Saturday, March 8, 2014
From staff reports
A proposal by Gov. Paul LePage to divert $300,000 from the Attorney General's Office to the executive branch may violate state law, according to the state's top lawyer.
The governor's $6.3 billion two-year budget proposal includes a measure that cuts by more than 50 percent a relatively obscure spending line in the Attorney General's Office budget. The LePage administration says the money will be used for legal cases in which the attorney general declines to represent the state.
But Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, told the Legislature's budget-writing committee Friday that the budget move may be illegal because it violates a provision of state law that says that the attorney general must represent the state whenever it's involved in a legal proceeding.
The governor's proposal may not go far in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. However, if it passes it would cut into a line in the Attorney General's Office budget that typically pays for expert testimony in homicide cases, computers, telephones and travel stipends for investigators.
Adrienne Bennett, LePage's spokeswoman, said the governor's office needed contingency legal funds if there were ever a time when the attorney general declined to represent the executive branch.
There could be an instance in which LePage, a Republican, and Mills, a Democrat, disagree.
For example, Mills has questioned the constitutionality of the governor's proposal to use a revenue bond to pay back Maine's hospitals $484 million in backlogged Medicaid reimbursements. The LePage administration believes the proposal is legal, although it has introduced an amendment to the hospital plan to address Mills' constitutional concerns.
Bennett said the money would not be diverted to another agency, only to the Office of the Governor. That office includes the Office of Policy Management, a new agency with subpoena and investigative powers that is charged with finding $1 million in savings throughout state government. Former Attorney General William Schneider is on the OPM staff.
The bill that would permanently shield identifying data on concealed-weapons permits from the public is scheduled for a work session Thursday, after which it should go back to the Legislature for a vote.
Supporters of L.D. 345 have argued that someone who has the names and addresses of permit holders could make that information widely available -- as a New York newspaper did in December when it published an interactive map of everyone in two counties who had a handgun permit.
Interestingly, less attention has been paid to a bill that would actually create a database of all Maine permit holders. That measure, L.D. 189, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, would make the database available only to police, the courts and bail commissioners.
The National Rifle Association opposes it.
Police, however, have said they'd like better access to permit-holder information. With an increase in requests in recent years, there are likely more than 40,000 permits in Maine.
Records of permits exist in different places in the state -- with state police, municipal police departments and town offices in small communities. If police ever need it, it's hard to know where to go.
The state's most influential gun-rights group, the Sportsman's Alliance of Maine, will likely oppose Marks' bill, Executive Director David Trahan said.
Trahan said he thinks police should have data, but a statewide database would be costly and duplicative.
"We much prefer the current process," he said. "All that information is in the local communities."
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