Hard hat Legislature comes to a close

All in and all done.

The 127th Maine Legislature adjourned its First Regular Session on Thursday, July 16, without an anticipated return until the Second Regular Session begins next January. But between sessions, there will be plenty of action.

The Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability will be investigating Governor Paul LePage’s tactics to persuade the Good Will-Hinckley school to fire Speaker of the House Mark Eves, just hired as school president.

The governor’s office will be investigating the Land for Maine’s Future program, focusing on LMF bonds and how the organization appraises land it seeks to acquire.

The governor’s blistering veto language continued unabated. “I am disappointed that the challenge of jail management so vastly outstretched the intellectual capability of the Legislature,” read one veto message. Another: “It is a useful reminder of how little regard lawmakers have for Maine taxpayers.”

If much of the session was reminiscent of the old Kingston Trio “Rioting in Africa” song (“The whole world is festering with unhappy souls…”), the angst was not in evidence on closing day. Legislators, many of them sporting brand new suntans, looked rested, refreshed and genuinely glad to see their colleagues.

The final day of a session is a leisurely affair. In Maine, to be enacted, every bill must pass in an identical version in both the House and Senate. With just a few items left on the calendars, each chamber takes a few votes and then sends those bills “forthwith” to the other body. Then the senders sit “at ease” and await the return of another batch.

The desultory pace does not mean that matters under consideration are not weighty. A deceased casino bill was resuscitated and lives to fight another day. Several bills were presented and passed “without reference to committee.” One funded labor agreements and “equitable treatment” in the executive branch. Bills attempting to resolve the stand-off between the chief executive and the Legislature over Land for Maine’s Future bonds flew back and forth, most falling into the “endangered species” category.

The House approved keeping 25 bills from the special appropriations table alive for the 2016 session, rather than attempting to fund them this year. Likewise, 33 other appropriations bills, 31 of them bond proposals, were held over.

The Senate issued 65 “legislative sentiments” congratulating or memorializing various exemplary Mainers and pounded its way through another seven gubernatorial vetoes, overriding them all, six of them unanimously and without comment.

The disputed veto question was that of Senator Roger Katz’s bill to require a governor to issue bonds approved by the voters in most circumstances. Though the Senate produced the necessary two-thirds vote to override the veto, the House fell a handful of votes short.

In what may be the first sign of nervousness exhibited by the chief executive regarding his refusal to allow the sale of LMF bonds, the governor submitted a bill of his own to extend the life of the bonds. The House used the governor’s own bill to mount a rescue attempt, stripping off the governor’s title and replacing it with a resolve “Directing the Governor and the Land for Maine’s Future Board to Fulfill the Will of Maine Voters and Issue Bonds Approved in 2010.”

Because the new bill required only a majority rather than a 2/3 vote, it passed both chambers handily, but presuming the governor vetoes it, it will languish until next January when the Legislature takes it up as an override question.

Though the House has been known to permit a certain degree of frivolity in the final days of a session, the Senate usually sticks more closely to the rules of decorum. Those rules were bent a bit this time around, most notably when Majority Leader Garrett Mason, charged with the formal notification to the governor that the Senate was preparing to adjourn “sine die,” popped a hard hat on as he left the chamber on his way to the governor’s office.

When the work of the Senate was complete, leadership on both sides of the aisle rose to offer gracious speeches. It is one way to help heal session battle wounds and smooth the way for the next session. Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond delivered his party’s thanks to the majority for treating his caucus “respectfully,” saluting Senate President Mike Thibodeau for his even-handed management of the Senate.

One senate Democrat reportedly proposed that the senate president receive a “Right Man at the Right Time” award for his steady hand on the tiller in a year of unprecedented legislative conflict with the executive branch.

Unlike the rapid fire, auctioneer-like delivery of most presiding officers, Thibodeau is soft of voice and measured of cadence, rendering the pro forma language of Senate proceedings with a hush that would suit a bedtime story.

There are Republican complaints from the distant right that he abandoned core principles, but with his pragmatic approach to the unusual State House dynamics, he undoubtedly won more friends for Republicans than hold-out House Minority Leader Ken Fredette. It is a style of Republican leadership with which we could be comfortable for some time to come.

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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