Are elected officials trying to block public access to them?
"I smell a rat."
Late-Night Amendments Earn Vetoes
Rell Torpedoes Legislative E-Mail Shield, Ruling Reversal
July 12, 2005 By MARK PAZNIOKAS, Hartford Courant Staff Writer
Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed two bills Monday because of late-night amendments that would have reversed a contentious state regulatory decision and exempted legislative e-mails from the Freedom of Information Act.
An amendment to the vetoed telecommunications bill would have negated two regulatory rulings ordering SBC Connecticut to provide Gemini Networks access to a hybrid fiber-coaxial network largely abandoned by SBC in 2001.
Gemini, a startup company financed by millionaire investor Arnold Chase, had complained to Rell's office that a state utility official had overstepped his authority when he advised a state senator on the drafting of the amendment.
"In light of the unresolved questions concerning this legislation, I believe it is preferable to veto Senate Bill 1097 - offering the General Assembly in the next legislative session the opportunity to ratify its action in passing the bill," Rell said in her veto message.
SBC officials appeared stunned by the veto of a bill passed unanimously by the Senate and 144-4 by the House in the final days of the legislative session that ended June 8.
SBC could seek a veto override.
"I think it's a very sad day when somebody can make an unsubstantiated allegation, and people respond to that," said John Emra, the executive director of external affairs for SBC.
"That's apparently the new way to lobby in Connecticut, and I find that really sad."
The body of the bill, S.B. 1097, would have freed SBC from some regulatory controls, allowing the telephone company to compete with cable companies that provide video, internet and telephone services.
"We're going to lose hundreds of thousands of customers," Emra said.
"We lost 400,000 lines in 3½ years. We are losing thousands more every single day."
Chase applauded the veto as an act restoring integrity to the legislative process."It was absolutely the correct thing for the governor to do. It restores my faith in the legislative process," Chase said.
"There were so many unanswered questions."
Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, the co-chairman of the energy and technology committee, said he offered the amendment because he believed it would foster competition. He said Monday that his opinion had not changed. Fonfara said his amendment would have forced the sale of the unused network, which was built by SNET to provide cable television services. It was intended to carry telephone services, but after acquiring SNET, SBC decided the technology was unsuitable.
The amendment would have vacated a ruling by the Department of Public Utility Control ordering SBC to lease the network to Gemini.
Fonfara said that Jack R. Goldberg, the state's telecom regulator, had advised him that SBC was likely to persuade federal regulators to overturn the DPUC order, which had been written by Goldberg. Rell referred Chase's complaint about Goldberg to the State Ethics Commission, which told the governor that it had no jurisdiction.
Goldberg, who has recused himself from further actions involving the Gemini-SBC case, denied any wrongdoing.But Rell, who said she was not passing judgment on Goldberg, said she could not afford to sign the bill into law.
"The conduct of state officials in a manner reflecting the highest regard for ethics and integrity has been a hallmark of my administration," Rell said.
Rell did not hesitate to characterize the other amendment - a measure exempting legislative e-mails from the right-to-know law - that prompted her veto.
She called it a "rat," legislative parlance for a favor slipped into a bill, usually in the chaotic last moments of a legislative session.
The secrecy provision was tacked onto a little-noticed bill about conservation officers and sent speeding through the legislature, taking just 22 minutes to pass both chambers on the last night of the session.
The measure never was subject to a public hearing.
"This is a classic legislative `rat'- a last-minute bill intended to slip past without being noticed. It is a blatant attempt to sidestep the spirit of Connecticut's FOIA provisions, and it is utterly unacceptable," Rell said.
"The bill would do nothing to protect constituent privacy while decreasing public scrutiny of government operations."
Rell also vetoed a bill Monday that would have authorized a study of the Connecticut Juvenile Training School. She said the bill would have duplicated a review already underway by her order.
"We have neither the time nor the resources to engage in the promotion of meaningless bureaucracy, especially when a plan concerning the future of CJTS is less than a month away from completion," she said.
Rell said a provision of the bill prohibiting the school from being used as an adult prison was unnecessary.
"As long as I am governor, that facility will never be used for an adult prison," she said.
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