September 21, 2017
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Why no one is happy even though the Legislature is finally leaving Augusta

By Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Ashley L. Conti | BDN
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, puts his hands to his face while listening to arguments during the Senate's hearing on the state budget in June.

The 128th Legislature finally wrapped up its first session Wednesday with far less camaraderie and good will than on the day it opened nine months ago.

Here’s a recap:

Gov. Paul LePage won more than he lost on veto day, but he wasn’t satisfied after lawmakers bucked him to raise Maine’s tobacco-buying age to 21. The Legislature — more specifically, House Republicans — backed the governor on 14 of 27 veto override votes on Wednesday, dooming key bills including a solar policy overhaul and one to ban handheld cellphone use while driving.

But he lost on a bill that will make Maine the fourth state to raise the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21. After the Senate voted overwhelmingly against LePage, all but one Democrat and 19 Republicans in the House voted to override his veto.

He ended up losing by just one vote in the House of Representatives, where 10 Republicans were absent during the vote. LePage based his veto on an argument around personal freedom, saying a person who is old enough to enlist in the military should be able to buy cigarettes.

The governor said Thursday on WGAN that he’d submit a bill next year to raise Maine’s minimum military age to 21, saying “we’ve got to prevent our young soldiers from going to war until they’re of legal age to make decisions.” It wasn’t clear if that was a rhetorical argument, and federal law would almost certainly have something to say about that.

The last day of the session wasn’t a good day for parliamentary tricks. The House got off to a terrible start when a minor solar policy bill was hastily moved from a committee to the floor.

That decision was made by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, who moved a bill to make clarifications to law around solar billing to the floor after the Legislature’s energy committee wanted to carry it over to 2018, drawing complaints from Republicans.

Democrats later agreed to move it back to committee, but members of both parties agreed it may have poisoned the later solar veto override vote — which Democrats lost by just three votes.

And the Legislature also left business unfinished that will likely bring them back in the fall. The messy session, which led to Maine’s first government shutdown since 1991, crowded out time that could have been spent on many other issues.

A special legislative session is likely in the fall, when lawmakers must pass a major bill regulating Maine’s new recreational marijuana market.

But they also must decide what Maine will do with ranked-choice voting — a law that has been deemed partially unconstitutional by the state’s high court — after lawmakers deadlocked on solutions to that issue earlier this year.

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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