|7/16/2015 9:08:00 AM|
Eye on Augusta: LePage's Veto Fiasco
|Maine Governor “Wile E. Coyote” (Image by Hanji Chang)|
|Effort Under Way to Pursue Citizen Initiative to Repeal New Law That Restores Funds for Asylum Seekers —|
|A group of Republican lawmakers have signed onto a measure that would effectively veto a new law that restores funding for food and housing for hundreds of asylum seekers living in Maine. The application was filed last Friday by conservative activist Stavros Mendros of Lewiston following news that Gov. LePage had missed the 10-day deadline to veto a bill to provide General Assistance funding to shelter asylum seekers - fleeing imprisonment, torture, rape and death threats in their homelands - while they wait for their work permits to process. |
LePage has fiercely opposed allowing "welfare" to the legal non-citizens, falsely branding them as "illegals" and accusing them of spreading diseases. In a recent Supreme Court ruling, Justice Thomas Warren affirmed the state's right to withhold funding for aid to immigrants who are ineligible under federal law. The new law will make asylum seekers eligible again, even though the governor says he will not enforce it and he will likely request a state Supreme Court decision on his right to veto it.
Mendros says he expects the dispute to be resolved soon, but if the Supreme Court rules against the governor, he wants to have a "plan B."
"I just wanted to keep the options available," said Mendros.
Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea), Rep. Randall Greenwood (R-Wales), and Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Auburn) have also signed onto the citizen initiative application. The group would need over 61,000 signatures, or 10 percent of votes in the last gubernatorial election, within 90 days of the Legislature's final adjournment on July 16. Mendros said if he gets enough signatures, the repeal would likely appear on Maine's June 2016 ballot.
If officially launched, the petition would temporarily halt funding for GA to cities like Portland and Lewiston, which have the highest numbers of asylum seekers.
by Andy O’BrienThis week an unprecedented political drama is playing out in Augusta as embattled Gov. Paul LePage, a close circle of his partisan staffers and a shrinking core base of supporters man the barricades in the midst of an onslaught of public criticism and a growing rebellion within his own party.
Two weeks ago, an independent agency began an investigation into allegations of blackmail and abuse of power following the governor's use of public funds to force the firing of Democratic Speaker Mark Eves from his private job at Good Will-Hinckley. The Legislature's Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) is expected to deliver its report any day now.
In the meantime, the governor has drawn the state's highest court into a legal showdown with the Legislature over 71 bills that he argues should never have been passed into law without his say. A handful of his intended vetoes that initially passed the Legislature were expected to be upheld by Republicans. In a letter sent Tuesday to legislative leaders, the governor's chief legal counsel said she intends to seek a resolution to the dispute through the Supreme Court in "very short order."
However, Attorney General Janet Mills, legislative leaders and nonpartisan staffers maintain that the bills are now law and that LePage doesn't have the option for a do-over.
According to the Legislature's nonpartisan Revisor of Statutes, which oversees the drafting of bills and laws, the governor failed to sign the bills within 10 days after they were passed by the Legislature and they therefore are now law. In a letter to Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick) dated July 8, Suzanne Gresser of the Revisor's Office wrote:
"As you know, the Legislature sent to the Governor a number of bills that were not returned by the Governor within 10 days (Sunday excepted) after presentation. Pursuant to the Consitution of Maine, Article IV, Part Third, Section 2, those bills have become law without the Governor's signature, and, although we have not yet received the original bill folders from the Governor, those laws have been chaptered sequentially and may be found on the Legislature's website."
On July 10 Attorney General Janet Mills responded to an inquiry from two legislators "about the status of the bills that were presented to the Governor but which he has neither signed nor vetoed." In her four-page opinion, Mills concluded that the bills are law: "Bills that have not been returned to the Legislature with the objections of the Governor within ten days of being presented to the Governor, excluding Sundays, have now become finally enacted in accordance with Article IV, Part 3, Section 2. Those that are emergency bills are in full force and effect."
