Florida School Shooting Gives Legislators New Perspective in Children’s Committee

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Recent events in the U.S. weighed heavy on legislators minds as they began the Committee on Children session on Thursday, February 15.

Following a school shooting on Wednesday in Parkland, FL, the well-being of children- the ultimate goal of this committee- took an extra place of importance for the legislators present.

Chairwoman and Representative Debra Urban began the meeting by publicly sending her regards to the victims of the Florida attacks, and opening the floor for her fellow committee members to also say a word regarding the shooting.

All of the legislators spoke similarly of thoughts and prayers for Florida, with Senator Len Suzio empathizing with the victims, referencing the emotions they had felt in Connecticut’s own school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in 2012. Senator Suzio also suggested they take a moment of silence for the students and educators who had lost their lives the day before.

“We do need to think about school safety. We really can’t take anything off the table in order to protect our children,” said Liz Linehan, in the promotion of her point that when it comes to spending on school security, events like the tragedy in Florida really show that they should not hold back.

With the needs of children in a new perspective, the committee proceeded.

Chairwoman Urban quickly asked for a motion to raise on several bills on the agenda to be discussed. All legislators present unanimously voted to do so and swiftly moved on. The bills were as follows:

  • An Act Establishing the State Oversight Council on Children and Families
  • An Act Concerning Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
  • An Act Concerning the Transfer of a Child Charged with Certain Offenses to the Criminal Docket and the Grounds for Detention of an Arrested Child
  • An Act Extending the Reporting Deadline of the Task Force to Study Voluntary Admission to the Department of Children and Families
  • An Act Prohibiting Female Genital Mutilation
  • An Act Concerning Children in the Temporary Custody of the Department of Children and Families
  • An Act Concerning Parental Choice in the Event of Stillbirth

The Committee moved on to discuss An Act Establishing a Moratorium on the Use of Recycled Tire Rubber at Municipal and Public School Playgrounds.

Studies have previously cited that recycled tire rubber typically used as the surface for playgrounds could contain cancerous carcinogens dangerous for children. While there was previously a ban on it, there is now a moratorium.

Legislators currently await the results of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on the potential hazards of the material. Several of those present expressed frustration with the EPA’s delay, saying they should have heard from them in August of 2017.

Representative Urban clarified “Once the EPA study ends it becomes up to the legislators…If crumb rubber is proven to cause cancer it is up to legislators to decide if they still want to use it, it is not a trigger to rip up playgrounds.”

In frustration with the lagging results of the EPA study, Representative Pat Boyd questioned why they didn’t just make the decision now and prevent potentially harmful materials from continuing to be in municipal and public school playgrounds.

This idea was struck down by Representative Liz Linehan, saying “If they spend money on the playgrounds before the study comes out then we’re asking municipalities to spend money on something that they could have to send back.”

Representatives Noreen Kokoruda and Anne Dauphinais supported this view, citing it could be careless to move on the matter without the results of the EPA study. 

The second big concept discussed was An Act Concerning Concussion Education for Coaches of Certain Youth Athletic Activities.

As far as concussion education goes, at present, the state of Connecticut only mandates that an educational handout on concussions go out to coaches. This bill would mandate a 30-minute video training session for certain coaches.

“Many of the coaches are volunteers so I wouldn’t want to put a mandate on it, though I would strongly encourage them to educate themselves,” said Representative Dauphinais, in favor of not requiring concussion education training for coaches.

However in the spirit of doing all that is possible in the interest of children Representative Lezlye Zupkus countered saying, “No one wants anyone to have a concussion and I’m just looking to protect our kids so I will be flagging this.”

Representative William Buckbee also spoke out in support of the mandated concussion education saying “I don’t know one coach worth their salt who wouldn’t give thirty minutes to learn about concussions.”

The committee went on to go straight to a vote on the 4 remaining pieces of legislation on the agenda. They were as follows:

  • An Act Concerning the Department of Children and Families
  • An Act Concerning Children’s Programs
  • An Act Concerning Children’s Health
  • An Act Concerning Children’s Safety

The first of these, An Act Concerning the Department of Children and Families, received a unanimous “yes” from all present. On the other three, all legislators voted “yes” besides Representative Dauphinais, who voted no to all three.

With the impact of the Florida school shooting heavy on the minds of the legislators, they recessed the hearing after having considered and voted on acts to better the interests of the children of Connecticut.

To learn more about the CT Committee on Children, see their webpage here.