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Malloy: 'More guns are not the answer'

Updated 11:41 pm, Wednesday, January 9, 2013
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HARTFORD -- Gov. Dannel P. Malloy asked lawmakers Wednesday to embrace the unity that Connecticut has felt after the Newtown school shootings.

Malloy challenged the new General Assembly to not only work together toward more gun control and better mental health legislation, but to also balance the budget and promote job growth in a bipartisan way.

During a 26-minute State of the State speech that started the legislative session, Malloy fought back tears when talking about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. He said it will test the role of government.

"As a state and as a community, we will continue to do everything we can for the families of Newtown," Malloy told a joint session of the House and Senate. "But we also must ask ourselves: What is our responsibility? To those we've lost, to one another, to our children, and to future generations?" he said. "During this legislative session, we're going to begin to answer those questions together. Let us do everything in our power to ensure that Connecticut never again suffers such a loss; that we take real steps to make our kids and our communities safer."

The ultimate goal of the 21-week session will result in a new two-year budget to take effect July 1, but the Newtown shootings have put the state in the forefront of the national debate on guns.

Malloy said that mental health issues arising from the session "must balance our respect for individual rights with our obligation to provide for the greater public safety. And when it comes to preventing future acts of violence in our schools, let me say this: more guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom. That is not who we are in Connecticut, and it is not who we will allow ourselves to become."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday also asked for tougher gun-control laws.

Malloy is at the halfway point of his four-year term and will propose a budget next month. But in reviewing his first two years, the governor used the touchstones of economic growth, energy costs, jobs and the fragile coastline as subjects where lawmakers can come together to develop new legislation.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reacted in favor of Malloy's agenda, which will dominate the session.

Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district includes Newtown, said he appreciated the tone of Malloy's speech.

"I applaud the governor," said Rep. David A. Scribner, R. Brookfield. "It's very evident that it's genuine and sincere," he said of Malloy's emotion when talking about Newtown. "It's something that we should be proud of, that we have somebody in place who's willing to respond as quickly and thoroughly as he did under the most-horrific circumstances, because that's when you really require strong leadership."

But Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, ranking member of the Finance Committee, said that in enacting record-high taxes in 2011, Malloy failed in balancing the budget and addressing the state's deficit, which is projected to top a billion dollars next year.

"What he did two years ago did not work," Williams said after the governor's remarks.

"We saw what happened: the spending levels increased two years despite the fact that he says that they decreased and revenues did not come in the way that he thought they would," he said.

Williams said he hopes that the governor and Democrats, with majorities of 99-52 in the House and 22-14 in the Senate, can keep the bipartisan feeling of the recent special session.

McKinney agreed. "When the governor and the Democrats passed a budget on their own, we did not have a good work product, but when we reached consensus on jobs in 2011 and the recent special session, we succeeded," McKinney said. "My hope is we'll engage in another bipartisan budget product."

Last month, between a special legislative session and unilateral spending cuts ordered by Malloy, a $365 million shortfall was closed.

While guns and the budget take center stage this session, many of the region's representatives and senators who have leadership positions said they are looking forward to progressing on election law, environmental issues and urban development.

Sen. Anthony Musto, D-Trumbull, the new co-chairman of the Government Administration & Elections Committee, said that he is already reviewing a variety of proposals that will soon come before the panel.

He said the National Popular Vote, in which states form a consortium to throw their electoral votes to the winner of the popular vote for president, will be an issue for the committee.

"Having no-excuse absentee balloting, I think, would be very helpful, especially for older people, maybe over 65, seniors over 60," Musto said. "And early voting, I think will be an issue this year, giving people more time to participate in the electoral process."

Rep. Linda Gentile, D-Ansonia, the new co-chairwoman of the Environment Committee, said that energy and economic development, including brownfield cleanup, will be her focus. "Brownfields are an issue throughout the state," she said in an interview. "Connecticut is an old, industrial state and we have a number of those sites, up and down the rivers," she said.

Rep. Auden Grogins, D-Bridgeport, said she wants to add to last year's legislation that provides tougher controls on illegal businesses including massage parlors that front for illegal services. She also wants to rewrite blight laws, so city officials can pursue after nonresident owners of rundown properties and put liens on their homes.

Rep. Charles D. Clemons Jr., D-Bridgeport, said that the state should be able to keep guns out of households where mentally ill people might have access to them.

In traditional first-day ceremonies, Senate President Pro Tempore Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn was approved for another term. He said it's important to address gun violence.

"Our goal must not be to do what little we can, but rather to do all we can to remove the weapons of war from those who would assault our children and our communities," Williams said.

In the House, new Speaker of the House J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, told the 151 House members to look around the historic, 1878 chamber, savor the moment and applaud themselves.

"That's enough, we have work to do," he said.

kdixon@ctpost.com; 860-549-4670; twitter.com/KenDixonCT; facebook.com/kendixonct.hearst; blog.ctnews.com/dixon

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