The legislature declined Monday to override any of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s vetoes this session despite some consternation over his rejection of a bill impacting the acquisition of Waterbury Hospital.
The bill would have made it easier for Vanguard, a for-profit company, to acquire Waterbury Hospital. Essentially, the bill would have established a governance structure that would have permitted Vanguard to purchase physician practices through a medical foundation and it would have given it two seats on the foundation’s board of directors.
Representatives of the labor unions, Waterbury lawmakers, and lobbyists for the hospital clashed in the final hours of the session when it looked like the bill wasn’t going to pass. But the bill cleared both chambers June 5 in the final hours of the legislative session.
There was some confusion among lawmakers as to why Malloy rejected the bill given his administration’s hand in negotiating it, however, they did not attempt to override that veto or any others when they met Monday for a constitutionally-mandated veto session.
House Speaker Brendan Sharkey said House Democrats did not consider voting to override the hospital veto.
“I don’t think we would have had the numbers to do that,” he said.
Still, Sharkey said Malloy’s rejection of the bill caught him by surprise. He said there had not been much communication between the administration and the House regarding the legislation after its passage.
“I didn’t know that was going to be a problem. I don’t know that there was a lot of communication at the staff level, but it was a surprise to me. I wasn’t expecting it,” he said.
Sharkey acknowledged that the timing of the Waterbury Hospital acquisition was “acute,” but said he wants to revisit the issue next year.
“Hopefully that will be enough time to satisfy some of the governor’s concerns,” he said.
But the veto was more problematic for some Republicans who complained of a flawed legislative process and financially-strapped hospitals.
“We have Waterbury and we have Bristol Hospital that are trying their hardest to survive, as every hospital is. I think we should give them every opportunity possible,” House Deputy Minority Leader Themis Klarides said.
Klarides said the administration had been involved in negotiating the bill with Democratic and Republican lawmakers. She said she thought they had arrived at a “solution that was mutually beneficial to everybody.”
“Quite frankly, the fact that the governor’s office helped negotiate it to get to that point with our members and members of the Democratic Caucus and then he vetoed it, I think brought it to another level of problematic,” she said.
Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said he was “disappointed” and “outraged” with the veto and the lack of discussion about the bill during Monday’s session.
He said Bristol Hospital is not in the same financially dire condition as Waterbury Hospital, but it has spent 15 months studying the pros and cons of nonprofit versus for-profit hospitals. He said it decided the for-profit model would help it upgrade its facilities and medical equipment faster than the nonprofit model, which is why it was courting companies, such as Vanguard.
“As a legislator, I am absolutely stunned and utterly disappointed we did not take up an issue as critical as this in a veto session,” Betts said.
Defending his veto after an unrelated press conference last week, Malloy said the issue needed more discussion. He said he was not convinced the state should be encouraging for-profit companies to take over its hospitals.
“I think we need to take a deep breath here and move with deliberate speed with respect to helping Waterbury resolve its hospital issues,” he said. “On the other hand, I’m not sure we need to throw open all of our doors to for-profit takeovers of our hospitals. I think we need to deliberate.”
On Monday, Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, said the bill should have been discussed openly throughout the legislative session rather than negotiated behind closed doors. He said it was just another bill that didn’t go through the normal process.
“It was worked out without debate, and now it’s being killed without debate,” Markley said.
He said there’s never really been a discussion about what’s at stake. He said he believes the unions put a lot of pressure on Malloy to kill the bill, and he would be interested to learn their perspective of the bill.
For his part Malloy said a labor dispute around Waterbury Hospital did not factor into his decision to veto it.
“As far as I’m concerned it didn’t play a role,” he said.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, was one of two Senators to vote against the bill.
“There was much more to it than labor concerns,” Osten said Monday. “There were patient concerns, community concerns, regulation concerns, so I think it has to be vetted out in a fashion that doesn’t happen at the last minute.”
She said the last-minute nature of the bill left too many questions.
“I think the unions were correct in questioning the bill,” Osten said, but she can’t say with any certainty they were the reason for Malloy’s veto.
Osten said she hadn’t spoken to the governor about the bill, but in general, she said Malloy, a Democrat, can’t win when it comes to labor-related legislation. If he supports a bill that has the potential to be perceived as “labor friendly” then he’s accused of being too cozy with the unions and if he vetoes one then he’s accused of being “anti-labor.”
Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the veto session is not the appropriate time to debate a bill when there aren’t enough votes to override it.
“Normally, you don’t take up a bill just for discussion purposes,” Looney said. “It’s not time for an informational session—it’s a veto session.”
Looney, who was one of the 33 Senators to vote in favor of the bill, said there are concerns about the liability of the hospitals, but there’s also concern about the “disturbing precedent of increased privatization.”
He said it’s an issue the legislature will have to grapple with during the next legislative session.
The General Assembly has never overridden one of Malloy’s vetoes. The last veto it overrode was on Aug. 13, 2010 when it increased the public campaign grant to gubernatorial campaigns from $3 million to $6 million.
-Click here to read an Office of Legislative Research summary of the bill the governor vetoed this year