AUGUSTA, Maine — During a return to session that people in the State House refer to as “Veto Day,” lawmakers on Thursday overturned 15 of the 48 vetoes issued by Republican Gov. Paul LePage during the past two weeks.
While the 15 reversals in one day represent a victory of sorts for majority Democrats — there were only five successful overrides total last year — LePage still got his way on far more bills.
It takes supermajorities in both chambers to override a veto, and while Democrats control the House and Senate, their numbers aren’t big enough to fight back a veto on their own. In all, 33 vetoes were sustained.
Lawmakers made quick work of the veto votes, oftentimes working through the override questions with little or no debate. Leadership in both the House and Senate had advised members to keep conversation to a minimum considering many of the bills have already been debated.
The most consequential of the overrides came when lawmakers rebuked LePage’s veto of their $30 million budget fix. LePage sat out the budget conversations entirely, weighing in only to nix the bill after it won broad bipartisan support in the Legislature.
LePage won an expected double victory when the Legislature sustained his veto of two bills that would have expanded Medicaid under the auspices of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare. Democrats have made the effort to expand access to publicly funded health insurance to 70,000 Mainers their top priority for two years, and have passed five bills to do so.
LePage has vetoed all five, and GOP lawmakers have stood by his side to sustain each veto. With the issue now dead at least until after this November’s gubernatorial election, one lawmakers said the Medicaid expansion question had finally been put to bed.
“The white whale is dead,” said James Hamper, R-Oxford, the lead senator on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.
Lawmakers also saved a bond bill that will ask voters to approve $12 million of state spending for small-business loan programs through the Finance Authority of Maine. LePage had said he supported helping small businesses access capital but that it was wrong to ask taxpayers to front them the money.
Also preserved was a bill to give the state Board of Corrections more authority over Maine’s county jail system, a move meant to help keep jail budgets down. The bill includes $1.2 million in funding to see the jails through the end of this fiscal year. LePage opposes centralized jail administration, but lawmakers stuck to their guns to overturn his veto.
Also overridden was LD 1479, which will pump the brakes on a proposed plan to let FairPoint collect an additional $67 million in fees to support its efforts to provide service to far-flung rural residents, and LD 1729, which would impose stricter penalties on repeat OUI offenders.
Included among laws killed when lawmakers sustained LePage’s vetoes were:
— LD 1247, which would have provided more low-income women with state health care coverage for birth control and other family planning services, excluding abortion. In his veto letter, LePage said the bill was unnecessary because many of the women were eligible for subsidized private insurance plans under the federal health care exchange.
— LD 297, which would have allowed the arming of state forest rangers. LePage said the bill did not provide adequate funding or training.
— LD 222, a bill that would have dramatically reformed the state’s concealed weapons permitting process by ensuring background checks and creating a central database of permit information for police. It also would have removed the authority of selectmen to issue permits, making that a function solely of law enforcement officials. LePage, a supporter of “constitutional carry,” said he’d restrict any such bill that didn’t go to voters in a referendum.
— LD 1794, which would have canceled a $925,000 state contract with the Rhode Island-based Alexander Group. The firm was hired by LePage’s administration to study and make recommendations about the state’s welfare system and to report on the feasibility of Medicaid expansion. The group has missed several contractual deadlines and its report on Medicaid expansion was far out of step with most other assessments, leading it to be criticized by Democrats as a wholly political document.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.