Gun bill costs questioned

With the passage of Senate Bill 1160, an act intended to prevent gun violence, the state faces millions in projected costs.

The bill, proposed in the wake of the Newtown shootings and passed by the state Senate and House last Thursday, may cost the state an estimated $200,000 to $300,000 in fiscal year 2013, $8.6 million to $9.6 million in fiscal year 2014 and $7.3 million in fiscal year 2015. These costs stem from the law’s stipulations, which call for expanded mental health services, larger school security grants, stricter penalties for crimes related to the illegal use and transfer of firearms and restrictions on firearms and ammunition.

“[The bill] is certainly worth the cost,” said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who co-chaired the Democratic subgroup of a bipartisan taskforce combating gun violence. “In the aggregate, all of the changes that we made will make what happened at Newtown less likely.”

Under the new legislation — which passed with a 26 to 10 majority in the Senate and a 105 to 44 majority in the House of Representatives — $15 million in bonds issued by the state to fund projects will be authorized, raising future debt predictions to $22.9 million. Security audits, enhanced background checks, stricter permit requirements and the development of a registry of gun offenders may cost the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection at least $200,000 in the current fiscal year and $2.2 million in fiscal year 2014. In the same year, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services may face costs of $4.6 million to expand mental health services, and the Department of Children and Families may need an estimated $1.8 million to establish behavioral health programs.

Furthermore, the Department of Correction might have to address costs of up to $25.3 million in 2017 as stricter penalties for gun-related offenses increase prison costs due to additional incarcerations. But Looney said he hopes the law may have a “prohibitive effect,” in which stricter measures and longer prison sentences will discourage criminal activity.

Craig Miner, a ranking Republican member of the Appropriations Committee, disagrees with the rigid measures that the new bill would inflict on gun owners.

“[The bill] runs the risk of criminalizing individuals who otherwise would not be criminalized,” Miner said.

Certain regulations, such as carrying a firearm with over 10 rounds, would qualify more individuals for a felony, rather than a misdemeanor offense.

Miner, who opposed several parts of the bill, also said he believes the fiscal estimates are far from the true costs.

“If you do the calculations, you would get a totally different fiscal note,” Miner said. “I think the number is heavy – higher than what the true costs really are. I don’t believe the administration wanted to end the [criminal] early release program, and the only way to make [the bill] look like a bad idea is to make the fiscal note higher.”

In addition to overestimated prison costs, Miner said the state can use other alternatives to reduce the costs detailed in the bill. Rather than using a state database of firearm-related offenders, he suggested the use of a free federal database to cut costs.

Miner also criticized Gov. Dannel Malloy for calling for stricter background checks while cutting $250,000 from public safety funding.

By the end of fiscal year 2015, the state Office of Fiscal Analysis estimates that the new law will incur state costs between $16 and $17 million. The Office acknowledged that the affected departments will need funding, although the source of that funding is yet to be determined by state legislators.

“The cost of this bill will have to be accounted for in the budget that we pass,” Looney said. “[The Appropriations Committee] will propose a budget that will reflect some of the governor’s proposals with our own changes.”

Miner predicted that Democrats will support an appropriations package that both exceeds revenue estimates and takes into account costs associated with Senate Bill 1160.

The State Appropriations Committee will propose a new budget in late April.

 

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