HARTFORD, Connecticut — Connecticut lawmakers on Thursday began building on a package of reforms the General Assembly passed in April that addressed the Newtown school shooting, requiring annual firearms safety training for armed security in local schools and improvements in mental health services for children.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown, said the Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School helped bring to light gaps and shortcomings in the state's mental health system affecting young people.
"We all made a pledge and vow to work on that," he said. "And this is part of that work."
One bipartisan bill that passed the Senate unanimously Thursday requires the Department of Children and Families to develop a comprehensive plan to meet the mental, emotional and behavioral health needs of children, with an emphasis on early identification and intervention.
Among other things, the bill requires DCF and a new Office of Early Childhood to provide professional development training to pediatricians and child care workers to help them identify mental, emotional and behavioral health issues. That same Office of Early Childhood will be required to find private funding to design a public information and education campaign on those issues.
Additionally, a new Children's Mental Health Task Force is charged with studying the effects of nutrition, genetics, psychotropic drugs and other treatments on the mental and emotional health of children.
"I think the political climate in the wake of the Newtown tragedy made this bipartisan, unanimous Senate vote possible tonight," said Sen. Dante Bartolomeo, D-Meriden, a key proponent of the bill. "But I've long felt that Connecticut should treat mental health with the same importance as general health. This bill moves that conversation forward."
Senators also passed a second bill requiring school districts to hire only police officers and troopers or retired officers and troopers to provide school security if they will using a firearm as part of their duties. Those officers would have to obtain annual training in firearms safety by certified trainers from the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, an organization that sets standards for being a police officer in Connecticut.
POST will be required to develop standards for additional training needs.
Enfield and North Branford are planning to hire armed security for their schools. A legislative task force that examined school security in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting did not recommend that districts be required to hire armed guards, but state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said if more districts decide to hire guards, this bill ensures they'll be properly trained.
Both bills await final legislative action in the House of Representatives.