AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage used the veto Friday to rebuff three bills that he said were either unnecessary or too consuming of scant resources.
All three bills were sponsored by House Democrats and passed through the Legislature under the gavel, meaning there were no roll-call votes. The sponsors of the bills criticized LePage’s vetoes because they said he could have opposed the measures earlier in the process and avoided what they called a waste of time and taxpayer money.
LD 531, An Act to Specify Qualifications for the Director of the Office of Adult Mental Health Services within the Department of Health and Human Services, would have required DHHS to hire a qualified a licensed psychiatrist as either the director or chief for clinical services in the Office of Adult Mental Health. The Education and Cultural Affairs Committee voted 9-4 in favor of the bill.
In a letter addressed to the Legislature Friday, LePage said he supports the intent of the bill and has instructed DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew to ensure that a licensed psychiatrist is on staff for adult mental health issues.
“In that way, the concerns underlying this piece of legislation will be addressed,” wrote LePage. “This bill is being returned since, as I have said, we will be conducting a full and thorough review of all state operations, evaluating the best ways to deliver high-quality services to our fellow Mainers at the lowest cost possible. With these reform initiatives soon underway, I hope the Legislature understands the need for us to work together on a comprehensive, rather than piecemeal, approach.”
Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, who sponsored the bill, said LePage’s veto came a bit out of the blue.
“It’s just pretty typical of what the governor is doing right now,” she said. “We’ve spent taxpayer dollars bringing these bills forward, having public hearings and work sessions and having legal analysts work on the bill, only to have it vetoed. All that work is just totally undone. I think it’s ridiculous.”
LePage also vetoed LD 1290, “Resolve, To Promote Prevention Practices in Oral Health Care,” because he said the intention of LD 1290 is covered in another bill passed this session by the Legislature, LD 1105. That bill authorizes a study by a firm called Medical Care Development, Inc., which will be paid with non-state funding. The text of the bill states that the company will solicit up to $60,000 in grants and donations from the private sector to accomplish the study and that a maximum of $5,750 from the state’s General Fund will be expended.
“As members of the Legislature know, [DHHS] has a large number of mandates on how its funds are spent, both at the state and federal level,” wrote LePage. “There is a very limited amount of discretionary funds available and the so-called ‘minor cost increases’ in a number of these resolves add up very quickly. In this time of fiscal restraint, we must not create new programs — however well-intentioned — on the fly and without funding.”
Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, who sponsored LD 1290, said Saturday that he was disappointed with LePage’s veto, especially since a member of the LePage administration testified during the committee process that LePage was neither for nor against the resolve. The bill received a unanimous ought to pass recommendation from the Health and Human Services Committee.
“It would have been helpful to know that there was resistance from the executive branch so that we could address those problems,” said Eves. “If we’re looking to run the government more efficiently, this is not the way to do it, at least on the legislative front.”
Eves said he will re-submit a similar bill in January 2012 because he said the issue of oral health in Maine is too important to ignore.
The third veto issued Friday by LePage was for LD 1139, “Resolve, To Promote Instruction in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and the Use of an Automated External Defibrillator.” LePage wrote in his veto notice that the resolve is too broad. It directs two agencies, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Education, to undertake studies on the availability of AEDs, particularly in Maine schools, and produce reports. The fiscal note on the resolve predicts a “minor cost increase” to the General Fund, but LePage disagrees.
“I do not believe such major issues will have only minor costs,” wrote LePage. “If the Legislature would appropriate the necessary fund to complete the tasks outlined in the resolve, or direct legislative staff to carry out those directives, then I would happily sign it. Until then, I cannot sign this resolve and expend the limited resources of major agencies when the issue deserves more.”
Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, said she bristled when a member of the governor’s staff approached her about having the bill recalled from LePage’s desk for improvements, so she suggested the veto.
“I plan on trying to override the veto on the floor,” said Graham. “It is difficult for me to understand why a resolve that will teach high school students how to save lives is vetoed.”
LD 1139 received a unanimous recommendation from the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.