House overturns LePage veto of bill to help MaineCare recipients quit smoking, kills budget fix bill

Posted Jan. 16, 2014, at 3:09 p.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Kevin Bennett
Gov. Paul LePage Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers in the House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill designed to reduce tobacco-related illness in Maine, but the House narrowly sustained a budget bill veto that could reduce state revenues by about $7 million between now and mid-2015.

LePage last week vetoed LD 386, An Act to Reduce Tobacco-related Illness and Lower Health Care Costs in MaineCare, which passed through the House on a 140-1 vote last year and unanimously in the Senate. The bill would require the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, to provide tobacco cessation treatment for people who are 18 or older or pregnant.

LePage wrote in his veto letter that because there would be no co-pays or cost sharing for the treatment, it “expands welfare unchecked,” though the measure’s supporters have said helping people quit smoking would save the state money over the long term.

“By opening up access to treatment of tobacco addiction, we can save taxpayer money and lives,” said Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, a retired doctor who sponsored the bill. “The scientific evidence tells us that providing access to these tools without barriers is the most effective way to help people quit smoking.”

The House voted Thursday 131-10 to override LePage’s veto. The bill’s survival depends on the Senate following suit with a two-thirds override vote, which has not yet been scheduled. The Senate has also yet to take action on LePage’ veto of LD 1254, a bill designed to encourage schools and state agencies to buy food produced in Maine, which the House voted Tuesday to override.

In a separate vote Thursday, the House sustained LePage’s veto of LD 1572, An Act to Correct Minor Technical Errors and Inconsistencies in the Unified Budget Bill, by an 88-55 vote. The bill, one of the final pieces of legislation passed during last year’s legislative session, was initially introduced as an emergency measure, which would have allowed for immediate enactment, but it failed to garner two-thirds support in the House required to pass emergency legislation.

Later the same day, the House voted 86-55 to pass LD 1572, which aimed to correct language in the two-year budget document passed by the Legislature and enacted after lawmakers overrode LePage’s veto of the spending plan.

LePage vetoed the budget fix bill because it would have spread temporary tax increases enacted in the current biennial budget to some service providers.

During floor debate on the veto Thursday, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, urged his fellow Republicans to sustain the veto as a way to send a message to Democrats.

“We need to send the message now that we’re going to stand together against tax increases to solve our state’s problems,” said Fredette. “Now is the time to send a message.”

House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, shot back by accusing Republicans of injecting politics into what should be a routine vote.

“Republican lawmakers sided with Gov. Paul LePage’s politics of obstruction, rather than support the bipartisan budget they voted for only six months ago,” said Berry in a prepared statement. “They turned a routine bill to fix a technical drafting error into a campaign talking point. That’s not leadership. That’s not solving problems. That’s a playbook from the tea party in Washington.”

Mike Allen, director of research for Maine Revenue Services, said Thursday that from a revenue standpoint, failure of LD 1572 was taken care of last month when revenue predictions for the coming years were updated. That process was done in the context current law, which didn’t include the revenues from LD 1572.

“It’s already been taken into account,” said Allen.

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