Maine Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill requiring heads of state agencies to testify at Legislative committee hearings.

AUGUSTA — Frustrated that some executive branch officials have ignored requests by lawmakers to offer testimony and advice, the Legislature recently passed a measure that would compel commissioners to show up when called.

Calling it “a politically motivated power grab,” Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the proposal Monday.

“Too often, legislators use public hearings for the opportunity to grandstand and berate members of the executive branch,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

“While I agree the executive has a duty to provide information necessary to conduct government that serves the Maine people, we are not obligated to serve as window dressing for politically motivated legislators trying to get their names in the newspapers,” he said. “Good governance demands better.”

The veto is likely to be sustained given that the bill failed to achieve a two-thirds majority in either house before reaching the governor’s desk. It won approval in the House by an 88-56 margin and on a 23-12 margin in the Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Danny Martin, D-Sinclair, the bill would require commissioners or the directors of a state agency to appear before legislative committees, commissions or work group if asked. It would also mandate they respond “in a cooperative and timely manner” when a legislator contacts them about an issue.

Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, said in the House that he wanted some simple information from the state policy about abandoned vehicles and found it difficult to get any answers.

He said it is nonsense that lawmakers need to deal with “a convoluted circle” instead of just getting the information they request.

Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, said that when her committee sought to explore jail funding and county jails generally, it found it “increasingly difficult” to get answers to its questions or to get the relevant executives to attend committee sessions.

Not every legislator agreed that it’s a problem.

Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, said the change isn’t necessary.

“Things are being done the way they should be,” Pickett said. He called it “a bad precedent to start micromanaging the executive branch.”

LePage dismissed the proposal as “a reaction to my common-sense request that committees of the legislature submit questions to the executive branch in writing so written answers may be provided prior to a public hearing.”

“This ensures the efforts of executive branch employees can be prioritized against the many demands on their time in their daily service to the Maine people,” he said, as well as creating a paper trail.

Having written evidence of what’s said, LePage insisted, will allow executive branch officials “to defend themselves from false and politically motivated statements that are often made by the opposing party of the Legislature.”

“When information is presented in black and white, it allows examination by the public and a common set of facts on which to base discussion,” LePage said.

The governor also complained that the bill doesn’t require lawmakers to tell prospective witnesses the subject matter of items ahead of time of matters they could be compelled to discuss.

He also said that Maine law already details a comprehensive process for witnesses to be called before committees, making the measure unnecessary.

“It is merely a legal shortcut that ignores the rights of witnesses,” LePage said.


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