March 07--HARTFORD -- Lawmakers unanimously passed legislation Wednesday that establishes a fund to assist workers emotionally traumatized by the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. The fund can be used to cover lost wages and uncovered medical expenses.
The vote was 143 in favor in the House and 35 in favor in the Senate, with no one voting against the plan.
The Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund will be maintained and operated by the state Office of Victim Services and funded by private organizations, a number of which have come forward.
Workers Compensation only covers emotional trauma that is caused by a physical injury incurred on the job.
A separate bill that would expand worker's compensation for those exposed to the murder of a person will wind its way through the committee process this session, but, if passed, would not take effect until October.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, and House Minority Speaker Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, came up with the idea after getting feedback from first responders who are finding it difficult to return to work or whose sick time is running out.
State Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn, said the entire world knows of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, where 20 first-graders and six educators were murdered Dec. 14.
"But, for the first responders and for the brave teachers and administrators at the elementary school who survived, what they saw was horrific," Williams said of the violent deaths of so many children.
"They are grieving. This legislation is about helping them through this incredibly difficult period ... it is right and good for us to step up and help them," Williams said.
The donations will go through United Way of Newtown, and an estimated 150 to 200 individuals could be beneficiaries. Several hundred thousand has been donated so far, but officials did not have a total.
Generally, in order to qualify, an individual must either have been employed at the school at the time of the shooting or have been involved in the official response and now suffer mental health issues. The area also includes the fire house where parents and officials gathered to learn the fate of their children.
The list includes teachers, paraprofessionals and other staff, as well as police officers, firefighters, medical examining staff and other emergency and public safety personnel who responded to Sandy Hook.
To make up for lost wages, the fund could cover up to 75 percent of the loss. The payments for wages and medical costs will be limited to 52 weeks, with the program up and running by April 1.
State Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said for him, this was very personal. He said he knows many of the people who ran into the building, as well as teachers and first responders who showed up.
Both House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said workers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome is more and more common.
Looney said the fund "establishes the principal that mental and emotional trauma, independent of a physical injury, can and should be compensatory in our system."
Companies that have come forward include: AT&T, Dominion Resources, Covidien, WWE, the Connecticut Trial Lawyers, Northeast Utilities and the Connecticut Bar Association.
The New England Cable Television Association will donate public service announcements on the program.
Copyright 2013 - New Haven Register, Conn.