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Lawmakers lie down for the governor

Published July 06. 2014 4:00AM

Once again, the General Assembly didn't even try to override a gubernatorial veto, including two bills that both houses had passed unanimously. They haven't, in fact, overridden a single veto during the four Malloy years.

After the constitutionally mandated veto session on June 23 was gaveled in and out of existence in a matter of seconds, House Majority Leader Joe Aresimowicz told CT News Junkie there was no desire to override any of the governor's vetoes. "It happens very seldom," Mr. Aresimowicz explained. "We tend to respect the opinion of the governor on these issues."

That's nice but after you pass a bill unanimously, it's vetoed and you don't even vote on an override, can you also respect yourselves?

It wasn't always this way. Gov. Lowell Weicker, who didn't enjoy the support of either party during his single term as governor, holds the record for overrides with 17. M. Jodi Rell, Gov. Malloy's Republican predecessor, had 16 of her vetoes overridden by Democratic legislatures in six years.

In the past, even Democratic legislatures didn't routinely rubber stamp a Democratic governor's veto. Ella Grasso had 10 of her vetoes overridden and her popular predecessors, John Dempsey and Abraham Ribicoff, were each overridden nine times. Only the two longest-serving governors, Republican John Rowland and Democrat William O'Neill, were never overridden. O'Neill, a former speaker, had clout with Democratic legislatures and so did Rowland.

The two unanimously passed bills vetoed by the governor were far from trivial. One would have changed the process of appealing denials of Department of Social Services benefits like Food Stamps and Medicaid coverage. Hearings officers are currently allowed to confer with department lawyers involved in the denial without the participation of those making the appeal. The practice, which the bill would have ended, has been compared with a judge in a lawsuit seeking arguments from just one side, but the governor said the bill would impair the hearing officer's ability to determine appeals accurately and efficiently. The legislature, clearly, didn't agree, but it rolled over.

The other vetoed bill would have required insurance companies to provide more information to the Insurance Department and therefore, the public, on their coverage of treatment for substance abuse and related mental health disorders. The insurance industry opposed the bill as did Access Health Care, the state's new insurance exchange, although its spokesman said it did not ask the governor to veto the bill. Gov. Malloy claimed that the insurance exchange shouldn't have been given the extra burden.

He justified the veto out of concern about alleged inaccuracies that could result from confusion over treatment for substance abuse or other conditions like depression or anxiety. This, the governor claimed, could lead to policies and consumer decisions based on flawed information. It isn't a terribly convincing argument in light of the General Assembly's votes of 143-0 and 35-0 for the measure.

The governor claims he supported the objective of the bill, but he wasn't comfortable signing it into law even though it had the support of substance abuse and mental health providers, patients and advocates. The only opponent, the insurance industry, claimed, through a trade association, that the requirements would be "extremely strenuous and time and resource consuming," something a powerful friend apparentlty shouldn't have to endure in an election year.

Should you happen to run into your legislators between now and Election Day, especially those of the Democratic persuasion, you might ask them how they voted on these vetoed bills and why they didn't insist on a vote to override. Did it turn out the governor was right, as he's always been since 2011, or were they just following orders that once again transformed them from lawmakers into lapdogs?

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