Mills wrote that the Legislature recessed until this Thursday, July 16, with the motion to adjourn "until the Call of the Speaker and President," which means that the Legislature is still in session. If they had made the final adjournment for the year, they would have adjourned "sine die" (meaning "without a day" in Latin). As Mills notes, a formal sine die motion is important because "it starts the clock ticking for nonemergency legislation to become law in ninety days and it notifies citizens that they may then commence a people's veto effort" as outlined in the Constitution.
The governor argues that an adjournment is an adjournment, so therefore he's still Constitutionally permitted to exercise his veto power within three days after the Legislature reconvenes this week. He has announced that he will not enforce the 71 chaptered laws, because he says he can still veto them.
"The Constitution is very, very clear in the language," the governor told reporters last week. "If they're not adjourned then it's not an issue, they have to be back three days before they can take up my vetoes."
The governor's chief legal counsel, Cynthia Montgomery, is challenging the legitimacy of the new laws. In a six-page "legal memo" Montgomery blasted the media for reporting that a governor's spokesperson had initially implied that the governor had attempted to "pocket veto" the bills. This is when the governor refuses to sign a bill within 10 days after the Legislature adjourns, effectively killing the bill. She wrote that the media reports have been "nothing but attempts to create a long line of ill-informed, one-sided and unfair news stories. . . . 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."
Montgomery argued that by adjourning on June 30, the Legislature "deprived" the governor "of the opportunity to return these bills to their houses of origin."
However, this isn't the first time the Legislature has temporarily adjourned in order to take up LePage's vetoes weeks later. On May 17, 2012, the GOP-controlled Legislature adjourned "at the call of the chairs" and later returned on May 31. The governor vetoed four bills in the interim and the Legislature held votes on the vetoes when they returned.
Mills dismissed Montgomery's argument that the governor was prevented from returning the bills.
"To the contrary, the Legislature specifically envisioned receiving veto messages and made it clear in the joint order that they were prepared to deal with them in a timely fashion, and possibly even line item vetoes requiring more immediate attention, allotting the full ten days authorized in the Constitution," wrote Mills in her July 10 opinion.
Furthermore, Mills pointed out that the governor does not have the authority to determine the length of the legislative session and that there is "no requirement that the Legislature set a specific date for the next meeting when it finishes its business of the day." She added that just because the Legislature did not set a specific date to reconvene when they adjourned, it does not mean that they adjourned sine die "by default," as Montgomery implied.
In the meantime, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) said in a written statement that he is backing the governor in his call for the Revisor's Office to stop chaptering the bills into law.
"It appears Democrats want to skip right over the Law Court and go right to the conclusion that fits their agenda. That's not how this works and that is not what is in the best interest of the people of Maine,"said Fredette.
Fredette is calling on House and Senate leaders to go back into session for at least four days to give the governor time to get a decision from the Law Court. But in the early hours of the morning on June 24, while debating the measure to extend the session by five days, Fredette complained that the Legislature was wasting too much time and requested that the Legislature not extend the session beyond July 16.
"We are here. It is 1 o'clock in the morning," said Fredette, according to the legislative record. "So let's complete our work, let's do it in a timely fashion. There is no need to continue to be here five additional days."
Both House Democratic Majority Leader Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan) and Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) have made it clear that Thursday, July 16, will be the last day of session.
A Fractured Party
In the meantime, cracks in the base are spreading, as rank-and-file Republicans are finding it harder and harder to defend the governor's antics. Maine Republican Party Executive Director Jason Savage, who worked for LePage at Marden's prior to the governor's election in 2010 and later ran the pro-LePage group Maine People Before Politics, has rabidly defended the governor on Twitter, which has earned him strong criticism from GOP consultant Lance Dutson.
"Seriously, is MEGOP going to keep attacking the GOP legislature? Why are you involved in this at all?" wrote Dutson to Savage in one message. And: "MEGOP right now should be working to get GOP legislators elected. Period," in another.
