Malloy signs gun violence prevention bill

Within 48 hours, a multi-part “violence prevention and children’s safety” bill was approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Dan Malloy.

The law covers three areas — gun control measures, schools safety and mental health access.

The bill passed 26-10 in the Senate, and 105-44 in the House.

Senators Bob Duff and Carlo Leone, and representatives Terrie Wood and William Tong, who all represent part of Darien, voted for the bill. Wood served as the co-chair on the mental health committee, and introduced the mental health portion to her colleagues in the House.

The “horror” of the shootings in Newtown in December of last year prompted action, Duff said.

“We all wanted to do something, to try and prevent such a tragedy from happening again,” he said. “We heard from many, many people, then came together to craft a bill which addresses gun violence, mental health, and school security. I hope that around the nation and in Washington, D.C. others will take note of our bipartisan approach.”

Connecticut’s law is being called one of the strictest in the country. It creates the first dangerous weapon crime offender registry, for both those convicted and released after January 2014 or “found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect,” the law states. Registrants will be required to update their information for five years.

Violent felons will be required to serve at least 85% of their original sentence, though the state allows sentence reduction due to good behavior in other cases.

The law requires national criminal background checks before any type of gun purchase, and for all types of sales, including at gun shows, through private sales and through licensed dealers.

The list of banned assault weapons is expanded to over 100 and residents are no longer allowed to purchase large capacity magazines — those holding more than 10 bullets, or magazines altered to do the same, with a few exceptions. Owners who purchase these magazines before January 2014 must register them with the state.

Purchases of any type of ammunition will need an “eligibility certificate,” which means that they have passed a background check, as of October 1, 2013.

Manufacturers of large-capacity magazines do not have to leave the state, though early in the Senate discussion, Sen. Tony Guglielmo, a Republican, voiced his opinion that this law would “damage” the state’s “brand,” and that gun buyers and manufacturers would boycott Connecticut.

A state certificate will also be required to purchase long guns and its ammunition after April 2014, which should state they have passed a background check and have registered their information, including mental health history and fingerprints, and have passed a safety training course.

As of October 2013, gun owners will be liable for damages, with the exception of a break-in, if they do not lock up their loaded weapon at home.

The law sets aside $1 million from the DESPP’s general fund to create a “state-wide firearms trafficking task force” by June 30, 2014.

Less controversial than its gun control counterpart, the mental health provisions in the recently passed legislation is just as important, according to State Rep. Terrie Wood, a Republican from Darien, who served as co-chairman of the mental health working group intended to create the law.

Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Wood expressed that she feels strongly that mental health care is part of preventing major tragedies. Expanded access and education on mental health disorders will also help destigmatize it, she said.

“We have a responsibility to learn more and lead more, and educate our citizens about mental health and behavioral issues,” she said to her colleagues.

Three months after the mass shooting at in Newtown, Conn., the law establishes a task force that will study access to behavioral health services, particularly for people ages 16 to 25 and report back to the state by February 1, 2014.

Some local mental health specialists agree that the task force has potential. Maud Purcell, executive director of the Life Solutions Center in Darien said the task force is good idea.

“Very often those are folks, especially the 16 year olds, but more the kids graduated from high school or college and can’t find jobs,” she said. “I think they’re at risk for developing problems because they don’t have direction, they don’t have a purpose.”

Dr. Larry Rosenberg, clinical director at the Child Guidance Center in Southern Connecticut, said that the 16 to 21-year-olds are a “vulnerable age group,” because they can begin to develop “mental health problems of a severe nature,” he said.

The local board of ed will provide mental health first aid training programs, with the help of the state, according to the law. The state has until 2014 to decide whether the training will be included as part of teacher certifications.

Early identification will save tax money but also potential lives, Purcell said. “If the problems can be identified early, it’s hard to calculate the lives that might be saved down the road.”

Children’s doctors will be able to access regional consultants, including a child psychiatrist, social worker, and a care coordinator, through DMHAS. The agency will also provide access to “patient care coordination and transitional services for behavioral health care” and “training and education concerning patient access to behavioral health services” for physicians, the law states.

In some communities, like Darien, the problem is not the lack of resources but the fact that information about them is not widely available. The Human Service Planning Council in Darien works to disseminate important information, such as mental health resources, Purcell said.

The law will also require health insurance companies to respond in less than 24 hours for “urgent” mental health services.

Insurers will also be required to use national clinical criteria to determine individuals’ conditions, with differentiation between care for adults, and children and adolescents. This will put most insurers and doctors on the same page.

“There are situations where a child may be in need of urgent care of a certain sort,” said Rosenberg, of the Child Guidance Center, “and there have been disputes over what sort of care that child needs and for how long.”

The state will also give out $15 million in grants to fund school security-related construction projects. Superintendent Steve Falcone said that the district will apply for any grants that are available, but that review of the specifics of the law is necessary to determine eligibility. The state will also develop school safety standards by January 2013.

The Darien Schools, under the guidance of the Darien Police Department, recently implemented several measures to improve security within the district. The police chief,  other officers, and members of the schools’ administration compose  a security committee in town. This puts Darien at the forefront with the new law, which requires schools to implement safety and security plans and submit to the Department of Emergency and Public Services.

Administration continues to meet with the police department to discuss security but has not yet discussed the security laws, Falcone said.

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