Gov. Paul LePage showed Maine residents this legislative session he does one thing well: saying no. By vetoing a record 83 bills, most of which received bipartisan support, he exerted his power often beyond what was necessary or beneficial. Lawmakers upheld 78 of those vetoes.
Some bills deserved to be vetoed because they would have been expensive, unnecessary or cumbersome to enforce. But many were not. LePage could have collaborated with lawmakers to amend the workable bills and find common ground. Instead, he and some legislators let differences get in the way of fixing problems.
Some have faulted Democrats, who hold the majority in the Legislature, for passing bills that they knew the governor would not support. In some cases, this is true. It was highly unlikely many legislative Republicans or LePage would have supported increasing the minimum wage, for example.
But in many cases, LePage cast aside bills that shouldn’t have been contentious.
LD 405, for example, would have allowed municipalities to increase the service fee for renewing a motor vehicle registration to $5, from $3, and the fee for new registrations to a maximum of $6, from $4.
As several municipal officials testified, the fee structure currently in place does not pay for the services provided, so municipalities pass the costs onto taxpayers. Shouldn’t the burden more fairly fall to those registering vehicles? The fee was last adjusted in 1991, and the proposed increase was consistent with inflation.
LePage, though, vetoed the bill, saying, “Too much time and energy is wasted by forcing action on these minor bills for political gain.” Comparatively, it was a minor bill, but that doesn’t mean it should have been squashed. A bill’s merit should not depend on whether it represents a small or large change but whether it’s helpful for Maine.
In the end, legislators didn’t change their votes on the bill. They maintained bipartisan backing but never met the two-thirds support needed to override a veto.
In some instances, it didn’t matter that the proposed legislation would have created a significant change for the state. LePage vetoed the bill to expand Medicaid, for example, even though it was a compromise between Democrats and Republicans.
Even a bill like that earned bipartisan support like LD 777 was also vetoed. This bill would have strengthened workplace protections for nursing mothers. Another, LD 49, was a housekeeping bill — with unanimous committee support and bipartisan cosponsors — that would have clarified how the state and federal government pay to file documents with registers of deeds. LD 1543 would have clarified how Maine Clean Elections funds are used to thank supporters.
Still another bill, LD 1044, would have created a “good Samaritan” defense for those who witness a drug overdose and call quickly for help. Too often fellow drug users flee or waste time cleaning up evidence before calling 911. Someone dies of a drug overdose every other day in Maine, and the vast majority of those deaths are not suicides. Legislators passed the bill as a formality because it encountered no opposition. That means it garnered unanimous support in the House and Senate.
LePage vetoed the bill, though, expressing concern in his veto letter that the bill “may create an unnecessary barrier for drug enforcement” — even though no police testified against the bill, and police in other states have wholeheartedly supported similar measures.
As was the case on many issues over the last several months, Republicans sided with LePage.
All but one Republican in the Senate — Roger Katz of Augusta — and all but nine Republicans in the House voted to sustain the veto of LD 1044. The change in opinion of mostly Republicans, and one Democrat, will only hurt the lives of Maine residents.
Many have rightfully faulted LePage for issuing so many vetoes and legislative Republicans for switching votes or failing to lend support to get to the two-thirds threshold needed for a veto override. Warranted vetoes, however, have received less attention. As is typical, legislators offered many well-meaning pieces of legislation that were also rather frivolous.
One resolve aimed to end homelessness in four years — a laudable but unrealistic goal for which legislation is not necessary. Another would have required someone who is starting a charter school to hold a public hearing before filing an application with the state. Any serious charter school initiator would hold public meetings regardless of a mandate within law, to determine the level of local interest essential to a school’s success. Also, the charter school approval process already requires public hearings.
While some bills deserved the veto pen, others got pulled down by bad politics, as there was no good reason for the chief executive to throw them out. While the vetoed legislation is more of a mixed bag than Democrats make it appear, the sheer number of vetoes, particularly those of nonpartisan bills, is troublesome. It is a clear indicator of the divide between LePage and legislators and of an atmosphere in which little can be accomplished. Not only will Maine communities fail to benefit from large and small reforms, but their faith in government will only erode a little bit more.