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Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Maine Governor LePage is at odds with legislative semantics

Maine has a big Governor LePage problem. He's writing his own rules by interpreting the Maine Constitution, according to him.

Governor LePage makes his decisions based on what's in his best interest, regardless of how the outcomes impact others.

For example, LePage decided he's exempt from legislative oversight. Now, he's re-defining the meaning of the legislative concept of "adjourn".  His attempts to play "political semantics" are designed to keep his name in the headlines, for caustic reasons, regardless of the consequences. 

Unfortunately, while Maine's Governor LePage duels with the state's legislature with semantics, about their role in divided government, the state he was elected to lead continues to economically lag behind all the other New England states.

Governor LePage disputes everything, including the meaning of the word "adjournment". Now, he claims he can still veto bills, just because he says so.  In the Governor's unauthorized interpretation, if the legislature is "adjourned" he can hold on to the bills he doesn't want to sign until the legislature convenes again.  On the other hand, the Maine legislature says "no so fast!".  Rather than being "adjourned", the Maine legislature claims their job hasn't yet finished, so the Governor's interpretation of how unsigned bills become law, is wrong.  Translation: the complicated maze of political semantics means this: the Governor and the Maine legislature aren't communicating.  

It makes no sense for Governor LePage to speak with the media, exposing his angry affect and acrimonious messages.  

His dictatorial interpretation about how he interprets government operations are preventing the legislature from solving problems. 
In other words, Governor LePage's political management style is strangling Maine's development. Rather than build consensus with his political colleagues, he prefer to use his bully pulpit to create political angst, regardless of the legal or constitutional consequences. 

Report of the Bangor Daily News:

AUGUSTA, Maine — What does "adjourn" mean?

Paul LePage on Wednesday said he’s holding on to 19 bills, to keep them away from the Legislature, until it returns from a recess, at which time, he intends to formally veto the bills, and send them back to lawmakers.

Per the Maine Constitution, during a legislative session, a governor has 10 days — excluding Sundays — either to veto or sign a bill that has been passed by both chambers of the Legislature. If neither occurs, the bill automatically becomes law without the governor’s signature.

But, if the Legislature “adjourns” during this 10-day window, the rules change. Then, a governor can hold such bills until lawmakers return into session for a minimum of three days, at which point he can send them to the House and Senate as vetoed.

If lawmakers do not return, the bills neither signed nor vetoed simply die — that’s what is known as the “pocket veto.”

The core issue now is whether the Legislature has legally “adjourned,” a status ordinarily declared with a legal term called “sine die” — Latin for “without day” — which is invoked by the Legislature when it concludes the business of a session and does not plan to return.

That has not happened. But LePage’s office points to an order passed in the House and Senate on June 30, saying the Legislature would adjourn until the call of the House speaker and Senate president. Because they passed this order, LePage’s office says he can hold the bills.

“The Legislature can choose to meet for at least three days now, or they can wait until they come back January,” said LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett in a news release Wednesday morning. 

“Either way, they'll have ample time to thoughtfully consider these vetoes, rather than rushing through them in another veto-override spree without understanding what they are voting on,”she said.

Legislative leaders, however, declare they're still in session, and the 19 bills are now law, because the Legislature hasn't officially adjourned “sine die.”

When lawmakers left the State House on June 30, they made clear their intention to return to work on July 16 to take up LePage’s vetoes. After that, they planned to adjourn “sine die.” Until then, legislative leaders consider the House and Senate to be “at ease,” but not adjourned.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, was blunt in his assessment of the governor’s interpretation of the constitution.

“The Constitution and historical precedent make clear that these bills are law, ” Eves said in prepared statement. “The governor is wrong.”

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said that if LePage tries to return vetoes to the House on July 16, that have already been on his desk for more than 10 days, the House will not take them up.

“If he delivers vetoes to the clerk of the House, they won’t be in order,” McCabe said Wednesday. “Those bills are law. … The governor has an opportunity to be part of the process. I may not like that he vetoes bills, but that’s his right. But to play these games is ridiculous.”

Among the bills that LePage has held for more than 10 days is LD 369, which would guarantee asylum seekers in Maine eligibility for General Assistance — a program that provides money for existential expenses such as shelter, food and heat.

LePage has sought to make such legally present immigrants ineligible under his interpretation of federal law, and lawmakers expected him to veto the bill. There was a very real chance that House Republicans could have sustained his veto.

Depending on the outcome of the current debate over “adjournment,” Democrats could score a big win. The bill is a big priority for Democrats and, if their argument wins the day, LD 369 would become law without House Republicans getting a chance to kill it.

Civil liberties activists are joining the cause against LePage’s action. Zachary Heiden, legal director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, said that LePage’s read on the Constitution is wrong.

“The first regular session is still in session, and they’re trying to look at a couple words in the Constitution out of context, but the law in Maine is that when they’re in session, he has 10 days,” Heiden said. “He has shown — very ably — the ability to veto things within 10 days when he doesn’t want them to become law.”

Heiden pointed out that the Legislature “adjourns” temporarily nearly every week during a session, to allow lawmakers to go home before returning to work after the weekend. 

Historically, “adjournment” as referenced in the Constitution has always been interpreted to mean sine die adjournment at the end of a session.

If it were not, Heiden said, LePage would have nearly unlimited time to veto bills during a session, because the 10-day clock would restart every time the Legislature recessed for a day or a weekend. That’s clearly not what’s intended by the Constitution, he said.

“That’s not what adjourns means in this context,” he said. “This is a frivolous legal argument.”

The Sutherland Statutes and Statutory Construction, which is generally accepted as a core text on statutory construction and interpretation by the American Bar Association, supports the argument by legislative Democrats that LePage’s clock has run out.

“The term adjournment as used in the constitutional provisions is generally held to relate to final adjournment rather than temporary adjournment or recess,” Sutherland states. “Thus, a return of a bill after a temporary recess does not prevent the bill from becoming law.”

The governor’s office, however, is maintaining this action is well within the law.

“The governor and chief legal counsel have carefully reviewed the chief executive’s authority within the state of Maine Constitution,” said spokeswoman Bennett, in her statement Wednesday. 

“Rest assured, the governor will take appropriate action and the bills will be delivered to the 127th Legislature, in accordance with the state of Maine Constitution,”

If lawmakers hold their ground that the bills in question are already law, and LePage holds his ground saying they are not, a court may have to intervene.

Meanwhile, nothing is getting done in Maine.....while wasting time and waiting for the semantics games to be resolved. On the other hand, Maine's political acrimony will cost tax payers money, while the courts take up precious docket time, to fix the Governor's mess.

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