Shumlin reverses course on health records

January 19, 2015

Shumlin reverses course on health records
The Associated Press

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin has reversed course and is withholding from the media some of the documents that helped shape his decision to shelve his push for a single-payer health care plan.

When he announced last month that he was dropping the main goal of his administration, Shumlin promised in response to a reporter’s question to release “any documents you wish to look at.”

But in recent days, media outlets that have followed up with requests made under Vermont’s public-records law have been told that communications between the governor and eight top aides on the health care issue are covered by the legal doctrine of “executive privilege,” meaning they are exempt from disclosure.

Sarah London, the governor’s legal counsel, wrote that the same secrecy doctrine applied to communications between the governor and his Business Advisory Council, a group of business leaders from outside government, some of whom had voiced strong misgivings about the push for universal health care.

At the Dec. 21 news conference, reporter Kyle Midura of television station WCAX asked Shumlin, “Will you waive executive privilege for all back-dated documents at this point related to this question so we can see what you knew when?”

Shumlin replied, “There is nothing to hide on what we knew when, so we’d be happy to show you any documents you wish to look at.”

Several media outlets followed up with public-records requests.

“The following types of records have been withheld as executive privileged communications,” London wrote in response to the requests.

She listed, “draft speeches and talking points, weekly reports submitted regularly by the Cabinet to the Governor, and certain policy communications from senior advisors to the Governor.”

On Wednesday, the governor and his aides attributed the apparent change in course to a difference in understanding of Midura’s question between Shumlin and the reporters at the Dec. 17 news conference. They maintained the governor believed Midura’s question related to data and studies leading to the decision to drop development of a single-payer financing plan.

London wrote to public-records requesters that the Office of Health Care Reform released more than 1,000 documents in connection with its report on what led to the decision to put universal health care on hold.

Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell argued that release should satisfy Midura’s request that the administration release information to show “what you knew when.”

As for waiving executive privilege, Shumlin said at a news conference Wednesday, “My office, nor does any governor, ever release emails between staff that are critical to communication to develop policy. I don’t do it. Other governors don’t do it. There’s nothing unique about this.”