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LePage wins most ‘veto rampage’ votes, but loses on cellphone privacy, STEM bills

Posted July 09, 2013, at 12:42 p.m.
Last modified July 10, 2013, at 11:53 a.m.

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State Rep. Kenneth Fredette speaks against overriding Governor Lepage's veto of LD1362, a tar sands study, at the State House Tuesday. The house did not pass the override.
State Rep. Kenneth Fredette speaks against overriding Governor Lepage's veto of LD1362, a tar sands study, at the State House Tuesday. The house did not pass the override. Buy Photo
Speaker of the House, Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, watches the vote on overriding Governor LePage's veto of LD1362, a tar sands study, Tuesday. The house did not pass the override.
Troy R. Bennett
Speaker of the House, Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, watches the vote on overriding Governor LePage's veto of LD1362, a tar sands study, Tuesday. The house did not pass the override. Buy Photo
State Rep. Benjamin Chipman, I-Portland, speaks in favor of overriding Governor Lepage's veto of LD1362, a tar sands study, at the State House Tuesday. The house did not pass the override.
Troy R. Bennett
State Rep. Benjamin Chipman, I-Portland, speaks in favor of overriding Governor Lepage's veto of LD1362, a tar sands study, at the State House Tuesday. The house did not pass the override. Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — On the last day of its first session, the Democrat-led 126th Maine Legislature voted 29 times Tuesday to sustain vetoes by Republican Gov. Paul LePage and twice to enact laws over the governor’s opposition.

The bill that broke LePage’s streak, LD 415, sponsored by assistant Senate Republican leader Roger Katz of Augusta, strengthens warrant requirements for law enforcement agencies seeking location information from cellphone providers.

The Senate voted 22-11 Tuesday morning to override LePage’s veto. The House voted 125-17 Tuesday afternoon in favor of overriding the veto. Both votes exceed the two-thirds required for an override, meaning that the bill will become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, which is expected to happen later Tuesday.

Amid concerns about potential harm to criminal investigations, the bill earned an “ought not to pass” recommendation from the Judiciary Committee. But Katz, civil libertarians and legislators concerned about technology’s intrusion on privacy rights shepherded the bill to passage.

LePage vetoed the bill Monday, asserting in his veto letter that it “goes too far, imposing requirements that are too burdensome at a time of rising crime in our state.”

But for one of only five times this legislative session, more than two-thirds of lawmakers disagreed, overriding the veto to the delight of Shenna Bellows, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which lobbied aggressively for the bill.

“We are thrilled that the Legislature recognized the importance of protecting Mainers’ privacy and stepped up to make sure this bill became law,” Bellows said in a prepared statement. “As technologies advance, it’s important that the law keeps up. With these warrant requirements in place, privacy protections in Maine are among the strongest in the nation.”

The House and Senate also voted to override LD 1132, which is designed to make changes to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Council. The Senate voted 22-11 to override the veto, while the House followed with a 110-30 override vote.

With votes on a few vetoes pending, those were the only two bills to survive after legislators in both chambers repeatedly voted Tuesday to sustain what Democrats dubbed LePage’s “veto rampage.”

Republicans countered by saying that LePage’s vetoes were the result of legislative Democrats who tried to ram through liberal bills that the conservative governor was likely to veto.

“They’ve been acting like they have a liberal Democratic governor,” said House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport. “Instead of coming together as members of leadership or on legislative committees and saying to Republicans, ‘Let’s get something done together,’ Democrats have simply steamrolled through a hyperpartisan, extremist liberal agenda. Nobody should be surprised to see this many vetoes.”

Among the more prominent bills for which the House sustained vetoes were legislation that would have incrementally increased the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour, two measures that would have reversed health insurance reform changes enacted by the GOP-led 125th Legislature, and a bill to study the transport of tar sands oil in Maine.

Among the bills that died in the Senate was LD 745: An Act to Promote Sustainable Food Policies. Sponsored by Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, the measure won support from 21 senators present, falling one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for an override as two Democratic senators were absent.

Other bills that failed in the Senate include an attempt to reform workers’ compensation; a call to prevent future legislatures from raiding the Fund for a Healthy Maine, which pays for health education and wellness programs, for other purposes; a bill that would have set rules for unmanned aerial surveillance, or drones, use in Maine; a bill that would have eased licensing and inspection regulations for small farmers who want to sell raw milk; and a bill that would have made it more difficult for people convicted of cruelty to animals to acquire a pet after the conviction.

The Senate delayed votes on two prominent bills — LD 1181, which would require corporations to label items that contain potentially hazardous chemicals, and LD 890, which would require that any goods or services purchased by the state be American-made whenever possible. Both were later killed in the Senate.

LD 1181 subsequently succumbed by a 19-14 vote and LD 890 failed 17-15.

The votes to sustain vetoes Tuesday continue a trend that has seen minority Republicans banding together to prevent override votes from reaching the two-thirds threshold required to enact bills against the governor’s opposition.

The House voted 102-41 to override LePage’s veto of LD 1263, a bill to hike snowmobile registration fees. However, the Senate later voted to sustain that veto and a veto of LD 1390, an online consumer protection bill overridden earlier by the House.

Lawmakers, particularly Republicans, have been hesitant to override LePage’s vetoes. As of Wednesday morning, LePage had vetoed a total of 83 bills this session, only five of which — counting the two Tuesday — have been overridden by votes in both chambers of the Legislature. That veto count is well above the recent-memory record of 49 set by independent Gov. James Longley in 1977. LePage vetoed far fewer bills during the 125th Legislature, tallying only 12 in 2011 and 2012 combined.

In recent weeks, two of the vetoes that have been overridden were big ones: the $6.3 billion biennial state budget bill and an omnibus energy bill that lawmakers spent most of the session crafting. That latter override came only after an amendment to a related bill that caused LePage to withdraw support for his own veto.

With Republicans in the minority in the Legislature, sustaining LePage’s vetoes is the best method the GOP has to wield its power. It takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to override a veto, which this session has meant all or most of the Democrats, the four independents and a dozen or so Republicans.

The Legislature also spent Tuesday dealing with 19 emergency measures and bills that require emergency or mandate preambles, all of which will require two-thirds votes of all elected legislators.

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, said Tuesday that the governor has vowed to issue any vetoes he plans to by the end of the day Tuesday. Alfond told the Bangor Daily News on Monday that there will not be another legislative day scheduled this summer to deal with any more vetoes from LePage.

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