By Richard Weizel
MILFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - The Connecticut General Assembly overwhelmingly approved compromise legislation on Wednesday to prevent public release of homicide victim photos, videos and some audiotapes in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting rampage.
After legislative maneuvering that pushed the vote into the pre-dawn hours, the state Senate voted 33-2 and the Connecticut House of Representatives voted 130-2 to pass the bill that establishes a new exemption under the state's Freedom of Information Act.
Governor Dannel Malloy was expected to sign the bill, which could be used to keep from public view some images and audiotapes concerning not only the Sandy Hook massacre of 26 children and school staff in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, but other homicides as well. Once the governor signs the measure, it will take effect immediately.
The bill prohibits the release of photographs, film, video and other visual images showing a homicide victim if the records could "reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of the victim or the victim's surviving family members.''
However, parts of 911-call tapes will be made public, according to the bill.
Malloy said his goal initially had been to provide a measure of protection for the families who lost loved ones when a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook, killing 20 first-grade students and six staff.
"But the fact is, all families have a right to grieve in private. Those who lose loved ones to violence have a right to protect themselves against further anguish," Malloy said.
In a joint letter to Malloy opposing the bill, groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, The Connecticut Daily Newspapers Association, Connecticut Broadcasters Association and Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information said the documents were essential to public watchdogs keeping an eye on government.
"We maintain that public access to investigative reports, 9-11 emergency call transcripts and recordings, death certificates, and the like, serve the public's best interest by permitting the public to monitor the performance of its government," the group wrote.
Initial legislation had been drafted in secret until the Hartford Courant reported on May 21 that the staffs of the state's top prosecutor and the governor's office were working with legislators on a law to suppress the Newtown files.
As part of a compromise, the bill passed on Wednesday included a self-policing measure that would establish a task force of state officials to review the law in action and report its findings early next year to the legislature and governor.
The Sandy Hook violence was one of the worst mass school shootings in U.S. history and revived the gun control debate in the United States.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Maureen Bavdek)