AUGUSTA — Lawmakers returning for veto day at the State House on Wednesday will decide — again — whether employers should be required to provide places for women to nurse infants and whether to tighten campaign finance laws, not to mention a $6.3 billion budget and a sweeping bipartisan energy bill.
It’s going to be a busy day.
Republicans have upheld all of Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes this session, with GOP minorities in the Senate or House preventing the two-thirds votes in both chambers needed to override a veto. A continuation of that on Wednesday could lead to a state shutdown and unravel bipartisan agreements on a range of issues.
The $6.3 billion biennial budget bill, which LePage vetoed on Monday, remains the biggest decision lawmakers will make. If legislators sustain the veto, LePage and lawmakers will have less than a week to find a way to avoid a state government shutdown, which would occur if a budget is not in place by July 1.
Also hanging in the political balance is an energy bill that has already distinguished itself for proving veto-proof in the House by a vote of 121-11. LD 1559, which encourages the spread of natural gas infrastructure, funds energy efficiency projects and allocates money for heating system conversions, faces a deciding override vote Wednesday in the Senate, which previously supported it 28-7.
Also on Wednesday’s veto docket is LD 777, which would make it unlawful employment discrimination under the Maine Human Rights Act for an employer to fail to accommodate nursing mothers. LePage argued in his veto letter that Maine law already protects nursing mothers in the workplace, though House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said the bill supports working families. The bill passed 20-14 in the Senate and unanimously in the House. At least four senators who voted against it would have to reverse their stances to reach the two-thirds threshold required to keep the bill alive.
LePage also vetoed two bills that would change campaign finance laws. LD 1023 would require that governors-elect form committees to oversee donations that fund transitional activities or inaugural events, and require record-keeping of donations of more than $10. LD 1271 would increase fines for candidates and political committees that violate campaign finance reporting requirements within 28 days of the end of the campaign. That bill passed unanimously through both chambers of the Legislature earlier this month.
Another bill that won unanimous support in the Legislature, LD 1032, would establish a commission to study cancer rates in Maine in an effort to curb the state’s above-average cancer mortality rate. LePage wrote in his veto letter that he would sign the bill if it didn’t call for the Senate president and speaker of the House to appoint the commission, which LePage viewed as legislative leadership’s attempt to step on the authority of the executive branch.
Rep. Paul McGowan, D-York, who sponsored the bill, said in a prepared statement that LD 1032 has broad support among Mainers.
“I’m very disappointed that the governor is standing in the way of a study that could mean so much to Mainers, their families and loved ones,” said McGowan. “I hope my colleagues will do the right thing by voting to override this veto.”
One bill that is unlikely to survive being vetoed is LD 825, which would authorize a two-year study centered on what steps the state should take in response to climate change. With support from majority Democrats, the bill passed on mostly party-line votes of less than two-thirds. LePage has vetoed numerous bills recently because they created studies that he said represent unfunded mandates on state agencies. This one was no exception.
Pete Didisheim, advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said Maine could suffer consequences in the future if it doesn’t start to plan for climate change.
“Now is not the time to be sticking our heads in the sand and pretending that a warming climate is not a major challenge to our economy, coastal properties and way of life,” Didisheim said in a prepared statement.
House Democratic leaders said they hope — but not necessarily optimistic — that Republicans would join them in voting to override many of the vetoes. They continued to assert Tuesday that if the 23 House Republicans and five Senate Republicans who voted June 13 to enact the compromise budget stick to those votes, the Legislature will override the governor’s budget veto.
Likewise, if Republicans — who have reversed their original votes to sustain some past vetoes — reaffirm their original positions on bills scheduled for veto override votes Wednesday, other pieces of previously passed legislation jeopardized by LePage vetoes will become law.
“Most of these were unanimous bills. Some of them went under the hammer after a lot of careful consideration by the committee,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “Unfortunately what’s become clear is that when the governor makes up his mind, a lot of people change their minds to follow him. … It’s almost like a waste of time. I assume we’ll be back sometime in July for another veto day.”
Eves said Tuesday that lawmakers are planning to come back on July 9, which gives LePage his statutory 10 days to veto any more bills. Eves said the House intends to take up the budget veto first, at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, has said he expects some Republicans to vote against the budget veto, including himself.
LePage has vetoed 40 bills so far this legislative session, including more than a dozen since legislators recessed early Thursday morning. That ranks him among at the most prolific veto letter signers since Gov. James Longley issued 49 vetoes in 1977, according to previous reports in the Bangor Daily News. On the other hand, LePage has also signed or allowed hundreds of bills to become law, according to his website.