In the wake of the mass shooting that left 28 people dead in Newtown, Conn., state legislators and Gov. Dannel Malloy issued calls for unity on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session.
In a nationally televised State of the State address that kicked off the start of the legislative session Wednesday evening, Malloy promised that his office would work with the legislature on a multifaceted response to the Dec. 14 shooting. But the governor said that he would not consider an NRA-backed proposal to arm teachers and security guards in schools, explaining that “freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom.” Unlike in his two previous State of the State addresses, Malloy offered no specific policy initiatives this year.
“It won’t surprise you that this speech is very different from the one I first envisioned giving,” Malloy said. “In the early days of December, I began thinking about what I’d like to say today. Now, while it’s only been a few short weeks on the calendar, we have all walked a very long and very dark road together.”
Malloy focused much of his speech on the heroism he saw in Newtown, praising the town’s teachers and first responders for their courage as well as town officials who brought comfort to a distraught community. As he spoke, Malloy appeared unable to control his emotions.
“And then, of course, there are the families,” said Malloy, whose voice broke as he talked about the victims and the first-responders. “Twenty-six families that, despite an unimaginable loss, have gotten up each and every day since, have been there for one another, and have supported their community as much as that community has supported them.”
Still, Malloy used the broad theme of resilience in his address to cast a more positive light on some of his administration’s other decisions which have been criticized in the past, including a $1.5 billion tax hike that he authorized in 2011 and an education reform bill that he signed into law last spring. He listed many of the accomplishments of his first two years in office — including education reform, energy policy and economic development — a move that spurred commentators to point to the address as the beginning of Malloy’s 2014 re-election bid.
Following his speech, legislators from both parties applauded Malloy’s words on Newtown. State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney said that the tragedy was foremost on his mind, and he predicted that it would set the tone for this year’s legislative agenda, bringing discussions about gun control, mental health and school safety to the forefront of discussion. Indeed, the legislature will announce a bipartisan Newtown Taskforce that will propose legislation on all three of these fronts, as Malloy envisioned. Pat O’Neal, a spokesman for the Connecticut House Republican caucus, said that legislators are considering expediting the process by which legislation is passed so that public hearings would be held this month and both chambers of the legislature could vote on bills by February.
O’Neal cautioned that, though Republicans are willing to consider gun control proposals and increased mental health services, their main objective is still to close a projected $1.1 billion deficit in the 2013–’14 fiscal year — a fight that Looney said would have dominated this legislative session if it weren’t for Newtown.
“These programs are going to cost money, whether it’s a gun-buyback program or more funding for mental health care,” O’Neal said. “Everything has to be viewed in the prism of ‘How are we going to pay for this?’”
Other possible legislative items this term include a law that would allow undocumented immigrants to be issued driver’s licenses, further restrictions on juvenile sentencing and a proposal to lift the statewide ban on highway tolls.