Wednesday, March 12, 2014
4:39 p.m. -- The House just completed the second override, voting 110-30 to pass L.D. 1132, a bill designed to provide funding for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Council.
4:34 p.m. -- The House voted 125-17 to override L.D. 415, the cellphone privacy bill. It's the first completed override of the day in 30 veto votes.
The bill requires police to get warrants to access location information from cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices, barring emergencies such as threats of bodily harm. It would require police to tell people within three days that they have obtained information about them from their cellphone providers.
It would delay the notice requirement for 180 days at a time when notice would have an "adverse result" on an investigation.
The debate was relatively short. Several members of the Judiciary Committee echoed concerns expressed by Attorney General Janet Mills and law enforcement that the proposal could hinder criminal investigations.
However, privacy advocates won the day.
Rep. Mark Dion, D-Portland, a former police officer said obtaining a warrant wasn't difficult, but served as a check on police. He said it was only hard to get a warrant on television, "because they only have 32 minutes to solve a crime," a comment that drew laughter from the chamber.
4:11 p.m. -- Add L.D. 1263 to the short list of bills that could be passed over the objection of Gov. Paul LePage.
The bill would increase the registration fee for snowmobiles and use the extra money to help maintain snowmobile trails. LePage vetoed the bill because of the fee increase.
On Tuesday the House voted 102-41 to override the governor's veto. The bill now moves to the Senate for a final override vote.
The proposal is sponsored Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, and increases the annual registration fee from $40 to $45 for Maine residents and from $88 to $110 for nonresidents.
Nonresidents can purchase a three-day registration. That fee would increase from $43 to $50, under the bill.
Currently, $7 from each resident's fee goes to the Snowmobile Trail Fund, which is managed by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The additional $5 from each registration would go into that fund as well.
The increased fees are projected to generate an additional $487,000 in the next fiscal year and an additional $638,000 in 2014-15.
The bill passed 97-40 in the House late Monday. All Democrats who were present voted for the measure and 13 Republicans joined them. The Senate passed the bill 22-13 on Tuesday, with support from all Democrats and from Republicans Patrick Flood of Winthrop and Gary Plummer of Windham.
The Snowmobile Trail Fund's revenue comes from registration fees and a portion of the state's fuel tax.
3:08 p.m. -- The House is preparing to resume after a short break, the Senate is expected to do the same. There are more veto votes coming, but here's the tally from the morning session:
* 21 veto votes, 19 votes to sustain. The two override votes in the Senate on L.D. 415, the cellphone privacy bill, and L.D. 1132, a bill that designed to provide funding for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Council, will now go to the House. Two-thirds support of those present and voting is required to complete the override.
1:45 p.m. -- The House of Representatives voted to sustain Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would raise Maine's minimum wage to $9 an hour by 2016 and link it to inflation thereafter.
Democrats had pushed the bill to the governor’s desk on mostly party line votes.
On Tuesday, Republicans backed the governor’s veto. The House voted 89-54 to override the veto, but came up seven votes short.
The bill was opposed by the state business community, including two influential groups, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
LePage, in his veto message, said the bill was reflected “the misguided priorities of Augusta.”
He wrote, “Too many people are worried about the bare minimum, wages or otherwise. It is time to aim higher than the minimum.”
The bill would have phased in the wage increase, to $8 an hour in 2014, $8.50 an hour in 2015 and $9 an hour in 2016. The inflation indexing would begin in 2017.
About 20,000 workers were paid at or below minimum wage in Maine in 2011, according to the state Department of Labor.
Opponents argued that the bill was well-intentioned but wouldn't help low-income earners because it would make it harder for businesses to hire young and low-skilled people entering the work force.
Maine is one of 18 states with minimum wages above the federal minimum of $7.25, according to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. Twenty-three other states are weighing legislation to increase their minimum wages, according to an assessment by the National Conference of State Legislatures on Feb. 13.
The liberal Economic Policy Institute recently projected that increasing the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour would generate $60 billion in new household spending in two years.
However, some economists have argued that raising the minimum wage during a recession would stunt business growth and make it more difficult for businesses to hire young, inexperienced and unskilled workers.
1 p.m. -- Civil libertarians may have won a victory with L.D. 415, the cellphone privacy bill, but they lost on drones.
The Senate voted to sustain the governor’s veto of L.D. 236, a bill that would have required police to obtain a warrant in most cases before using unmanned aircraft, or drones, for surveillance on Maine residents. The 18-15 vote was four votes shy of the two-thirds required for an override.
Despite a fair amount of bipartisan support, the bill faced long odds. The version enacted last month was put forward by a minority of the Judiciary Committee and backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine.
It would prohibit a law-enforcement agency from using a drone to collect information about a person without a warrant, court order or consent from the person, except in an emergency. It was later amended to add a moratorium on drone use by law enforcement, except in emergency situations, until July 2015.
Maine Attorney General Janet Mills opposed the version that reached the governor’s desk. LePage, in his veto message, wrote that he planned to sign an executive order directing his public safety commissioner to establish guidelines surround the law enforcement use of drones. But L.D. 236, LePage wrote, went to far and would encourage lawsuits.
“Creating more litigation will do nothing to help our overburdened court system, especially when we do not have a drone problem in Maine,” he wrote. “The simple fact is that we are raising taxes and still not fully staffing the State Police; buying drones is a long way off. If interest groups have significant concerns about government using drones inappropriately, they should begin with Washington.”
12:39 p.m. -- Democrats’ saw two attempts to amend the health insurance overhaul law passed by Republicans in 2011 go down in flames in the House on Tuesday.
The first, L.D. 161, was vetoed by LePage on June 28. On Tuesday, Republicans in the House helped sustain the governor’s veto as the override attempt fell nine votes short in a 85-55 vote.
The bill was designed to change the 2011 law, also known as PL 90, by creating a single rating area for health insurance companies. Democrats had argued that the 2011 law penalized small businesses in rural communities because insurance companies could charge higher premiums based on age and geography.
The bill passed the House, 83-57, with three Republicans (all from rural areas) voting with the Democratic majority. The bill passed the Senate 22-13 with two Republicans voting with Democrats.
In his veto message, LePage said the bill favored “more government bureaucracy over our insurance markets” and “removed individual choices” “to promote central government planning in Augusta.”
A majority of House Republicans agreed. They also backed the governor’s veto of L.D. 225, which would have beefed up the state’s rate review process of health insurance plans. Democrats argued that insurance companies can jack up rates without a thorough public review.
The measure came up nine votes short of an override in a 89-53 vote.
LePage, in his veto message, said requiring the state’s insurance chief to review rates would not protect against unjustified rate hikes. “The simple fact is Maine law already has significant protections against unfair rates and burying filings with red tape will not add to those protections,” he said.
12:21 p.m. -- The Senate voted 22-11 to override the governor’s veto of L.D. 415, a bill that would make Maine the first state to require police to get warrants to access location information from cellphones or other GPS-enabled devices, barring emergencies such as threats of bodily harm.
The bill is sponsored by Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta. It would require police to tell people within three days that they have obtained information about them from their cellphone providers.
It would delay the notice requirement for 180 days at a time when notice would have an "adverse result" on an investigation.
The bill was a priority for civil libertarians, but it was rejected by the Legislature's Judiciary Committee amid concerns from the Attorney General's Office that it could dissuade police from using location information as an investigative tool.
LePage echoed those concerns, writing in his veto message, that the bill went too far.
“To obtain location data on a cell phone currently, police obtain a court order,” LePage wrote. “This allows them to access historic – not real-time – location data. Many crimes we all know about would not have been solved, or would have taken significantly more man-hours, if this law had been in place.”
The Senate disagreed, hitting the two-thirds mark for the override. The bill now moves to the House for the decisive vote on the veto.
12:03 p.m. -- The governor is now 6-for-6 in vetoes in the Senate.
The Senate sustained his veto of he L.D. 703, "An Act To Make Post-conviction Possession of Animals a Criminal Offense.” The bill would have increased automatic penalties for those committing crimes against animals.
LePage said the bill was "legislative overreach" and removed judicial discretion to assess penalties.
Democrats voted 18-15 to override the veto, but were four votes short of the two-thirds threshold.
The Senate also sustained the governor's veto of L.D. 1103, "An Act To Encourage Development in the Logging Industry.”
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who has attempted to push back against the forest products industry's use of Canadian loggers. Jackson has argued that the practice puts Maine loggers out of work.
LePage had a different view: "This bill is part of a coordinated attack on Maine’s forest products industry. ... I cannot fathom why we would want to leave land vulnerable to forest fires to score political points. Letting land burn will harm loggers, landowners, tourists, sportsmen, and countless others. Are political games really worth that?"
Democrats, who are down two members Tuesday, voted 17-16 to override the veto, but were five votes short.
11:51 a.m. -- Democrats have tabled two override votes that have previously garnered Republican support, L.D. 890 ("An Act To Buy American-made Products") and L.D. 1181 (“An Act To Further Strengthen the Protection of Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals”).
Those votes will take place later Tuesday.
11:41 a.m. -- Gov. Paul LePage is 4-for-4 on vetoes in the Senate.
Republicans sided with the governor on four different bills, L.D. 1232 (“An Act To Maintain the Integrity of the Fund for a Healthy Maine.”), L.D. 745 (“An Act To Promote Sustainable Food Policies”) and L.D. 443 (“An Act To Amend the Maine Workers' Compensation Act of 1992 To Provide Benefits to Seriously Injured Workers").
The most contentious override debate came on L.D. 443, which attempted to rollback changes passed by the previous Legislature when Republicans were in control.
LePage said the bill “weakens standards that require individuals seeking compensation to search for a job.”
The bill passed along party lines in the House and without a vote in the Senate last month.
On Tuesday, it fell 5 votes short during a 17-16 vote to override the governor’s veto.
9:27 a.m. -- Expect a flurry of activity at the State House Tuesday as lawmakers attempt to put the finishing touches on a long legislative session. At the center of attention will be votes on 21 vetoes issued by Gov. Paul LePage Monday evening.
The 21 vetoes issued by the governor on Monday brings his total this session to 82, the most by any governor in at least 40 years and shattering the known record of 49 set by independent Gov. James Longley in 1977. There are other bills awaiting action by the governor, so there could be a new veto total by the end of Tuesday.
There will be several pushes by Democrats to override the governor's vetoes, including on a bill that would gradually raise the state's minimum wage from $7.50 to $9 an hour, another changing the public funding allocation for charter schools, regulatory changes to the state health insurance regulations and a bill that would prioritize American-made products for state purchases. There will also be an attempt to override his veto of L.D. 1181, a bill designed to bolster the state program phasing out toxic chemicals in children's products.
Less partisan measures include votes on the governor's veto of bills regulating police use of drones and cell phone data.
The Legislature has sustained all but three of the governor's vetoes this session.
I'll live-blog the votes, which will bounce between the House and the Senate. The action begins in the House, which is scheduled to take up 11 vetoes this morning. The Senate will go in around 10 a.m. to vote on 15 different vetoes.
Overriding a veto requires more than two-thirds of the members present and voting. An override requires seperate two-thirds votes in the House and the Senate, so if an override vote fails in one chamber the bill dies without a second vote.
There are live audio and video feeds for the House and Senate, but if you prefer the nuts and bolts, here's my Twitter list combining the actions in both chambers (they update in real time). Also, the governor's most recent veto messages have been uploaded to Google Drive here and here. The complete list of his veto messages, as well as the bill's he's signed, are on the governor's website.Tweet
Steve Mistler covers politics and government for the Portland Press Herald. He spends a lot of time in the hallways of the State House.