Although legislative leaders have agreed not to discuss ongoing negotiations related to gun violence legislation, one expressed concern Tuesday that the debate has stopped lawmakers from addressing other responsibilities.
Speaking after a ceremonial bill signing for legislation that aids first responders to the Newtown shooting, House Republican Leader Lawrence Cafero said leaders were under pressure to quickly arrive at an agreement on what will be included in an emergency certified bill. Leaders from both parties met behind closed-doors following the the ceremony for a fourth time, but fled before reporters arrived.
“I think no one would deny, regardless of what side this issue you’re on, that this issue — the whole gun debate — has sucked the oxygen out of the room and in many cases almost frozen the legislature [from] doing its proper job in other ways,” Cafero said.
As important as the legislative response to the Sandy Hook shooting is, Cafero said there are other issues that need addressing this session like the budget, the economy, and transportation, among others.
Cafero said leaders have been working as hard as they can, and have not set an official deadline for their negotiations to conclude. However, he said the ongoing work on the planned emergency certified bill was beginning to brush up against the traditional legislative process.
“[The gun debate] has so dominated the discussion, that there are many committees literally running up against their ruled deadlines that cannot act because they’re sort of waiting for this bill to move forward,” he said.
While leaders continue to decide what will be included in the bipartisan gun control bill, the Public Safety Committee is planning to hold a public hearing Thursday on several gun bills. The committee has until March 21 to move legislation out of the committee.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, co-chairman of the committee, said it was still unclear whether the proposals they are considering will end up in the emergency certified bill. The hearing is expected to draw large crowds to the Legislative Office Building.
Dargan said he was looking forward to hearing from the public, some of whom expressed concern they would not be able to weigh in on the bill leaders are negotiating.
“This has by far been an overwhelming issue,” he said.
Other officials have at times expressed frustration over the pace of legislative action on the issue. In February, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told the Journal Inquirer the legislature’s bipartisan process seemed to be “dragging on.” Days later he released his own gun proposals.
In early March, Senate President Donald Williams and Majority Leader Martin Looney sent a letter to their colleagues calling for a voteon the gun violence legislation by March 13.
Asked for a timeline following Monday’s negotiations, Williams said leaders have made progress but there were “significant issues” that were unresolved regarding gun violence prevention.
“When those are resolved, I anticipate that much of the rest of the bill will fall into place. I could be wrong about that, but that’s my opinion,” he said.
Senate Republican Leader John McKinney, who represents Newtown, said it was important the issue be resolved “right, not fast.” But he agreed there are other things that require the attention of lawmakers.
“We’re probably spending more time together in a room than we want to as leaders because we understand that we need to get this resolved,” McKinney said.
He said the intensity of interest in the gun control debate this session has been the highest he has seen during his 15 years in the legislature. He said that wasn’t a bad thing.
McKinney said he didn’t feel pressure to end negotiations as long as leaders still feel like they are making progress through discussions. He said other issues are getting some discussion as well.
McKinney said other issues have been discussed as well. He held his first of several town hall-style meetings in Enfield on Monday night on the governor’s proposed budget. McKinney said residents had exhausted all their questions on Malloy’s budget before someone asked about gun legislation toward the end of the event.