AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage handed down five vetoes Friday afternoon, rejecting three bills that would have required new executive branch working groups, a measure to prevent the state from contracting with foreign loggers and legislation to allow psychiatrists practicing in underserved areas to qualify for loan forgiveness.
The bills rejected didn’t include any of the high-profile legislation, such as the budget and an expansion of Medicaid, on which lawmakers are waiting for the governor to act.
LePage stuck to a familiar theme in his veto letters describing his opposition to three bills that would have charged executive-branch agencies with forming working groups to examine particular issues and craft new policies.
“When a bill directs executive departments to undertake studies on subjects we do not support, I will return them to your desk,” he wrote in his veto of LD 1281, which would have required the Department of Administrative and Financial Services examine a proposal to establish a license for a new category of therapist. “This bill is one of those.”
In addition to LD 1281, sponsored by Sen. Colleen Lachowicz, D-Waterville, LePage rejected a bill, LD 610, that would have required the Department of Health and Human Services create a working group to set up new guidelines for charity care provided by hospitals.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, began as a proposal to lower the income threshold at which patients would qualify for free care at hospitals. Hospitals must provide care for free to any patient who can’t pay and whose income is less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $17,235 for a single person.
Sanderson originally proposed lowering the requirement to 133 percent of the poverty level, or $15,282 for a one-person household, which LePage said he supported. “Since the Affordable Care Act claims it will enable coverage for individuals through a taxpayer-subsidized exchange,” LePage wrote, “it is appropriate to reduce the eligibility thresholds for charity care in our hospitals.”
But the bill evolved into a requirement for a group to work on new rules during the legislative process.
The other working group bill, LD 555, would have set up a group within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to examine nursing facility administrator licensure requirements. LePage said the Nursing Home Administrators Licensing Board is already taking action to sort out educational requirements, and he said a study would “slow down progress.”
LD 555, also sponsored by Sanderson, started out as a bill that simply proposed changing the requirements. It evolved into the working group during the legislative process.
Three of the bills LePage rejected Friday were sponsored by Democrats, with the remaining two sponsored by Sanderson.
LD 491 would have prohibited the state from contracting with firms that employed foreign workers to harvest timber on state property managed by the Division of Parks and Public Lands. The bill was a priority for its sponsor, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who said the measure would promote the hiring of underemployed American loggers.
But LePage said the legislation was unconstitutional. Jackson proposed similar legislation two years ago, which LePage vetoed, and in 2003. Former Gov. John Baldacci vetoed that bill.
“I support Maine loggers working Maine lands,” LePage wrote. “However, we must abide by our oaths to uphold the Constitution of this state and the United States.”
LD 1093, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, would have offered loan forgiveness for psychiatrists practicing in underserved areas. LePage rejected the legislation, citing testimony from the Maine Medical Association that described the situation of a doctor who did not receive the loan forgiveness she believed she was promised under Maine law.
“While the specialty chosen by this individual is important for the treatment of certain conditions, the fact is the specialty was not certified as underserved when the loans were made,” LePage wrote. “Changing the rules of entire programs to benefit a specific individual is not something the Legislature should take lightly.”