The 130th Maine Legislature was all but done and dusted on April 25. All that is left is the postscript event known as Veto Day, when the Legislature must convene to consider whether to salvage any bills vetoed by the Governor or yield to her will and let them die. The Governor has 10 days to issue vetoes after receiving bills from the Legislature. As of May 1, just two vetoes had been posted on Governor Janet Mills’ website.
The first veto was of LD 1820, a bill intended to include faculty, staff and the public on the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. Conflicts of interest that would result from such appointments were at the heart of the Governor’s objections, since much of the business of the UMS board has to do with regulating – and compensating – the faculty and administration.
This was a second attempt to realign the UMS board, similar to a bill that was vetoed last year. Changes were made to this year’s version that would have made the additional trustees non-voting members, but Governor Mills declared that “the law and policy cited … apply whether or not the person with a conflict is a voting member.”
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Rebecca Millett, a Democrat from Cape Elizabeth who has served five terms (four in the Senate, one in the House) on the Legislature’s Education Committee. It was enacted “under the hammer” in the House (meaning unanimously, without a roll call vote) but was approved only by a partisan vote in the Senate. That leaves the Senate without the two-thirds majority needed to overturn a veto, and many of the House votes would surely flip from green to red in the veto vote, leaving the House shy of the two-thirds majority too.
The second veto, of LD 170, was a flashback to a more hot-button debate. It harkened back to the fire and fury surrounding the proposed “CMP corridor,” a transmission line planned to run from Quebec to Massachusetts, crossing an objectionable amount of undeveloped forest and wildlife habitat in Maine along the way.
The bill sought to designate future transmission lines “nonessential” if they “are not constructed primarily to provide electric reliability within the state, or to provide electricity to retail customers” in Maine. Governor Mills called the proposal’s requirements on “nonessential” transmission lines “vague, ill-considered and unworkable,” citing the need to “work strategically on a regional level.”
Further, the Governor said, classifying some transmission lines as nonessential “fails to recognize the regional nature of our electrical grid, and the global dimension of the climate crisis.” The demands of a “renewable energy future” will require a substantial increase in the electric grid for the Northeast region, and the federal government is offering serious funding for projects that support that goal.
Governor Mills and her supporters claimed the project would save the people of Maine money on electric bills, create jobs, pay $140 million over a 40-year period into Maine coffers and create a low-income customer benefit fund.
Voters weren’t having it. Conservationists railed against the proposal. So did towns along the route, as well as the enchantingly named Upper Enchanted Township. Bath Iron Works and the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine piled on. The Governor stuck to her position through a firestorm of opposition, but eventually bowed to the inevitable after the project was blistered in a November 2021 referendum vote.
Will legislators muster the two-thirds vote needed to overturn this veto? It’s possible. LD 170 was passed without objection in both chambers and as we enter an election cycle, legislators are well aware that the public gave the CMP proposal a big thumbs down. Many Democrats, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Nicole Grohoski of Ellsworth, crossed swords with their Governor on this bill. And Republicans? They might not mind handing the Governor a defeat.
In a matter of days, two corridor-related cases are due to be taken up in court. Corridor supporters are alleging the November referendum was unconstitutional. Corridor opponents claim a public lands lease for the project was improperly issued. This saga is not over.
So, the 130th Legislature stands adjourned, to reconvene in special session for Veto Day on May 9. Once it is back, even if only for a day, the Legislature retains all its usual powers. It is as inevitable as April rain that someone will submit a bill, but leadership will be on guard against dragging this out. Those who are all done want to get home, and those who are hoping for an encore are eager to hit the campaign trail.
There is one thing the parties likely agree on, and that is that when the 131st rolls into town next January, it will once again fully occupy the State House, the place legislators call home.
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.