The office of Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) and the clerk in the Maine House are in disagreement over the fate of 19 bills that the governor apparently did not veto in time to prevent them from becoming law. One of the bills grants welfare benefits to some immigrants, which LePage vehemently campaigned against in 2014.
As the Bangor Daily News reported Tuesday evening, LePage appeared to be attempting to use the parliamentary procedure known as the pocket veto. By not signing the bills and “pocketing” them, LePage could under some circumstances have effectively vetoed them. In theory, that would have allowed the proposals to die without legislators having a chance to override his veto. But the pocket veto only works if the legislature has adjourned after the end of the second regular session. And there is the rub.
The clerk of the Maine House told TPM Wednesday morning that the legislature, which is nearing the end of the first regular session, has not adjourned. By not vetoing the bills within the required 10-day period, LePage allowed the bills he opposed — some ferociously — to become law.
But LePage’s office is now claiming the legislature did adjourn. “The Legislature passed a joint order on June 30, 2015 to adjourn—not to ‘recess,’” LePage’s office said in a Wednesday email to TPM.
That has left the clerk of the Maine House thoroughly confused.
“Frankly, if he returns them to me, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Maine’s Clerk of the House Robert Hunt told TPM, after being read the new statement from the governor’s office. Hunt added that it appeared he and the governor’s office have different interpretations of what, under the Maine Constitution, qualifies as an adjournment.
Here’s what Article IV, Section 2 of the Maine Constitution says on the subject:
If the bill or resolution shall not be returned by the Governor within 10 days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to the Governor, it shall have the same force and effect as if the Governor had signed it unless the Legislature by their adjournment prevent its return, in which case it shall have such force and effect, unless returned within 3 days after the next meeting of the same Legislature which enacted the bill or resolution; if there is no such next meeting of the Legislature which enacted the bill or resolution, the bill or resolution shall not be a law.
Both Hunt and Suzanne Gresser, the reviser of statutes, are acting as if the usual 10-day period for the governor to veto the bills has passed and are now on their way to becoming law.
Adding to the confusion, the governor’s office is now pushing back on suggestions that LePage was attempting to pocket veto the bills, despite the fact that spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett suggested as such in the Bangor Daily News report Tuesday evening.
“This is not a pocket veto,” LePage spokesman Peter Steele said in the Wednesday statement to TPM. “As allowed by the Maine Constitution, the Governor will submit the vetoes when the Legislature meets again for three days. It has been a contentious session, and many in the Legislature claimed they did not have time to deal with the vetoes.”
According to Steele, the legislature can consider overriding the veto when they meet later this month or again in January. However, according to Hunt, since the legislature was not officially adjourned — it was only “at ease” — the 10 days for LePage to send the bills back to lawmakers has passed and in theory they are already law.
“This is new territory,” Hunt said in the interview with TPM. “Because those 10 days have passed.”
Adding another wrinkle to the saga is that, according to Hunt, four of the 19 bills are pieces of emergency legislation, which go in effect immediately, rather than after the 90 day-period attached to typical laws.
Among the bills in question is legislation that will grant immigrants seeking asylum in the United States welfare assistance. Another of the bills creates a fund to help pay for municipal broadband development.
Democrats, which control the state House, are crowing about the turn of events. In particular they point out that LePage was endorsing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) for president at an event in Maine last week instead of vetoing the bills in a timely fashion.
“We were expecting him to act on these last Thursday when he was hanging out with Chris Christie, but he seems to have gotten distracted by that,” House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe told the Bangor newspaper.
Updated 7/8/2015 at 2:15 pm:
Democrats and legal experts are pushing back on LePage’s argument that the legislature was legally adjourned and the governor can still send the bills back with a veto when they reconvene.
“The Constitution and historical precedent make clear that these bills are law, ” House Speaker Mark Eves (D) said in a statement, according to a follow-up Bangor Daily News story posted Wednesday afternoon. “The governor is wrong.”
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D) said the House would not take up consideration of any bills LePage sent back to them with a veto if they had been on his desk for more than 10 days, as in his opinion they are already law.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine accused LePage of taking the Maine Constitution “out of context.” ACLU-Maine legal director Zachary Heiden told the Bangor Daily News that, temporary recess aside, the legislature is still in session and “the law in Maine is that when they’re in session, he has 10 days.”