HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut lawmakers took time on Wednesday to honor the victims of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown as they returned to the Capitol to address the state’s current budget deficit.
During a somber, hour-long memorial before the special session, legislative leaders, several lawmakers representing Newtown, and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy each made short remarks about the tragedy which took the lives of 20 first graders and six staff on Friday, leaving a deep imprint of grief upon the state, country and the world.
‘‘We are at a loss for words. For those who are there, I know the pain is unbearable and I feel, in fact, unable to help,’’ said Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, whose district includes Newtown. She then made a plea on behalf of her constituents, asking the news media to leave Newtown residents alone as they grieve.
Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, whose district also includes Newtown, told the story of how a friend who is a fourth grade teacher at Sandy Hook was among a group of educators who survived by escaping through a window that was opened by another teacher who had interrupted their meeting to warn them about the gunman.
McKinney said his life may never be the same again because of the shooting and vowed to use his voice in the General Assembly to make sure the victims will not be forgotten.
‘‘It is my hope that we can all come together, beyond politics and work together to do our part in Connecticut to make sure that something like this can never happen again,’’ he said. ‘‘We need to lead by example together, beyond politics, be an example to our state, be an example to our country and be an example to our world that we can be a better people.’’
House and Senate members greeted one another with hugs before sitting in stoic silence during the ceremony. Many wore green and white ribbons representing Sandy Hook’s school colors. Some wiped away tears. Outside the Hall of the House, 26 white votive candles and a vase holding white roses rested on a table.
Monsignor Robert Weiss from Saint Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown read the names of the 26 victims as their names and ages flashed on the House vote tally board.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, remarked how the tragedy appeared to have smoothed the way for a tentative agreement early Saturday morning on a plan to cover the $365 million deficit in the current $20 billion state budget. He said talks were not going very well before legislators learned about the mass shooting on Friday.
By 12:30 a.m. on Saturday, he said a framework for a deal had been reached.
‘‘We shook hands and even embraced,’’ said Cafero, adding how ‘‘it was the spirit of Sandy Hook that was in that room.’’
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said ‘‘there was a sense of trust that was developed.’’
Malloy has already ordered $170 million in spending cuts, using his executive branch authority, to help address the $365 million deficit. Those reductions, however, netted out to $108.5 million after lost reimbursements are taken into account. Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a plan Wednesday night that covered the difference. It passed the House 140-3 and the Senate 31-3.
Malloy thanked lawmakers for working together in a bipartisan fashion.
‘‘The events of the last few days have made the differences we have in Hartford seem very small by comparison,’’ said the Democratic governor. ‘‘It is my hope that we can keep this collaborative spirit going in the weeks and months ahead.’’
The deficit-cutting bill includes reductions throughout state government, including cuts to hospitals to help pay for uninsured patients, a reduction in Medicaid reimbursements for long-term care facility residents receiving only hospice care, and a reduction in state reimbursements to pharmacies that participate in assistance programs such as Medicaid.
The bill also ends the longtime practice of providing longevity pay, a reward based on the length of time on the job, to nonunionized state employees beginning July 1. The bill, however, increases most affected employees’ pay by the amount of their annual payment. Certain employees, such as judges and state’s attorneys, whose salaries and longevity schedules are set in state law, are not affected.
The bill also allows the State Board of Education to shorten the school year for the town of Newtown, should its school board request it.