Chapter Lauds Veto Override

Steve KarpChapter Executive Director Steve Karp

Connecticut social workers proved this year that it pays to be persistent.

NASW’s Connecticut Chapter led a successful campaign to convince lawmakers to override a governor veto of a master social worker licensure proposal.

Gathering support for a veto override is a rare occurrence, noted Steve Karp, the chapter’s executive director.

“It was a huge victory for social workers in Connecticut,” he said. “This helped show we can do a lot when we speak with one voice.”

Getting the law on the books was no easy feat, Karp explained.

The idea arose from how best to use funds from the NASW social work reinvestment initiative. Drafting the first bill in 2009 took hard work.

“Licensure is never easy,” Karp said. “We made changes and worked on the language for months.”

The 2010 bill appeared to be headed for the lawbooks when it passed with overwhelming support of the legislature earlier this year. “We thought we did it,” Karp said. “It was a noncontroversial bill on our part.”

Surprisingly, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed the measure when it got to her desk.

The governor’s veto message said in part that the bill failed to provide adequate funding to implement the new licensure type. However, Karp said the proposal clearly explained that licensure will be implemented only when the Department of Public Health has the resources available.

Rather than give up, Karp said the chapter, feeling there was nothing to lose, tried to convince the House and Senate to override the veto during a special legislative session.

The chapter, however, needed to demonstrate to leaders in both houses that it had the votes for a two-thirds majority, Karp said.

“We had the votes among the Democrats in the House, but in the Senate we needed to pick up at least one Republican vote,” he said. “Even though all the Republicans voted for the bill in regular session, it was not going to be easy to convince them to override the Republican governor.”

There were two things in the chapter’s favor, however: The original bill passed with only a handful of “no” votes; and the governor who vetoed the bill is not seeking re-election. Because of this, there was less of a concern about party loyalty, Karp said.

Two weeks leading up to the special session of the legislature, the chapter devised a strategy to mobilize members who live in districts represented by Republican senators, Karp said. E-mails and phone calls were made by volunteer members and staff to key areas of the state.

Social workers once again took the time to contact their representatives and explain to them how important the proposal was to social workers and their clients.

The effort paid off: The Republican caucus in the Senate decided to let its members vote how they wanted on the measure, Karp said.

The veto override passed with only two votes against it in the Senate and once again passed overwhelmingly in the House.

The master social work licensure law is set to take effect after Oct. 1. Once enacted, the law will prohibit anyone from using the title “licensed master social worker” unless the person has a master social work license.

The law already provides title protection for licensed clinical social workers in the state.

Karp said the Connecticut Chapter has worked hard over the years to earn state lawmakers’ respect.

“We’ve built a relationship with both parties,” he said. “Our arguments for licensure were solid and we had no opposition from other professions. We worked out any differences and mobilized our members. Every single legislator was contacted.”

Elizabeth B. RitterConnecticut State Rep. Elizabeth B. Ritter

Connecticut State Rep. Elizabeth B. Ritter, a Democrat, serves as chair of the Public Health Committee. She sponsored the original master social work licensure bill because she said social work students were having difficulty finding work upon graduation since the state’s clinical social work license requires 3,000 hours of experience and an exam.

“We were losing graduates to surrounding states” that have master social work licenses, she said. “This new law will also benefit the consumer. It strengthens the profession and it keeps more people at home.”

Ritter said she was surprised when she heard the governor vetoed the bill earlier this year. But she said she was very pleased the legislature chose to override the veto.

“We had done a lot of work on this, talking with both sides of the aisle,” Ritter said.

The state representative also praised the Connecticut Chapter for its dedication to see the bill into law.

“They were wonderful to work with,” she said. “They taught me a lot about social work and what social workers do. I thought it was a positive partnership. I am pleased for social workers in Connecticut.”

She continued: “I view this as a positive all the way around.”