Vt. Lawmakers to Respond to Uninsured Bill Veto

June 10, 2004

Vermont lawmakers will return to the capital next week to respond to Gov. James Douglas’ veto of a bill that backers said would fill a gap in car insurance coverage.

House Clerk Donald Milne said that he had sent a letter to House members telling them of plans to convene Wednesday, June 16 at 1 p.m.

The Senate will hold a token session with the full body returning next Thursday to consider House action should the House override the governor’s veto or craft a new bill to address Douglas’ concerns.

It would take a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to overturn a governor’s veto.

Lawmakers adjourned most thought for the year on May 20. But their adjournment resolutions left open the possibility of returning to Montpelier on June 16 should Douglas veto a bill or bills.

Milne said that if this were between the two years of a legislative biennium, lawmakers could wait until next year to address the governor’s veto. But there’s no next year for the current Legislature, as elections are held in November.

That means lawmakers must address the governor’s veto before the end of the current legislative biennium, and the May 20 adjournment resolution said June 16 would be the day to do so if the need arose.

Milne said the Vermont Constitution says that when a governor vetoes a bill it “shall” be sent back to the body where it originated. Members of that chamber then decide if they want to try to override the governor’s veto or make changes to the bill.

“It says ‘shall’, not ‘may,”‘ Milne said of the Constitution, meaning legislative leaders do not have the option of deciding the issue can wait for the next biennium.

The bill that Douglas vetoed was designed to make it easier for motorists injured in a car accident to collect from their own insurance company when the other driver is at fault but doesn’t have enough liability coverage to pay full damages.

Under current law, all Vermont motorists must carry coverage on their car insurance to cover accidents in which the other driver has no insurance or has insufficient insurance to pay fully for the damages caused in an accident. That policy provision means the not-at-fault driver’s own insurance company chips in to pay for damages if the at-fault driver has insufficient insurance.

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled last year that the way the law is currently written there are some instances in which the not-at-fault driver’s insurance carrier can escape paying the full balance of damages the policy appears to cover.

The bill Douglas vetoed was designed to fix that glitch. Douglas said in a letter to Milne that he supported that goal.

“I support the policy decision by the General Assembly to redefine underinsured motorist coverage,” Douglas wrote in a letter sent Monday. But last-minute amendments added in a conference committee on the bill “may have an opposite and unintended result,” Douglas wrote.

Douglas spokesman Jason Gibbs said the governor’s staff still had about 10 bills to review in detail, so another veto or vetoes is possible.

“It’s still an open question,” Gibbs said. It’s unlikely there will be another veto, but there are still 10 more bills that need to go through the intensive review process. There could be some typo or missing line.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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