Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is doubling down on his unprecedented interpretation of his veto power under the state constitution that many lawmakers and legal experts say is simply wrong. What looked like a botched veto effort earlier this week is now becoming standard practice for LePage.
LePage’s office is saying that he will sit on another 51 bills passed by the state legislature. Those are in addition to the 19 bills he previously failed to act on. He plans to send them all back to the legislature with a veto when lawmakers return to Augusta July 16, the Bangor Daily News reported.
Democratic lawmakers and the clerk of the state House contend — and history and custom tend to support their view — that LePage missed the 10-day deadline he had to veto those 19 bills. Under Maine’s constitution, the bills automatically become law if the governor doesn’t act within that 10-day window.
LePage contends that the legislature adjourned June 30, which triggers another section of the state constitution that gives him additional time to act. But lawmakers claim they never took the kind of “adjournment” required by the constitution to allow LePage to wait to act on the bills, and they become law when he didn’t return them in the 10-day period.
LePage has been using his veto pen to wage war on lawmakers who had blocked his effort to eliminate the income tax and, the governor has vetoed dozens of bills in retaliation, only to have most of those vetoes overturned. But the 19 bills that he may have inadvertently allowed to become law also included a proposal to give certain undocumented immigrants welfare benefits, which LePage vehemently opposes.
The stand-off started earlier this week, when it became apparent that the governor’s 10-day consideration period had lapsed on an initial batch of 10 bills passed by the legislature and they were believed to have become law.
It first appeared that the governor was attempting to “pocket veto” the original 19 bills, referring to a procedural maneuver that, under certain circumstances, lets legislation die without being returned to the legislature for a potential veto override. The governor’s office suggested as much when initially asked about the status of the 19 bills, but — with lawmakers pointing out that he had not met circumstances for a pocket veto — LePage has since claimed he was not attempting a pocket veto at all.
LePage is now saying that, under his understanding of Maine’s constitution, he can return the bills with a veto the next time lawmakers convene for three or more days. Lawmakers say the break that they took June 30 was not the type of adjournment required by that provision in the constitution, but rather an informal recess, and thus, with the 10-day clock still ticking, those bills became law.
LePage says he is willing to go to court over the matter, and with the move to sit on 51 more bills past the 10 day deadline, is not backing down from the fight.
According to the Bangor Daily News report, state lawmakers of both parties have asked Attorney General Janet Mills for her opinion on the matter; her office declined to comment for Bangor Daily News story.
But Democrats, who control the Maine House of Representatives, are confident their interpretation is correct and those additional 51 bills will also become law due to the governor’s inaction.
“That’s great news,” House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D) said. “That just means the bills will become law. It’s increasingly embarrassing that these antics are continuing. I’m getting calls from people from around the country who can’t believe what’s going on right now.