AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s contention that the Legislature is adjourned and that he has the right to hold 70 enacted bills until lawmakers reconvene was rebuffed on two fronts late Friday afternoon, including an opinion from Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills.
LePage argues that the Legislature adjourned on June 30, meaning that he does not have to submit bills for lawmakers’ consideration until three days after they have returned. Legislative leaders say they did not adjourn, they are in recess — meaning LePage missed the 10-day window to act on bills, which now would become law without his signature.
“The adjournment order of June 30, 2015, has not prevented the governor from returning the bills with his objections,” wrote Mills in a four-page memo to legislative leaders. “To the contrary, the Legislature specifically envisioned receiving veto messages and made it clear in the joint order that they were prepared to deal with them in timely fashion, and possibly even line-item vetoes requiring more immediate attention, allotting the full 10 days authorized in the Constitution.”
Mills focused on nine words in the Maine Constitution where it discusses adjournments — “unless the Legislature by their adjournment prevent its return” — as the provision that keeps the Legislature in session until it adjourns “sine die.” That means, according to Mills, that the 19 bills LePage did not act on within 10 days are law.
The opinion, which was requested by Sens. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, and Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, has been circulated to a range of lawmakers and the governor’s office. It is unlikely to sway LePage, who has said he will ask the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to rule on the matter if it is not otherwise resolved.
LePage also was rebuffed Friday afternoon by Grant Pennoyer, executive director of the Legislative Council, which oversees a range of legislative functions, including the Revisor of Statutes.
LePage, through his chief legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery, asked Pennoyer on Friday that the revisor’s office stop chaptering 19 bills he is holding into law. The revisor’s office started moving the bills into law this week after LePage’s 10-day window to sign, veto or let bills go into law without his signature elapsed.
“The governor’s opponents wish to rush through the procedural hurdles associated with implementation of the laws and declare them valid,” wrote Montgomery. “Having the revisor’s office completely ignore the governor’s position is not only overtly partisan conduct on the part of the revisor’s office, it is also unnecessary as the governor intends to seek a legal solution to this matter.”
The issue is whether the Legislature adjourned for the session on June 30. LePage argues that it did, despite the Legislature’s vote to adjourn “until the call of the chairs.” If the Legislature is technically adjourned, LePage has until three days after legislators reconvene to issue vetoes on some or all of the 70 bills that remain on his desk.
Pennoyer wrote that the revisor’s office tried repeatedly to understand LePage’s position but received no response for two days.
“The revisor’s office did not ignore the governor’s position; in fact, despite their repeated attempts to get clarification regarding the original bill folders for the bills that had become law pursuant to the Constitution, no one in the governor’s office conveyed to them the governor’s position,” wrote Pennoyer. “Absent a legal opinion from an authoritative external legal source, such as an opinion of the justices or a written opinion of the attorney general, which the office has used as guidance in the past, the revisor’s office will continue to perform its administrative responsibilities in an absolutely nonpartisan manner.”
In addition to the 19 bills that Democrats say are now law, t here are 51 other bills pending, which, according to the Legislature’s interpretation, LePage has until 11:59 p.m. Saturday to act on or they go into law without his signature. LePage said he intends to hold them until the Legislature reconvenes for at least three consecutive days.
On Thursday, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, called for the Legislative Council — which is made up of five Republican and five Democratic members of the Legislature’s leadership — to request an opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on the issue. LePage also has said he will take the issue to the law court.
A clerk for the law court said Friday that no requests have been received. LePage spokesman Peter Steele said the request has not yet been made because “there is still time for the Legislature to follow the Constitution and reconvene for at least three full consecutive days. No need to go to court if they do the right thing.”
Democratic legislative staffers sent out several news releases Thursday and Friday announcing that the bills in question have or will become law, and Hill used the issue as a centerpiece in the weekly Democratic radio address.
“These days, working in Maine politics is a bit like living with Alice — Alice in Wonderland, that is,” said Hill in the address, which airs this weekend. “What is up is down and what is down is up. Logic is lost and nonsense rules the day. In our Wonderland, the governor tosses the Constitution aside to make up his own rules.”
LePage’s office released a detailed six-page defense of the governor’s position to reporters on Friday.
“In their zeal to play ‘gotcha’ with the governor, the Democrats and their many friends in the media have failed to do their research, have misread the law or simply don’t understand that this is the way legal issues are raised and, ultimately, addressed: someone begins by challenging the status quo,” wrote Montgomery, who went on to describe times when former Govs. Joseph Brennan and John Baldacci vetoed or held bills after the Legislature adjourned.
Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said Montgomery’s memo only strengthened her belief that the Legislature is correct.
“Both of the examples [Montgomery] cited were circumstances where the Legislature had adjourned sine die,” said Gideon. “It would be disingenuous for anybody who works in the State House to say that they didn’t understand that we were adjourning only until we could deal with the next vetoes. The only reason we didn’t specify a date to return is because we were uncertain whether [LePage] would return line-item vetoes to us within 24 hours. We were in communication with his office during that time.”
Fredette suggested that the situation could be defused if the Legislature convened for three days next week to give LePage time to return the vetoes.
“If it’s as simple as coming back for three days, the governor delivers his messages and we act upon them and that’s the end of it … let’s simply do that and move forward,” said Fredette.
Gideon said Democrats don’t support that approach.
“It is very clear how vetoes work,” she said. “I can’t imagine a scenario where we would allow the governor to play with these rules and these laws. … It doesn’t have any logic for any of us.”
With Mills’ opinion buttressing legislative Democrats’ stance, LePage’s only remaining recourse seems to be the Law Court. His office did not immediately respond to Mills’ and Pennoyer’s memos Friday afternoon.