Dutson has joined a small, but growing chorus of prominent Republicans who have been openly critical of the governor - including Sen. Roger Katz (R-Kennebec), Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin) and Rep. Norman Higgins (R-Dover Foxcroft). Conversely, activists in the Waldo and Knox County Republican parties have made their disappointment with Senate Republican leadership widely known. In a July 2 press release, Knox County Republican Committee Chair Fred Bucklin recounted that six KCRC members were rebuffed by several legislators when they came to lobby in support of the governor's veto of the biennial budget.
"The worst snub came from Senator Thibodeau, who ran out the back door of his office in order to avoid meeting concerned Republicans who were at his front door," Bucklin wrote. "Am I disappointed in what just happened? Absolutely! Am I going to quit? Absolutely not!"
On Tuesday night, the KCRC and the Waldo County GOP held a joint forum to "assess what went wrong between the Governor and the Legislature" and discuss the "vulnerability of the Maine Republican Party."
Bucklin noted that the Republican State Committee will be holding an open forum on Saturday, July 18, which he said would likely include a "vigorous discussion about the state of the Maine Republican Party."
It remains to be seen what this all means for GOP legislators who will run for re-election next year, as the governor has constantly repeated his promise to campaign against any Republican legislator who defies him.
Still, while the governor may be dividing grassroots conservative activists, the Maine Legislature has been more united than ever before. As of June 30, they had overridden 107 out of LePage's 180 vetoes, and followed that up with the unanimous vote of six Republicans and six Democrats on the Government Oversight Committee to investigate the governor in the wake of the Good Will-Hinckley controversy. Nevertheless, it could be a long time before the state recovers from the alarming level of political dysfunction in the state's governing institutions.
"These days, working in Maine politics is a bit like living with Alice - Alice in Wonderland, that is," said Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dawn Hill (Cape Neddick) in this week's Democratic radio address. "What is up is down and what is down is up. Logic is lost and nonsense rules the day."
Some of Those Unvetoed Bills That Are Becoming Law
Below is a rundown of some of the bills that are being chaptered into law by the Legislature's Revisor of Statutes as a result of Governor LePage's failure to veto 70 bills that he had planned to veto and which have now automatically become law.
Women's Health Coverage Expanded for 13,000
A bill to expand Medicaid coverage for essential health care services passed into law at midnight on Sunday morning after Gov. LePage failed to veto it. LD 319, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McCreight (D-Harpswell), will provide coverage for services like cancer screenings, annual exams, Pap tests, birth control and STD testing for an estimated 13,000 uninsured low-income Maine women. Now Medicaid coverage for preventative health care will be available to adult women at up to 209 percent of the federal poverty level (or about $23,000 for a household of one). Under the new law, the federal government will provide $9 for each $1 of state funds that go to fund the program.
Advocates for the bill argue that the measure will save roughly $2 million on costs associated with unplanned pregnancies. However, the new law does not allow coverage for abortions, which is prohibited by federal law. Maine will join 30 states that already provide coverage for women's health services to low-income adults. A similar bill passed the Legislature in 2014, but was vetoed by the governor.
Lifesaving Overdose Medication Bill
Gov. LePage once vetoed a bill to allow more access to the drug naloxone, which helps prevent death by immediately reversing an opiate overdose.
"It's an excuse to stay addicted," LePage said last year.
But after the governor failed to veto 51 bills this weekend, a bill will soon become law that allows public health agencies operating overdose prevention programs to prescribe the drug. Last year, the Legislature passed a law that allows immediate family members of people with addictions to access the drug to administer during an emergency. The drug helps save lives by counteracting the depression of the respiratory system and the central nervous system. However, according to medical professionals, it does not provide any euphoria and is not addictive.
Anti-Revenge Porn Bill
A bill to crack down on so-called "revenge porn" will likely go into law this week. Revenge porn is when an intimate partner uploads nonconsensual pornography of an ex-partner to websites with the intent to humiliate her or him. LD 679, sponsored by Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport), will prohibit the unauthorized distribution and dissemination of certain private images with the intent to "harass, torment or threaten the depicted person or another person." Recently, several states have passed laws prohibiting the abuse after revenge porn victims began lobbying state governments.
