A Democrat from Portland called Gov. Paul LePage a bully last week, saying communication problems in the Department of Health and Human Services may be linked to staffers’ fear of the chief executive.

Sen. Joe Brannigan, D-Portland, told reporters that LePage has a sign in his office that says “bully.” He wondered if that’s why DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew didn’t come forward sooner to report costly computer problems.

“He seems to enjoy being a bully,” Brannigan said. “Maybe it’s hard for people in the administration to work together. Maybe it’s hard for her to tell a bully.”

The “sign” that Brannigan saw in the governor’s office is actually a piece of campaign literature that was sent by Democrats during the special election in February for a Senate seat in Lincoln County, said LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett. The governor asked to see it, so the staff got him a brochure from the Senate District 20 race.

It was in his office during a bill signing, which is when Brannigan saw it.

Bennett said this wasn’t the first — nor will it be the last — time the governor has been called a bully.

“It’s unfortunate, some of the perceptions that are out there,” Bennett said. “If you really take time to listen to where he’s coming from, it becomes apparent that he’s compassionate.”

She expects to hear more bully comments from Democrats in the months ahead.

“The Democrats realize that strong language is working for them,” she said. “It appeals to a certain group, so they continue to use it.”

DHHS probe

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee on Tuesday will consider a request from Brannigan for “an independent internal audit” of DHHS operations.

The request is linked to recently disclosed problems that involved 14,000 people continuing to receive MaineCare coverage when they were no longer eligible.

Republicans on the committee have said they support an investigation, but the debate on Tuesday will be over just how deep and wide government watchdogs will go as they look into the DHHS.

Teen drivers

Secretary of State Charlie Summers proposed a long list of changes to driving laws last week as a way to try to curb fatalities involving teenage drivers.

But his ideas may have to wait a year for lawmakers’ consideration.

Ron Collins, R-Wells, Senate chairman of the Transportation Committee, said the proposals, which he described as major, deserve a full public hearing. At this late date in the session, that may not be possible, he said.

“It’s a tough time to be putting in a bill,” he said. “It may not get done this session, but next term, it will be at the top of the calendar.”

Among the recommendations: double the number of required driving hours with a permit, from 35 to 70; double the time a person younger than 21 must hold a permit, from six months to one year; raise the minimum age of an accompanying driver from 20 to 25; increase the minimum fine for texting and driving from $100 to $350.

In testimony before the committee, Summers noted that since Christmas, “there have been 12 fatal crashes, resulting in 16 deaths, where the at-fault driver was between the ages of 15 and 24.”

Veto watch

Will the governor’s veto streak — 15 vetoes, no overrides — continue?

We’ll find out this week when the House takes up his 16th veto, a rejection of L.D. 145, “An Act to Clarify and Streamline Foreclosure Proceedings.”

The bill would require financial institutions to produce original documents for foreclosure proceedings, if homeowners request them, said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Roberta Beavers, D-South Berwick. That’s designed to protect consumers from robo-signings, which contributed to the 2008 financial crisis.

In his veto letter, LePage said the law would “add a new burden” to lenders, something he doesn’t want to do.

Although the bill got a strong Senate vote, it passed in the House 90-54. That’s 11 votes short of what would be needed for an override of a veto. Beavers is not optimistic that she’ll flip enough votes for the two-thirds needed.

“It’s very frustrating after spending a year and half on it,” she said.

Right to work

As the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee finished its work for the year on Friday, one bill was not on its schedule.

L.D. 309 would have removed the requirement that all state workers pay a portion of union dues even if they aren’t union members. It never got a committee vote, leaving many to speculate that it’s dead for this year.

The bill was highly contentious last year, with hundreds of workers packing the State House for a protest and public hearing. At the last minute, the committee delayed a vote, saying some members needed more information.

Opponents said Republicans didn’t have the votes to pass it, so it was stalled.

Nationally, the so-called right to work bills have been a hot topic, with Indiana becoming the most recent state to pass one. While that bill applies to all union workers, the measure in Maine would affect only public sector employees.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, said supporters got cold feet last year because of the uproar over union rights in Wisconsin. And, in Maine, the state is still negotiating with the Maine State Employees Association over a new contract, making this a tough time even to bring the bill up for a vote.

“I think it’s a worthwhile discussion to have,” Winsor said. “Unfortunately, it’s very partisan.”

The end is near?

Officially, the last scheduled day for the House and Senate is Friday. Legislators received their final paychecks last week.

Does that mean the session will be over for the year?

Don’t bet on it.

While the Legislature is moving through a lot of bills quickly — expect double sessions this week — there doesn’t appear to be any way the Appropriations Committee will finish all of its budget work this week. That means lawmakers will probably be sent home for a while to give the budget writers time to finish.

Then, they’ll all be back for a couple of days for final votes before they hit the campaign trail.

State House Writer Susan Cover contributed to this column.

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