The General Assembly approved a bill Wednesday morning that exempts crime scene photos of murder victims, including the 26 Newtown victims.
The bill made its way through the both chambers of the legislature in less than an hour, with less than 24 hours before the close of the session. More than 100 lawmakers signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation.
The bill passed the Senate in a 33-2 vote. The House voted 130-2 shortly after 2 a.m. as the Newtown families, who lobbied for the legislation, watched.
The bill will prevent the release of any photograph or video recording that portrays the body of a homicide victim. It prevents for one year, the release of law enforcement audio recordings describing the bodies of children who are murdered. The bill will establish a task force to make recommendations the “balance between victim privacy under the Freedom of Information Act and the public’s right to know.” The bill would not restrict the release of 911 recordings.
Sen. President Donald Williams said the session was ending much like it began in January, when lawmakers started a bipartisan process leading to sweeping bipartisan gun control legislation in response to the murders of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School
Some of the families of those 26 victims joined lawmakers in the Senate and the House as they explained the bill.
“We have tried our best as Democrats and Republicans to work together to protect the interest of these families… sitting behind me, at the same time honoring our tradition as a free and open democracy,” Williams said.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, who represents Newtown, said the legislation made it clear what lawmakers intended.
“One does not need to see the photos to understand the unwarranted pain and anguish it would cause a parent or another family member to see such photos published or appear on the Internet every time someone searches ‘Sandy Hook’ or ‘school shooting,’” he said.
Sens. Edward Meyer and Anthony Musto voted against the legislation. In a written statement, Meyer said he identified as a father and grandfather with the “immense sadness” the murders brought to the families. But Meyer said the “horrific crimes” were committed on public property and recorded by public officials. He said suppressing those recordings was not consistent with an open society.
“The more we understand about our ugliness, the better chance we have to overcome that ugliness. Suppression of horrific conduct, as this bill dictates, invites history to repeat itself,” he said.
Meyer included with his statement photographs of graphic images whose disclosure “changed history.” Among the photos was a Vietnamese girl burned during the war and people shot at the Kent State massacre.
Democratic Reps. Stephen Dargan of West Haven and Peter Tercyak of New Britain were the dissenting voices in the House.
Tercyak said the legislature had conversations before enacting gun restrictions and changes to its mental health policy in response to the shooting. He said he was in favor of having a moratorium on making evidence public until the legislature could also have a conversation about changing its Freedom of Information laws.
“I’m heartsick that we didn’t. I think the people of Connecticut deserve to have a voice in the conversation about this too. This is at least as important as gun control. This is at least as important as the mental health issues. Open government is the bedrock, I’m sorry,” he said.
Tercyak seemed shaken as he spoke with reporters after the vote.
“Some principles are always there. The reason people can trust our government and our police departments is because we don’t have secrets. It’s never easy,” he said.