AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has asked the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes to stop a process that would make 19 bills he wants to veto become law without his signature.
In a Friday letter from Cynthia Montgomery, LePage’s chief legal counsel, to Grant Pennoyer, executive director of the Legislative Council, Montgomery argued that LePage’s conflict with legislators over the meaning of “adjournment” needs to be settled in the courts before the bills are written into law.
On Wednesday, the revisor’s office began processing the bills as if they would become law.
“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.
But lawmakers, particularly Democrats, say they adjourned as they did specifically to give LePage all the time afforded to him by the Maine Constitution to veto bills. They consider the Legislature to be in recess and that LePage’s inaction within 10 days on 19 bills put those bills into law without his signature.
There 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.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, as well as Sen. Dawn Hill, D-Cape Neddick, and Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, have asked Attorney General Janet Mills to develop a legal opinion on the matter. Mills’ office had no comment on that issue on Friday.
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.”
House Democratic leaders rejected Fredette’s suggestion in a news release Friday morning, arguing that the Legislature is in session — albeit recessed until July 16, when lawmakers are scheduled to return to work on pending vetoes — and that the 19 bills are no longer subject to LePage vetoes. Instead, they contend that the bills are on their way to becoming law without the governor’s signature.
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 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.”
Pennoyer said at noon Friday that he is considering Fredette’s and LePage’s requests and that a meeting of the Legislative Council is not likely before July 16, when the Legislature is scheduled to return to vote on pending matters. When they left on June 30, lawmakers expected that they would be taking up dozens of LePage vetoes on July 16.
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. Brennan and 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 he 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.”
LePage breezed past reporters who were waiting to question him at noontime in the State House.
“Asked and answered yesterday, guys,” was all he said.