Back to work, lawmakers to answer LePage vetoes

By Kevin Miller, BDN Staff
Posted June 27, 2011, at 7:54 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Back from a 12-day break, lawmakers will return to the State House on Tuesday to complete work on dozens of unresolved issues ranging from charter schools to fireworks and to respond to Gov. Paul LePage’s active veto pen.

Legislative leaders originally had hoped to wrap up the 2011 session by June 8 to save money but ended up extending beyond the June 15 statutory adjournment date.

Republican leaders recessed on June 16 and will return on Tuesday for a session that has authorization to run until Friday, at a cost of $23,000 a day, according to the Office of the Executive Director of the Legislature. But legislative leaders hope they won’t need that many additional days.

“He wants to go through this as quickly as possible,” said Jim Cyr, spokesman for House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

Several measures are expected to generate lengthy debates.

“This is much more than a simple wrap-up,” said Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the House minority leader. “There are substantive issues still outstanding.”

Arguably the highest-profile bill is LD 1553, which would authorize the creation of 10 charter schools in Maine over the next decade and directs the Department of Education to develop standards for the authorization of such schools.

The bill has been hotly debated in the House and Senate but faces additional votes — and therefore debates — in both chambers.

Another education-related bill likely to spark floor speeches is LD 1274, which would reconfigure Maine’s education funding formula. Supporters, including bill sponsor and Senate President Kevin Raye, say changes are needed to help rural communities but critics question whether the changes go too far.

A bill to legalize fireworks could be another possible spark for a political floor show.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Damon, R-Bangor, would allow Mainers to purchase fireworks from permanent, stand-alone stores that would have to be licensed through the state. The proposal, which would make Maine law similar to the one in place in New Hampshire, would not allow the sale of bottle rockets and other aerial fireworks.

But the bill’s opponents point out that fire safety officials, emergency medical personnel and health groups all testified strongly in opposition to loosening Maine’s fireworks law.

The bill, which would not take effect until next year, carries an initial price tag of $27,000 but likely would be a moneymaker for the state after that because of sales taxes and fees.

“Once this thing gets going, it pays for itself,” Damon told The Associated Press.

Bangor’s Hollywood Slots racino, meanwhile, will be closely watching another Damon bill that would authorize the facility to add blackjack, poker and other table games as long as local voters endorse the expansion.

That bill appears to have solid support in the Legislature, but LePage caused a stir last week when he said he would veto the measure despite his administration’s earlier support for the bill. LePage also has threatened to veto another unresolved gambling-related measure, LD 1203, that would authorize racinos in Biddeford and Calais.

Additionally, lawmakers will grapple with potentially contentious bills dealing with prescription drugs, regulatory requirements for the health care industry and an emergency congressional redistricting process needed to respond to a court challenge.

But the Republican-controlled Legislature also will have to decide what to do with eight bills that have been vetoed by LePage and another two that are being sent back to the Legislature unsigned.

Among the vetoed bills are measures calling for a study by state health officials into the effects of wood smoke and a study into transferring administration of state liquor and lottery operations from public safety to the finance department.

Another vetoed bill says nurses would have to be fingerprinted and subjected to complete criminal background checks to be licensed, a requirement LePage said is unnecessary and unfairly singles out nurses among other health care professionals.

In several of the bills requiring studies, LePage objected to the cost at a time the state is trying to save money.

In his veto message on a bill to create a panel to improve the efficiency of Maine’s early childhood system, LePage called the proposal redundant, saying, “It is this layer upon layer style of legislating that led to the bloated and inefficient government we all seek to reform.”

Adrienne Bennett, spokeswoman for LePage, said Monday that it is not that LePage opposes all resolves or study commissions.

“He strongly feels that anything that costs the Maine taxpayers additional dollars should be looked at very closely,” Bennett said. “A few thousand bucks here and there add up and end up costing taxpayers.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/06/27/politics/back-to-work-lawmakers-to-answer-lepage-vetoes/ printed on September 18, 2014