(Updated 2:37 p.m.) School children across the state can breathe a sigh of relief: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed a bill Thursday that would have prohibited the sale of chocolate milk in Connecticut schools.
Malloy had previously indicated he did not support such a ban, which was included in a technical bill, but was unsure whether his administration could find an administrative alternative to squashing the entire piece of legislation.
Prior to announcing the veto, Malloy’s spokesman Andrew Doba suggested the governor had resolved the issue Thursday morning when he tweeted a photo of Malloy drinking a bottle of chocolate milk in his office with the text, “Got chocolate milk???”
The bill would have only allowed the sale of “low-fat milk that is unflavored or fat-free milk that is flavored or unflavored that contains no artificial sweeteners, nonnutritive sweeteners or sugar alcohols, no added sodium and no more than four grams of sugar per ounce.” Essentially, the language would have banned the sale of chocolate milk because of its sodium content. It’s not clear whether the milk industry is capable of producing chocolate milk without added sodium.
Registered dietitians like Pat Baird, president of the Connecticut Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, claimed milk consumption would drop off drastically if chocolate milk, which contains sodium, was banned.
“School chocolate milk has between 60-90 mg added sodium, which is only 2-4 percent of sodium intake in a day,” Baird said in May. “Removing chocolate milk hardly moves the needle on added sodium intake; but what it does remove is critical nutrients for growth and development.”
Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry, has said they were told by legislative attorneys that they had to adopt the ban on certain types of milk based on the 2010 federal Hunger-Free Kids Act. However, the bill would have made Connecticut the first state in the nation to ban chocolate milk based in part on the language surrounding the sodium levels.
“I think that there may be some unintended overreach, so the idea that salt is not good for you or excess salt is not good for you is true,” Malloy said in May. “We should get as much salt out of processed foods as we can. On the other hand, low amounts, trace amounts — we all need salt. That’s a reality. We can’t live without salt. In fact, other than water, the next biggest thing in our body is salt.”
Malloy has said finding the right balance is appropriate and “perhaps that balance was missed here.” He said it was missed because “in part people didn’t come forward and talk about this issue even though it was fully vetted and had a hearing and that sort of thing.”
John Bailey II, of the American Heart Association, was the only person to testify in favor of the beverage provision in March during the public hearing on the bill.
“Even if students eat a healthy lunch, research shows they often still consume excess calories from a la carte items their cafeteria might serve,” Bailey told the Education Committee. “That’s why clearly defining nutritional standards for milks and setting the standards for healthier beverage options is critical for improving children’s diets and reversing the childhood obesity epidemic.”
Malloy said it would have been better if the chocolate milk people had come forward before the bill was unanimously passed by both chambers.
“Let me assure you, one way or the other, we’re serving chocolate milk,” he said last week.
The chocolate milk prohibition was an unintended consequence of a broader piece of legislation and Malloy’s veto effectively kills a number of other minor changes to state education policy.
The bill would have changed the number of times students are required to undergo medical checks for vision, hearing, and posture. It also would have indemnified teacher mentors and teacher reviewers against lawsuits and changed the length of appointments for professional standards administrators.
The legislation would have specified that vo-ag equipment purchased through state grants can only be used by vo-ag centers. It would have required parents to notify school districts if their children were placed on a waiting list for a magnet school.
The bill also would have renamed the special masters who supervise troubled school districts and changed their title to “district improvement specialists.”
State Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, who co-chairs the Education Committee, said there were good things in the bill that would have been nice to see made into law. However, he understands and supports the governor’s veto.
“Obviously, the world will continue to turn on its axis,” Fleischmann said. “I think the governor made the right decision.”
Fleischmann said he was frustrated with the Education Department consultant who told legislative attorneys that they had to draft the bill this way if it wanted to comply with the federal Hunger-Free Kids Act. He said no one in the dairy industry gave legislators any advance warning that the “no sodium” provision would ban chocolate milk when the amendment had been on file for weeks before the bill passed on the final night of the legislative session.
That said “I have young children and I believe it’s important to have chocolate milk available to kids,” Fleischmann said.
Will the state lose federal funding because of Malloy’s veto?
A spokeswoman for the state Education Department said “no.”