September 26, 2017
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As adjournment looms, Maine lawmakers to vote on slew of vetoes but no budget

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
The State House in Augusta in a 2015 file photo.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Wednesday marks the statutory adjournment date for the Legislature, which means that’s the day that was set months ago for lawmakers to wrap up their work. To go beyond that day will require a vote of the Legislature, a routine matter which in the past has caused controversy.

Lawmakers are not paid salaries for additional days at the end of the legislative session but do receive meal allowances of $32, mileage and a housing and travel allowance of up to $38 per day. Added costs also would accrue from compensating some legislative staff who work only when the Legislature is in session.

With the exception of the state biennial budget, which as you know is stuck at an impasse that threatens to trigger a government shutdown on July 1, this Legislature has completed most of its workload, according to the Office of Policy and Legal Analysis.

Jon Clark, its deputy director, said that as of Friday there were fewer than 100 active bills left in the possession of the House and Senate. There are 65 still in committee, most of those in the Appropriations Committee and many of those bond proposals.

That reflects a rather frantic decision-making pace — by legislative standards — since mid-February, when lawmakers had dispensed with only four of roughly 1,800 pieces of proposed legislation.

Clark said that about 75 bills are waiting for Gov. Paul LePage to sign, veto, or let go into law on their own. The odds that many of those will be vetoed are high, judging by recent history. On Friday alone, LePage issued eight new vetoes. Among those is LD 1326, which provides a “medical assistance” exemption from criminal liability for a person who seeks treatment for an overdose.

That is similar to another bill that sought to provide exemptions from prosecution for reporting another person’s overdose, which LePage vetoed and which the Legislature sustained earlier this month.

LePage also vetoed LD 1010, which would put new regulations and new fees on transportation networks that operate at airports, such as Uber, and LD 454, which would require the state to set up an outreach program to urge people to have their well water tested for contaminants.

Also vetoed Friday were LD 591, LD 1062, LD 507, LD 929, and LD 1462.

The vetoes and remaining unresolved bills give rank-and-file lawmakers something to occupy their time as leaders continue to try to hash out a budget that would win two-thirds support in both the House and Senate. In pursuit of that elusive compromise, leaders met Saturday morning but failed to move the ideological boulder that blocks their path to a deal. Saturday’s meeting was so unproductive that leaders abandoned plans to resume discussions on Sunday.

Democratic leaders continue to insist that the next budget provide 55 percent of the total cost of public K-12 education. Republicans continue to demand a way to negate the impact of the 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 that voters approved in November 2016,

House Republicans also insist that the total budget not exceed $7 billion for the two-year period that begins July 1. LePage’s original biennial spending plan, which he unveiled in early January, called for approximately $6.8 billion in state spending.

Legislators also have to respond to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s opinion that ranked-choice voting as passed by voters in November violates the Maine Constitution. And some lawmakers want answers to lingering questions about this year’s referendum on whether to allow a new casino in York County.

On top of all that work is the governor’s right to introduce new bills at any time during the session. There are many uncertainties when it comes to ending a legislative session. This year in particular, starting any kind of countdown with so many moving parts would be foolhardy.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

 


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