In the business world, responsible entities don’t complete transactions without undertaking what is known as “due diligence.” Before signing a contract to buy or merge with another company, for example, the potential buyer would do an extensive review of the target company’s finances, environmental liabilities and current and past legal actions. Sometimes problems are uncovered and the deal is dropped or revised. Due diligence essentially means doing your homework to avoid unexpected consequences and legal headaches.

The attorney general’s office does due diligence for Maine. The office reviews rules written by state agencies, boards and commissions to ensure they comport with state and federal law, the U.S. Constitution and other requirements, such as public notification.

Gov. Paul LePage wants to end this due diligence because, he says, it is getting in the way of his agenda. “Rule-making is delegated to the Executive Branch by the Legislature,” he said in a statement earlier this month. “In this process, agencies are entrusted to write regulations. Repeatedly, we are unable to do this important work because we have an Attorney General who says the agency rules are illegal.”

But isn’t it better to have the attorney general’s office, which employs more than 100 lawyers, point out that a rule is illegal and suggest ways to fix it than to have it go into effect only for it to be challenged in court and potentially invalidated?

LePage cited two examples in his press release. The first involves general assistance benefits being given to “non-qualified aliens,” the governor’s office’s term for asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants.

A year ago, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would begin enforcing its own new rule barring municipalities from giving GA benefits to illegal immigrants. The rule, which was not reviewed by the AG or subject to the required public comment, was simply announced in a press release from the department.

DHHS originally proposed a sweeping rule change that would have prevented state money — which accounts for 50 to 90 percent of General Assistance funds — from being used to assist all immigrants and asylum seekers. That proposal was subject to public comment and hearings, and it was screened by the attorney general’s office.

The attorney general’s office said that rule change was illegal because it represented an unfunded mandate on towns and cities, exceeded the authority of DHHS and violated the Constitution.

The department changed the rule to apply to just “illegal immigrants,” announced it in a press release and communicated to cities and towns using a “guidance” memo. The policy is now the subject of a lawsuit, filed by the Maine Municipal Association, joined by Portland and Westbrook.

The other instance mentioned by the governor is the administration’s plan to require drug testing of TANF applicants who have been convicted of a felony involving drugs. The attorney general’s office worked with DHHS to finalize the details of the testing and monitoring to protect the state against potential lawsuits. Other states have had similar programs invalidated because they violate the Constitution.

While LePage is using these two cases to illustrate why the attorney general interferes with policymaking, they show precisely why oversight by the AG’s office — if it is heeded — is helpful, not a hinderance.

LePage and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, a lawyer who sponsored the bill to curb the AG’s powers, assert that current law wrongly gives the attorney general veto power over the executive and legislative branches, hence violating the Constitution. It is only veto power when the rules written by the executive or legislative branch violate the law or Constitution, opening the state to costly and time-consuming court challenges that would likely invalidate the rules in the end.

“This approval process may inconvenience an agency, and it may even thwart a proposal. But agencies, and governors, derive their power from the law, and they must be bound by the law’s requirements,” Zach Heiden, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, testified in opposition to LD 1354.

The AG’s job is to ensure everyone, including the governor and his appointees, follows the law. Changing this arrangement would simply be too risky — and irresponsibly expensive.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...