June 16, 2019
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LePage veto leaves Maine ‘blue law’ in effect, keeping groceries closed on 3 holidays

Ashley L. Conti | BDN file
Ashley L. Conti | BDN file
Tozier's owner Dale Tozier (left) talks with Holly Smith at the store in Bucksport in a 2014 file photo.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Maine “blue law” barring small grocery stores from opening on Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter will stay in effect after Republicans failed to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto, with the governor saying a bill to let them open didn’t go far enough.

In an 87-51 vote on Wednesday, the Maine House of Representatives failed to reach the two-thirds majority required to override the Republican governor’s veto of a bill to allow cities and towns to let stores measuring between 5,000 and 10,000 square feet open on those holidays.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. James Gillway, R-Searsport, and led to a rare dichotomy on an override vote in the Democrat-led House, where 64 Republicans voted to override LePage’s veto of a bill backed by the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association.

It was an attempt to chip away at Maine’s so-called “blue laws,” a holdover from the state’s Puritan history. While they bar many businesses from opening on Sundays and holidays, they’re rife with exemptions and certain ones are perennially targeted in the Legislature.

In a veto letter issued last week, LePage said he “absolutely” supports letting grocery stores open on major holidays and called blue laws “antiquated,” but he argued that the Legislature should “stop granting piecemeal carve-outs” and “allow all Maine businesses the opportunity to decide whether to be open when and how they see fit based on market demand.”

LePage’s veto was backed by 49 Democrats, who largely opposed the bill because it could lead to fewer days off for workers. Reps. Stacey Guerin, R-Glenburn, and Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth, voted with Democrats.

On the House floor, Gillway, who is also Searsport’s town manager, said the bill would come back in future legislative sessions, adding that the Legislature should “give local control and let local people decide the destiny of their brick-and-mortar businesses on Main Street.”

 



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