Republican and Democratic legislative leaders emerged from a four-and-a half hour meeting Thursday optimistic they’ll be able to come to an agreement on post-Newtown legislation, including some of the more controversial gun proposals.
But it was too soon to tell if they’ll be able to reach agreement on all of the issues. They’re still hammering out the “nitty gritty of how each issue will play out,” according to Sen. President Donald Williams. “It’s still too early to tell.”
Thursday was the second time leaders met behind closed-doors to work on language for an emergency certified bill expected to be voted on by the full General Assembly some time in the next few weeks.
Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney were stopped in front of the elevators outside House Speaker Brendan Sharkey’s office where the meeting took place Thursday.
Looney said they reached an understanding on several issues, but the sticking point will come when they draft the language to reflect that understanding.
Republican Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero said Thursday’s meeting was productive and the two parties educated each other on their own proposals. He said there were some misconceptions about what exactly each side was looking to achieve.
Cafero said it was such a productive meeting that they’ve planned to meet again on Friday and have saved time to meet again on Monday, March 11 — the same day the National Rifle Association and a handful of Connecticut gun groups are encouraging gun owners to come to the Capitol to lobby their lawmakers.
Asked if he thought Republican lawmakers really had a seat at the table with Democratic legislative leaders, who don’t need the minority’s support to pass legislation, Cafero said he did.
“If we felt this was all for show, not for go, I don’t think we’d be here,” Cafero said.
Cafero said they promised not to comment on particular aspects of the legislation, which left them with little to share except for some cliches about how productive the meetings have been.
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney said there’s areas of the package they haven’t even touched yet, so there’s still a lot of work to do. He said they want to make sure they have all the issues down so that when it comes to drafting the actual language things go as planned.
When it comes to the expanding the state’s assault weapons ban, the drafting of the language could make or break any tentative deal the two sides may have made during negotiations.
“We’re spending most of our time on gun-related issues,” Williams said.
The subcommittees on school security and mental health were able to give leaders consensus recommendations, but the gun subcommittee submitted Democratic and Republican proposals.
Sharkey said they’re committed to reaching an agreement as quickly as possible and both parties say they would like to hold some type of public forum on the final piece of legislation prior to a vote.
If they could get it done next week, or even the following week, then they will feel like they’ve reached their goal.
But the groups applying pressure on each side of the gun issue are ramping up their efforts to sway as many lawmakers as possible. On Thursday, the National Shooting Sports Foundation began an advertising campaign, and gun control proponents are expected to have their own advertising campaign out soon.
“It’s such an emotional issue,” Cafero said Thursday.
It’s also not necessarily a partisan issue. In 1993, when Connecticut passed its first assault weapons ban, there were several Democratic lawmakers who voted against the bill that first year, including now-Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman, who hails from the eastern part of the state.