Maine Senate overrides summer lunch program veto

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AUGUSTA (AP) — Maine’s Democratic-controlled Senate voted Tuesday to preserve a measure that seeks to provide more free lunches to low-income children during the summer months.

The 25-10 vote overrode Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s veto, which requires the support of two-thirds present and voting lawmakers to be overturned. The legislation requires schools with a majority of the students that qualify for free or reduced-price lunches to operate a summer food services program if they hold activities like summer school.

Democratic Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland, sponsor of the measure, told lawmakers that hunger is among the most severe roadblocks to learning. About 70,000 of the 84,000 students that receive free and reduced-price lunches during the school year don’t have access to a summer food program, he said.

“This bill is one small step, one common step toward making sure that hungry students in the state of Maine get a warm meal — a meal during the summertime,” he said.

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In his veto letter, LePage called the bill an “irresponsible unfunded mandate” by directing schools to implement a program without providing funding.

Democrats said the bill, which now heads to the House for a final vote, allows schools to partner with churches or other groups to run the program and even allows them to opt out if they don’t want to or it’s too costly.

But LePage said in his veto message that while the bill requires an opt-out provision, “a school administration may only opt out after such a requirement has been imposed.”

“To that end, the opt-out provision is merely a gimmick allowing the state to impose that requirement without also providing the requisite funding,” he said.

Senate Republican Leader Michael Thibodeau of Winterport, who voted against the measure, said nothing stops schools from putting these programs in place right now and that it’s a decision that should be left to local school boards.

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