Nine new LePage vetoes include lawmakers’ changes to his mining and educator evaluation rules

Posted April 18, 2014, at 8:02 p.m.
Last modified April 19, 2014, at 9:44 a.m.
Gov. Paul LePage
Kevin Bennett | BDN
Gov. Paul LePage Buy Photo

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage vetoed teacher evaluation rules that have been under development for more than two years as well as a bill that calls for a redo of controversial large-scale metallic mineral mining rules amid a crop of nine new vetoes issued Friday afternoon.

Education proponents said LePage’s veto of the teacher evaluation rules was short-sighted and could blow up more than two years of work toward compromise.

LD 1747 involved a major substantive rule process in the Department of Education that laid out how teachers and principals in public schools should be evaluated. LePage wrote in his veto message that he opposes the bill because lawmakers changed provisions that had been endorsed by the Department of Education and other stakeholders. Specifically, he objected to the removal of a requirement that at least 20 percent of a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student achievement. That requirement was replaced by a district-by-district stakeholder group process in which two-thirds of the participants would be teachers.

“This means that teachers will control the process that determines how they should be evaluated, and this process will vary from district to district,” wrote LePage. “If a student in a classroom shows no progress on the same test by which all other students at that grade level in Maine are being assessed, then the student has not learned. When this is the case, then at least 20 percent of that failure must be rooted in teaching and that teacher should be held accountable.”

Maine Education Association President Lois Kilby-Chesley said the governor’s veto threatens to unravel “the first-ever fair and equitable teacher evaluation system in Maine public schools.”

“Teachers have been asking for an evaluation system that was measurable and attainable for more than three decades because we want the best schools possible for our students,” said Kilby-Chesley. “All parties came to a compromise and before we knew it, it was vetoed by Gov. LePage. Anyone who really understood the complex process of thorough evaluation and the long-term positive effects it would have on school improvement would have know that Maine’s proposed system was going to improve schools for our students.”

Not all education associations agreed. Ben Grant, field director for a group called StudentsFirst, said failure of the rules approved by the Legislature this year means the state will revert back to the rules developed by the Department of Education — which he called a good thing.

“The Department of Education has worked hard to craft rules that were not only fair to teachers, but also benefit students,” said Grant in a written statement. “By vetoing the rules altered by the Legislature, Gov. LePage is standing up for students and great teachers throughout the state.”

LePage’s veto letter for LD 1851, which called for a start-over in crafting mineral mining rules, was among the shortest of the more than 140 veto letters he has written to the 126th Legislature. After the Department of Environmental Protection spent almost two years developing new mining rules in response to a law passed by the previous Legislature, Democrats and environmental groups that panned those rules turned to LD 1851 as an alternative. LePage viewed the new law as a tool to unnecessarily delay efforts to promote mining in Maine.

“The motive behind the bill is to prevent the approval of the legally and properly developed rules that comply with the Mining Act as enacted two years ago,” he wrote. “Attempting to thwart or delay a duly enacted state law by postponing its implementation to a date four years past its enactment is clearly a violation of the principles expressed in the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold.”

Rep. Joan Welsh, D-Rockport, who co-chairs the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee, said the Legislature’s actions were about protecting the environment.

“If we are to have mining in Maine, we must make sure it protects our groundwater, lakes and other waterways,” said Welsh in a written statement. “If we are to have mining in Maine, we must make sure that taxpayers are not saddled with cleanup costs as they have been in the past.”

LD 1761, another bill vetoed by LePage on Friday, would require the Public Utilities Commission to consider more robust requirements before approving a reorganization involving a telephone utility with gross annual state revenues greater than $50 million, such as Fairpoint Communications. Those requirements include a guarantee that the reorganization would benefit economic development; that it would not result in an erosion of safety, reliability or quality of services; and that the reorganization provides a benefit to the public.

“This bill would introduce an inconsistency by holding one telephone utility, Fairpoint Communications, to a higher standard than all other regulated utilities in the event of reorganization,” wrote LePage in h is veto letter.

Another bill vetoed by LePage on Friday also had to do with the Public Utilities Commission. LD 1816 would create a temporary position in the Office of the Public Advocate to advise consumers participating in the PUC process, which was recommended by the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability in 2013. In his veto letter, LePage said he supports the intent of the bill but believes it is premature to move forward with it before the long-term financial implications are known. He said he will accomplish the same goals through executive order.

A third PUC-related bill, LD 38, involved legislative approval of major substantive rules related to the Public Utilities Commission and the maintenance of landline phone service throughout Maine.

“Instead of focusing on expanding broadband and access to wireless coverage, this Legislature is protecting the status quo, which requires an expensive service for an increasingly small population,” wrote LePage in his veto letter.

LePage also vetoed LD 1820, a bill that he proposed but which was altered by the Legislature and enacted on mostly party-line votes. It would require the Department of Health and Human Services to study the use of Temporary Assistance for Needy Family funds outside Maine and develop recommendations to the Legislature by November of this year. LePage wrote in his veto letter that most of the data requested by the bill is already available and that the bill does nothing to restrict what he calls welfare fraud.

Another bill, LD 1431, would have encouraged “food hubs” designed for school districts to buy locally grown and processed food by requiring the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to issue grants of up to $30,000. LePage wrote in his veto letter that the bill would drain resources from the Agriculture Development Fund and that schools can already buy locally produced foods if they choose to.

“Under the National School Lunch Program, local school districts are required by federal law to purchase food for their lunch programs through competitive bidding,” wrote LePage. “If food hubs can provide their products to school districts within that requirement, they may sell to schools under current law without this bill.”

LePage’s vet o of LD 1806, which called for the creation of a task force to recommend changes to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, derived from his concern that one of those recommendations would include divesting in fossil fuel companies.

“If fossil fuel companies were unnecessarily targeted and the state began to divest assets invested in fossil fuel companies, many Mainers could lose their jobs,” he wrote in his veto letter.

Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the bill’s sponsor, chastised LePage for “jumping to conclusions and undermining the work of the MainePERS board.”

LD 1719 directed proceeds from Maine’s share of the national settlement with big tobacco companies to be used for smoking prevention and health promotion programs, such as education regarding the use of marijuana, the improvement of tobacco and substance abuse policies, and reproductive health and anti-obesity measures. It also allocated money to increase the reimbursement rate for adult day services.

While LePage supported the portion of the bill that increased funding for adult day care services, he vetoed LD 1719 because he believed it did not do enough to address problems with Maine’s nursing homes and because he believes grants and other funding sources are a better way to fund prevention and wellness programs.

“A vote to override this veto is a vote to close nursing homes,” he wrote in his veto letter.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Megan Rochelo, D-Biddeford, disagreed, arguing in a prepared statement that tobacco settlement funds are meant for prevention and health education.

“When recent evidence-based reports and publicly available data show us that cigarettes have become more deadly and that certain parts of our state have not made any progress reducing smoking rates among certain populations, it is critical to use this funding for its intended purposes,” she said.

The Legislature is due back on May 1 to vote on these and other LePage vetoes. It takes two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate to override a gubernatorial veto.

 

CORRECTION:

An earlier version of this story inaccurately stated that LD 1719 would have used tobacco settlement money to fund family planning education programs.

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