Gov. Baldacci eyeing special licensing session

AUGUSTA – Gov. John Baldacci is considering calling lawmakers into a special session this month to make sure any licenses issued to operate a racino meet strict standards not in the law passed by voters last month. Legislative leaders aren’t pleased with the possibility.

“I have Kurt Adams, my legal counsel, going over the referendum,” Baldacci said in an interview last week. He is “pointing out to me the weaknesses and at the same time legislative remedies.”

The governor said he has decided to introduce legislation creating the Maine Gambling Regulatory Commission, but has not decided if that needs to be done before the licenses are issued under the measure voters approved last month allowing slot machines at certain racetracks in the state. Such gambling facilities have been called racinos.

Baldacci said the gambling commission is needed to “prohibit, as best we can, organized crime and corruption” in Maine. He said the legislation he is proposing would have “far more” safeguards than the legislation that was drafted by supporters of the slots at racetracks.

“The Harness Racing Commission is scheduled to meet Dec. 15th,” Baldacci said, “and there is the possibility that we will not have that opportunity if action is taken by the Harness Racing Commission.”

The governor said he hopes the commission does not act on any pending gambling applications until the Legislature has an opportunity to act on his proposal. He said he does not want gambling regulated in Maine by the Harness Racing Commission.

“There are real problems with that legislation,” Baldacci said.

For example, he said, the measure would allow a convicted felon to be involved in operating the casino. A provision in the legislation also would allow a person with a felony conviction over 10 years old to work in the facility.

Baldacci’s proposal to tighten gambling regulation has broad, bipartisan support. But even the hint of a special session within a few weeks of the Jan. 7, 2004, reconvening of the legislature does not have much support.

“I don’t know what we could do in special session that we could not do a few weeks later,” Rep. Joe Bruno, R-Raymond said Friday.”I just think it’s silly to be talking about a special session.”

Senate President Beverly Daggett, D-Augusta, said she believed Baldacci had mentioned the possibility of a special session as a “heads up” and that he does not want to call lawmakers back to the Capitol early.

“He knows that that the Legislature, once in session, can take up anything,” she said, “not just what we were called in to do.”

Daggett said with broad concerns over Baldacci’s cuts in Medicaid, he could face legislative attempts to overturn those budget decisions as well as other legislative proposals.

Baldacci hopes a special session is not needed, but he said one has to be an option.

“It is such an important issue that I want to make sure we can handle it before any permanent licenses are given to anyone,” he said.

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