Lawmakers have their work cut out for them when they return to Augusta to consider a stack of vetoes from Gov. Paul LePage. The governor vetoed 36 bills in recent days.
In addition to LePage’s veto of Medicaid expansion funding, here are some bills the Legislature should closely consider for an override.
Last year, lawmakers approved much needed raises for direct care workers, those who care for some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens. However, funding was only secured for one year. Without further legislative action, these workers may actually see their wages decrease.
Not only is this unfair, but the low wages paid to these critical workers also mean that many jobs go unfilled. That can result in long waits and diminished care.
After much debate, lawmakers passed a bill to avoid the pay cuts. LePage vetoed it. In his veto message, he wrapped his opposition to the bill into his misguided effort to reduce the required increases in the state’s minimum wage. The governor erroneously argues that lowering wages will help fix the state’s workforce shortage. The opposite is true, and lawmakers have so far rejected his efforts to change the voter-approved law that has raised the state’s minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $10 an hour. They should also reject this veto.
In the same letter, LePage also voted a wide-ranging budget bill that included funding for improved opioid treatment, school health centers, assisted living, lead abatement and other issues that have nothing to do with the minimum wage. Holding all of this spending hostage to the governor’s opposition to the state’s minimum wage would be irresponsible, and harmful.
Lawmakers also passed a contentious bill that would allow a judge to require that a person who has been ordered to undergo progressive mental health treatment to surrender their firearms. The so-called “red flag” bill was sponsored by Sen. Mark Dion, the former Cumberland County sheriff. “There are situations where the bill before you today could make the difference between life and death,” York Police Chief Douglas Bracy, the secretary of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, told lawmakers. Bracy testified the bill had adequate due process provisions and could help prevent mass shootings and suicides, which directly contradicts the governor’s opposition to this bill.
Hundreds of customers of Central Maine Power Co. complained their utility bills skyrocketed this winter with no discernible reason. As part of its investigation into the situation, the Public Utilities Commission hired a private auditor to review the company’s billing and metering systems. Under current law, the cost of this audit can be passed on to the power company’s customers, the very people who say they are being overcharged. LD 1729 would change this to allow a utility’s shareholders to foot all or part of the bill when “the audit of an investor-owned public utility contributes to a commission finding of imprudence that results in a cost disallowance.” In other words, if the audit finds that the utility made a mistake and the high rates aren’t valid, the customers who were charged the higher rates shouldn’t have to pay for the audit. In such instances, “the commission shall determine how to fairly allocate the cost of the management audit to ratepayers and the shareholders of the investor-owned public utility.”
The bill passed easily in the House and Senate last month. In his veto message, LePage said the bill was unfair because it singled out CMP and would “fine” the company after the fact. Although the bill does not name any utility, CMP is the subject of the current audit, so it would be the first utility to be affected if the bill becomes law. As for a “fine,” passing the cost of the audit on to ratepayers could then be considered a “fine” against them. It only makes sense that if the audit finds that CMP’s actions contributed unnecessarily to the higher rates customers were charged that the company, not its customers, pay for the investigation that reached this conclusion.
There is one veto lawmakers should sustain — that of a bill to arm forest rangers. Arming rangers, which has been debated for years, is costly and unnecessary. “Fireams will escalate the tensions between ranger and individuals they encounter while doing their duty,” LePage wrote in his veto message. “The cautious use of discussion will be replaced by the force of a gun or other weapon. I cannot support this.”
Lawmakers shouldn’t support it either.
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