June 25, 2018
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Bill designed to help Maine farmers, fishermen dies after Senate sustains LePage veto

Maine House of Representatives | BDN
Maine House of Representatives | BDN
Craig Hickman
By Mario Moretto, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — The Maine Senate voted along party lines Tuesday to sustain Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have encouraged schools and state government agencies to purchase locally produced food.

With a 20-13 vote, majority Democrats in favor of the bill fell two votes short of the 22 needed to pass the bill over the governor’s objection. Veto overrides require two-thirds approval of each legislative chamber’s present voting members. Sens. David Burns, R-Whiting, and John Tuttle, D-Sanford, both were absent for Tuesday’s vote.

The House voted 94-46 to override the veto two weeks ago.

The bill, LD 1254, was sponsored by Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop. It would have required schools and state agencies to ramp up how much Maine-produced food they purchase between now and 2035, unless they vote to opt out of the requirement. The bill passed last year in the House by a vote of 101-42, then won unanimous support in the Senate.

LePage vetoed the bill, along with four others, on Jan. 10. Of the 88 bills LePage has vetoed during the 126th Legislature, all but six have been sustained.

In his veto letter, the governor called LD 1254 an unfunded mandate that could prove difficult for Maine food producers to satisfy, though Hickman, a farmer, sees it differently.

Asked Tuesday whether he was disappointed in the senators who had approved his bill last year but upheld the governor’s veto Tuesday, Hickman said he was not surprised.

“As far as I’m concerned, the chief executive vetoed a jobs creation bill, and the Senate sustained [that veto],” Hickman said. “… It’s an election year. What can you do?”

Hickman said his bill would have created jobs by encouraging the state to support local farmers and fishermen, who he said have a hard time selling their food to institutional customers. Maine statute already requires schools to purchase local food, and Hickman’s bill would have set benchmarks for schools and other public agencies to ensure compliance.

The veto being sustained was not a personal loss, Hickman said, but a loss for Maine’s farmers and fishermen. To them, he said, ‘We will go further, and do better.”

Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.

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