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Hartford — Democratic and Republican leaders said Wednesday they were ready to work with the governor on gun violence prevention after hearing his "State of the State" speech.
Republican leaders, however, said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was re-writing history when he spoke of fixing the state's budget and growing jobs.
"I think we, as citizens, owe him a debt of gratitude for the way he led us through Sandy Hook," House Minority Leader Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, said. "The second part of his speech, however, was a bit of revisionist history. Anybody who believes, and obviously he does, ... (that) we in the State of Connecticut are in a better place than we were two years ago, I would like to hear why."
Going forward, Republicans said they hoped they would be included in the upcoming two-year budget discussions. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle said they were ready to focus on energy, in particular increasing access to natural gas. But the focus of the first part of the session will be on how to improve access to mental health services, bolster school safety and prevent gun violence.
Shadow of Newtown
Malloy opened his speech by recognizing those who lost their lives in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the victims' loved ones, and those who have helped the community during this trying time.
To First Selectwoman Pat Llondra and School Superintendent Janet Robinson, both seated with Cathy Malloy, the governor's wife, he said, "your compassion and leadership over the past month has been an inspiration to Connecticut, and to me personally."
He said his newly created Sandy Hook Advisory Commission would provide public safety recommendations by March 15.
"More guns are not the answer," he said. "Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom."
Legislators said they were ready for a bipartisan effort to address the Newtown tragedy. Cafero said he thought common ground could be reached. He said some people fear that all guns would be outlawed or that the new gun controls would be too weak, if, for example, they only limited high-capacity magazines to 100 rounds, he said. But controlling and restricting the use of guns to improve public safety doesn't have to mean taking away rights, he said.
"I believe those two things could co-exist if done properly," Cafero said.
He and newly confirmed Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said they met with state police Tuesday to get officers' perspectives on gun safety.
Cafero said he learned that it would be difficult to enforce a ban on all guns with magazines because there are "hundreds of millions" of them around the country.
There is currently a proposal by state Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, and state Rep. Bob Godfrey, D-Danbury, to ban the possession and sale of any rifle, shotgun or pistol magazine with a capacity of more than 10 rounds, and to expand the definition of an assault weapon.
Sharkey said he left the state police meeting thinking there were some actions that could be taken in the immediate future. Democratic and Republican leadership planned to meet Wednesday afternoon to discuss what could be done quickly. Sharkey said he hoped they could have bills ready for action by the end of February.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who also attended the governor's speech, said he would work in partnership with state legislators, and he hoped Connecticut could lead the nation in reducing gun violence.
Blumenthal proposed federal legislation Tuesday that would require ammunition buyers to go through a background check. He said this could first be implemented in Connecticut and then on the national level.
The gun seizure law, which allows police officers to take guns from someone before they commit a violent act, also could be strengthened and be a model for the country, he said.
Blumenthal added that he was speaking with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Gerald Fox about how he and state lawmakers could work together.
The governor said that two years ago, his administration and the legislature came together, passed a balanced budget and added new revenue.
Even when revenues fell short, the budget "as-enacted" solved more than 90 percent of the problem, he said.
Last month, in a bipartisan effort, the government closed the "final gap" without raising taxes. The state still faces a $40 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2013, according to Comptroller Kevin Lembo.
But Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said the budget passed two years ago didn't work and wasn't created in a bipartisan fashion.
"It didn't work. Our unemployment rate has gone up, we still have deficits, he did not achieve the union savings that he said he would achieve," McKinney said. "Those are hard numbers that actuaries can say he didn't achieve what he said he did."
Cafero said the successful programs, including measures targeting education, jobs, energy and deficit mitigation, involved bipartisanship.
"Everything else that was done in the one-party form, the one-party rule, was a disaster," he said.
Going forward, both Cafero and McKinney said they are hopeful about being included in the budget development.
"I am going to engage in a bipartisan budget process starting now until I am told otherwise," McKinney said.
Cafero said he was hopeful that the "spirit" of Sandy Hook would carry into the upcoming session.
The governor said he would continue to push forward his comprehensive strategy to expand access to energy, especially natural gas and clean energy.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle said it was time to expand the natural gas market. The controversy lies in how other energy providers, such as those in the oil and petroleum industries will react.
"I think it will be a question about the role of government in partnering or assisting one particular energy field versus others," state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said.
Sharkey said he thought the state should diversify its energy sources to become economically competitive. The priority would be expanding energy choices, which should drop the cost of energy for homeowners and small businesses, he said.