AUGUSTA, Maine — Despite arguments that his recent holding of 19 bills inadvertently allowed those those bills to become law, Gov. Paul LePage’s office said he intends to do the same thing with an additional 51 bills that are currently on his desk.
“The next time the Legislature is in session for three days, he’ll deliver the bills he wants to veto,” LePage Communications Director Peter Steele said Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Mark Eves, a Democrat from North Berwick, as well as Republican and Democratic senators, have asked Attorney General Janet Mills to weigh in on the issue, according to memos obtained by the Bangor Daily News.
“We request a formal written opinion regarding Gov. LePage’s recent actions and statements,” Eves wrote. “As we understand it, the governor claims that the Legislature’s ‘adjournment’ on June 30, 2015, prevented the governor from returning vetoes to the Legislature and that he may return them to the Legislature within three days of the next meeting of the Legislature we have scheduled on July 16.”
Sens. Dawn Hill, a Democrat from Cape Neddick, and Tom Saviello, a Republican from Wilton, also requested an opinion from Mills about the legality of LePage’s actions.
“We request a formal written opinion regarding the options the chief executive’s office has for vetoing bills during the first regular session of the Legislature per the Maine Constitution,” Hill and Saviello wrote in a letter dated Thursday. “Given the recent actions the chief executive appears to have taken on 19 ‘held’ bills, can you provide an opinion on the status of these bills?”
Legislative leaders continue to proceed on the assumption that, because LePage failed to return them within the 10 days allowed by the state constitution, the bills will become law without his signature 90 days after the current legislative session adjourns.
LePage argues that lawmakers adjourned when they left the State House June 30, meaning that he does not have to submit the bills until they have returned for three days. He has threatened to take the matter to court if the Legislature continues to process the bills as if they will become law.
Tim Feeley, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said Thursday afternoon that he has no comment at this time.
Many expected this to be a slow week at the State House until LePage held 19 bills — including one that continues to fund General Assistance for some immigrants for two years, a prospect LePage fiercely opposes — past his 10-day window to either sign them into law, veto them or let them become law without his signature.
Legislative leaders say LePage’s interpretation that they adjourned June 30 is “wrong” and argue that they have taken careful steps to accommodate LePage’s ongoing veto spree to let it play out before they adjourn. LePage has vetoed nearly every bill sent to him by the Legislature for the past month or so.
The House clerk’s office said Thursday afternoon that LePage still has 51 bills on his desk — all of which were enacted by the Legislature June 30. They include a controversial state and county jail consolidation bill that has been under debate for months after LePage scuttled a 2014 bill that lawmakers hoped would fix the problem.
The 51 bills also include a tax break for Vietnam veterans, a bill to expand access to opioid overdose medication, a bill to strengthen penalties for stalking and a bill to make possession of a firearm with an altered or obscured serial number a crime.
Steele said LePage is personally reviewing the bills and deciding which ones he’ll veto and which he’ll sign. The governor has signed eight bills since July 1.
House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said he welcomes the news that LePage will sit on the bills.
“That’s great news,” McCabe said. “That just means the bills will become law. It’s increasingly embarrassing that these antics are continuing. I’m getting calls from people from around the country who can’t believe what’s going on right now.”
Steele said LePage’s argument centers on his belief that documents generated during the most recent day of the session indicate that the Legislature adjourned on June 30 — and did not merely go into recess or “at ease” as lawmakers intended — triggering a provision in the Maine Constitution that allows the governor to hold the bills until the Legislature returns and has been in session for three days.
But McCabe said technically, the legislative session hasn’t ended and LePage has missed his 10-day opportunity on the 19 bills. As of Saturday at midnight, he’ll have missed the window on the additional 51 bills, as well.
“It’s not the case that we have to be in the building [to be in session],” McCabe said. “There are legislators in and out of the building conducting business on a daily basis. … He has vetoed things in the past when we weren’t there.”
Though Republicans have been for the most part silent about the issue, some are beginning to voice concerns. They include Mike Cianchette, a Bangor Daily News columnist who is also LePage’s former legal counsel. Cianchette resigned that position in August 2013 so he could go to Afghanistan for a tour with the Navy Reserve.
“It’s a very aggressive legal position [by LePage] and it may be a bridge too far for the courts,” Cianchette said Thursday. “Adjourning ‘at the call of the chairs’ [which is how the Legislature adjourned June 30] is a relatively rare occurrance. … this issue has never been addressed in Maine.”
Legislators are looking to Mills, a Democrat whom they elected to her position, to address it. LePage, who has sparred often with Mills over rulemaking and the division of power between his office and hers, has said he will go to court to settle the matter.