AUGUSTA (AP) – Five state lawmakers, saying they would give any money they receive to charity, are going to Superior Court to insist on additional pay for the portion of this year’s House and Senate terms that technically turned into a special session.

“All legislators take an oath to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the state. Unfortunately, it appears that some of us take that oath more seriously than others. By bringing this suit, we are standing up for the Constitution and the principle that those who make the law are not above the law,” said Sen. Tom Sawyer, R-Bangor.

In early April, responding to Republican inquiries, Attorney General Steven Rowe said he believed a disputed joint order pushed through by the Democratic House and Senate majorities in January that purported to block premium pay for lawmakers during this year’s special session was probably unconstitutional.

The Republican request for an attorney general’s opinion stemmed from parliamentary maneuvering on Jan. 30, when Democrats passed a budget-balancing package and voted to technically adjourn the 2004 regular legislative session.

The technical act of adjournment had the effect of starting a 90-day post-session clock ticking so that at the end of that time the budget package would become law.

Rowe said a court would likely find the disputed order on premium pay unenforceable because the Maine Constitution requires that legislative compensation be established by statute. Current statute says that “when a special session is called, the members of the Senate and House of Representatives shall each be compensated $100 for every day’s attendance.”

The attorney general went on to say, however, that lawmakers might be able to amend the statute retroactively.

Late last month, the Legislature passed An Act to Clarify Legislative Pay, retroactive to Jan. 30, restricting premium pay. That measure will not take effect until July 30.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the five lawmakers challenging the original joint order said they were seeking to enforce the Constitution.

The other plaintiffs are Reps. George Bunker, D-Kossuth Township, Robert Daigle, R-Arundel, Albion Goodwin, D-Pembroke, and Gary Sukeforth, I-Union.

House Speaker Patrick Colwell, D-Gardiner, called the lawmakers’ request “stunningly irresponsible.”

“All legislators are paid a yearly salary for the time they normally spend in Augusta – this year, until April 21, the statutory adjournment date,” Colwell said in a statement.

“Whether they are meeting in a regular or special session can make no difference to the voters, or the taxpayers. When the Legislature met in the last week of April, following statutory adjournment, legislators were granted special session pay. This is the system we’ve always used, and one that has served us well,” Colwell said.

AP-ES-05-12-04 1532EDT



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