Hugh McQuaid Photo
Gun violence task force (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

A bipartisan legislative committee tasked with preventing gun violence and addressing school safety in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre scheduled a series of public hearings, beginning a process Friday that is likely to be watched around the country.

Legislative leaders announced the committee on Tuesday with the goal of quickly acting on issues related to guns, mental health resources, and school security where there is consensus among members of both parties.

The task force held its first meeting on Friday when lawmakers scheduled public hearings for each of the three subcommittees. The first three hearings will be held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. The first will be Jan. 25 on school safety, a second hearing on gun violence will be on Jan. 28, and third hearing on mental health issues will be on Jan. 29.

Lawmakers scheduled a final hearing on all three issues to be held on Jan. 30 at Newtown High School at 6 p.m.

Members of the subcommittees are tasked with turning over recommendations to leadership by Feb. 15.

During the committee’s first meeting, leaders on both sides of the aisle reminded members that the nation would be watching their work, given that the shooting that left 26 dead in an elementary school last month occurred in Connecticut.

Senate President Donald Williams said that whether the lawmakers on the committee were seasoned veterans or freshmen elected in November, the work they do on the committee will likely be the most closely watched of their careers.

“You will work on many important issues throughout your legislative careers but I doubt that many will be as carefully scrutinized and followed across the country, perhaps even around the world, as this issue right here,” he said.

Lawmakers may not have a difficult time working together to find areas of consensus on the issues of mental health and school safety, but the members of the gun violence subcommittee will be operating under a microscope, looking for consensus on one of the most contentious issues of our time.

Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat from New Haven, and Rep. Craig Miner, a Republican from rural Litchfield, will co-chair the gun violence subcommittee.

The two have taken different approaches to gun legislation in the weeks since the shooting. Miner, head of the legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus representing hunters and fishermen, has been reluctant to give specific positions regarding future gun control proposals. Looney, on the other hand, called for stricter gun and ammunition legislation the day after the Newtown shooting.

Asked how they will approach looking for agreement on such a charged political issue, the two lawmakers gave different answers.

Miner paused for a moment before answering.

“I’ve kind of made it my practice to do a lot of listening and try and be guarded in my speaking,” he said. “I try to ask a lot of questions. I mean the only way I think we’ll have an opportunity for a good outcome is to begin to communicate with each other and find out what common ground we have.”

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Rep. Craig Miner (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Miner resisted efforts to characterize his general position on gun control, saying it wasn’t helpful to the conversation. He said he had talked about the issue with around 500 people in his district over the past few weeks and had listened to their ideas.

“People can characterize me any way they choose to. I would rather not help them bind me in a corner,” he said.

Looney has been less shy about what he would like to see done on gun control. The day after the shooting he called for a look at expanding Connecticut’s assault weapons ban and announced plans to reintroduce legislation he proposed two years ago that would have banned the sale of ammunition to people who can’t legally own a gun.

Asked how he would approach the committee’s work to find consensus proposals, Looney said he didn’t think there needed to be complete consensus.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Sen. Martin Looney (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

“I think we’re going to have to have a flexible process. Recommendations will have to be filtered through the working group but not necessarily requiring that there be unanimity on any particular recommendation in order for it to advance through the process,” he said, adding that he hoped there would be consensus on some items.

House Minority Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, urged all the subcommittee chairs to forward to leaders as many consensus items as possible.

“For the subcommittees to pass on a whole litany of various suggestions that are a broad spectrum of any given solution to any given problem and then dumping it in the laps of the four leaders, might not be productive,” he said.

The following lawmakers will serve on the three subcommittees:

Gun Violence:
Sen. Martin Looney, Co-chair
Rep. Craig Miner, Co-chair
Rep. Gerald Fox III
Rep. Stephen Dargan
Rep. Bob Godfrey
Rep. Toni Walker
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas
Rep. Janice Giegler
Rep. Dan Carter
Sen. Eric Coleman
Sen. John Fonfara
Sen. Joan Hartley
Sen. John Kissel
Sen. Scott Frantz
Sen. Tony Guglielmo
Sen. Kevin Witkos

School Safety:
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, Co-chair
Sen. Toni Boucher, Co-chair
Rep. Roberta Willis
Rep. Patricia Widlitz
Rep. Diana Urban
Rep. Tim Ackert
Rep. Tim LeGeyt
Rep. Whit Betts
Rep. Mitch Bolinsky
Sen. Dante Bartolomeo
Sen. Andrea Stillman
Sen. Beth Bye
Sen. Andrew Maynard
Sen. Art Linares
Sen. Mike McLachlan
Sen. Kevin Witkos

Mental Health:
Sen. Toni Harp, Co-chair
Rep. Terrie Wood, Co-chair
Rep. Susan Johnson
Rep. Cathy Abercrombie
Rep. Robert Megna
Rep. Betsy Ritter
Rep. Prasad Srinivasan
Rep. DebraLee Hovey
Sen. Terry Gerratana
Sen. Gayle Slossberg
Sen. Joe Crisco
Sen. Rob Kane
Sen. Kevin Kelly
Sen. Joe Markley
Sen. Jason Welch