By SUSAN HAIGH Associated Press
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed legislation into law Wednesday that prevents the public release of crime scene photos and video evidence from the Connecticut school shootings that took the lives of 20 first graders and six school employees.
The new law, a result of efforts to balance private and public interests, creates an exemption to the state's Freedom of Information Act and applies to homicides in Connecticut.
The law prevents the release of photographs, film, video and other images depicting a homicide victim if those records "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or the victim's surviving family members."
Malloy signed the bill hours after the General Assembly approved the eleventh-hour compromise during the early morning hours of the final day of the state legislative session. Malloy said he believes "a parent of a deceased child should have the right to remember that child" as they wish and not because they were "caught up in some tragic and unbelievable circumstances."
The governor's office originally worked privately with legislative leaders and the state's top prosecutor to draft a bill that would address the concerns of families who lost relatives in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown. They considered various proposals, including legislation applying only to the Newtown victims and allowing their families to decide whether certain information should be released.
During a somber early-morning Senate debate on the bill, as several family members of the victims looked on, Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr. said lawmakers were moved by the parents' concerns and tried to come up with a fair proposal.
"We have tried our best as Democrats and Republicans to work together to protect the interests of these families, these parents, these relatives sitting behind me, at the same time honoring our tradition as a free and open democracy," he said.
The new law creates a one-year moratorium on the release of certain portions of audiotape or other recordings in which the condition of a homicide victim is described. The exemption does not include 911 emergency call recordings, however.
Additionally, it creates a task force that would make recommendations on the balance between victim privacy under the FOI law and the public's right to know. The task force must submit its recommendations by Jan. 1.
Disputes over the release of materials could be resolved as similar disputes have been in the past, either in the state Freedom of Information Commission or the courts.
Colleen Murphy, the commission's executive director, said the standard of an "unwarranted" invasion of the personal privacy of the victim or victim's surviving family members has never been time-tested in Connecticut. She said the commission decisions on this issue will be a first.
The Senate approved the bill 33-2; the House by a vote of 130-2.
Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, who voted against the measure, said he was concerned about the message it sent.
"Some people that thought they were impacted underneath the Second Amendment feel that they're impacted underneath the First Amendment because the government is covering up or not letting the public have the right to know," he said.