|7/9/2015 11:43:00 AM|
Eye on Augusta: Governor's Epic Veto Blunder Could Allow GA for Asylum Seekers
by Andy OBrienIn an astonishing executive SNAFU, it appears that Gov. Paul LePage has inadvertently allowed a bill to become law that will restore housing and food assistance to roughly 1,000 asylum seekers after he failed to veto 20 bills within the time limit required in the Maine Constitution. In a statement to the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday, LePage spokesperson Adrienne Bennett implied that the governor had "pocket vetoed" the bills. A pocket veto is when a bill automatically dies if the governor refuses to sign it within 10 days after the Legislature adjourns.
"I'm surprised the Legislature does not understand this," Bennett told the BDN and reportedly pointed to a website developed by the Secretary of State and Clerk of the House to explain how a pocket veto works.
The problem is that the Legislature did not adjourn for the year when they left Augusta on June 30. They recessed until July 16 to continue the business of voting on more of the governor's vetoes. Therefore, under the Maine Constitution, the 20 bills neither signed nor vetoed by the governor have now become law. Nevertheless, in a statement on Wednesday, Bennett denied that the governor tried to pocket veto the bills and claimed that the Legislature actually adjourned on June 30, and that therefore the governor has the authority to hold bills until the Legislature returns. However, as House Speaker's office spokeswoman Jodi Quintero pointed out, the Legislature only adjourned temporarily. She cited the Sutherland Statutes and Statutory Construction, which is recognized as "the core text on statutory construction" by the American Bar Association:
"The term 'adjournment' as used in the constitutional provisions is generally held to relate to final adjournment rather than temporary adjournment or recess. Thus, a return of a bill after a temporary recess does not prevent the bill from becoming law."
At press time, it's unclear how the issue will be resolved, but it appears that the governor may have hoisted himself on his own petard. LePage has been rabidly against allowing asylum seekers fleeing wartorn countries to receive General Assistance and has withheld GA to cities that provide it to the legal noncitizens. LD 369 was amended to allow asylum seekers to continue receiving GA for up to 24 months in response to a recent state Superior Court decision that states Maine must first affirm that those recipients are eligible for GA in order to require the LePage administration to continue reimbursing the cities for GA to legal noncitizens.
Republican House members refused to support the budget unless it omitted the provision to allow asylum seekers to receive GA. Facing the threat of a state shutdown, Democratic leadership surrendered the provision, which was considered a major political victory for the GOP. LD 369, which was passed separately from the budget, was widely expected to fail because it did not receive the two-thirds votes necessary to override a guaranteed governor's veto. Recently, the cities of Lewiston and Portland voted to raise local funds to provide support for asylum seekers, but without the provision in LD 369 in place, the governor had vowed to challenge the decision.
"Thanks to the gov's screw-up, asylum seekers will now receive GA," tweeted GOP consultant Lance Dutson. "Love to see the base's reaction to this."
Ironically, LD 369 was originally crafted by Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin) and Lewiston Mayor Bob MacDonald to deny GA to legal noncitizens, but was amended by Sen. Amy Volk (R-Cumberland) with support from Democrats to do the exact opposite.
"I am telling you, I am extremely teed off here," MacDonald told the Lewiston Sun Journal. "If 369 gets passed, well, Lewiston taxpayers have been backstabbed."
Several other bills could also likely become law due to the error, including measures to regulate the use of surveillence drones by law enforcement, reduce penalties for certain drug offenses, prevent shackling of pregnant prisoners and ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.
At least one Republican legislator, Rep. Norman Higgins (R-Dover-Foxcroft), says he's fed up with the governor's antics after this latest mess. He wrote on Facebook that LePage's actions are an attempt to "deny the legislature an opportunity to override his vetoes," including Higgins' own bill to promote access to municipal broadband Internet.
"This is the last straw for me. I can no longer support the Governor," wrote Higgins. "His actions are defiant and we need to express our 'no confidence' in him."
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