State of Maine: Mills holds veto cards close to the vest



Maine legislators returned to in-person sessions at the State House on June 2, thrashing their way through a daunting list of bills released from committees for final floor action. They dispersed again on June 17 with a scheduled return on June 30 when they are really, really going to finish this year’s work. Probably.

In the meantime, Governor Janet Mills has exercised her veto pen a total of 18 times in June so far. In many cases, the chances of these bills receiving the two-thirds vote necessary to override the vetoes are slim.

Vetoes happen after the bill has moved all the way through to enactment in the Legislature. The bill then goes to the Governor’s desk. She must sign it or veto it within 10 days; if she does neither, the bill becomes law without her signature. If vetoed, the Legislature has one last chance to override the veto with a two-thirds vote. If not, game over.

Her veto messages are a portrait of the woman and the governor – direct, factual and well-reasoned. Her objections to the legislation are an expression of her philosophy of government.

She does not want to increase taxes, levy new business expenses, add more business regulations or increase fees on consumers.

She shows no lack of courage in taking on legislation popular with the electorate and within her own party, legislation that has just been tenderly shepherded through the process, such as the ban on aerial spraying of pesticides. Lining up on the side of the disappointed were the likes of Senate President Troy Jackson and Agriculture Chair Maggie O’Neil, both Democrats, and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. To her credit, the Governor has the courage of her convictions.

Another veto that may leave legislators downhearted regards contributions to citizen referendum campaigns by “entities in which a foreign government has an ownership interest of at least 10%…” On the face of it, the bill would ward off external influence in Maine issues, with the CMP corridor being the prime, current example given its Canadian backers.

The Governor objects to the bill on its face, expressing concern about voices that might be left out in future debates. She labels the proposed restriction “offensive to the democratic process, which depends on a free and unfettered exchange of ideas, information and opinion.” It is the Governor’s assertion that the measure would “deprive voters of information and opinion” and that the bill operates under the assumption that information from those sources is “categorically inappropriate for consideration…and that voters must be shielded from it.”

Her reasoning in this case might better apply if opposing points of view were expressed accurately and dispassionately, hence of value to the voter. Nope. These campaigns are mostly full of claims that are overblown if not inaccurate, confusing and rife with emotional melodrama or insultingly childish renderings of the arguments for and against a proposition.

They deprive Maine voters of little more than a good night’s sleep.

Come Election Day, the populace is exhausted with the barrage of ads and sick unto death of seeing them. We might be forgiven for seeking to restrict them in some degree and prepared to reject the Governor’s high-minded defense of these spokespeople as beacons of democracy. Never mind. The bill will now need to muster a two-thirds vote.

Her veto of a bill to “protect Maine’s drivers from pretextual traffic stops” reflects her days as Maine’s attorney general as she calls out its “incorrect definition of ‘pretextual stop’” and elucidates the terms and conditions under which a law enforcement officer operates in a traffic stop.

Her veto of an increase in the sales tax on certain rental vehicles is at cross purposes with her refusal to increase taxes. The bill also gets out ahead of another bill that establishes a Blue Ribbon Commission to study transportation funding. Vetoed.

One wonders about the extent to which the Legislature, or at least the Governor’s own party, attempted to forestall vetoes by working through any differences with the executive branch before these bills were passed. In a veto message on video service providers, the Governor references having negotiated “in good faith” to reach a mutually agreeable proposal, apparently unsuccessfully.

Mostly, this Governor waited until bills came to her desk before she showed her hand when it came to vetoes. Bill supporters may have been aware that it was a possibility, but they did not know which bills were certain to feel the sting. Now the veto chickens have come home to roost and a Legislature hot to start its summer must add override votes to their workload for June 30.

 

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. 

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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