Bill would require smoke detectors in all homes
By Ken Dixon
HARTFORD -- Single-family homes would be required to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors outside bedrooms and between floors under legislation that was approved 18-5 Thursday by the General Assembly's Public Safety and Security Committee on its deadline day.
Prompted by the fire that killed three children and their grandparents in Stamford's Shippan neighborhood last Christmas, the bill, which next heads to the House of Representatives, would also require working detectors in homes under renovation.
Leaders of the committee said that language proposed last week by Stamford officials that would have made homeowners liable for fines of up to $1,000 and six months in prison was unenforceable, and it was removed during compromise discussions this week.
"Our attitude was we wanted to get something out of the committee to keep the discussion going," said Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, committee co-chairman. "It underscores the importance of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in people's homes."
Dargan said that after last week's public hearing, Stamford officials, state fire marshals and building code experts were brought together and agreed the penalty provision was too cumbersome, particularly for smaller towns where volunteers are responsible for most fire protection.
"It's all about local control," Dargan said after the committee action. By not having penalties, it gives the bill a cleaner chance to get through the General Assembly without oversight and possible delay from other committees.
But Rep. Janice R. Giegler, R-Danbury, ranking member of the committee, said she could not vote for it because the bill was watered down. "We all feel for the tragedy that occurred in Stamford, but I would like to see that what we put out is kind of the best that we can do," she said, adding that the new version would not join state fire codes. "I still have a concern " on a mandate that is unenforceable."
Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, co-chairwoman of the committee, said that another portion of the bill would require houses undergoing renovations to also have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. The bill would take effect on Oct. 1.
The holiday fire that killed 10-year-old Lily Badger, 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger and their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson, occurred in an occupied historic Victorian house under renovation.
State law has required carbon monoxide detectors in new residential buildings, but not in one or two-family homes built before 1978.
"Before the end of the session I'm sure we're going to have to do more work and more compromise on this," said Dargan.
Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, agreed after the vote that the issue will still be subject to negotiations as the session gets closer to its May 9 adjournment.
"This is the kind of thing we can still continue to talk about," said Fox, who testified on the bill last week. "It's a matter of people trying to think about how it impacts the community."