Fredette calls for emergency meeting to discuss LePage’s veto antics

Welcome to Augusta, where the saga of the lost bills continues. Let’s get you caught up before we get to what’s new this morning.

The Bangor Daily News and others have been reporting all week about a group of 19 bills Gov. Paul LePage says he wants to veto, but not until the Legislature reconvenes for three days. When the Legislature adjourns, the governor has until three days after they next reconvene to send them veto bills. 

The problem is, the words “adjourn” and “reconvene” carry the heavy weight of law when they’re applied to the Legislature. As far as legislative leaders are concerned, the Legislature did not adjourn “sine die,” but rather “at the call of the chairs,” meaning the Legislature is at ease until July 16. That means the 19 bills went into law without the governor’s signature because he did nothing with them within the 10-day window he has to do so. 

LePage argues that the Legislature is, in fact, adjourned, which means he can sit on the 19 bills — and potentially as many as 51 more that are sitting on his desk, for which LePage’s 10-day window ends Saturday at 11:59 p.m. — until the Legislature next meets for at least three days. That could be during a special session, which LePage or legislative leaders have the power to call, or in January. 

(By the way, you can see the list of 51 bills in question by clicking here. The list of the 19 bills was in Thursday’s Daily Brief.)

What’s at stake here? Maybe not much. The Legislature has been overturning all but a handful of LePage’s vetoes for the past several weeks, so LePage sitting on the bills could simply delay override votes and the bills going into law. Could it be that there are specific bills LePage wants to delay? Possibly. 

The more likely scenario is that this is more of LePage’s openly stated goal of heaping busywork on the Legislature to waste its time in retaliation for, as the governor says, the Legislature wasting his time for months earlier in the session by not accepting his tax reform proposal. It’s also a continuation of LePage’s long-used strategy of going to the very edges of his executive authority — and some argue, overstepping it — in terms of what the Maine Constitution allows him to do. 

LePage has threatened to take the issue to court to avoid the 19 — or maybe 70 — bills going into law. Bills that had an emergency preamble, such as the biennial state budget bill, which had to be enacted prior to July 1, go into effect immediately. Those that don’t have emergency preambles go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. If adjournment in fact ends up being on July 16 — and remember, whether the Legislature is already adjourned is the central question in this fiasco — then the non-emergency bills will go into effect on October 15. 

One more thing: Though it’s rare, the Legislature has adjourned “at the call of the chairs” before, including in 2012 with LePage in office. According to a press release from Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick, the Legislature passed that order on May 17, 2012, with the intention or returning May 31. LePage vetoed four bills in the interim. 

Phew. Now that we’ve gone through the background, here’s the new bit of news I promised more than 400 words ago: House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, on Thursday requested an emergency meeting of the Legislative Council, which is a committee of 5 Democratic and 5 Republicans legislative leaders, including Fredette. 

Fredette made his request in a letter dated Thursday to Grant Pennoyer, the executive director of the Legislative Council. The letter was given to the BDN by a Democratic member of the council. It’s unclear what the Legislative Council could do to resolve a conflict between the legislative and executive branches, especially with LePage intent on taking the question to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court if necessary. Fredette suggests that the council itself should call for an interpretation from the court. 

“Due to the serious nature of the status of these pending bills and others, it would seem obvious that the Legislative Council should hold an emergency meeting to address this important issue,” wrote Fredette. “Due to the important nature of the status of these bills, it is imperative that we receive clarity on the subject. In fact, it may be likely that we will have to seek an interpretation from the Law Court on this matter, as permitted by the Constitution as a solemn occasion.” 

Is there a way this whole issue could be defused without going to court? Possibly. The Legislature could convene for three days next week, even though it doesn’t have three days worth of work left to do, and await LePage’s vetoes on the third day. But that would be a concession by the Legislature and would put one of the most controversial bills of the session — providing General Assistance benefits to some immigrants who LePage and many Republicans are trying to cut from the rolls — back on the table for a veto override vote and possible failure.

Stay tuned. We’ll keep you posted. — Christopher Cousins 

Congress grapples with the ‘most damaging’ cyber heist in U.S. history

Last month, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins described to BDN readers in detail how wide swaths of her personal information had been compromised in a cyber attack on the federal government’s Office of Personnel Management. The data breach was reported at the time to have affected at least 4 million past and current federal workers, though Collins hinted at the time that the actual number was much higher. She was right.

On Thursday, OPM announced that the breach affected more than 21 million people’s information “stolen from the background investigation databases.”

Collins on Thursday reacted angrily to the news.

“It is unacceptable that OPM officials for weeks maintained that only 4.2 million Americans were affected, disputing the FBI’s assertion that the real number was 18 million,” said Collins in a written statement. “In the latest statement, OPM officials implausibly assert that ‘there is no information at this time to suggest any misuse or further dissemination of the information that was stolen from OPM’s systems.’ That incredible statement, which implies that the perpetrators of this lengthy and extensive attack have no intention of using the stolen data, suggests that OPM has yet to come to grips with the gravity of this cyber-attack.”

Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District said that the Protecting Cyber Networks Act, which passed in the House in April but is still pending in the Senate, would help the situation but that more needs to be done.

“As a member of the Financial Services Committee, I will continue to question witnesses on how we can improve our cybersecurity in order to prevent future breaches,” said Poliquin in a written statement. — Christopher Cousins

Eves takes his fight for elders to the White House

House Speaker Mark Eves, who has made issues important to senior citizens central to his efforts as a lawmaker, will attend the White House Conference on Aging Monday in Washington, D.C.

Among other efforts, Eves ushered his “KeepMEHome” initiative to bipartisan enactment this year in the Legislature. The measure aims to help senior citizens stay in their homes longer by doubling property tax relief in the Homestead Tax Credit Program; increasing pay for direct care workers; and borrowing $15 million to build affordable housing and help seniors weatherize their homes.

The White House Conference on Aging has been held once every 10 years since the 1960s.

“The Maine Legislature has taken key steps to help older adults in our state remain independent, but there is more work ahead,” said Eves in a written statement. “I hope that by coming together with top national leaders on aging issues, we will find more opportunity to help older adults in our state.” — Christopher Cousins

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Buying power: $100 equals $102.35

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re from Maine. Chances are that your list of reasons for living here is lengthy. Chances are that you don’t need another reason. And chances are, $2.35 isn’t a deciding factor.

However, a new analysis by the Tax Foundation, reported Thursday in the BDN, found that the buying power of a hundred dollar bill in Maine is worth $102.35 compared to the national average.

In Mississippi, where $100 will buy you the most in the country, you can buy $115.21 worth of goods.

But you wouldn’t move to Mississippi for $15.21, would you? Consider this: $200 at the national average would buy you $230.42 of goods in Mississippi.

You wouldn’t move to Mississippi for $30.42, would you? We’re starting to talk real money here. — Christopher Cousins


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.