House vote sustains LePage veto of rule allowing superintendents to live outside school district

Posted May 14, 2013, at 12:15 p.m.
Last modified May 14, 2013, at 3:22 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — More than 30 legislators in the House of Representatives voted Tuesday against overriding Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill they originally supported.

The vote sustains the veto of LD 6, An Act to Prohibit a Requirement That a Superintendent Reside in a School Administrative Unit, which received strong bipartisan support last month.

The bill passed by a vote of 115-22 in the House of Representatives on April 4. On Tuesday, the House voted 88-56 to override LePage’s veto of the bill. That tally failed to provide the two-thirds majority required to override a veto.

LePage cited local control in his veto letter, and legislators debated that concept before Tuesday’s veto override vote.

“State government should not lightly put itself above the decisions of local voters when it comes to their municipal charters,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “This bill would override the decisions of Maine voters who have intentionally added these requirements in their charters.”

For many lawmakers the issue centered on whether the Legislature should override local ordinances, though others said language in local charters that require superintendents to live in towns where they work is antiquated and too difficult to change.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, would have allowed local school boards to hire superintendents who live outside their communities, irrespective of what local ordinances or charters dictate. Casavant said there are examples all over Maine of districts that have difficulties finding quality superintendent candidates and that a residency requirement adds an unreasonable burden for applicants.

“This bill is foremost an education bill. It’s not simply a home-rule bill as it’s being portrayed,” said Casavant during Tuesday morning’s debate in the House of Representatives. “Everybody is competing with each other in order to get a superintendent.”

Urging support for an override, Casavant, who is also mayor of Biddeford, said the residency requirement could expose municipalities to litigation or force them to hire less qualified candidates or “double dippers,” a term LePage has used to criticize school officials who take jobs after retiring and qualifying for a state pension. Biddeford is one of the Maine communities where the residency requirement is causing difficulties for the current superintendent. Voters there recently decided against a change to the city charter that would have done away with the residency requirement.

Several lawmakers who spoke in favor of sustaining the veto originally voted in favor of the bill. One of them was Rep. Alex Willette, R-Mapleton, the assistant House minority leader.

“If we override the governor’s veto today, not only are we saying that the Legislature knows better than the people of Biddeford, but we truly are taking away local control,” said Willette.

House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, also voted in favor of the original bill but led the charge to sustain the governor’s veto Tuesday.

“Ultimately the power in any government in a democracy is in the hands of the people,” said Fredette. “We in this legislative body can decide we don’t care what the voters said and we’re just going to overturn that vote. … Our constitution is vested in the people and this seeks to turn that on its head. I think that’s fundamentally wrong and I ask you to sustain the veto.”

Rep. Jethro Pease, R-Morrill, also supported the original bill but changed his mind for Tuesday’s vote.

“The more I hear, the more it scares me to think that we’re taking control of home rule,” said Pease. “I think we are in the wrong place.”

But some disputed that overriding the governor’s veto would erase local control because doing so would give more authority to local school boards. Rep. Matthew Pouliot, R-Augusta, was one of the few Republicans who supported overturning the governor’s veto. Augusta is one of the Maine communities that has a residency requirement for its superintendent.

“This is a very simple law and something we definitely need in Augusta,” he said. “Please take a stand for local control by giving the authority to the school board.”

The Maine Democratic Party reacted angrily to the House vote.

“The Republican minority may put up a good act, but when push comes to shove, it’s clear they don’t actually care about doing what’s best for Maine people or working with the Democrats to come up with real solutions to the problems the state faces,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant in a prepared statement. “As this session comes to a close and the people of Maine begin to wonder why so little was accomplished, they need to look no further than Gov. LePage and the Republican minority, who have made it clear that they’ll do whatever it takes to stop Democrats from accomplishing anything this legislative session.”

Casavant said in a prepared statement Tuesday afternoon that the intent of his bill had been misrepresented.

“In my seven years in the House, I have not seen a bill so misrepresented and misunderstood,” he said.

LePage has vetoed four bills this session. All have been sustained.

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