Op-ed: Cowardly Senate Democrats Slammed Door On Veto Session [Courant]

July 27, 2015

Connecticut Senate Democrats shut down debate in veto session

By Senator Len Fasano | Hartford Courant

Connecticut has reached a new low in putting party politics before policy and principles. During the state Senate’s July 22 veto session, in which lawmakers were constitutionally required to revisit any legislation vetoed by the governor, Democrat leaders adjourned without reconsidering a single bill — deliberately avoiding debate and refusing to even recognize individual members who wished to be heard.

The failure to hold a discussion on any vetoed bill and blatant disrespect for the rights of individual members shows a shameful breakdown of democracy. As state legislators, we were elected by the people to represent their voices in Hartford. When debate gets stifled at the Capitol, the voice of the people gets stifled, too.

By blocking debate, irrespective of the eventual outcome, Democratic lawmakers violated our state constitution and the most basic tenants of democratic governance, arrogantly exploiting single-party rule.

This year Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed nine bills, killing legislation that received overwhelming, if not unanimous, bipartisan support in the legislature.

I respect the governor’s right to veto any legislation he wants. However, the General Assembly needs to fulfill its role and responsibility to keep the governor’s power in check.

The state constitution recognizes separation of powers by requiring the legislature to reconsider vetoed bills and repass them “if the assembly desires.” But in recent years the “desire” of the assembly has been determined by the Democratic majority leaders, and discussion has not been opened for other members to express their objections.

This year, given the fact that the vetoed legislation had such overwhelming support on both sides of the aisle, Republican lawmakers stood up for our constitutional rights and expressed our desire to reconsider and repass certain vetoed bills vital to our state’s education policy.

While the House of Representatives did open debate, which I applaud, we were not given that opportunity in the Senate. Instead of standing up for the policy decisions that brought nearly unanimous support from the 36 state senators during the session, Democratic leaders in the Senate decided to prioritize party politics over policy by bowing down to the governor, letting his vetoes stand without even a debate.

According to Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which guides the General Assembly, debate is essential to the democratic process and “every person must have a right to present that person’s own views for the consideration of other members.” The manual also states that whenever a deliberative body is making decisions, “the members must have an opportunity to debate the questions.”

In addition, the presiding officer must recognize individual members and cannot rush proceedings or abuse his or her power in a way that deprives individual members of the right to be heard. Yet the Senate majority leader moved to adjourn the veto session, and in less than one second the gavel hit without an opportunity for debate. He then characterized our right to speak as political theater.

In the case of the Senate’s veto session, constitutional procedure was thrown out the window and the message from Senate Democratic leadership was clear: “We’re not interested in what you have to say.”

We’ve seen Democrats gavel in and out of veto sessions in past years, but it has never been done when a legislator expresses a desire to reconsider a vetoed bill as allowed under the constitution. The institution matters more than politics or one-party rule, and to prevent a debate when lawmakers had a constitutional right to be heard is just plain wrong.

Obstructing debate on Gov. Malloy’s vetoes was an abdication of legislators’ constitutional duty and a direct attack on the basic democratic principles that guide the entire legislative process.

Only giving one side a voice is not democracy, and the people of Connecticut deserve better.