Christine Stuart file photo

Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed seven bills Thursday, including one that would have required chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.

“Does it come as a surprise to anyone that a vegetable salad is healthier and more nutritious than a bacon cheeseburger?” Rell said regarding the menu labeling bill. “There has been a growing and troubling tendency by some to legislate nearly every aspect of our lives and society, including personal responsibility.”

“Rarely is the consumer’s choice as clear as a salad versus a bacon cheeseburger,” Sen. Jonathan Harris, the bill’s main proponent, said.

“More likely it’s between a donut and a muffin, or fried chicken and barbecued ribs, and then the answer to the question ‘what’s healthiest?’ is not so obvious,” Harris said. “For instance, the Southwestern Cobb salad at Chili’s has 1,080 calories, while the half-rack of honey barbecue ribs only has 600 calories. Many people think just because it’s a ‘salad’ that it’s healthier, but that’s not true.”

“This is hardly the economic climate in which to further burden our businesses and state agencies,” Rell said noting that the legislation would force restaurants to spend money on new menus.

Rell also noted that there is similar legislation pending on the federal level, which would impose uniform national standards. Rell said a national legislation would be preferable to a patchwork of state regulations.

“Given the new study showing rising obesity rates across the country, it is extremely disappointing and irresponsible that Governor Rell would veto such a critical bill that would have provided consumers with important nutrition information at restaurants,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said in a press release Thursday. “If we are to make any progress toward reducing  obesity rates, we must allow consumers to make informed choices when they eat out.” 

“This veto makes it more imperative that Congress address the menu labeling issue at the federal level,” DeLauro, who has championed this issue at the federal level, said.

Jerry Mande, a former FDA official and associate director for public policy at the Yale Cancer Center, said Rell’s logic in vetoing the bill is flawed.

“Contrary to the governor’s claims, we know that menu labeling works, it’s cost effective, and provides consumers freedom of choice not limits it as the governor falsely claims,” Mande said.

He said a study done earlier this year found 82 percent of New York City residents said the new highly visible nutrition information has affected their ordering. Of those people, 71 percent said they sought out lower-calorie options, and 51 percent said they no longer ordered certain items.

He said another recent study found that only six out of 4,311 customers look at nutritional information in pamphlets or online. “In other words, in trying to look out for state residents our governor favors the approach that works 0.1 percent of the time and rejected as ‘ineffectual’ the approach that works more than 82 percent of the time,” Mande said.

Opponents of the bill like the Connecticut Restaurant Association said even though it would only apply to chain restaurants, it would cost even small chain restaurants an enormous amount of money to implement.

“To have to seek new laboratory analysis with every minor fluctuation of ingredients and seasonality would be an incredible burden for all but the largest chains that operate thousands of restaurants and employ scientists alongside their chefs,” Richard Rosenthal, owner of Max Restaurant Group and chairman of the Connecticut Restaurant Association told the Public Health Committee back in March.

Rosenthal said even though the legislation applied to larger national chains that it would have put pressure on mom and pop restaurants to follow, which for a majority would have been impossible.

Other Vetoes

Rell vetoed a bill requiring health insurance companies to cover numerous medical treatments, including, prosthetic devices, hearing aids for children, wigs for cancer patients and ostomy supplies.

She also vetoed a bill which received wide bipartisan support in the House and the Senate. Hundreds of janitors that clean the Capitol and other state buildings will lose their health insurance due to a cap on benefit costs, which is being exceeded by the rising costs of health care.

“The Governor’s veto of the Standard Wage Law is as callous as it is short-sighted,” Kurt Westby, 32BJ Connecticut Director, said. “Her veto is not only putting the health hundreds of children and their parents at risk by forcing them off their health care; it will likely add more than a million dollars to the state’s bill for HUSKY, the health care program for low-income families.”

According to the Office of Fiscal Analysis, the cost of adding the children and spouses of state janitors to the publicly-funded HUSKY program could be upwards of $1.6 million a year.

“In vetoing the standard wage bill today, Governor Rell acted in a callous, misguided fashion, and in the process turned her back on thousands of working Connecticut residents and their families,” Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, who is exploring a run for governor in 2010, said. “Not only is it a morally irresponsible course of action, it’s also fiscally irresponsible since the State of Connecticut will have to pay more to insure these workers and their families if they end up having to access the HUSKY Program.”

Rell also vetoed legislation that would create a commission to review and consider environmental, ecological and energy issues involving Long Island Sound and one which would have created a new subcommittee to monitor inmate assaults on correction officers.

“These bills are good public policy,” Speaker of the House Chris Donovan said in a press release. “Our representatives heard from people across this state that these initiatives were important to their quality of life.”