With a handful of snow days and an evolving and sometimes contentious subject matter, it’s unlikely the legislative super committee tasked with responding to the Newtown shooting will act this month, as was initially planned.
Each of the group’s three subcommittees have been moving at different paces to draft recommendations for legislative leaders to consider for inclusion in what is planned as a broad, bipartisan bill. But it will probably be early to mid-March before legislation is ready.
Some groups, like the subcommittee on school safety measures, may have their recommendations finalized as soon as this week.
Sen. Toni Boucher, the Republican co-chairwoman of the school safety subcommittee, said she expected her group to be very close to making its recommendations after it meets Wednesday morning at 11.
“We’ve been able to hash out all the consensus items and get fairly close to finalizing our report,” she said. “We’ve been barreling down on it and have made a lot of progress.”
Boucher said she expects the recommendations the committee will make will only be proposals that have support from Democrats and Republicans from both chambers of the legislature.
While it’s unlikely that every recommendation will have the support of everyone on the committee, she said the most controversial proposals were tossed out early on, she said.
“We quickly eliminated the most contentious issues, such as arming teachers,” she said.
Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, the committee’s Democratic co-chairman, agreed.
“That idea had no traction. I’m proud of the task force for having taken such a clear stance on that so quickly,” he said.
The committee also is unlikely to recommend strict mandates like dictating a certain number of armed guards be placed at every school. Boucher said she thinks the group will endorse establishing school safety plans and providing more resources to school districts.
Fleischmann said the recommendations also will include setting standards for what safety plans should look like and how districts should go about reporting to the state.
Other subcommittees were further away from consensus Monday.
Rep. Craig Miner, Republican co-chairman of the subcommittee on guns, said he would like to see another opportunity for some sort of public input, even if it’s not a “full-blown public hearing.”
“We would like more information. I’m not sure how much of that information is going to be forthcoming,” he said.
The gun subcommittee has already hosted an additional informational hearing, when it invited gun manufacturers and municipal organizations like the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association back to testify a second time.
Miner said it would be nice to give the public a chance to comment once the committee has some idea what it would be recommending. When the committee did hold a public hearing, thousands of residents turned out to testify. The hearing didn’t end until around 3 a.m. the next day.
Miner said next time it might be appropriate to at least let representatives of different constituencies speak. He used Robert Crook, director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen, as an example. Crook has lobbied gun-related issues in the building for 30 years, but only received three-minutes to testify.
According to Miner, the gun subcommittee doesn’t yet have a clear idea what it’s going to be recommending to leadership.
“We’re still in the throes of trying to determine what makes sense and how it’s going to be paid for,” he said.
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, who is both a member of leadership and the other co-chair of the gun subcommittee, did not return calls for comment.
On Monday, Miner expressed concerns that there is no money set aside in Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed budget for gun-related safety proposals.
He said one area where there seemed to be broad agreement was a proposal to increase the number of people who are required to undergo a background check before purchasing a firearm.
But rather than increase funding to this area Malloy’s budget reduces it, said Miner. Malloy’s budget cuts $250,000 a year from the “Civilianize the background and special licensing and firearms investigations units” line item.
Though he didn’t disagree with the basic logic behind the reduction, which is to move sworn troopers out of administrative positions and back into law enforcement positions, Miner said it struck him as disingenuous to reduce by even a small amount the funding for a background check system that — everyone seems to agree — should be used more rather than less.
“I don’t know how this whole process moves forward unless people are willing to sit down, look each other in the face and say what they mean,” he said.
Ben Barnes, Malloy’s budget secretary, said it wasn’t necessary to have sworn law enforcement officers doing the paperwork for background checks.
“I think everyone would agree we shouldn’t be paying hazardous duty police officers to do clerical work,” he said. “It’s very expensive and time consuming to get trained troopers on the force. We should be paying them to do what they’re trained for.”
Barnes said that the civilian employees doing the background checks would still be supervised by officers.
As for funding a potential increase in the number of people being investigated via background checks, Barnes said it would be supported by the extras fees those people would be paying.
“It’s a fee-supported activity,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect it would be a huge [budget] item.”
Whatever the committee recommends, Miner said it should have the support of members on both sides of the aisle.
“I don’t see how this legislature pursues significant bipartisan agreement without some level of buy-in from each caucus,” Miner said.
House Republican leader Lawrence Cafero, one of the four legislative leaders who will help to decide what recommendations end up in the super committee’s bill, agreed. He said that there have been a number of controversial proposals introduced this session, especially regarding gun control, but those ideas will have the chance to go through the traditional legislative process.
“That wasn’t the purpose of the task force. Early on we asked what can we do as Republicans and Democrats with broad consensus,” he said. “Otherwise it’s not a bipartisan bill.”
However, Cafero was still optimistic the final product would be an effective piece of legislation most members could get behind.
“I think you’re going to be surprised how many things do have consensus support and are going to be in this bill,” Cafero said.