AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s highest court said Monday it would move quickly to address Gov. Paul LePage’s request for an opinion on whether he could veto bills the Legislature says have already become law.
“The governor has indicated that time is of the essence. Accordingly, the following expedited schedule is established,” wrote Leigh Saufley, chief justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, in an order released Monday.
Saufley said attorneys for LePage and for the Maine Senate and House of Representatives would have until 4 p.m. Friday to submit briefs in the case. Other interested parties also may submit briefs, Saufley wrote.
Responses to initial filings will be due by noon July 29, Saufley said. Oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, July 31.
LePage argues that 65 vetoes he delivered to the Legislature on Thursday, July 16, must be considered for override votes. The presiding officers of the House and Senate dismissed the vetoes as being out of order, saying the bills in question had already become law because LePage missed his 10-day constitutional window of opportunity for acting on them.
The governor on Friday asked the Law Court to weigh in on whether he had really run out of time, arguing that by adjourning temporarily on June 30 and not returning until July 16, the Legislature had prevented him from returning the vetoed bills.
Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat elected by the Legislature, backed legislative leaders in a detailed opinion, writing that LePage had indeed missed his chance and that the bills have become law. The nonpartisan staff at the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor, many of whom are lawyers, agreed, and took steps to place the bills into the state’s law books.
Among the legislation in question are several bills fiercely opposed by LePage and many of his Republican allies, including initiatives to guarantee access to General Assistance benefits to asylum seekers and other legally present immigrants and to expand access to government-funded family planning services for low-income women.
If LePage loses, he will have botched his attempt to get those bills back on the floor of the Legislature, where Republicans — who control the Senate and have enough votes in the House to sustain a veto — may have been able to sustain the vetoes and kill the bills.
Most of the bills in question would become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourned on July 16. Emergency measures would take effect immediately, placing the onus on LePage to enforce them now.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.