Lawmakers disagree about procedure, sustain LePage veto of family planning bill

House Majority Leader Seth Berry
House Majority Leader Seth Berry Buy Photo
Posted May 01, 2014, at 7:49 p.m.
Last modified May 01, 2014, at 9:19 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — After four Republicans changed their votes to support Gov. Paul LePage, the Maine House on Thursday sustained the governor’s veto of a bill that would have expanded access to birth control and cervical cancer screenings for up to 13,700 low-income women.

The reason? Republicans said they were flipping their votes because they were angry over the process Democrats in the majority used to get the veto vote reconsidered after it failed earlier in the day.

House Majority Leader Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, later said he asked for the vote to be reconsidered and tabled because Democrats had one lawmaker missing who wanted to cast a vote on the issue. Rep. Lisa Villa, D-Harrison, was on her way to the House to vote.

In an impassioned floor speech before the second veto override vote, Villa urged her colleagues to maintain support of the bill because ultimately it was about helping poor women and families.

“Politics be damned,” Villa said. “Just do the right thing for the people of Maine. To change your vote at this time, under the guise of procedure, it’s embarrassing as an elected official to have had bipartisan support of a really good bill that works for the people of Maine only to have people change their minds or their votes for the wrong reason.”

But the vote to override the veto failed to hit the two-thirds benchmark, gaining just 92 of the 98 votes needed to overturn LePage.

In his veto message, LePage said he opposed the bill because it was extending Medicaid coverage for a single service — family planning — for individuals earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level or just over $23,000 a year for a single person.

LePage argued those individuals would be eligible to purchase subsidized health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act for a very low price, and the federal law requires those policies to cover family-planning services.

Republicans said Thursday that Democrats would use the vote in their fall election campaigns to gin up the narrative that the GOP was “waging a war on women.”

While some Republicans argued the bill would expand access to abortion, the measure did not fund any expansion of abortion services at taxpayer expense.

Meanwhile, the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review estimated the bill would have cost the state between $215,000 and $538,000 to implement, but by 2017, it would save the state an estimated $1.9 million to $3.3 million because it would help catch earlier stage cancer and prevent unintended pregnancies that would otherwise be paid for by the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare.

Those switching their votes from support to opposition of the bill included state Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who is running for state Senate against incumbent Sen. James Boyle, D-Gorham.

Volk said she supported the bill but couldn’t vote to override the veto a second time Thursday because the process the Democrats were using was unfair.

It was a similar argument to one that Rep. Jarrod Crockett, R-Bethel, made when he voted three times to support a Medicaid expansion before voting to sustain a LePage veto of a Medicaid expansion bill in June 2013.

Crockett, who isn’t seeking re-election, said he stood by that switch in 2013 because he felt the integrity of the lawmaking process was more important than the policy objective of any single piece of legislation.

During the floor debate Thursday, Rep. Jethro Pease, R-Morrill, accused the Democrats of bending the rules to get two votes on the veto override.

“There was a vote, and then we acted like sixth-graders and took our ball and ran home,” Pease said of the Democrats’ actions.

Volk, along with Rep. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta; Rep. Tom Tyler, R-Windham; and Rep. Ellen Winchenbach, R-Waldoboro, previously voted at least two times for the family planning bill. All four then voted to sustain LePage’s veto Thursday, killing the bill.

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