The 127th Legislature recently met one last time to vote on 33 vetoed bills from Gov. LePage. These “veto days” have become something of a ritual over the last six years, and, while it’s not the best or most efficient way of conducting the people’s business, we have managed to adapt and get our work done on time.
My colleagues and I successfully overrode 20 of the final-day vetoes. Twelve were sustained and one bill died after the Senate declined to take a vote. Below are some of the highlights and lowlights from this year’s veto day.
FUNDING JAILS AND PREVENTING PROPERTY TAX HIKES
This year, county jails were facing an impossible situation. Costs were continuing to rise as state funding from the biennial budget fell short of the amount needed to operate. When the state doesn’t provide enough funding to our county jails, property taxpayers often end up making up the difference. The Legislature acted to stop this from happening, and this important tax relief/tax-prevention measure survived the governor’s veto.
A RAISE FOR WORKERS AT RIVERVIEW
Employees at the Riverview Psychiatric Center do some of the most challenging jobs in state government. They are responsible for the health and security of patients who suffer from severe mental illnesses. It can be dangerous work, and it requires dedication, training, healthy office morale and appropriate staffing levels.
This session we passed legislation that recognizes their hard work with a long-overdue pay raise to help address Riverview’s recruitment and retention problems. The governor vetoed this important bill, but enough lawmakers from both parties agreed it was an essential part of improving conditions in Maine’s mental health facilities – for both workers and patients.
INCREASING ACCESS TO LIFESAVING MEDICATION
Maine families have lost too many loved ones to drug overdoses as the opiate epidemic continues to spread across our state. We know that there is no such thing as a silver bullet to solve the drug crisis, so we’ve adopted a balanced approach that recognizes the role of education, enforcement and treatment.
Part of that approach means saving the lives of those who overdose so that they can have the best shot possible at recovery. That’s why we voted to increase access to the opiate antidote, naloxone, a non-addictive medicine that halts the overdose process before it’s too late. In his veto letter, the governor argued incorrectly that naloxone doesn’t save lives, but thankfully large bipartisan majorities in both the House and Senate felt otherwise.
BLOCKING HARMFUL CUTS TO MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
This session, hundreds of Maine people flooded the State House to protest potentially devastating cuts to MaineCare’s mental health services. Many of us in the Legislature shared the public’s concerns that the cuts proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services would have left too many vulnerable people without the level of support they need. That’s why we voted to override the governor’s veto of a bill delaying the cuts from going into effect. There were simply too many families who needed more time to ensure their loved ones who use these services would be taken care of.
SETBACKS FOR SOLAR POWER AND CLEAN ELECTIONS IN MAINE
Unfortunately, the bills to create a comprehensive solar policy for Maine and to ratify voter-approved reforms strengthening Maine’s Clean Elections system did not survive the governor’s veto pen.
Too many of my colleagues chose to stand with the governor instead of encouraging the growth of a clean energy industry and all the jobs that go with it. We are the only New England state without a comprehensive plan for solar, and we are now last in the region in solar development and job creation. Those of us who believe that Maine needs to move forward on renewable energy will continue to stay at the table to try and work out an agreement next year, but the defeat of the solar bill was a real setback for Maine’s economy.
I am also disappointed that, even after voters told us loud and clear to strengthen Maine’s Clean Elections system, the governor and his allies ignored the vote. Maine people voted for robust reforms to help get big money out of our elections, but somehow politics managed to get in the way again. While people running for the House and Senate will still be able to run as Clean Elections candidates this year, I hope the next Legislature will place a higher value on honoring the results of voter referendums.
As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns or if you need assistance with state government.