AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Janet Mills may veto her own tribal-rights compromise if Maine lawmakers send a more sweeping tribal-rights bill to her desk, ratcheting up the stakes on the fraught issue as lawmakers scramble to finish their business.
The Legislature has given initial approval to a sweeping bill that would give the Wabanaki tribes in Maine jurisdiction over natural resources, taxation, criminal justice and other issues on their land in what would be a historic rewrite of an 1980s land settlement agreement that has been at the heart of heated debate during the last three years.
Mills has opposed the bill because it would require Maine to cede power to the tribes over affairs on their lands. It is now tabled in the Legislature awaiting funding. The governor’s sports betting deal, which would give tribes exclusive access to the mobile sports betting market and borrow smaller changes from the sweeping measure, is also sitting there.
But both efforts could be in jeopardy if the Democratic-led Legislature pushes them forward, according to two tribal leaders. Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Ernie Neptune of Pleasant Point said Wednesday that chiefs were informed by Mills’ top lawyer, Jerry Reid, that the sports betting bill would be vetoed if the bigger sovereignty bill moved forward.
If that latter measure does not move forward, the governor would sign the gaming compromise along with a bill focused on the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point’s ability to address water issues. He said chiefs had been discussing how to respond.
Mills spokesperson Scott Ogden confirmed the governor will sign the Passamaquoddy water bill, but he did not immediately respond to questions about vetoing either of the other bills. The governor did not take questions at a budget signing event Wednesday.
There are procedural issues standing in the way of getting either bill to the governor’s desk immediately. Both chambers on Wednesday agreed to extend the 2022 legislative session one day past a scheduled Wednesday end, saying they need more time to finalize amendments before a final round of bills can be funded by budget writers. It came after Senate Republicans shot down two other extension bids.
There are procedural issues standing in the way of getting either bill to the governor’s desk immediately. Democrats have been pushing to get the 2022 legislative session extended past a scheduled Wednesday deadline, saying they need more time to finalize amendments before a final round of bills can be funded by budget writers.
Senate Republicans killed two attempts on Tuesday and Wednesday to extend the session, although the House approved a one-day extension overwhelmingly with Republican support on Wednesday afternoon. It looks to be on track to pass in the Senate.
The episode puts Mills in a tricky position with the tribes. She vowed to fix the state’s poor relationship with them when she came into office. But while tribal leaders have been supportive of her sports betting bill, they have made their preference for bigger sovereignty changes clear.
Vetoing that bill could sour the relationship going forward, but the governor would not have to make that choice if it never comes off the table. Passamaquoddy Vice Chief Darrell Newell of Indian Township said at a State House rally on Wednesday that the governor had to decide.
“It’s up to her,” he said, “She has an opportunity to change her mind and be a good, decent person and truly live up to her words that tribal-Maine relations be repairable. It’s up to her now. We’ve done our work.”