Governor Paul LePage FILE PHOTO

State’s high court rules against LePage in veto flap with Legislature

ELLSWORTH — The state’s highest court has ruled against Governor Paul LePage in his dispute with the Legislature over the validity of vetoes he issued last month.

In an advisory opinion issued Thursday, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled unanimously that LePage missed the window of time in which he could veto the 65 bills in question.

LePage had argued that the Legislature adjourned June 30 without setting a date to reconvene. He said that meant he could hold on to the 65 bills he wanted to veto until legislators returned, which was not until July 16.

He returned the bills with his veto to the Legislature at that time. Legislative leaders, however, argued the governor had missed the 10-day window within which he could issue vetoes, because they had not officially adjourned for the end of the legislative session. They said that meant the bills had become law.

Maine’s Constitution states the governor has 10 days, not including Sundays, from when a bill passed by the Legislature is presented to him in which he can return it to the Legislature with his veto.

LePage wrote to the Supreme Judicial Court on July 17, asking for its opinion on the matter.

“I must know whether the 65 bills have become law,” he said, adding that he was “prevented from returning these bills” to the Legislature any earlier because they did not set a date of return.

The matter was argued by attorneys from both sides before the high court on July 31.

In the 49-page opinion published Thursday, the court said past “practice and precedent” meant LePage was wrong.

“Following the ten days provided for gubernatorial objection, the bills that were not returned to the House of origination with the Governor’s objections became law,” the justices wrote, and will take effect 90 days after the final adjournment of the Legislature.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, LePage issued a brief statement that said the veto dispute “was not about winning or losing” but was instead “about doing things right.”

He thanked the justices for coming to “a fast and fair resolution to this issue,” and said he looked forward to “moving on and continuing to work for the Maine people.”

Democrats had slightly more to say on the subject. Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett called LePage’s veto complaint “a wild goose chase that has wasted the state’s time, resources and taxpayer dollars.”

The Democratic party said it marked the third rejection for LePage on the subject — first from Legislative leaders, then from Attorney General Janet Mills (a Democrat) and now the Supreme Judicial Court.

Mills said she was “pleased” with the decision, noting that the opinion of the justices was “on all fours with all the research” done by her office. She said the court’s answers were clear and left no doubt that LePage had been wrong in his position.

She said except when the Legislature has adjourned “sine die” — Latin for “without day” — any governor must return vetoed bills to the Legislature within 10 days, not counting Sundays.

“By his failure to do so, he has forfeited the right to veto any of the bills at issue,” said Mills of LePage.

Steve Fuller

Steve Fuller

Reporter at The Ellsworth American,
Steve Fuller worked at The Ellsworth American from 2012 to early 2018. He covered the city of Ellsworth, including the Ellsworth School Department and the city police beat, as well as the towns of Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Great Pond, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast's Republican Journal prior to joining the American. He lives in Orland.
Steve Fuller

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