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State Senate is debating bill on guns, school security, mental health measures

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published April 03. 2013 3:00PM   Updated April 03. 2013 4:05PM

Hartford -- The state Senate started discussing its gun control, school safety and mental health bill this afternoon.
 
“I would like to take us back to Dec. 14, 2012,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn.

A number of legislators who had been working on the state budget that day went upstairs to participate in the press corps' Christmas party. There was a television monitor on the background and “all at once, there was a report that as many as 20 children had been killed” along with a number of teachers and administrators, Williams recalled.
 
“For a few seconds it was hard to breathe,” he said. “I remember thinking this could not be happening in our state, in our country and to our children.”

This was 110 days ago, he said.

“We are obligated as leaders to do all we can,” Williams said.

Legislative leaders said earlier this week that they expect the comprehensive bipartisan bill to pass, and House legislative leaders said they would discourage amendments to the bill or not vote in favor of amendments. But in the Senate a number of Republican legislators said they were opposed to the bill while some Democrats said they wanted more than the bill had to offer. The majority of Senators who have spoken on the floor thus far praised the comprehensive bill.
 
The bill proposes universal background checks, an expansion of the assault weapons ban and a ban on the sale of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The bill also requires background checks for the purchase of ammunition. The bill would expand mental health programs and more tightly monitor how insurance companies provide mental health services. Schools would have access to more funds for school security infrastructure and would be required to maintain safety plans.

Sen. Scott Frantz, R-Riverside, proposed three amendments: one to remove shotguns from the bill, another to allow handguns to have up to 17 bullets and another to allow .22-caliber ammunition to be purchased without credentials.
 
Williams said he opposed each amendment and that the goal was consistency. “A .22 caliber can certainly be fatal,” Williams said. Each amendment failed.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said he had an amendment that would ban the possession of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 bullets, but that it would be for another day or another year.
 
“Adam Lanza killed those kids and adults because he had a 30 rounds. He had 10 30-round magazines that he brought to that elementary school that morning,” Meyer said. “And we learned that because of these gun magazines he was able to fire what looks like 154 bullets in about four minutes.”

Family members of Newtown victims sent a letter to legislative leaders on Monday asking for a ban on the possession of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Meyer said, “What we are doing today is a work in progress.”

State Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield, said he would not be voting for the bill and that his constituents had valid concerns about “incremental” legislation. Connecticut already has some of the toughest gun laws in America, he said. This bill goes too far, he said.

State Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said she would vote in favor of the bill.

“Some of us in this chamber know someone who will miss a life event” because of the Newtown shooting,” Bye said.
 
“For me it is Ana Grace Marquez-Greene,” she said. “She would have turned seven this week. Anyone who has seen her picture or heard her sing knows our whole world lost” on that day.

State Sen. Eric Coleman, D-Bloomfield, said it is tragic that it took the tragedy of Newtown to get the bill done. Gun violence happens so commonly in urban parts of the state, he said.
 
Williams agreed, “Every day, urban gun violence crime claims the lives of tomorrow’s Americans,” he said.

“Today we have before us legislation that is the culmination of a bipartisan effort in the Connecticut state legislature,” Williams said. … “It is the strongest and most comprehensive bill in the country.”

At 3:40 p.m. senators were still debating.

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