December 19, 2012

In wake of Newtown, Maine legislators look to act

Any review would consider ways to improve policies on school safety, guns and the mentally ill.

The Associated Press

AUGUSTA – Legislative leaders from both parties will discuss whether to form a task force or take other action to examine gun violence, school safety and the treatment of mentally ill people in response to last week's shootings at a Connecticut elementary school, Maine's House speaker said Tuesday.

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Maine Speaker of the House Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick

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Maine Senator-elect Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.

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Democratic Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick said the idea is in the very early stages and it's not even known whether the review would be done through a task force or a hearing. But, he said, a group study likely would include mental health specialists, school officials, police and public safety officials, and hunting interests.

"There's nothing more serious than addressing and taking a look and reviewing our policies in a comprehensive way as it relates to our mental health system, school public safety, the existing laws we have on the books and how we enforce them," Eves said.

Expressing a hope to move forward "in a really comprehensive way," Eves said the idea is to create a task force or working group of stakeholders that involves "all of the areas that would be impacted."

Eves said leaders of the Democratic majority in the Senate have been advised, and Democrats are asking Republicans to join the effort.

Senate Republican leader Mike Thibodeau said his party's staff had been contacted by Democrats about the idea. He expressed hope that it doesn't turn partisan, that it can be comprehensive in nature and that it focus on school safety.

Thibodeau also asked for more time for people to come to grips with what happened Friday in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed his mother at home before going to the school and killing 20 children and six adults, then committing suicide.

"Obviously, I think we're all reeling from what happened in Connecticut," said Thibodeau. He said he watched very little of the news reports after the massacre because it made him cry.

"We're all going to need just a little time to catch our breath," he said.

House Republican spokesman David Sorensen said that caucus hadn't been notified of a possible task force or other action by Tuesday afternoon.

One of the issues that Eves wants to study, mental health, has been a key issue in mass shootings, such as the one in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011 that wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., last summer.

Giffords' shooter recently was returned to a federal prison in Missouri where he has been treated for mental illness, and attorneys for the suspect in the movie theater shooting have said he's mentally ill.

MaineToday Media recently ran a multi-part series on fatal police shootings of people who threaten officers or others with firearms and other weapons. It said 42 percent of all police shootings in Maine since 2000 have involved people who are mentally ill.

Eves agreed with Thibodeau that people need more time to process the Newtown massacre, the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

"What we don't want to do is react to the situation in a way that won't solve the problem," he said.

Eves, the father of three young children, said he was deeply affected by the elementary school shooting, whose victims included girls and boys ages 6 and 7, the school's principal, a school psychologist and teachers.

"When you hear news like that and have children that are the same age as those who lost their lives, it becomes immediately personal," he said.


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