- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine lawmakers adjourned Thursday after refusing to consider dozens of vetoes that Republican Gov. Paul LePage attempted to return to the Legislature, leaving the fate of 65 measures hanging in the balance as the governor prepares to take the issue to court.

LePage’s staff hand-delivered stacks of veto messages to the House and Senate Thursday as lawmakers packed the halls of the Statehouse to conclude a lengthy legislative session that has been dominated by fights over taxes and welfare. But legislators swiftly returned the papers to the Revisor’s Office, saying LePage missed his chance to take action on the bills.

“These are no longer bills. They are now law,” Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves told lawmakers when House Republican Leader Ken Fredette inquired why LePage’s vetoes were being ignored. “The governor cannot veto a law.”

The Legislature’s action sets the stage for a legal fight over the bills that will likely extend well into the fall.

The measures have already been written into law, but LePage has said that he won’t enforce them and told reporters earlier in the day that if the Legislature doesn’t consider his vetoes, he will take the issue to the Maine Supreme Court.

He argues that because lawmakers adjourned last month, the usual 10-day deadline to act on bills doesn’t apply.

But Attorney General Janet Mills sided with lawmakers in an opinion last week, saying that the governor’s argument would work only if lawmakers had adjourned for the year. While lawmakers adjourned June 30, they had been planning all along to return in July.

While LePage suffered a defeat on that front, he scored a huge victory Thursday when the Republicans in the Democratic-controlled House sustained his veto of a bill that sought to force him to release more than $11 million in voter-approved bonds for land conservation projects. About $6.5 million of those bonds will soon expire, putting several projects at risk.

The bill, which was not among LePage’s 65 vetoes, sought to prevent the governor from using bonds as political leverage by removing the requirement that he sign off on bonds for them to be sold.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz said that no one, including the governor, should be able to disregard the will of the people, who approved the bonds for these land conservation projects at the ballot box.

“This question is very simple: Will we respect the will of the people or won’t we?” said Katz, who introduced the bill. “It’s remarkable the lengths that some will go to ignore that will.”

Several lawmakers stressed that while they don’t support the governor’s decision to withhold the bonds, they don’t believe that this bill is the solution. They said taking away the governor’s ability to decide when to issue bonds would put taxpayer dollars and the state’s credit rating at risk.

Richard Rosen, commissioner of the Department of Administration and Financial Services, echoed those concerns in a letter to lawmakers, urging them to sustain the governor’s veto.

“I fully appreciate that at this exact moment, there is an intense disagreement between the governor and some in the Legislature regarding the issuance of a handful of bonds,” Rosen said. “I think it’s simply too much to let the passions of this current disagreement result in the dramatic alternation of the bonding process that has served the State well for many years.”

LePage introduced a last-minute bill Wednesday that sought to extend the life of the $6.5 million in bonds for one year. But lawmakers questioned whether that move would be constitutional and amended it Thursday to direct the governor to sign and issue the voter-approved bonds before they expire.

If LePage vetoes that bill, lawmakers will likely wait until January to try to overturn his veto.

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Follow Alanna Durkin at http://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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