AUGUSTA, Maine — On April 29, the Maine Senate passed a bill to require voters to show photographic identification at the polls by a single vote.
Less than a week later, the same bill, LD 197, was rejected in the House of Representatives by a vote of 82-66. The House sent the bill back to the Senate with in the “insist” posture. For the bill to survive, the Senate would have had to vote to recede and concur.
The House’s insistence on accepting an “ought not to pass” recommendation and the Senate’s resistance — in its insistence on an “ought to pass” recommendation — effectively killed the bill because of the disagreement between the two chambers.
It’s a parliamentary maneuver that Mainers can expect to see more of as Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature dig into their partisan trenches on a slew of key issues come up for floor votes.
The path through which a bill becomes a law in Maine is unclear and confusing for anyone not involved in the legislative process on a daily basis. With Republicans in control in the Senate and Democrats with the majority in the House, the path to creating new laws is even more filled with thorns this year.
Every bill that reaches enactment will need support from both parties. Bills must receive at the very least a simple majority in both the House and Senate. That means neither party can ram bills through over the objections of the other and both parties have the numbers to kill any bill they don’t like. Though many bills enjoy unanimous or near-unanimous support, it’s likely that the divided makeup of the Legislature this year and next means fewer bills will become law.
Gov. Paul LePage’s aggressive approach to vetoes remains a roadblock to passing legislation, even if it sails through the Legislature. Just like in his first term, LePage continues to use his veto pen regularly. Republicans don’t have two-thirds majorities in either branch of the Legislature and haven’t since LePage has been in office, so his chances of having his vetoes hold are no better from a math perspective. Nevertheless, lawmakers sustained the vast majority of his first-term vetoes, which frustrated Democrats who held majorities in both chambers and felt confident their bills would pass after Republican legislators did not oppose them in floor votes
In the early stages of this session, lawmakers from both parties have demonstrated that they aren’t afraid to defy the governor.
LePage is also showing signs of being willing to negotiate and compromise. In a daily email distributed Tuesday to reporters by Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, Quintero wrote that Democrats were taking steps to avoid vetoes.
“We will recall two bills from the governor’s desk to avoid a veto,” wrote Quintero. “The House will amend the bills and then send them back to the Senate and back down to the governor.”
The two bills were LD 353, An Act to Authorize a Temporary Medical Transfer of an Elver Individual Fishing Quota and LD 22, An Act Regarding the Removal of Moorings and Floating docks in Great Ponds During Ice-in Conditions.
And then there are the appropriations and highway tables. Even when bills pass in both chambers and make it through the governor’s office, that doesn’t mean they’ll become law. Any bill that has a fiscal note — meaning it will cost the state money — must be paid for by having an appropriation attached to it. Fiscal notes from bills — even those that won broad support — can’t knock the state budget out of balance.
Remember LePage’s 2014 bill to hire more drug prosecutors and investigators, which breezed through the Legislature? It died on the Appropriations Table at the end of last year’s session when lawmakers were unable to find $2.25 million. Even LePage was surprised.
All of this means that most of each party’s 2015 priorities are doomed, such as the following:
— Efforts by Democrats to increase the minimum wage.
— Efforts by Republicans to have Maine join a national movement to call a constitutional convention for a federal balanced budget.
— An effort by LePage to hold a referendum that asks voters to eliminate the state income tax.
— Democratic efforts to expand Medicaid under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act.
What about the budget? The elephant that’s always in the room in the first year of a legislative session is the biennial state budget. The Maine Constitution mandates that a budget must be enacted prior to the end of the fiscal year, which in this case is June 30. Failure to do so could result in a shutdown of all but essential state government services. LePage has included a sweeping tax reform package within his state budget proposal, which represents an attempt by the governor to force his will on the Legislature.
In other words, LePage is the one “insisting” in this case.