AUGUSTA — About 20 bills, some of which Gov. Paul LePage opposed, appear to be on track to become law because the governor never took action on them within the 10 days he had to do so.

Among the bills are one that would allow immigrants seeking asylum in the United States to receive General Assistance welfare benefits for two years, and others that would prohibit the shackling of pregnant women prisoners and reduce criminal penalties for certain drug crimes. All were once opposed by the LePage administration but never vetoed within the 10-day period after passage by the Legislature.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine released a statement saying the bills will become law, and a high-ranking Democratic lawmaker agreed.

Why the governor took no action on the bills could not be confirmed Tuesday night.

But the Bangor Daily News reported that LePage was attempting to “pocket veto” the measures by taking no action on them.

Suzanne Gresser, Maine’s revisor of statutes, said that as of Monday, about 20 bills hadn’t been returned to her office within 10 days of passage for chaptering as required under Maine law. Gresser declined to comment on the practical implications of LePage’s move, but provided a full list of those bills.

Under typical circumstances, the governor has 10 days to either sign a bill or veto it after it receives the Legislature’s approval. If the bill is vetoed, the Legislature can override it with two-thirds votes in both chambers. If the governor takes no action, it becomes law if the Legislature is still in session.

But if the Legislature has adjourned for the year, a bill left unsigned for 10 days does not become law under most circumstances, according to the “Maine’s Path of Legislation” page on the state’s website.

This is called a “pocket veto,” the page says. “If the Legislature comes back into special session, the Governor on the 4th day must deliver a veto message to the chamber of origin or the bill becomes law.”

This year’s legislative session hasn’t adjourned. Lawmakers are planning to return on July 16 to consider whether to override a slew of LePage vetoes from this year’s session.

“The law is clear, the Constitution is clear: We’re still in session; we haven’t adjourned, so a pocket veto isn’t even an option,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, Tuesday night. “So in the meantime, we should celebrate these bills becoming law.”

LePage spokespeople didn’t return messages seeking comment, but the Bangor newspaper reported that spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett referred a reporter to the section outlining the pocket veto on the Legislature’s website, and quoted her as saying she was “surprised the Legislature does not understand this.”

The bill allowing aid for asylum-seeking immigrants was among the most contentious of the session, with LePage calling it one of Democrats’ many “liberal welfare policies.”

However, at least one LePage-backed welfare bill, which would suspend people from receiving General Assistance if they lie on an application, is also in the group of bills that appear on track to become law.

In its statement, the ACLU of Maine called LePage’s pocket-veto claim “invalid.”

“The Maine Constitution is clear on this,” said Zachary Heiden, the group’s legal director, in the statement. “The governor had 10 days to veto the bills, he did not veto them, and now the bills will become law.”

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 213-0182 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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