Published April 02. 2013 3:00PM Updated April 03. 2013 10:05AM
Hartford — Legislative leaders and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy expect a bipartisan bill on gun control, mental health and school safety to be passed in the Senate and House today — days before President Barack Obama visits Connecticut Monday to push for federal gun control legislation.
Malloy said he would sign the bill as soon as he gets it.
"This is a good moment," Malloy said Tuesday. "We have a bipartisan package that moves the ball down the field quite a distance, and I think is already being heralded as a demonstration to the rest of the country of what can be done when people work together and put aside some of their differences. So this is a good day."
Local legislators said this was one of the most controversial bills they would be voting on and acknowledged that the bill didn't make anyone completely happy. Those in favor of gun control said the proposed bill was an "incredible" step in the right direction but that there is more work to be done, while gun advocates said the measures would not make people safer and that mental health services should have been the focus instead.
But the proposed bill would increase access to mental health services and improve school security measures. Mental health programs would be expanded, and insurance companies would be more tightly monitored with regard to how much mental health treatment they provide patients.
Schools would have access to more funds for school security infrastructure and would be required to maintain safety plans, which would be reviewed by the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection.
Mental health services
The bill would expand opportunities to incorporate mental health first-aid training into school systems. For example, the bill would require the state's Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to administer a mental health first-aid training program that focuses on identifying signs of mental disorders in children and young adults and helping them access services.
The bill also would create a task force to study the state's mental health system, including early intervention, gaps in insurance coverage, outpatient commitment and the reporting responsibilities of mental health professionals. A report of the group's findings would be due Feb. 1.
The bill also would change how commercial insurance companies operate. The state's Insurance Department would be required to evaluate how it determines whether insurers are complying with state and federal mental health parity laws, which require insurers or health care service plans to provide the same level of benefits for treating mental illness or substance abuse as they do for physical disorders or diseases.
The bill also would indicate specific criteria for the treatment of a disorder, which would make decisions to provide coverage more consistent among insurers and give consumers a clear reason for being denied coverage. Consumers could appeal a denial.
Making schools safer
School security is another major component of the legislation. New security measures would apply to both K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
The bill would create a School Safety Infrastructure Council, which would develop safety standards for school building projects. The initial standards would be designed by Jan. 1 and would be updated annually as needed. The bill would reauthorize the competitive grant program that reimburses towns for school security infrastructure upgrades. Reimbursement would be between 20 percent and 80 percent, depending on the municipality.
The state's Education and Emergency Services and Public Protection departments would develop school security and safety plan standards by Jan. 1. Schools would be required to create their own school security and safety plans and submit them to DESPP.
Overall, legislators have agreed more on mental health and school safety provisions than gun control measures, legislative leaders have said.
Some of the proposed gun control initiatives include universal background checks, an expanded definition of an assault weapon and a ban on the sale or purchase of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.
Jonathan Scalise, owner of New Britain-based Ammunition Storage Components, said the proposed ban on the sale and purchase of high-capacity magazines would make 52 percent of his products illegal in Connecticut. He could sell the high-capacity magazines outside of the state, he said, but he was concerned about what the proposed regulations would do to his business.
"We have had customers that are strongly encouraging us to move to other locations because they don't want to do business in Connecticut," Scalise said.
But others were in favor of the bill. Nancy Lefkowitz, co-founder of the grass-roots organization March for Change, said, "We are putting aside perfect to make way for really good."
State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said she would have preferred to ban the possession of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, but that she would vote for the bill because it would make the lives of children and families safer.
State Rep. Edward Moukawsher, D-Groton, said, he, too, would vote for the bill.
"I have never seen so much passion on both sides so strongly," he said. "It's been a very difficult issue to reach some consensus on, so I am glad that we are finally taking some action."