AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine House on Tuesday overturned a veto by Gov. Paul LePage, marking the first time since the governor took office that one of his vetoes has been challenged.
LePage issued the veto early Tuesday of a Republican-sponsored bill designed to address how schools receive federal funds for certain medical services for special education students.
LD 1003, sponsored by Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, would have directed the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services to work together with an interagency stakeholder group to refine existing MaineCare policies.
The group would have been asked to develop new policies or prepare guidance on billing procedures to “ensure the provision of medically necessary services to students in school-based settings.” Those services include physical therapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy for students with special needs.
Any suggestions for amendments to MaineCare rules regarding such services, which were not explicitly defined in the bill, would have been due by the summer.
LePage said LD 1003 would distract the Department of Health and Human Services from continuing to find solutions to the state’s MaineCare problems and he worried about the bill’s potential cost.
“I have strong objections to the Legislature directing efforts of the executive branch without providing funding for that purpose,” he wrote. “Especially when my departments are already working tirelessly on these issues.
“Another problem with this resolve is that it attempts to force action before we have all the facts. The federal inspector general is currently undertaking an audit of our school-based MaineCare service program and it is unclear what their findings will be. It is possible that we will be required to repay the federal government for past misuses of funds.”
The governor also said he has concerns about continuing to rely on federal funds. If the state does so, “we need to understand all the details up front and make sure we do not leave future taxpayers with huge bills to pay from audit findings,” his veto letter read. “We cannot lose our sense simply because there is a promise of a big check.”
LD 1003 passed through the House and Senate last month under the hammer, which means there was no debate or roll-call vote. In order to override a veto, two-thirds of House members need to support the bill.
Tuesday’s House vote was 124-16. It now goes to the Senate.
“Lawmakers overwhelmingly joined together to stand up for Maine children and our schools,” said Rep. Richard Wagner, D-Lewiston, who serves on the Education Committee, which unanimously passed the measure earlier this year. “This is a simple bill that ensures our school districts have access to funds to take care of students with special needs.”
Last Friday, the governor vetoed LD 145, a bill that sought to protect homeowners during foreclosure proceedings, because he said it would put more of a burden on banks.
The House sustained that veto on Monday, bringing to 16 the number of LePage’s vetoes upheld by the Legislature since he took office.
Follow BDN reporter Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.