Gov. Paul LePage has set both the single-session and all-time record for vetoes by a Maine governor, and he still has three years left in his term. For a number of months this session, he vetoed every bill that was sponsored by a Democratic legislator, even though each of the bills that reached him had both Democratic and Republican support. Then, suddenly, the vetoes stopped.

The governor had sent clear signals he was opposed to a number of the remaining bills, so vetoes were expected. But the window for him to either sign or veto many of them came and went, and nothing happened. Now, he is trying to claim that his time for vetoing the bills has not expired, and that he still has a chance to do so. He is wrong.

The Maine Constitution is clear about what becomes of bills that the Legislature passes but the governor does not sign: “If the bill or resolution shall not be returned by the Governor within 10 days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to the Governor, it shall have the same force and effect as if the Governor had signed it … .” In other words, if the governor simply does nothing with a bill, it becomes law.

CONFUSION

When reporters, advocates and legislators pointed out that nearly 20 such bills would become law, the governor’s office scrambled to stop them — first claiming that the governor was using the “pocket veto” to kill the bills, then ultimately pointing to the clause that allows for additional veto time when the Legislature has adjourned and in doing so prevents the governor from returning the bill “unless the Legislature by their adjournment prevent its return.”

And there’s the rub. In the context of timing and vetoes, “adjournment” means, and has always meant, the Legislature’s final adjournment for the session. It does not mean the type of temporary adjournment happening now (and which happens all the time, including nearly every weekend), after which the Legislature reconvenes to continue working.

Also key is those last three words, “prevent its return.” Nothing about these temporary breaks prevents the governor from returning bills — in fact, there is plenty of precedent for him to do so.

HISTORY A GUIDE

For example, the 125th Legislature enacted a number of bills on May 16, 2012, including a bill to authorize a “Research and Development” bond. The Legislature then temporarily adjourned on May 17, using the same language to do so that the Legislature used this year (“Joint Order Adjourn Till The Call Of The President And The Speaker”). The governor vetoed and returned that bill on May 25, while the Legislature was still on break. The Legislature reconvened and held an override vote on May 31, before finally adjourning its regular session.

Similarly, the 126th Legislature passed a cellphone privacy bill on June 27, 2013. The bill had broad bipartisan support, but did not have the support of LePage.

Later that day, the Legislature temporarily adjourned, with plans to return at a later date to vote on veto overrides. The governor vetoed the bill on July 8, returning the vetoed bill to the secretary of the Senate before the Legislature came back to work.

COULD HAVE VETOED

If the governor wanted to veto any of the 19 bills in question, he could and should have done it in the time allotted — just as he has any number of times in the past. But he didn’t veto them; instead, he let the time pass without taking any action.

The 127th Maine Legislature is still in session. Until it adjourns for the final time, the governor has 10 days (excluding Sundays) from the time he receives them to sign or veto bills. Or, he can simply do nothing with them. Then they become law, and no constitutional contortions will make it otherwise.

Alison Beyea is executive director of the ACLU of Maine.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.