Task Force Gathers Public Input

February 7, 2013
State Senator Kevin Witkos (R-8) listens to testimony during the bipartisan task force's school safety working group public hearing at the Legislative Office Building on Friday, January 25th.

State Senator Kevin Witkos (R-8) listens to testimony during the bipartisan task force’s school safety working group public hearing at the Legislative Office Building on Friday, January 25th.

Over the past two weeks, the General Assembly’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention and Children’s Safety held several informational meetings and public hearings to gather expert testimony and public input. As I previously wrote, I was appointed to serve on two of the task force’s working groups which focused exclusively on school safety and gun violence prevention. Throughout this time, legislators heard directly from thousands of Connecticut residents whose voices will be taken into account in the development of new legislation.

On Friday, January 25th, the task force’s school safety working group met at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. As a part of this forum, we heard from parents, students, concerned members of the public, police officers, industry representatives and many others. It was a good opportunity to review current security measures and focus on additional measures that could be undertaken to improve security.

Representatives of several different companies shared information about door and entryway technology and other steps that will allow for improvements to keep our schools safe and secure. Some also shared opinions on whether armed police officers or other security officials should be stationed in our schools. As a former DARE police officer, I know that officers play an important role in the learning and education of our children, but I also recognize that there are concerns over these proposals. Most of the testimony I heard recommended that increased funding should be spent on mental health professionals rather than armed security.

Last week, on January 28th, the task force’s gun violence prevention working group came together at the same location. Nearly 1,400 people braved the snowy weather to sign up to testify before the group. The day started with an informational meeting to hear from law enforcement officials who explained the technical aspects of firearms to legislators.

When the public hearing began, we heard from several families who were directly impacted by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Listening to their powerful statements, I could not help but respect their courage to come into the public spotlight and share their thoughts with us. After hours and hours of testimony, the public hearing concluded at 2:45 a.m.

Although I was not a member of the mental health working group, they also met last week and heard testimony from doctors, patients, members of the public and others. Some expressed the desire to improve mental health services while others shared concern over how patients receive treatment. A full task force public hearing was held at Newtown High School to allow members of that community to voice their thoughts.

These meetings were an important opportunity to gather a wide array of valuable input. On a side note, I did watch much of the mental health hearing on CT-N, which is the next best thing to being there in person. If you missed any of these hearings, you can watch them on the CT-N website at www.ctn.state.ct.us.

In the aftermath of such a tragic event, legislators must include every voice in the discussion about potential legislation. I was proud to have been a part of these task forces and look forward to taking meaningful steps to ensure the safety of our schools. In the coming weeks and months, new proposals will be drafted to strengthen school safety, reduce gun violence and improve mental health services.

If you did not have an opportunity to attend one of these public hearings but would like to submit written testimony, please email [email protected]. For more information about these hearings or to read submitted testimony, please visit the task force’s website at www.cga.ct.gov/ASaferConnecticut.