The Connecticut General Assembly today unanimously passed legislation creating a special fund for first-responders, teachers and others who suffered psychological trauma from the mass murder of 26 children and women at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Backed by private donations, the fund will supplement a workers’ compensation system that does not reimburse for lost wages and other expenses caused solely by mental trauma.
At least two Newtown police officers have not worked since Dec. 14, when police entered Sandy Hook expecting to confront an active shooter, only to find carnage in the main hallway and two classrooms — the bodies of 20 first graders and six educators, some shot 11 times.
Others have missed time sporadically, with the expectation that the trauma of that day will be felt for months and possibly longer. In all, 150 to 200 people were at the school or responded to the emergency.
House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said memories of Dec. 14 are etched deeply in every Connecticut resident.
“I cannot fathom what is etched in the minds of the people we hope to cover in this bill,” Cafero said during the brief House debate. “I pray for them every day.”
“This bill is critically important,” said Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn.
The vote was 143-0 in the House, 35-0 in Senate.
In some cases, sick time has been expended by those struggling to work after Dec. 14.
“They come back, work a couple of weeks, realize that they need some time off, and they leave,” said Jason Frank, a Newtown detective who processed evidence at the school for five days with state police.
Det. Daniel McAnaspie, who also spent most of five days inside the school, said he thinks the entire force has sought some counseling.
“I think in this incident, there was nobody reluctant to step forward and ask for help that was necessary,” McAnaspie said. “All our officers in two to three weeks sought out mental health services.”
The new fund was promoted at a press conference by the six top leaders of the General Assembly, the same group that will meet this afternoon to take on the more difficult task of negotiating gun violence legislation in response to Newtown.
“We all work best when we work together,” said House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden.
“That tragedy requires us to step up in strong ways, in different ways,” Williams said. “And this is one of those ways we are going to take strong and swift action.”
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who represents Newtown, called forward two House members, who also represent the town, DebraLee Hovey and Mitch Bolinsky.
“We represent Newtown, and the people who ran into the building are not just constituents, but in many cases they are friends,” McKinney said.
Sharkey said the legislature at some point may re-examine whether workers’ compensation should be expanded to cover mental trauma.
“We will have a debate about whether this should be done sysem wide,” McKinney said in the Senate.
The bill also gives pension credit to the dead educators, a provision that will enable the spouse of one victim, who was close to retirement, to collect her pension. It also exempts Newtown from the state’s mastery test requirements for the 2012-2013 academic year.