Lawmakers in the House and Senate voted unanimously Wednesday to pass an emergency certified bill to establish a privately-funded foundation to assist school staff and first responders suffering from psychological trauma as a result of the Newtown shooting.
The foundation will be funded through private donations and will help people directly impacted by the Dec. 14 murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Legislative leaders announced the bill at a press conference Wednesday morning. The bill cleared the House in a 143-0 vote and the Senate 35-0 later in the day.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said the goal was to help cover missed work and out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by workers compensation. Mental health impairments are not covered as standalone issues under workers compensation.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said that somewhere between 150 and 200 people will be potentially eligible to access the fund. That includes police officers, firefighters, teachers, and school administrators whose proximity to the Dec. 14 murder of 20 school children and six educators have left them traumatized.
Senate President Donald Williams said everyone in the state and country was shocked to hear about the events of Dec. 14, but it was traumatic for the people who were in the school that day.
“For the first responders and the brave teachers and administrators at the elementary school who survived, what they saw was horrific,” he said.
Senate Republican leader John McKinney, whose district includes Newtown, said there currently are five police officers who aren’t able to work as a result of the shooting. Three of those officers returned to work too soon and later went back on leave, and two others have yet to return to work at all, he said.
“A lot of great people from places like Columbine have come to Connecticut to say it might take six months, a year, five years,” he said. “That’s why this fund and others are so important.”
House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz said he visited Newtown last week and met with some of the police officers. Some were running out of sick days and trying to make financial ends meet despite not feeling recovered from the incident.
“I think what we’re saying here today is that we recognize the mental health aspect of this issue, that we believe it’s important and want to make sure the first responders, the teachers, and others get the care that they need,” he said.
Cafero said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle wanted to do something to help. They appealed to the corporate community and private citizens, he said. Several hundred thousand of dollars have been pledged, he said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy issued a statement lauding the efforts of Democrats and Republicans in the legislature. He said 82 days have passed since the shooting and the memory was still raw for many of the state’s residents. In the time since, state officials have engaged in a sometimes contentious debate on how best to respond to the incident, Malloy said.
“But that should not stop us from doing the good and decent things that honor those who serve our communities, especially those who have done so admirably in our darkest hour,” he said. “It is moments like this that make me grateful for the opportunity to serve the residents of our state, and I look forward to signing the bill.”