The legislature’s bipartisan response to the Newtown shooting could cost the state up to $25 million a year in additional prison costs based on increased penalties for certain crimes, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis.
The bill adds mandatory minimum sentences to some crimes, increases penalties for several firearm-related offenses — including gun trafficking and illegal possession of a weapon — and reclassifies some offenses as felonies.
“To the extent that sentence lengths increase based on changes in the bill, due to increases in classification of crimes, the DOC would incur costs due to increased prison population because of longer sentences,” the bill’s fiscal note reads.
While the fiscal office estimates the department’s increased costs could reach $25.3 million a year, it notes that the actual costs will depend on how much courts increase the sentences, which may not be clear until 2017.
The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection is expected to incur costs between $500,000 and $1.5 million next fiscal year for the creation of the gun offender registry depending on its structure and operational requirements. Additionally, it will cost about $250,000 annually to operate the database.
The bill will cost the state money in other areas as well. According to OFA, the legislation will cost the state between $16 and $17 million through the end of Fiscal Year 2015.
Between $3 million and $4 million of the additional costs will be incurred by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection for security audits, more background checks and permit requirements, and costs associated with creating and maintaining a gun offender registry.
It will also cost the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services around $8.6 million for expanded services and the development of a mental health admission database.
The Department of Children and Families will incur a cost of $1.8 million to establish behavioral health programs for children.
According to the fiscal note, the bill also authorizes $15 million in General Obligation Bonds that will cost the state $22.9 million in debt service.
Rep. Craig Miner, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said he was still reviewing the details of the bill, but he added that it would have no meaning unless the legislature’s budget accounts for the costs.
“It seems to me if you’re going to support the language of the bill you have to accept the financial obligations that go with it,” he said.
Rep. Toni Walker, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said Monday that the committee would need to find a way to work the bill’s expenses into the budget. Walker’s committee will introduce its budget at the end of April.
“We are going to have to have a very long conversation about how this works into the budget,” she said.