Legislature recesses after late-night session, but not without theatrics

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers departed in the small hours this morning for a six-day break.

The Legislature recessed after 1 a.m Wednesday without finishing its work for the session, but not without some drama that had the potential to throw the state into chaos.

With very little left to do in either the House or Senate, House Republicans — led by Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport — pulled out of the chamber to discuss what should be a routine matter: whether to extend the legislative session for five days.

The Legislature’s statutory adjournment date was June 17, a week ago. Both bodies approved an extension that day, which expired at midnight Tuesday. Without a second extension, all legislative work for the session would have come to a halt, including an almost certain override of an expected veto of the biennial state budget by Republican Gov. Paul R. LePage.

That scenario could have led to a state shutdown.

Fredette said he believes the Legislature has wasted time since it convened in January, leading to the extensions.

“I speak on behalf of my caucus when I say we are in support of extending another five days but we are frustrated by the slow pace of the work between the bodies,” said Fredette.

Factors that have extended the length of the session include several dozen bills vetoed and 64 line-item budget vetoes by LePage, who has said publicly that all those vetoes are for the purpose of gumming up the legislative process. Legislative committees also generated more than 300 divided reports — meaning Republicans and Democrats couldn’t agree at the committee level — which in general takes longer when they reach the full Legislature.

“I believe we should be able to complete that work in an expeditious way so it doesn’t take five days,” said Fredette.

In the end, it was much ado about nothing. Eventually, the House, including Fredette, voted 120-21 in favor of the extension, followed by a 35-0 vote in the Senate. Click here to see the roll call.

The stall tactic was indicative of the confrontational relationship that has pervaded this legislative session — especially between House Republicans, led by Fredette, and the rest of the Legislature — since swearing-in day in December when Fredette delayed votes for hours for behind-the-scenes negotiations.

The Legislature is scheduled to return on Tuesday, June 30, to override an expected biennial state budget veto and complete its remaining work, including a county jail funding and oversight bill and a bill by Fredette to create a Cabinet-level energy commissioner. They’ll also have to debate and complete a state bonding plan for the next two years.

After that, the plan is for lawmakers to recess again until LePage runs out of time to veto more bills. They’ll come back on July 16 — one month after they were scheduled to finish their work — to decide whether to override those vetoes. — Christopher Cousins, BDN.

How many Mainers could lose health insurance this week?

That’s a question many have asked as they eagerly await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell, which may be delivered by Friday.

In the case, the court must weigh whether the U.S. government is required to provide health insurance subsidies in states that opted not to open their own health insurance exchanges under the auspices of the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

If the court decides the federal government is not obligated to pay subsidies in the 34 states that use the federal insurance marketplaces, then all the Americans who bought insurance through healthcare.gov could be up the creek.

According to Families USA, roughly 61,000 Mainers are at risk of losing subsidies if the court rules for the plaintiffs, including about 31,000 people in the 1st Congressional District and 27,000 in the 2nd CD.

Families USA is a health lobbyist group aligned with the Obama administration, but its data is sourced straight from the federal government.

Republicans, many of whom have fought to repeal Obamacare, and who have the majority in Congress, have been working on post-King v. Burwell plans for months, but have not been able to decide what to do, according to Reuters. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Dexter businesswoman to testify before Congress this afternoon

Susan Nordman will testify before a congressional committee chaired by Maine’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Susan Collins, on Wednesday afternoon.

Nordman, who owns Erda Handbags in Dexter, will speak to the Senate Aging Committee about seniors who continue to work during their retirement years, according a news release from Collins’ office.

Seniors are increasingly working through their retirements, and the AARP says that “comfortable retirement” isn’t possible on Social Security, pension or savings alone. Among those working retirees are those who work at Erda, an artisan handbag business that Nordman bought two years ago.

The committee hearing begins at 2:15 p.m. and can be live streamed here. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

LePage’s veto train keeps rolling and, at this point, it’s become too much to list every single one here when it’s delivered, voted on in the House and voted on in the Senate. Rest assured that at the end of the session — sometime in July — we’ll have a comprehensive look back on LePage’s veto record.

For now, suffice to say that the governor delivered seven more vetoed bills to the Legislature yesterday. Among them was LD 1215 by House Majority Whip Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, which sought to fix a typo in the state’s energy efficiency law.

If left unfixed, the typo would have cut Efficiency Maine’s funding by $38 million,

Lawmakers, businesses and others decried the Public Utilities Commission’s ruling in March to ignore legislative intent and cut the funding because of the typo — a missing “and.” Critics speculated whether the PUC was acting on behalf of LePage, who opposed the law that created the funding in the first place.

On Tuesday night, the House and Senate unanimously overrode LePage’s veto, fixing the typo and restoring the funding. Gideon claimed victory.

“This is about more than the $38 million in funding,” she said in a written statement. “It is about Maine families keeping warm in the winter, companies both large and small taking advantage of energy savings, predictability in our energy policy and growing good jobs in our fledgling clean energy sector. It’s about making the most of the fact that the cheapest form of energy is the energy we don’t consume.” — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.