Tuesday vetoes highlight LePage’s conflicts with Democrats over education

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed five bills on June 18, 2013 including a measure that would require charter schools to be operated by nonprofit organizations.
Gov. Paul LePage vetoed five bills on June 18, 2013 including a measure that would require charter schools to be operated by nonprofit organizations. Buy Photo
Posted June 18, 2013, at 8:14 p.m.
Last modified June 19, 2013, at 6:02 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A measure that would require charter schools to be operated by nonprofit organizations was among five bills that Gov. Paul LePage vetoed Tuesday evening.

LD 671, An Act to Protect Charter Schools by Requiring Them to be Operated as Nonprofit Organizations, is a Democrat-sponsored bill that sought to bar large corporations from running charter schools within the state. It passed unanimously in the House and on a mostly party-line vote in the Senate earlier this month.

LePage’s veto message focused on his usual favor of charter schools and that they provide students more choice in their education. He wrote that barring charter schools’ access to for-profit education service providers would put them at a disadvantage compared to traditional public schools.

“This bill, like many others, is part of a coordinated effort to maintain the educational status quo and prevent students from options that fit their needs,” wrote LePage. “Rather than follow the lead of other states and accept public charter schools as an option, some are focused on preventing their establishment.”

Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland, who is co-chairwoman of the Education Committee, said the intent of the bill was to take profit margins out of the state’s education system so schools wouldn’t make decisions based on what would make them the most money.

“When you put the profit motive in place they’re focused to get to the least common denominator,” said Millett. “This bill was all about profits.”

LePage also vetoed two other education-related bills. One of them, LD 670, was designed to encourage higher education students to take career interest tests prior to registering for classes at Maine community colleges or universities, or at Maine Maritime Academy. A second bill, LD 1144, proposed changes in the implementation of performance evaluation systems for educators.

In his veto letter for LD 1144, LePage criticized the bill because it reduced the amount of information about educator evaluations that the Department of Education would collect from school districts. LePage also took a shot at Democrats in the Legislature for thwarting his administration’s school reform efforts.

“We have tried time and again to secure funds to work with local schools to increase performance and accountability,” he wrote. “While this bill confirms that the Department [of Education] may provide grants ‘if funds are available,’ the Legislature has cut our budget proposals so that funds are not available.”

Two gubernatorial vetoes issued Tuesday evening did not deal with education. LePage vetoed LD 734, a proposal by Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash to benefit U.S. loggers by offering a sales tax exemption or refund for depreciable equipment used in commercial wood harvesting. As was the case with LD 491, another Jackson bill aimed at helping U.S. loggers, LePage questioned the constitutionality of the bill.

The Senate upheld the governor’s veto of LD 491 on Monday and LD 734 late Tuesday night.

“The idea of this bill is to stop foreign workers from coming across the border and taking jobs,” said Jackson of LD 734. “I just can’t believe people will sit here and not override this veto.”

The Senate voted on party lines, 20-15 in favor of overriding the veto, which is four votes short of the two-thirds required.

Concern that LD 984 would burden insurance companies by requiring that they have medical and clerical staff on hand to expedite prior authorizations for prescription drug step therapy motivated LePage’s fifth veto Tuesday. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Geoff Gratwick of Bangor, would reduce the time for health insurance carriers to respond to nonemergency prescription drug prior authorization requests from two days to one day.

As of Tuesday evening, the Democratically-controlled Legislature had sustained 18 vetoes issued by LePage without any overrides. A key vote on his veto of LD 1066, which calls for Maine to participate in Medicaid eligibility expansion as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act, is pending. LePage vetoed that bill Monday. The governor also has said he’s likely to veto a two-year budget bill sent to him Thursday by the Legislature.

BDN political analyst Robert Long contributed to this report.

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