Dyslexia Assistance Bill
A bill aimed at providing better assistance to school children with dyslexia will likely now become law. LD 231, sponsored by Rep. Terry Morrison (D-South Portland), would require school districts to screen students from kindergarten to grade 2 for dyslexia who exhibit certain difficulties sounding out words, spelling words, reading quickly, writing words, pronouncing words when reading aloud and understanding what was read. The law will also require the Department of Education to hire a dyslexia coordinator.
Banning Flying Killer Robots
A bill to provide more stringent regulation of unmanned aerial vehicles has been chaptered into law despite the governor's protests. UAVs (or "drones") are aircraft operated by remote control or by computers from the ground and are increasingly being utilized for domestic police audio and visual surveillance in some states.
LD 25, sponsored by Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland), requires local governments to first approve acquisitions of UAVs for use by law enforcement. The law will allow UAVs to be used in search-and-rescue missions and for assessing accidents, forest fires, floods and storm damage. However, the new law prohibits the use of weaponized drones and law enforcement may not use UAVs for criminal investigations without a warrant, except for certain emergencies. The amended bill also prohibits law enforcement from using UAVs to conduct surveillance of private citizens peacefully exercising their rights of free speech and assembly. Finally, the new law requires the Board of Trustees of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy to establish minimum standards for written policies and protocols for use of UAVs.
Reducing Drug Penalties, Adding Others
The governor has also allowed a bill to become law which reduces penalties for possession of certain schedule W drugs (including cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine) when the possessor has no prior drug conviction. The amended version of LD 113, sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz (R-Kennebec), would direct the court to consider imposing a sentencing alternative that includes medical and mental health treatment for addiction when deemed appropriate.
A separate new law would add acetylfentanyl and methylfentanyl derivatives to the state's list of prohibited schedule W drugs. The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, which supported the measure, argued in testimony that acetylfentanyl overdoses are proliferating in the state, but law enforcement could not charge users with a crime because it hasn't been illegal to possess or sell it. The acetylfentanyl analog fentanyl is used to treat pain but is also produced in illicit underground labs to sell on the drug market for mixture with heroin. It is estimated to be 30-50 times more powerful than heroin and has been blamed for several overdoses in the state.
Prohibiting the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners
The governor has also let a bill go into law that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women who are incarcerated. LD 1013, sponsored by Sen. Anne Haskell (D-Portland), would limit the practice except under extraordinary circumstances, such as when the woman poses a flight risk or for medical or security reasons. The law will also require that the corrections official document the instance that required the use of restraints.
Women's advocates and civil liberties groups supported the measure, calling it "cruel and unusual punishment" that can cause physical harm to the woman and the baby. According to Erica King, the Justice Policy Associate at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine, the number of women in prison has skyrocketed nationally in the past three decades. King noted that from 1977 to 2009 Maine experienced an 864-percent increase in the number of incarcerated women. While the number of men in prison increased by 17 percent from 2000 to 2009, the number of women in prison increased by 118 percent during the same time period. According to the ACLU, the trend can be traced to states like Maine passing harsher penalties for nonviolent drug offenders. King noted that over 60 percent of women in state prisons are mothers.
Banning Use of E-Cigarettes in Public Places
A new law will go on the books to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in the same public places where smoking is currently banned. LD 1108 bans the use of electronic nicotine delivery devices in restaurants and on playgrounds and public beaches. In recent years, e-cigarette usage has increased as a way for smokers to consume nicotine without inhaling smoke. The e-cig includes a cartridge that is filled with liquid nicotine and turned into vapor with a small battery at the end of the device. Like jelly beans, e-cig nicotine liquids comes in several different flavors, which critics worry might entice minors to begin "vaping." While some health professionals have touted e-cigs as a way to quit the deadly habit of smoking, research on the health effects of e-cigarettes has been inconclusive.
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