Thursday May 17, 2012

MONTPELIER (AP) -- Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a bill Wednesday calling for greater information sharing by a state agency that is being sued for allegedly falling down on its job of protecting the state's elderly and disabled from abuse and exploitation.

Shumlin's veto of the measure calling for increased reporting by the state's Adult Protective Services division came five months after groups representing the elderly and disabled sued Vermont, saying the state had a backlog of hundreds of investigations of physical abuse and financial exploitation of its most vulnerable residents.

Lawmakers responded to the concerns raised by groups Disability Rights Vermont and the Community of Vermont Elders by passing a bill calling for greater performance reporting by APS, which is a division of the state Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. That department, in turn, is part of the Agency of Human Services.

Shumlin called the bill "an example of misplaced good intentions. By requiring expensive, time-consuming, and duplicative reports by the Agency of Human Services to the legislature, this bill distracts AHS from doing its job: protecting our most vulnerable Vermonters," he said in a written veto message.


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"I am vetoing this bill because it does nothing to advance the goal of protecting those vulnerable Vermonters, adds yet another layer of bureaucracy to state government, and wastes taxpayer dollars," Shumlin added.

Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison and chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, called Shumlin's remark about "misplaced good intentions" condescending, and expressed surprise at the veto.

She said administration officials "had gone through every line of that bill" and had expressed support for it.

Human Services Secretary Douglas Racine did not immediately respond to a message left on his cellphone seeking comment.

According to state law, when APS receives an allegation of abuse, neglect or exploitation of an elderly or disabled person, it is required to launch an investigation within 48 hours.

"The complaints were that people were calling, they were reporting a vulnerable adult, and nobody was getting back to them," Ayer said. "Or it was taking a very long time for someone to get back to them." She said some investigations were closed without either the person making the complaint or the alleged victim being contacted.

Among the performance indicators lawmakers included in the bill, she said, was, "We want to know how many times did you not get back to the reporter within 48 hours?"

Ayer said lawmakers determined that what they were seeking from APS could be supplied easily with "off-the-shelf" software widely used by similar agencies in other states. "All they're going to have to do is push a button once a month," she said.

The Coalition of Vermont Elders released a statement by its executive director, Gini Milkey, who also called the veto a surprise and "discouraging to say the least. The heart of this matter is transparency in government and oversight of a consumer protection program that is going through a period of troubling turmoil." She said the bill would have helped restore public confidence in the system for protecting "frail elders and other vulnerable adults."