AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage initially planned to veto five bills in mid-March, going so far as to send veto letters to the clerk of the House and the secretary of the Senate. LePage rescinded the letters within about 40 minutes, however, and let the measures become law without his signature.
Email correspondence and veto letters obtained by the Bangor Daily News through a Freedom of Access Act request show LePage planned to veto the five bills, which the Legislature passed in early March, before changing course and allowing them to take effect.
The documents show Lance Libby, legislative policy coordinator in the governor’s office, attached the veto letters to an email sent to House Clerk Millicent MacFarland and Senate Secretary Darek Grant at 5:09 p.m. on March 19.
Under the Maine Constitution, LePage had 10 days from the day after the Legislature passes the bills to sign them, veto them or let them become law without his signature. The 10-day timeframe for the governor to act expired at the end of the day March 19.
At 5:46 p.m., Libby sent another email to MacFarland and Grant asking them to disregard the veto messages.
“The message was sent in error,” Libby wrote. “We appreciate your assistance and understanding.”
The Legislature passed the measures, all with unanimous support, days after LePage threatened to veto all bills that came across his desk before the Legislature passed his bill to repay Maine’s $484 million hospital debt.
In an email to the Bangor Daily News, LePage’s communications director, Peter Steele, said the governor planned to veto the legislation as part of his promise to follow through on his threat to veto legislation passed before his hospital debt bill.
“However, after he signed the veto letters, he decided it would be a gesture of goodwill to allow the bills to go through,” Steele wrote. “So, he rescinded them. The governor hoped the gesture would speed the process to approve his bill to pay the hospitals.”
The five bills were:
• LD 2: Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 252: Rules Governing Certification of Seed Potatoes in the State of Maine, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
• LD 32: An Act to Expand the Types of Vaccines That May Be Administered by Pharmacists.
• LD 103: An Act to Correct an Inconsistency in Maine’s Apprenticeship Laws.
• LD 112: An Act to Make Changes to the Educators for Maine Program.
• LD 113: An Act to Make Changes to the Maine College Savings Program.
“This veto does not speak to the substance of the bill,” LePage wrote in all five veto letters. “It is simply time to start to work on the truly big issues facing Maine. Each one of you was sent to Augusta to deal with the problems directly and in bold ways. Until we can push forward on these major issues, I will not sit idly by and nip around the edges.”
The week before drafting the veto letters, LePage had relented and signed an emergency measure into law allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol at 6 a.m. on St. Patrick’s Day when the holiday fell on a Sunday, as it did this year. And the documents show LePage didn’t submit a veto letter for LD 26, a unanimously supported measure allowing the state’s inland fisheries and wildlife commissioner to change the opening date of the state’s fishing season based on weather conditions.
Asked at a news conference March 21 why he let the bills become law without his signature, LePage told reporters he wasn’t aware the bills were on his desk awaiting action.
“The bills came down and no one alerted me they were down here until the 19th, which is the day they had to go back up,” he said. “I decided that it was just best to let them go because I was the one who was not ready to veto.”
Since LePage penned — then rescinded — the five veto letters, the governor has issued two vetoes and signed three measures into law.
Last week on Tuesday, he vetoed LD 49, a measure that would require government agencies and businesses comply with payment agreements they have set up with county registries of deeds. On Thursday, he vetoed a bill supported by legislative Democrats that would have prohibited anyone younger than 18 from using commercial tanning booths. He’s allowed other legislation to become law without his signature.
On March 21, LePage signed two emergency measures into law addressing the number of elver licenses the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes could issue. And last week on Thursday, LePage signed into law a bill that allowed the Department of Corrections to implement gender-neutral certification requirements for batterers’ intervention programs.
BDN reporter Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.