Attorney General: Robert L. Genuario, Secretary, Office of Policy and Management, Formal Opinion 2006-017, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

July 26, 2006

Robert L. Genuario
Secretary
Office of Policy and Management
450 Capitol Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106

Dear Mr. Genuario:

 

This letter is in response to your request for a formal legal opinion as to whether $2.8 million designated for non-emergency medical transportation and vision benefits under the State-Administered General Assistance program (“SAGA”) in the recently approved state budget may be spent without further legislative action.1 In particular, you question whether Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192, which governs medical services provided under SAGA, prohibits the expenditure of the designated funds. We conclude that Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 does not preclude the provision of non-emergency medical transportation and vision benefits for SAGA recipients and that these benefits may be provided without further legislative action.

 

The SAGA program is administered by the Department of Social Services in order to provide financial assistance to individuals who are unable to support themselves. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-190 et seq. In addition to cash benefits, the program provides certain medical benefits to individuals who are ineligible for Medicaid. The medical benefits provided by the program are described in Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 as follows:

 

Medical services under the program shall be limited to the services provided by a federally qualified health center, hospital, or other provider contracted for the program at the commissioner’s discretion because of access needs. The commissioner shall ensure that ancillary services and specialty services are provided by a federally qualified health center, hospital, or other providers contracted for the program at the commissioner’s discretion. Ancillary services include, but are not limited to, radiology, laboratory, and other diagnostic services not available from the recipient’s assigned primary care provider, and durable medical equipment. Specialty services are services provided by a physician with a specialty that are not included in ancillary services. In no event shall ancillary or specialty services provided under the program exceed such services provided under the state-administered general assistance program on July 1, 2003.  

 

Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 (emphasis added). You question whether the highlighted language in this statute bars the Department of Social Services from covering services such as non-emergency medical transportation and vision care that were eliminated from the SAGA program prior to July 1, 2003.2

 

In analyzing a statute, the “fundamental objective is to ascertain and give effect to the apparent intent of the legislature.” Manifold v. Ragaglia, 272 Conn. 410, 419 (2004). In searching for the legislative intent, a court looks first “to the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes.” Conn. Gen. Stat. § 1-2z. If the text of the statute is not clear and unambiguous, it is appropriate to look to the statute’s “legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter.” Jagger v. Mohawk Mountain Ski Area, Inc., 269 Conn. 672, 679 (2004).

Looking at the language of section 17b-192, there is no explicit mention of non-emergency medical transportation or vision care. As you note, however, it is possible that such services fall within the scope of ancillary or specialty services.3

Assuming arguendo that non-emergency medical transportation and vision care fall within the scope of ancillary or specialty services, there is a conflict between the language of section 17b-192 and the provisions of the budget funding non-emergency medical transportation and vision care benefits. Under this interpretation, the conflict would arise because the provision of non-emergency medical transportation and vision care benefits would cause the ancillary and/or specialty services provided under SAGA to exceed the services that were provided under the program on July 1, 2003, in violation of section 17b-192’s requirement that “[i]n no event shall ancillary or specialty services provided under the program exceed such services provided under the state-administered general assistance program on July 1, 2003.” Such a conflict, however, does not nullify the budgetary provisions.

 

Under well-settled rules of statutory construction, “[t]he legislature is always presumed to be aware of all existing statutes,” Wiseman v. Armstrong, 269 Conn. 802, 822 (2004), and “to exercise its statutory authority with the intention of creating one consistent body of law.” Nancy G. v. Dept. of Children and Families, 248 Conn. 672, 686 (1999)(ellipsis omitted). In the event of a conflict between legislative enactments, “later enactments by the General Assembly are presumed to repeal earlier inconsistent ones to the extent that they are in conflict.” Southern Connecticut Gas Co. v. Housing Authority, 191 Conn. 514, 521 (1983). Because repeal by implication is generally disfavored, however, this principle only applies when the relevant enactments cannot stand together. Id.

