April 3, 2013

Maine House votes to override LePage veto, but Senate one vote short

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — The Maine House of Representatives voted Wednesday to override Gov. Paul LePage's first veto of the legislative session.

However, the governor's veto was sustained in the Senate despite a subsequent 23-12 vote to override. 

Both moves came one day after LePage's veto of L.D. 49, a bill that would require state and federal agencies and private companies to honor payment agreements with county registers of deeds. The bill had received unanimous support by the Legislature, but the votes in the House and Senate did not meet the two-thirds requirement for a full veto override. 

The Senate margin was one vote shy of the override threshold.

In his veto message, LePage said he was concerned that relatively minor bills "that clarify how government takes money from its citizens make it to my desk early in the session, while those that deal with major issues facing our state await action.”

The message was presumably a reference to the governor's bill that would be used to repay $484 million in backlogged Medicaid reimbursement payments to Maine's hospitals. The bill is currently being considered by the Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, but LePage has threatened to veto any bill that hits his desk until lawmakers pass the hospital payback plan. 

His veto on Tuesday was the first time he followed through on that threat. 

The override vote in the House Wednesday was 136-6. House Republican leader Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, noted in floor remarks that this was the first time Republicans overrode the governor.

No Republicans spoke prior to the Senate vote.

Fredette also noted that lawmakers needed to continue working with LePage on legislation – another apparent reference to the hospital issue. 

The governor's hospital bill and a competing measure sponsored by Democratic leader Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, are still being considered by the veterans committee. Goodall and committee members have expressed interest in combining the two bills.

The registry of deeds bill has been described by supporters as a housekeeping measure designed to make sure state and federal agencies pay agreed-upon fees to counties on time.  The proposal was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, and several Republican lawmakers. 

The bill requires that fees for recording a document with a register of deeds by a company, state or federal agency or department that has an automatic deposit agreement must be paid within 10 days in accordance with that agreement.

During a public hearing on the bill, Susan Bulay, the Penobscot County Registrar of Deeds, said state and federal agencies normally make timely payments, but electronic payments from contracted e-file companies did not always arrive when registries recorded titles, mortgages or other documents.

LePage noted in his veto message that the bill may have merits but that the state didn't need "laws explaining how government is supposed to take money; we need action to restore our economy and put Mainers back to work.”

Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, said in a press statement that the governor's veto was "senseless."

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