Legislators override six vetoes

The General Assembly Monday overrode Gov. M. Jodi Rell on six of the 13 bills she vetoed in the 2010 session, her last regular session before stepping down as governor in January.

The bills re-passed affect criminal background checks, sentencing policies, off-track betting, environmental permitting procedures, licensing for social workers, and a Stamford parking garage.

The only close vote today was on a master transportation plan that Rell vetoed over what the governor called an unaffordable provision to repair and replace a parking garage at the Stamford commuter rail station. It passed 25 to 11 in the Senate, one more than the minimum required.

The other bills passed easily as Rell, a lame-duck Republican, showed little evidence of working to have the Republican minority sustain her vetoes. Her chief legislative liaison already has left her administration.

“Obviously I am disappointed with the overrides,” Rell said. “When I veto a bill it is after careful consideration and because I feel the legislation represents bad public policy, is too expensive or creates more bureaucracy. My vetoes were prudent and just decisions and I stand by them. However, lawmakers have voted their will. While I do not agree with their decisions, I respect their right to make them. It is part of the process and so now we must move on.”

House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk, said he told Democratic leaders that Republicans would debate at length any bill that had substantial GOP opposition during the regular session. The warning prompted Democrats to give up on re-passing a bill that would have allowed public-housing residents to elect tenant representatives to housing authorities.

Municipal officials now appoint the tenant representatives.

Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote, 101 in the House and 24 in the Senate. Democrats have 114 members in the House and 24 in the Senate, but Republicans have influence beyond their numbers during veto sessions.

The veto sessions typically last a single day, meaning the Republicans can stall if they are not consulted on overrides by the Democratic majority.

“You don’t need my votes,” Cafero said. “You need my cooperation.”

The six overrides represent 46 percent of the 13 bills Rell vetoed, the highest percentage in her six years as governor. Last year, the legislature overrode seven of 24 vetoed bills, or 26 percent. They overrode none of 10 in 2005, none of three in 2006, one of seven in 2007 and two of six in 2008.

Her predecessor, John G. Rowland, vetoed 39 bills in 10 legislative sessions. The legislature overrode none.

Rell’s relationship with Cafero and other legislative Republicans has been strained.

The bills becoming law over Rell’s veto will:

• Ban state hiring managers from asking applicants about their criminal backgrounds or researching their histories until the last step of the hiring process. The override vote was 120 to 19 in the House and 31 to 5 in the Senate.

Proponents said that the ban will allow applicants to be judged on their skills. State managers still can use a felony conviction to deny an applicant, if the conviction was relevant.

• Create a state 23-member sentencing commission, which would operate without new expenditures, to review sentencing policies and recommend changes. The House vote, 130 to 9; Senate vote, 27 to 9.

• Allow off-track betting with televised simulcasting to expand in New London, Manchester and Windham. The state now has a dozen simulcasting facilities. The House vote, 110 to 28; Senate, 26 to 10.

Rell said in her veto message she was “troubled that these authorizations are being requested for particular restaurants or venues as quick fixes to a difficult economic climate and to offset low customer counts.”

Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, a gambling opponent who originally voted against the bill, reversed herself during the veto session at the request of business groups desperate for any job creation.

“I’m not for gambling, but I’ll take any jobs they offer,” she said.

• Revise environmental permitting procedures. Rell said the bill was sound, except one provision written to allow a transfer station to be built in Newtown near a watershed. Rell said it could affect 19 facilities. The House vote, 140 to 0; Senate, 36 to 0.

• Create a new license for a “master social workers,” to be administered by the Department of Public Health. The House vote, 138 to 1; Senate, 34 to 2.

• Amend the master transportation plan, including a controversial provision affecting the Stamford Transportation Center. House vote, 138 to 0; Senate, 25 to 11.