 

Applying these principles in Patterson v. Dempsey, 152 Conn. 431 (1965), the Connecticut Supreme Court considered whether three provisions in an appropriations bill were void because they conflicted with an earlier statute. Noting that “[w]hen expressions of the legislative will are irreconcilable, the latest prevails,” the Court concluded that the appropriations provisions were not void because they were “the equivalent of an affirmative enactment suspending” the inconsistent provisions of the earlier statute. Id. at 439. To hold otherwise, the Court reasoned, “would be to hold that one General Assembly could effectively control the enactment of legislation by a subsequent General Assembly,” which it cannot do “except where vested rights, protected by the constitution, have accrued under the earlier act.” Id. at 439.

 

The same analysis applies to the present situation and compels the same conclusion. Because “[o]ne legislature cannot control the exercise of the powers of a succeeding legislature,” Patterson, 152 Conn. at 439, and “later enactments by the General Assembly are presumed to repeal earlier inconsistent ones to the extent that they are in conflict,” Southern Connecticut Gas Co., 191 Conn. at 521, we conclude that the legislature’s designation of $2.8 million to provide non-emergency medical transportation and vision benefits to SAGA recipients is effective, notwithstanding the language of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192.

 

This conclusion is further supported by the rule of statutory construction that the legislature is presumed not to enact futile or meaningless legislation. Quarry Knoll II Corp. v. Planning and Zoning Commission, 256 Conn. 674, 722 (2001). If Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 barred the legislature from funding non-emergency medical transportation and vision care benefits, the legislative appropriation of funds for these services would be rendered meaningless. Because it must be presumed that the legislature would not have intended such a result, id., we conclude that the Department of Social Services may provide the designated benefits to SAGA recipients without further legislative action.

Very truly yours,


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL

Jane R. Rosenberg
Assistant Attorney General



1 The budget to which you are referring is set forth in 2006 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 06-186.  Page 248 of the “Connecticut State Budget 2005-2007 Revisions: A Summary of Revenue Appropriations and Bonds Authorized by the General Assembly,” prepared by the Connecticut General Assembly Office of Fiscal Analysis, contains the following statement: “The legislature provides an additional $5.1 million for SAGA medical services. Of this, $2.6 million is intended to pay federally qualified health centers (FQHC’s) 95% of their patients’ costs. The current SAGA rates only cover 80% of costs. The remaining funds are to allow CHN and the FQHC’s to provide limited, managed non-emergency transportation and vision care benefits.” (emphasis added). This accounts for $2.5 million of the $2.8 million to which you refer. Although we are uncertain where the additional $300,000 is referenced, the precise amount of funding allocated for the benefits in question is not significant to the resolution of the question that you present.

 

2 The highlighted language was added to Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 by a 2003 amendment set forth in 2003 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 03-3, § 43 (June 30 Special Session). Prior to the 2003 amendment, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 explicitly prohibited coverage for “nonemergency medical transportation” and “eye care, optical hardware and optometry care.” See 2001 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 01-2, § 59 (June Special Session 2001) and 2002 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 02-7, § 19 (May 9 Special Session). When Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 was amended in 2003, the language prohibiting coverage for these services was deleted, along with most of the rest of the statute, and entirely new language, including the highlighted provision at issue, was inserted in its place. As discussed below, it is unclear from the statute and its legislative history whether nonemergency medical transportation and vision care benefits were intended to be included within the scope of  “ancillary or specialty services.” 

 

3  Although non-emergency medical transportation is not a specialty service because it is not a “service[ ] provided by a physician with a specialty,” it might possibly be considered an ancillary service because such services “include, but are not limited to” the services listed in the statute. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192. Vision care could arguably be considered either an ancillary service or a specialty service because it is both a “diagnostic service[ ] not available from the recipient’s assigned primary care provider” and a “service[ ] provided by a physician with a specialty.” Id. The legislative history of Conn. Gen. Stat. § 17b-192 does not clarify this issue.

 


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Content Last Modified on 7/28/2006 9:02:11 AM