May 28, 2018
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LePage’s special session not without precedent in Maine history

Alex Barber | BDN
Alex Barber | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage speaks in Bangor in June 2012.
By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s consultation with the attorney general’s office about calling legislators to Augusta before the November elections is typical whether the governor is vetting his policy idea or setting up a special session, according to former Attorney General Janet Mills.

Mills — who was not re-elected to the post by the Legislature after LePage’s election and the election of Republican majorities in the Maine House and Senate — said last week that she would expect the chief executive to seek counsel from the attorney general before convening any out-of-the-ordinary session.

“That would certainly involve some legal advice,” said Mills earlier in the week. “The governor can only call in the Legislature without their approval when there’s an extraordinary occasion. That seems to me like it would have to be something pretty serious, like a time of war, a drought or some kind of state emergency. If I were the attorney general, I certainly would want to be consulted on something like that.”

LePage has said repeatedly that he is working with the Maine attorney general’s office on issues surrounding the possible special session. Brenda Kielty, spokeswoman for the attorney general, declined to confirm or deny that LePage is consulting with the attorney general and would not comment on whether such conversations were about the governor’s policy idea or the issue of calling a special session.

Maine governors are given broad and seemingly ambiguous authority on the issue, according to the Maine Constitution, which states that the governor can call special sessions “on extraordinary occasions.”

Since 1960, the Legislature has convened for a total of 26 special sessions, not including the second year of each Legislature, which also is called a “special session.” All but three were called by sitting governors, according to data compiled for the Bangor Daily News by the state’s Legislative Law Library. In 1991, 2004 and 2008, Legislative leaders triggered a provision in the Constitution that allowed them to call special sessions by gaining majority approval from legislators in each of the two major parties.

In abbreviated special sessions in the past 10 years, the major bills considered by the Legislature involved approval of bond and referendum questions for statewide ballots and supplemental budget bills. The Legislature also has approved a slew of appointments and resolutions during those sessions.

Last year, the Legislature convened in September to consider emergency bills that outlawed the drug known as bath salts and reapportioned Maine’s congressional districts.

Joseph Carleton, secretary of the Senate, said that logistically, legislative staff doesn’t need much notice to prepare for a special session and that there are no timelines specified in Maine law for notifying legislators. The House clerk and Senate secretary would need to compile and print the legislative calendar and, depending on the magnitude of the business at hand, might have to call in some employees who typically work only when the Legislature is in session.

“The governor has the right to submit his proposals,” said Carleton. “Doing everything [to prepare for a special session] would take a few days, probably less than a week.”

Whether Gov. Paul LePage will call a special session of the Legislature in advance of the November election has remained as much of a mystery as what lawmakers would deliberate if convened. Democratic legislative leaders have said a special session costs the state about $35,000 a day.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, told reporters Aug. 17 that LePage said during a telephone conversation with her that he would wait until January to unveil his idea, but LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said later in the day that the governor is keeping all options on the table.

“I have a track record of being open, honest and direct when it comes to the media,” said Cain. “I had a direct conversation with the governor … He was unambiguous. Adrienne Bennett was not on that phone call.”

Bennett told the Bangor Daily News twice last week that there is “nothing new to report” on the issue and declined to answer questions Monday about her statements being at odds with Cain’s. LePage, in an appearance Monday in Scarborough, indicated that he would wait until January to unveil his proposal, according to a report by WCSH.

Pressed by reporters after the meeting about whether he told Cain he has put his plans on hold, LePage responded while walking away from reporters by saying “I lie a lot. You guys tell me I lie a lot.”

The Androscoggin County Republican Committee called on LePage earlier this week to call a special session so the Legislature could consider a resolve in opposition to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, though a similar resolve was rejected by the Legislature last year. Bennett has not returned calls and emails regarding that request.

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