AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has thrown a new wrench into the gears of the Legislature, this time with a move to “pocket veto” at least 19 bills, despite the fact that conditions for such a maneuver have not been met.
On Tuesday, the state’s revisor of statutes, Suzanne Gresser, confirmed 19 bills had not been returned to her office by LePage after the 10-day timeframe for LePage to veto or sign the legislation had passed. Without having taken any action, the bills should have returned to Gresser to be chaptered — the official process for becoming law.
When asked about the delay, LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett pointed to a section from “ Maine’s Path of Legislation,” a publication by the clerk of the House and secretary of the Senate, which outlined the process of the pocket veto.
If a Legislature is in session and the governor does not sign a bill or veto it within 10 days of receiving it, the bill becomes law. But, if a Legislature adjourns for the year before the 10-day window for a governor to act on legislation has elapsed and the governor does not sign the bill, it dies.
“I’m surprised the Legislature does not understand this,” Bennett said.
That’s the pocket veto, and it apparently is what LePage is trying to do with these bills — kill them without giving the Legislature a chance to override his veto.
The only hangup is the Legislature has not adjourned. Knowing it needed to give LePage up to 10 days to act on bills it has passed, the House and Senate on June 30 went “at ease” until July 16. By then, LePage would have had to act. Further questions sent to Bennett about LePage’s actions were not answered.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, was dumbfounded by LePage’s maneuver.
“I can’t even process this right now, that this is his latest move,” McCabe said Tuesday. “It’s very clear, as far as the role the governor has, when it comes to bills — whether he signs them, not signs them or vetoes them. To hold them for an arbitrary period of time doesn’t really work. He can’t rewrite the rules.
“We were expecting him to act on these last Thursday when he was hanging out with [Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie, but he seems to have gotten distracted by that,” McCabe said.
In a year when government was operating more functionally, a hiccup in the movement of paper in the State House may have gone unnoticed. But lawmakers and political observers are on high alert this year after LePage pledged to “waste a little” of legislators’ time in protest of their refusal to bow to his policy agenda.
Since then, he has vetoed nearly every bill sent his way — making sure to take the full 10 days allowed him by the state Constitution.
The relationship between lawmakers and LePage then deteriorated even further, with the Legislature’s watchdog committee voting unanimously last week to launch an investigation into potential illegal or unethical activity by the governor in the Good Will-Hinckley funding scandal, which saw House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat, fired by the charter school because of pressure from LePage.
Among the bills now in limbo is LD 369, a bill that would allow asylum seekers to obtain General Assistance funds for up to two years. The bill became one of the most contentious of the session and a flashpoint in last-minute budget negotiations.
Also on the list is LD 722, a bill by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, to make anyone who lies on an application for General Assistance ineligible for four months, and LD 1013, which would prevent the shackling of pregnant women in Maine’s correctional facilities.
The list also includes LD 1108, which would prevent the use of electronic cigarettes and other liquid nicotine vaporizers everywhere cigarettes are banned, and LD 1185, which creates a fund to help pay for municipal broadband development.
If LePage’s gambit backfires, the delayed bills will go into law without legislative Republicans having a chance to kill them by sustaining a veto.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.