Lawmakers will return to the State House on Thursday to take override votes on a growing list of vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage, including a budget bill for the next fiscal year and measures to crack down on repeat drunken drivers and to expand Medicaid to cover the cost of reducing unintended pregnancies for low-income women.
With 179 vetoes and counting since he took office in 2011, the governor has far exceeded the state record of 118 set by independent Gov. James Longley from 1975 to 1979. Most of LePage’s vetoes have come since 2013, when Democrats took control of the Legislature with majorities in the House and Senate.
Democrats have described it as a “veto spree,” implying that LePage is recklessly striking down sound legislation. The governor has been unaffected by the characterization. He said at the Republican state convention Saturday that he had bought “several veto pens and I’m not afraid to use them.”
House Minority Leader Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, said in a prepared statement that Democrats used their majorities in the Legislature to advance partisan bills that they knew the governor would reject.
“Democratic politicians who say that the governor should have been more involved in the process to prevent these vetoes are being disingenuous,” Fredette said. “Democrats rammed many extreme liberal bills through the Legislature on strict party lines, so they can’t be surprised when this reform-minded governor vetoes them.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers were set to vote on at least 46 vetoes when they reconvene Thursday. The number is likely to increase by Wednesday evening, the deadline for the governor to act on several proposals.
While political rhetoric has focused on the governor’s historic number of vetoes, LePage has quietly signed bills and allowed several others to become law without his signature.
There have been several surprises, notably L.D. 1530, a proposal supported by education groups and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce to expand access to pre-kindergarten. LePage allowed the bill to become law without his signature.
Currently, only 60 percent of the state’s school districts offer pre-kindergarten. The bill will use casino revenue to cover start-up costs while creating a group to develop best practices and quality standards.
LePage also allowed L.D. 1686 to become law without his signature. The bill will broaden access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an opiate overdose.
The new law is more restrictive than similar laws enacted recently in other states that are combating a resurgence of heroin use. It will allow police and firefighters to administer the drug after training, and allow family members of an at-risk addict to get a prescription if the addict has an established patient relationship with a health care provider.
Under current Maine law, paramedics are the only first responders who may decide to administer naloxone. Advanced emergency medical technicians can do so only with approval from a hospital.
Supporters believe the new law will save lives.
Some bills that LePage has rejected will become law if the Legislature overrides his vetoes Thursday.
Overriding a veto requires two votes, one in the House and one in the Senate. Votes from more than two-thirds of the members present-and-voting in each chamber are required for an override. The threshold has previously given the Republican minority great sway over legislation. In several instances last year, Republican lawmakers flipped their original votes to uphold vetoes by LePage.
Nonetheless, several bills, including one to close a $32 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year beginning July 1, appear positioned for overrides based on past support.
The budget bill would use delayed Medicaid reimbursements to some health care providers to help fill the budget gap, fund nursing homes, and eliminate and reduce waiting lists for about 400 people with developmental disabilities who qualify for home- and community-based care services.
LePage vetoed the bill, saying in his veto message that gimmicks would be used to fill the budget gap. The governor also chastised lawmakers for not using the budget bill to fund his drug enforcement proposal.
Lawmakers enacted a scaled-back version of LePage’s drug enforcement bill while adding a treatment component. However, the Legislature never funded the $2.25 million proposal, effectively killing it.
Several vetoes are likely to survive override votes despite support by the Democratic majority. The proposals include a bill to cancel the LePage administration’s no-bid contract with a Rhode Island group to evaluate the state’s welfare system; a bill that would prohibit multinational corporations from using so-called offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes in Maine; and a proposal to require the Department of Health and Human Services to report to the Legislature on its investigation and prosecution of welfare fraud.
A last-ditch effort by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, to expand Medicaid coverage to more than 60,000 uninsured Mainers was vetoed by LePage. It is the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s fourth attempt to expand Medicaid through the federal Affordable Care Act. The previous three have been rejected by LePage and the vetoes have been sustained by the Legislature.
The latest measure was approved on a party-line vote and dismissed by Republicans as a half-measure to cover the Democratic majority’s unwillingness to enact LePage’s proposals to fight misuse of welfare benefits.
The fate of other bills is less certain. One bill rejected by LePage would extend Medicaid coverage to help low-income women prevent unintended pregnancies by increasing access to family planning services to women who earn as much as 200 percent of the federal poverty level, $23,000 a year for an individual. The bill would use federal funding to increase access to family planning clinics. Federal law prohibits using the money to pay for abortions.
Thirty-two other states have applied for funding by amending their Medicaid plans.
The proposal won veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. The governor argued in his veto message that the state shouldn’t use Medicaid dollars to pay for family planning services for people who qualify for subsidized private insurance through the Affordable Care Act.
LePage also vetoed L.D. 222, a bill to overhaul the state’s concealed-weapon permit law by creating a central, confidential permitting system and allowing Maine State Police to conduct criminal and mental health background checks.
Steve Mistler can be contacted at 791-6345 or at: