Term-limits challenge looms

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AUGUSTA (AP) – An effort may be under way to block a newly enacted measure that would let Maine voters determine whether legislators may serve two more consecutive terms in office than the four permitted now.

Former state Rep. Stavros Mendros, who served two terms in the House as a Republican from Lewiston, said people’s veto proponents had made their filing on term limits to meet a Friday deadline and were weighing how to proceed.

“We wanted to keep our options open,” he said.

Mendros said a successful petition drive could effectively put off any statewide vote on the issue until next June.

“We’d really rather have it on the ballot in ’08,” he said, instead of in an off-year such as this year, when voter turnout would presumably be lower.

“There would be a vote in June (2008) on whether or not to have the vote” on a term-limit extension, he said.

A bill signed by Gov. John Baldacci last month would, subject to voter approval this November, extend Maine’s present four-term limit on consecutive service in legislative office to six terms – or from eight consecutive years to 12 in either the state House of Representatives or Senate.

The extension would not apply to lawmakers now serving their fourth and final terms.

“It should be left alone,” Mendros said.

According to the secretary of state’s office, people’s veto applicants will have until Sept. 19 to submit the required number of petition signatures to force a statewide vote.

Turning in enough signatures by the September deadline would serve to delay the effective date of the bill passed last month by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Voter approval of a people’s veto would stop the term-limit extension bill, with its referendum provision, from becoming law.

Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Friday it was unclear if a people’s veto referendum called for by petition signatures that would not be validated before the latter part of September could be readied for a vote in November. If logistics were to prevent a people’s veto vote in November, the matter would be carried over until the following June, he said.

Equal to 10 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election, the signature threshold for a people’s veto is 55,087, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Maine’s four-term limit on legislative tenure took effect through a 1993 referendum.

Another people’s veto application to strip a sweeping school system consolidation mandate from the new state budget was also filed Friday.

“I think there’s a very high degree of frustration, there’s a high degree of uncertainty,” applicant Kenneth Fredette of Newport said.

Dunlap, however, said provisions of the new budget law, which was approved by super-majorities in the House and Senate and has already taken effect, are not subject to a people’s veto.

The school system consolidation plan, which is designed to reduce Maine’s 152 school administrative systems to 80, appears to critics to be “a grabbing of power from the locals by Augusta,” Fredette said.

Maine lawmakers enacted a $6.3 billion state budget package on June 6.

Final passage in the House of Representatives came on a vote of 112-29. The Senate followed suit, 28-7.

AP-ES-07-06-07 1833EDT

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