tremendous lack of respect for others in state government. He trumped his own task force, and provided a poor example of leadership.”
‘Heal This Community’
Momentarily flustered and looking at his marked-up gun panel recommendations, Rep Bolinsky stopped for a moment wiping his eyes and continued, “For God’s sake, Newtown has a right to a thorough process to help heal this community.”
Democrats and Republicans stressed how the parties’ dueling packages include about 16 commonalties, such as universal background checks for all firearms sales.
Both parties suggested a statewide deadly weapon offender registry containing names of people convicted of certain crimes involving a deadly weapon. It would be available only to law enforcement.
And both parties called for increased penalties for firearms trafficking and other gun crimes; expanded requirements for the safe storage of firearms; and bans on the sale of all armor-piercing bullets.
But the sides split on two key issues in the wake of the 12/14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School: expanding the reach of Connecticut’s assault weapons ban and banning large-capacity ammunition magazines.
The Democrats, who control the General Assembly, want to expand the state’s definition of an assault weapon to include more guns. While residents would be forbidden from purchasing these weapons, the state’s gun manufacturers would still be allowed to produce them.
Democrats also called for banning large-capacity magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Republicans, meanwhile, called for increasing the age from 18 to 21 years old for those who can purchase ‘‘a center fire rifle’’ that uses a magazine with the capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The provision would not apply to members of the military.
They also called for increasing requirements for ammunition purchases.
Since Rep Bolinsky and Rep Hovey were serving on other panels, they said they were not ready to take a stand on issues related to expanding the classification of assault weapons or magazine sizes. Both said they wanted time to review details of the gun panel’s recommendations, and that they hoped to see more discussion on enforcement of Connecticut’s existing assault weapons ban.
Both also said they expect to see changes on assault weapon classification and magazine capacity. Rep Bolinsky said he said he was undecided about whether magazine size should be defined by law, and Rep Hovey said she did not support criminalizing individuals who already owned and wanted to retain larger capacity magazines.
Rep Carter did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
Besides the gun violence subcommittee, the mental health group also released its recommendations on Tuesday. That panel came up with four consensus items, including the creation of a task force to study Connecticut’s mental health system and make recommendations for improvements affecting 16- to 25-year-olds, such as closing gaps in private insurance coverage and improving early intervention and treatment.
Mental Health Committee
The mental health subcommittee, which included Rep Hovey, did not reach bipartisan consensus on more contentious issues such as involuntary outpatient commitment, gun permit restrictions for people with mental health issues and mandatory reporting requirements for mental health professionals.
Rep Bolinsky, who followed the work of the other committees said Connecticut needs more mental health services, especially for those who can’t afford them.
Rep Hovey was happy that her panel agreed a continuing mental health task force was needed.
“There were so many issues that were so complex, we couldn’t identify as many solutions as we wanted to given the tight time constraints,” she said.
The school safety subcommittee, which included Rep Bolinsky, submitted its consensus report last month to legislative leaders for consideration. Rep Hovey said that panel also worked as effectively as possible under tight time constraints.
She also appreciated that committee understandably had “huge concerns around the fiscal challenges of implementing security and safety programs in state schools.
Rep Bolinsky said he and most other members of his group were willing to compromise on their own requirements to fashion a bipartisan consensus.
“There were things I wanted that didn’t make it, but I did get that strong linkage between the schools and mental health standards – which were not brought forward as mandates,” he said. “Instead we promoted best practices on things like construction and building hardware that will hopefully be funded by the state.”
The Task Force’s failure to reach consensus on all recommendations leaves legislative leaders with the challenge of crafting a final bill for the entire General Assembly to consider. An informational hearing will likely be scheduled before the vote by the full legislature, which Rep Williams wants before March 13.
(Reporting by the Associated Press and Connecticut Mirror was used in this story.)