AUGUSTA – Some bills went down loudly on Tuesday, a fitting end to a legislative session marked by partisan jousting and political posturing.
Others, including a bill to strengthen the state program to phase out toxic chemicals in children’s products, were defeated without debate, falling with a single bang of the gavel and swept away among an unprecedented number of vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage.
L.D. 1181, a bill that was lobbied intensely, would have required food companies with $1 billion or more in gross annual sales to report their use of bisphenol-A in packaging. It was one of 83 bills that LePage vetoed in this session, and one of dozens that lawmakers considered enacting via veto overrides on Tuesday.
The governor’s 83 vetoes shattered the known record of 49, set by independent Gov. James Longley in 1977. By late Tuesday evening, the Legislature had sustained all but five of them as the Republican minority stood with LePage.
Republicans blamed Democrats for the veto record.
“They’ve been acting like they have a liberal Democratic governor,” said House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, in a prepared statement. “Instead of coming together as members of leadership or on legislative committees and saying to Republicans, ‘let’s get something done together,’ Democrats have simply steamrolled through a hyper-partisan, extremist liberal agenda.”
Democrats claimed Republicans were backing an extreme governor and being obstructionists.
“The governor’s veto rampage is not just record-breaking, it’s mind-boggling,” said Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “Good bills with unanimous approval, bipartisan support, life-saving potential and commonsense approaches have been victims of this irresponsible binge.”
Republicans and Democrats did agree to override the governor on major bills including the state’s biennial budget and a sweeping energy bill.
On Tuesday, they combined to circumvent LePage on measures including L.D. 415, which requires police to get warrants to access location information from cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices, barring emergencies such as threats of bodily harm.
It also requires police to tell people within three days if they obtain information about them from their cellphone providers.
LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills worried that the bill would hinder criminal investigations, but the privacy argument won the day with Republicans and Democrats.
Maine is the second state to enact a cellphone privacy law. Montana was the first.
Other bills were more hotly contested, but were dispensed with quickly Tuesday as the Democratic majority realized it couldn’t persuade Republicans to overrule the governor.
L.D. 1181, the bill concerning chemicals, was one of them. It was vetoed by LePage on Monday amid concerns that it lacked funding for the Department of Environmental Protection to administer it.
Supporters of the bill accused Republicans and the governor of using the cost argument to scuttle the bill.
Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, the bill’s sponsor, said it was designed to make it easier for the DEP to implement the Kids Safe Products Act.
The Senate sustained the governor’s veto, as Democrats came up three votes short of an override. There was no floor debate.
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, said bill supporters may have realized that they didn’t have the votes for L.D. 1181 but still had the Kids Safe Products Act.
“There is good news here,” said Saviello, who brokered a compromise to preserve the program after LePage attempted to repeal it. “We worked hard to save this program and involve stakeholders. Let’s give the department a chance to make it work. If it doesn’t, I’ll be the first one asking them about it.”
Lawmakers sustained LePage’s vetoes on these bills:
• The House sustained a veto of L.D. 611, which would have raised Maine’s minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 and linked it to inflation thereafter. Democrats were seven votes short of an override.
• The Senate was four votes short of overriding a veto of L.D. 236, which would have required police to get warrants in most cases before using unmanned aircraft — drones — for surveillance of Maine residents.
• Democrats’ two attempts to amend the 2011 health insurance overhaul law were defeated.
• L.D. 161 would have created a single rating area for health insurance companies. Democrats argued that the 2011 law penalizes small businesses in rural communities because insurance companies can charge higher premiums based on age and geography. Democrats came up nine votes short of overriding the governor’s veto.
• L.D. 225 would have beefed up the state’s rate review process of health insurance plans. Democrats argued that insurance companies can jack up rates without a thorough public review, while the governor said the state has significant rate-hike protections. The measure came up nine votes short of an override, 89-53.
• L.D. 703 would have increased automatic penalties for those who commit crimes against animals. LePage said the bill was “legislative overreach” and removed judicial discretion to assess penalties. Democrats voted 18-15 to override the veto, but were four votes short of the two-thirds threshold.
• The Senate also sustained the governor’s veto of L.D. 1103, sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, as an attempt curb the forest products industry’s use of Canadian loggers. Jackson has argued that the practice puts Maine loggers out of work.
• The House voted to override the governor’s veto of L.D. 1263, which would have increased the registration fee for snowmobiles and used the money to maintain snowmobile trails. LePage vetoed the bill because of the fee increase. The Senate, however, sustained the veto with an 18-14 vote.
The Legislature was set to adjourn early Wednesday morning. Lawmakers are expected to return in the fall to vote on a bond package that could be put to voters in November.
This story has been corrected to note that the Legislature overturned all but five of the governor’s vetoes.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: