How Janet Mills destroyed the odd LePage veto claim

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills

On Friday, July 10, Attorney General Janet Mills made it crystal clear that Gov. LePage missed his chance to veto 19 bills. Thus those 19 bills, and since the weekend, an additional 51, have become law.

Mills responded to a statement by the governor’s counsel which said LePage had a much longer time because, according to the governor, the Legislature had adjourned.

The governor’s memo, by the way, acknowledges that LePage’s veto claim is “inconsistent” with the way adjournments usually work and goes on to say, “If there’s one thing this Governor is known for, it is not doing things a certain way just because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.'” (See p. 6, LePage memo).

LePage’s memo (p. 4) also notes that all the court rulings cited to support his view that he didn’t need to veto the bills within 10 days involved the end of session (sine die) adjournment.

But the memo then says it doesn’t matter that those cases were only about sine die adjournment. Any adjournment, per LePage, would mean he has more than 10 days to veto.

So for LePage, when the Maine Constitution says “adjournment,” it applies to an adjournment that’s a break in the legislative session and the sine die adjournment.

Mills destroys the LePage argument by pointing out how adjournment matters in the Maine Constitution

The word “adjournment” in the Maine Constitution isn’t just used to limit when bills can be vetoed.

As Mills notes, there is a formality to sine die adjournment.

Why?

The event is significant, the action intentional and formal because

it starts the clock ticking for nonemergency legislation to become law in ninety days and

it notifies citizens that they may then may commence a people’s veto effort under Article IV, Part 3, Section 17.

It also signifies that any unfinished business on the calendar automatically expires, that the Legislature does not anticipate any additional meetings and that 

it may not reconvene except by the special and and somewhat cumbersome procedures of Section 1, Article IV, Part 3. [Attorney General letter, p. 3]*

“Adjournment” — is used through the Maine Constitution and, as Mills argues, it doesn’t mean a short break one place and final adjournment elsewhere.

Think about this:

If every break the Maine Legislature took was an adjournment, as LePage claims, what would be the date when people’s veto efforts could start? When would nonemergency bills become law?

Maine has always had one date for when different nonemergency bills become law and when people’s veto efforts can start. That date varies by year, based on adjournment sine die.

Adjournment matters in the Maine Constitution for more than the veto clock. And the kind of adjournment that matters is the final, sine die, adjournment.

There’s more in the Attorney General’s statement that further undermine LePage’s claim, but, by itself, the discussion of what adjournment does itself constitutionally smashes LePage’s argument to bits.

*Layout not in original text, but shown this way to make constitutional aspects of final adjournment easier to read.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.