Gov. Paul LePage on Wednesday vetoed a bill because he says it would limit his power as chief executive, and he’s right — that’s exactly the point.

The governor wants to use this executive power to all but eliminate an effective program for identifying and helping at-risk kids. While evidence mounts that the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t doing enough to protect children from abuse, Gov. LePage wants to make certain that it does less.

L.D. 1874 would fund the $2.2 million Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program through the end of January, when the next governor will be in office. It passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House, and lawmakers should remember why when they return to Augusta next week to deal with the governor’s veto.

Until very recently, the program appeared to have a bright future. Started in the greater Portland area about a decade ago, it had great success bringing schools, police, churches, nonprofits and others in a community together to work with families whose children were at risk of abuse or neglect. The program was expanded just two years ago, and now serves all of southern Maine plus Augusta, Bangor, Belfast and Lewiston.

Earlier this year, however, the LePage administration told the organizations that contract to run the program that it would be eliminated in the fall, saying state officials had determined it to be duplicative of other state efforts and not “evidence-based” enough for their liking.

Even if the decision had not come out immediately following the beating deaths of 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, it would have been a poor one. The program’s ability to target resources just where they are needed, and to deal in a variety of ways with difficult and vulnerable populations, soon became apparent, and lawmakers acted swiftly to save it.

But the deaths of Chick and Kennedy, both after suffering extended periods of physical abuse that appear to have been missed by the state, revealed the likelihood of deep problems within Child Protective Services, and led the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to launch an investigation into the state’s handling of the children’s cases and the child-protection system as a whole.

It would be foolish to change anything until that investigation is complete and the Legislature has an opportunity to respond. We don’t know what the probe will tell us about the cracks in the system, but we know they are there — the deaths of the two young girls show us that much.

We know that the state is handling many more complaints of child abuse and neglect than previously but with the same number of workers. And we know the governor and the Legislature ignored annual pleas from the state’s Child Welfare Ombudsman to improve the assessments that determine whether a child is in danger.

The evidence that has emerged in the last few weeks points clearly to a system that has far too few eyes watching out for child abuse, yet LePage still wants to end a proven way to identify the next Marissa Kennedy before it’s too late.

If that’s how he plans to exercise his executive authority, then it should be taken away.


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