LePage vetoes bills to report on welfare misuse probes and refine freedom-of-access law

Posted April 22, 2014, at 7:03 p.m.
Last modified April 22, 2014, at 8:01 p.m.
Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook
Scott Thistle | Sun Journal
Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would require the Department of Health and Human Services to produce annual reports of investigations involving the misuse of public benefits and blamed Democrats for failing to find funding for it.

LD 1829 was among three bills vetoed Tuesday by LePage, even though he was in Morocco for the opening of a University of New England satellite campus there.

LD 1829 calls for annual reports on investigations involving Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and food supplement programs, focusing on a range of data including the amount recovered, the cost of the investigations and prosecutions, and the results of federal audits.

LePage said in his veto letter that while he supports any efforts to safeguard taxpayer money, the resources to do what the bill calls for aren’t available.

“The requested report would require extensive coordination between programs and technology systems, requiring additional resources,” wrote LePage, who said the cost of the reports was estimated at $45,000 in state funding. “This cannot be done ‘within existing resources,’ as the bill outlines. If the Democrats were serious about program integrity, they would have funded this work.”

Since January, Democrats and Republicans on the Appropriations Committee have been working to close a $90 million revenue shortfall in the current biennial budget. In addition to bills that had their funding stripped away, dozens of bills with fiscal notes were killed at the end of the legislative session because of a lack of funding.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who sponsored the bill, said LePage’s argument about funding is not valid, given some of his spending.

“If the governor could find $1 million to pay the Alexander Group for its controversial political report on Medicaid, certainly we can afford to shine the light on these programs, increase integrity and fight fraud,” said Gattine in a written statement. “It’s simply bad management to reject such a common-sense reporting system.”

LePage also vetoed two other bills on Tuesday:

LD 1821 would implement a long list of recommended additions and deletions to Maine law proposed by the state’s Right to Know Advisory Committee. LePage wrote in his veto letter that the bill “nibbles around the edges” of the state’s Freedom of Access Act “without addressing the real flaws in it, namely that any group can request any amount of information.

“The FOAA law, meant to allow access to government, is instead being used as a weapon to hinder effective and efficient state government,” wrote LePage. “My office has received many overly broad requests from special interest groups. They request years of all communications between my office and certain commissioners, my personal grocery bills and other fishing expeditions that are not about a transparent government. Instead, they are about trying to cripple the operations of my office with thousands of hours of staff time and creating a distraction from conducting the people’s business.”

LD 1809 would have allowed members of quasi-municipal governing bodies to participate in meetings through the use of online audio and video technology. LePage wrote in his veto letter that the specificity of the bill could have the effect of outlawing some technology currently used by some rural and island communities.

“This ambiguous situation creates uncertainty and could have the effect of discouraging the use of common-sense means to conduct government business,” he wrote.

The Legislature is scheduled to return to the State House on May 1 to consider these vetoes and at least nine others. A two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate is required to override a gubernatorial veto.

 

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