Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to stop a batch of bills he intended to veto from becoming law were dealt another blow late last week when Maine Attorney General Janet Mills (D) released a letter siding with Democratic lawmakers who say the governor missed his deadline to veto the legislation.
Under the Democrats’ and Mills’ reading of the Maine constitution, since LePage did not return the 19 bills passed last month in the 10-day period he had to veto them, they have already become law. Since the Bangor Daily News reported on the lapse last week, LePage has dug in and insisted he could return the bills when the legislature reconvenes this week.
Another 51 bills are set to become law, the Portland Press Herald reported, as LePage refused to act on them by the 10-day deadline that expired Saturday at midnight.
At issue in the dispute is whether lawmakers took the formal adjournment that would have allowed LePage to return the vetoed bills whenever the legislature reconvened again for three or more days. Lawmakers say the break they took last month was not that kind of an adjournment — known as an adjournment sine die — as they had plans to return in mid-July to consider any outstanding legislation. In Friday’s letter, Mills agreed.
“It is exclusively the Legislature that decides when it adjourns, not another branch of government, and there is no requirement that the Legislature set a specific date for the next meeting when it finishes its business day,” Mills wrote, further bolstering the legislators’ case. “Conversely, the failure to set a specific date for reconvening does not become an adjournment sine die by default.”
The request for her review was brought by state Sens. Dawn Hill, a Democrat, and Thomas Saviello, a Republican.
The brouhaha is the latest twist in an ongoing veto war between LePage and his statehouse counterparts over Democrats’ refusal to advance a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the income tax. Democrats control Maine’s House of Representatives.
LePage has been issuing knee-jerk vetoes to bills by the dozen to punish Democrats, and lawmakers in turn have been overturning those vetoes swiftly. Among the 19 bills in the initial batch is a measure that will allow certain undocumented immigrants to have access to welfare benefits, an effort LePage vehemently opposes. It first appeared that LePage was attempting to use a procedural maneuver known as the pocket veto that would have allowed the governor to kill the legislation without the Legislature having a chance to override the veto. However, the circumstances required for a pocket veto had not been met, and his office has insisted that a pocket veto was never his intent.
LePage said last week that he will go to court if need be over the matter, plans his office confirmed in its response to the attorney general’s letter.
“Democrats and their hand-picked attorney general are certainly entitled to their opinions about the Constitutional process,” Peter Steele, a LePage spokesman, said in a statement to TPM. “However, while Democrats choose to operate based on political expediency, the Governor believes the Maine people deserve a truly objective opinion from a higher legal authority. A question for the Law Court is now being drafted.”
Read Attorney General Mills’ letter below: