May 28, 2013

LePage smoking veto upheld, as trend emerges

House Republicans switching their positions on bills after a LePage veto is becoming a theme in this legislative session.

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Virtually every Republican in the House voted Tuesday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage's veto of a bill that would have prohibited smoking on all of Maine's public university and community college campuses.

click image to enlarge

In this January 2013 file photo, Dex Robbins, 21, smokes outside the Portland Public Library on Monday afternoon, January 7, 2012. Gov. LePage has successfully vetoed a bill that would have banned smoking at Maine's public college campuses.

Gabe Souza / Staff Phoptographer

click image to enlarge

In this December 2012 file photo, USM freshman Joshua Thornberg smokes at the USM-Gorham campus during a protest of a proposed smoking ban on USM campuses.

Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

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The veto of the bill, L.D. 468, sponsored by independent Rep. Benjamin Chipman of Portland, was sustained on an 85-54 vote. Though 85 legislators supported overriding LePage's veto, that was eight votes short of the two-thirds necessary for an override.

Chipman's bill, supported by health interest groups and the University of Maine System, initially met no opposition in the Legislature. It would have taken effect in August.

Only three Republicans -- Reps. Matthew Pouliot of Augusta, Stacey Guerin of Glenburn and Amy Volk of Scarborough -- went against the governor Tuesday, while 52 Republicans and two Democrats supported the veto.

House Republicans' switching positions on bills after vetoes is becoming a theme in this legislative session. So far, none of LePage's vetoes has been overturned despite Democratic majorities in both chambers.

Earlier this month, the House upheld the governor's veto of a bill that would have prevented cities and towns from requiring that school superintendents live in their districts. Lawmakers overwhelmingly supported the bill before it went to LePage.

Pouliot, a co-sponsor of that bill, was one of only four Republicans who bucked LePage. Six Democrats voted against the bill initially, then switched to support the override.

Last week, all of the Republicans present voted to uphold LePage's veto of a bill calling for a study of how the state addresses the housing needs of developmentally disabled residents.

A legislative committee endorsed the bill unanimously and the Legislature passed it without dissent. But all 55 Republicans who voted on the override sustained LePage's veto.

The campus smoking ban had a public hearing in February, when a University of Maine official said five of the system's seven campuses were tobacco-free and the other two soon would be.

The University of Maine in Orono was the first to adopt such a policy, in January 2012. The University of Maine at Machias and the University of Maine at Presque Isle -- the two campuses where tobacco is still permitted -- are scheduled to enact tobacco-free policies by September and January, respectively.

Also in February, John Fitzsimmons, president of the Maine Community College System, said all of that system's campuses were "on a path" to become tobacco-free.

In his veto message last week to the Legislature, LePage said anti-smoking advocates "should bring a bill forward to simply outlaw tobacco altogether."

"It would be simpler and more consistent than passing more and more legislation, creating a patchwork of laws and locations where tobacco can and cannot be used," he wrote.

After the veto, Chipman said he thought he governor didn't understand the bill.

"He said he doesn't want a patchwork of policies and that's what this is designed to fix," Chipman said. "I'm quite frankly surprised and quite disappointed that the governor chose to veto a bill that is aimed at the health of our campuses."

Michael Shepherd can be reached at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter:@mikeshepherdme

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