Bid to force LePage staff to testify for Legislature aired ‘in error’

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, is one of the most buttoned-down lawmakers in the State House, but on Tuesday, a proposal of his that could be seen as targeting Gov. Paul LePage prematurely saw the light of day.

Ahead of the Maine Senate’s session on Tuesday, insiders were surprised to see a proposed rule change from Katz that laid out a process to give legislative committee chairs the power to issue subpoenas for state government officials to testify before committees.

When asked about on Tuesday morning, Katz said in an email, “All I have to say is that this was placed on the calendar in error.” Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, used the same “in error” language what it came up on the Senate floor, removing it from consideration.

It’s common in the State House for lawmakers to draft proposals that are never introduced. But before items are placed on the calendar, legislators must sign off on them. Secretary of the Senate Heather Priest said Katz signed his proposal.

But there could have been confusion around the process. With amendments, lawmakers often sign and file them with the secretary’s office, but they’re not official until they introduce them on the chamber floor. With rule changes, they’re put on the calendar once signed.

Such a proposal could be seen as years in the making: LePage has often kept executive branch members of his administration from testifying before committees amid various spats with the Legislature.

Perhaps the most famous example was in 2015, before the Government Oversight Committee subpoenaed two of LePage’s aides to testify as part of an investigation into LePage’s role in a nonprofit’s firing of then-House Speaker Mark Eves. In December, he also said that his administration wouldn’t participate in hearings on a proposed mental health facility.

The Bangor Daily News was hearing rumors about this proposal in December under a different context — that some lawmakers were concerned that LePage wouldn’t make administration officials available to provide information in upcoming legislative debates on implementing marijuana legalization.

But legislative staffers met with Department of Public Safety officials just after that and chatter on the issue died down. That’s why Katz’s proposal was a surprise, with Republicans making quick moves to rein it in.

It didn’t go unnoticed in LePage’s camp, where spokesman Peter Steele took a pithy swipe at the episode on Tuesday.

“The Governor’s Office does not comment on the stumbling machinations of the Senate,” he said in what I’d describe as a comment. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Hallowell lawmaker backtracks on ‘sanctuary city’ proposal: The Daily Brief first reported on Monday that Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, was working with Mayor Mark Walker to draft a city-level resolution proposing that the liberal bastion become a “sanctuary city” in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from certain Muslim countries. On Monday, the BDN asked Warren if she planned to ask city councilors to bar the police department from cooperating with federal immigration officials — which is the key measuring stick of a sanctuary city. She replied by saying that was “exactly what I am thinking.” On Tuesday, Walker told WMTW that he wouldn’t support that. Then, Warren issued a statement saying that while a sanctuary city designation was initially considered, “we chose instead to draft a simple statement reaffirming our values.”
  • Republicans issued an action alert on Hallowell’s ‘sanctuary’ plan and one that never existed in Gardiner: Warren’s initial move and a recent Kennebec Journal story about Gardiner prompted Jason Savage, the Maine Republican Party’s executive director, to send an email blast saying the neighboring cities “expressed that they would like to become sanctuary cities,” which it said could “have very real effects on the people who currently live in these municipalities.” It urged party members to call city councilors. The problem? There’s no sanctuary proposal in Gardiner. Mayor Thom Harnett, who retired on Tuesday as an assistant Maine attorney general, has advocated a welcoming stance toward immigrants as a solution to his city’s demographic issues.
  • Legislative Council acts (sort of and not really) on mental health facility: The 10-member panel of legislative leaders voted unanimously on Tuesday to accept the Legislature’s budget-writing committee’s recommendation last week that the panel approve a new, 22-bed facility for forensic patients in Augusta as formerly proposed by Gov. Paul LePage. But after the governor’s proposal was blocked along party lines in November, he has set his sights on building the facility without legislative approval in Bangor. Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, has said the Legislature must approve a new building, wherever it is. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

Legislative committee work has ramped up to near full speed. Here are a few of the more interesting bills up for debate today:

  • LD 25, An Act to Remove the Legislative Council from the Capitol Area Development Approval Process, sponsored by Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, is scheduled for a public hearing this morning in the State and Local Government Committee.
  • LD 71, A Resolve Directing the Secretary of State to Request That the United States Secretary of Transportation Place Maine in the Atlantic Standard Time Zone, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, is scheduled for a public hearing in the State and Local Government Committee.
  • LD 30, An Act Regarding Dancing on the Premises of Certain Liquor Licensees, sponsored by Rep. Beth Turner, R-Burlington, is scheduled for a work session in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Here’s their soundtrack.
  • LD 57, An Act to Phase Out the Use of Single-use Plastic Shopping Bags, sponsored by Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, is scheduled for a work session in the Environmental and Natural Resources Committee. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

The next generation of newspapers

Some dear friends of mine have produced some very, very dear offspring. Their third-grade son dreams of one day starting up a newspaper, which as far as I am concerned is a most noble goal, though the kid has his work cut out for him.

He wrote the following Andrew Clements-inspired editorial (here’s a link to it in case it isn’t showing up for you below), which his mother noted is “wonderful advice for all of us.” 


Sounds good, but I’ll have to check with my editors first. Here’s his soundtrack. — 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.