The Maine Supreme Judicial Court at the Penobscot Judicial Center June 6, 2022. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers are asking Maine’s high court to weigh in on whether a March budget move automatically sent four referendums to the November ballot.

The House of Representatives approved Thursday a joint order already passed in the Senate seeking clarity from the high court on the initiative-related quandary that is part of a dispute between Gov. Janet Mills and her fellow Democrats in the Legislature.

In March, Democrats bypassed Republicans to push through a $9.9 billion state budget. Since it did not have supermajority support in both chambers, leaders had to technically adjourn the Legislature to put the document into effect by the end of the fiscal year in June. Mills almost immediately called the Legislature into a special session to finish work for the year.

After that, Mills and Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, both Democrats, argued lawmakers missed an opportunity to enact the four citizen-initiated bills and automatically send them to the ballot without holding public hearings that are required under a 2019 law.

The Legislature has not enacted any ballot initiatives since 2007, but proponents of one of the questions seeking to ban foreign governments from influencing Maine referendum campaigns planned a robust effort to get it through the Maine Legislature. 

Backers of that question have said Mills and Bellows are wrong because the referendum bills were not printed until after the special session began in April. Democrats in the Legislature agreed, with House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland introducing a measure asking the Supreme Judicial Court to give an opinion on the matter. 

The only member to speak up Thursday about the question was Rep. Randy Greenwood, R-Wales, who argued it should not take a high court to rule on the partisan budget move.

“This is not how business should be done,” Greenwood said. “We should not ask for judicial interpretation on how to finish our work.”

Along with the electioneering question, the three other referendums relate to creating a new electric utility, requiring voter approval of state agencies and electric cooperatives borrowing more than $1 billion and forcing manufacturers selling vehicles in Maine to make information available to vehicle owners and independent repair shops under a “right to repair” law.The partisan move by Democrats on the budget in March is also getting challenged in a lawsuit that claims the maneuver was unconstitutional. Two Republican lawmakers, Greenwood and Rep. Shelley Rudnicki of Fairfield, are among the plaintiffs in the suit that was filed last month in Kennebec County Superior Court.

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Billy Kobin

Billy Kobin is a politics reporter who joined the Bangor Daily News in 2023. He grew up in Wisconsin and previously worked at The Indianapolis Star and The Courier Journal (Louisville, Ky.) after graduating...