State lawmakers headed home but only for 12 days

Posted June 16, 2011, at 9:32 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers will have to return to the State House on June 28 to complete work on a number of unresolved issues and to deal with any vetoes handed down by Gov. Paul LePage.

The 2011 session of the Legislature was supposed to have wrapped up on Wednesday. But the halls of the State House were still filled Thursday evening with lawmakers, lobbyists, journalists and interested observers.

Lawmakers were already scheduled to return later this month to decide how to respond to any vetoes from the governor’s desk. So legislative leaders opted to take up the remaining 30 or so bills on the same day as the veto session, scheduled for June 28.

“We were faced with a choice of staying late tonight and coming back tomorrow or simply coming back on the 28th,” said House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

Although lawmakers are not paid for days that surpass the statutory adjournment, each additional day still costs the state tens of thousands of dollars due to staffing requirements and other needs.

Most lawmakers had no knowledge that the Legislature would adjourn until June 28 until it was announced on the House floor Thursday evening. The decision sparked considerable grumbling among some Democrats and speculation about whether there were political reasons behind the delay.

But Rep. Emily Cain, an Orono Democrat who serves as House minority leader, said it was clear that lawmakers would need additional time to complete their work in addition to voting whether to accept to override any gubernatorial vetoes.

“The bills that would have received debate tonight will still get a full debate,” Cain said.

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee plans to return at 9:30 a.m. next Thursday to decide what to do with dozens and dozens of bills that had a financial impact, some large and some small.

Other potentially controversial measures still up for consideration include a bill to change education funding formulas to assist rural communities as well as a bill dealing with consumer protections for high prescription drug prices.

The big question on Thursday, however, was what LePage would do with the $6.1 billion budget sent to his desk in the afternoon. The budget bill addresses many of the priorities outlined by the LePage administration — including tax cuts, welfare reform and pension reform — but in a different way than the governor originally proposed.

Republicans said they had not received any indication from LePage or his staff about whether the governor will sign the budget, line-item veto certain provisions or veto the entire package. LePage could also allow the budget to become law without his signature.

LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the governor planned to closely examine the budget bill, paying particularly close attention to whether he believes the proposals to reduce the state’s unfunded pension liability go far enough.

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