Gov. Paul LePage has told lawmakers that he will be calling them back to Augusta for a special session this fall to address what he says are “two time-sensitive issues.”

LePage was not specific about when the session would be held in the letter he sent Tuesday, only that it must occur before Nov. 1 – the date when L.D. 725, the food sovereignty law, goes into effect.

LePage said that while he appreciates the intent of the food sovereignty law – the first of its kind in the nation – it must be amended to ensure compliance with federal law.

The other matter that requires the Legislature’s attention is providing funding for the Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems, which LePage said was not funded during the most recent budget deliberations. He said the office is operating on funds from the previous fiscal year.

Gov. Paul LePage

LePage said that in the past, state agencies contributed service fees to support the Geographic Information Systems office, but that did not happen in the recent biennial budget process. If the governor’s proposal to create a new Department of Technology Services had been implemented, funding for the agency would have come from the state’s General Fund.

“If the Legislature does not appropriate money to state agencies to properly fund MEGIS, funding will dry up before November,” LePage said in his letter. “If this happens, the future of MEGIS and the state’s ability to adequately provide geographic information systems will be in extreme jeopardy.”

The Geographic Information Systems office manages, updates and coordinates digital maps and other geospatial data used by towns and cities, state agencies, real estate professionals, developers, conservationists, foresters, planners and surveyors. The data produced by the agency powers Google Maps, Google Earth and other consumer products.

“The University of Maine System also relies on MEGIS, and any disruption in services would have devastating effects on students who use the publicly available resources and data,” Le- Page told legislative leaders.

But Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who serves as co-chairman of the legislature’s appropriations committee, said he was caught off guard by the governor’s statement because funds for the Geographic Information Systems office are drawn from a $48 million Information Services Account.

“I guess this is surprising to me. I’d like to learn a little more about what is going on,” Gattine said. “How come given all of the tens of millions of dollars that Maine is spending on information technology services that they can’t find the money to fund this service?”

Gattine said the agency has operated on a budget of just over $1 million in the past.

The governor also said that L.D. 725, “An Act To Recognize Local Control Regarding Food Systems,” must be amended to comply with federal food inspection laws. As written, the law permits municipalities to exclude state inspection of meat and poultry facilities, placing Maine in violation of federal inspection laws. LePage said the state needs to be able to inspect all meat and poultry slaughter facilities or face the prospect of having federal inspectors take on that role.

LePage said the Maine Meat and Poultry Inspection program operates under a federally approved contract, which is only valid if the program extends statewide. He said if the law is not amended, nearly 2,800 poultry processing, small retail processing and five state licensed facilities will come under federal oversight.

“We will not be able to continue growing this local food sector of the Maine rural economy by subjecting Maine farms and businesses to inspectors and regulations based in Washington,” LePage said. “If the state program is eliminated, small farms will lose the most.”

LePage’s call for a special session comes at the same time as legislative leaders are contemplating their own special session – most likely in October – to address a couple of outstanding issues affecting implementation of the state’s new recreational marijuana law and ranked-choice voting.

Lindsay Crete, a spokeswoman for the House Democratic Office, said legislative leaders have not made a decision about scheduling their own special session.

In order for legislative leaders to hold a special session, they must obtain approval from a majority of members in both parties, Crete said. The governor has the authority to call a special session on his own and does not need majority consent to hold the session.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

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