- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Maine lawmakers preserved more than a dozen bills on Thursday as they plowed through a slew of measures vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, but several others died after they failed to muster enough support to overturn the governor’s rejection.

One of the biggest victories for the Democratic-controlled Legislature was overriding the Republican governor’s veto of a bill that would fill a $32 million gap in the $6.3 billion budget and move hundreds of developmentally disabled residents off a waitlist for services in the Medicaid program, like home-based care.

LePage accused lawmakers of using “gimmicks” to balance the budget by delaying Medicaid payments to providers - a move that’s estimated to save the state $20 million.

But many Republicans bucked the governor and supported the budget bill, saying they shared they governor’s concerns but believed the spending plan would do more good than harm. That decision drew praise from Democratic lawmakers who characterized LePage, who’s vetoed a record-breaking number of bills since taking office in 2011, as an obstructionist.

“It’s really clear that Republicans are looking to compromise with Democrats,” said Assistant House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. “We’re going into an election year and it’s really clear that Republicans want to distance themselves from the governor.”

The bill sailed through the House with a 134-12 vote, followed by a unanimous vote in the Senate.

Among the other measures that will go into law is one that will require private insurance companies to provide coverage for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder for children up to age 10. Currently, companies only have to provide coverage for children ages 5 and under.

Voters will also get a chance to vote on a $12 million bond for small businesses this November after the Legislature voted to override LePage’s veto of that bill.

While Democrats saw some success, dozens of vetoes were sustained, including two last-ditch efforts to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The Legislature flew through most of the bills with little debate. But one measure that sparked a fiery partisan debate in the House would expand Medicaid coverage for things like birth control and cancer screenings to more women.

After Democrats initially failed to get enough votes to overturn LePage’s veto, they held the bill and brought it up for another vote, which is allowed under legislative rules.

That drew sharp criticism from Republicans who said the process was unfair. Several GOP lawmakers who initially supported the measure this session flipped their votes in frustration and the bill died.

Lawmakers also agreed with the governor to kill a bill to allow the state’s forest rangers to carry firearms, which supporters said was necessary to protect them from dangers they face in the field.

The House voted to override the bill with a 131-15 vote, but it fell three votes shy of the support it needed in the Senate.

LePage said he supported arming rangers, but said the proposal doesn’t provide adequate funds to properly train them.

Rep. Larry Dunphy, a Republican from Embden who sponsored the measure, said he was disappointed to see the bill fail after receiving strong bipartisan support throughout the session.

“We’re asking (rangers) to do a number of things that put them in harm’s way,” he said.

Other bills that died Thursday include one that would overhaul the state’s concealed weapons permit system and another that would cancel the administration’s contract with a group that’s reviewing Maine’s Medicaid program.


Follow Alanna Durkin on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/aedurkin

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