The Connecticut General Assembly will vote today to establish a privately funded reserve for Newtown police, emergency workers and others affected or kept from the job by psychological trauma since the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Called the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund, lawmakers say it will allow private donations to cover mental health issues in a way current worker's compensation laws do not.
"This fund reflects the generosity, compassion and appreciation of people throughout the state and shows how Connecticut can come together as a community," said Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey in a statement Wednesday.
It's been a hard road for professionals trying to recover from that day. About a dozen Newtown police officers are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the incident, and the department has pressed lawmakers for aid since late December.
In February, the town's insurance company according to Chief Michael Kehoe. But worries have remained. At a police commission meeting in Newtown last night, officials referred to the bill as likely to pass and commended the compromise solution.
"I appreciate the legislature coming up a unique method to assist people that have been harmed," Newtown Police Commission member Joel Faxon said at a meeting Tuesday night, prior to the bill's passage. At that time, he said he "couldn't imagine" it wouldn't fail to pass.
The bill is seen as a compromise after another bill that would have offered expansive coverage failed to gain traction. The bill, SB823, drew controversy from critics who said it would have expanded worker's compensation too widely.
A Compromise Solution, After Another Bill Stalls
Stratford resident Linda Antagani started the Adopt a Sandy Hook / Newtown Cop program to raise funds for Newtown police on long-term disability. She said she raised more than $15,000 in January. She says fans of her Facebook page seem disillusioned that lawmakers chose this bill rather than SB823.
"I think their impression is this is sort of a band-aid on a big wound," she said. She told Patch she hadn't made up her mind yet.
"Maybe this new fund is actually a better choice to at least help them get on their feet," she said. "It's hard to say. You can see things from both sides. I can understand how expanding worker's comp could open the door to an expansive situation."
But Antagani told Patch she'll probably keep donating money directly to police through the the Newtown Police Union Fund.
"I don't know what kind of red tape would be involved, so for the time being we're going to continue to collect for the Union Fund. Even if there is a separate fund they can turn to, my goal is to take care of the Newtown officers."
The fund will cover first responders, professionals, educators and volunteers alike, according to the release. The state's Office of Victims Services will administer it, with the State Treasurer managing its assets. “So much of the discussion in the aftermath of Sandy Hook has focused on what todo to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again; and that’s important work," said Sen. Majority Leader John McKinney, who represents Newtown.
"But as a community and as a legislature, we also have an obligation to provide our neighbors – many of whom have witnessed unimaginable horror and violence – the resources they need to heal. The Sandy Hook Workers Fund is part of that effort."
And lawmakers across the state praised the measure.
“On that terrible day in December and in the days that followed, our first responders showed incredible dedication to their duty,” said Senate President Donald E. Williams.
“What they witnessed that day has undoubtedly left an indelible mark on their lives. This fund will help those affected receive the care they need to heal and resume their careers."