AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage asked the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Friday to review whether 65 bills he tried to veto have become law, a widely anticipated step that should settle a contentious political dispute with the Legislature.

Lawmakers rejected LePage’s effort to veto the bills during the final day of the legislative session Thursday, arguing that the governor had missed his opportunity to veto the legislation within the time outlined in the Maine Constitution. The contested bills affect many policy areas, including General Assistance for asylum seekers, expanded use of a medication to treat drug overdoses, property tax breaks for Vietnam War veterans and birth control for MaineCare recipients.

The 65 bills were among a group of 70 that most legislative leaders and Attorney General Janet Mills say have become law because LePage missed his 10-day window for acting on them. Each piece of legislation has been written into law by the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes.

LePage disagrees, and Friday he submitted a formal request to the state’s top court to intervene.

“Now that the Legislature has refused to consider the vetoes, my constitutional duty as governor to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed’ is in question,” LePage said in the request. “I must know whether my vetoes stand.”

LePage’s request asks the court to declare what is known as a “solemn occasion,” and is designed to settle disputes between the legislative and executive branch. It is the second request for a solemn occasion by the governor this year.

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The court could refuse or accept the request to intervene. A spokeswoman for the court indicated this week that the justices may seek legal briefs laying out both sides of the argument.

It’s unclear when the court will act. Earlier this year, justices took about two months to respond to another “solemn occasion” request from LePage related to a conflict with Attorney General Janet Mills.

LePage contends that he was prevented from returning the 70 bills to the Legislature when it adjourned June 30. He says that adjournment triggered a constitutional provision that allows a governor to hold bills until the Legislature reconvenes for three consecutive days.

Mills and legislative leaders counter that their intention on June 30 was to return July 16 to take up the governor’s vetoes. Mills also has argued that the Legislature determines when it adjourns, not the governor.

The governor is asking the court to define the type of adjournment that prevents bills from being returned, whether the Legislature’s action on June 30 triggered the provision allowing him to hold bills until lawmakers had reconvened for three days, and whether the 65 bills he tried to return were properly considered by the Legislature.

Unless the Maine Supreme Judicial Court sides with LePage, the bills that have become law will remain in force.

LePage has acknowledged that he issued a historic number of vetoes – nearly 170 this session – as retribution for lawmakers rejecting most of his policy initiatives. The Legislature has overturned more than 120 of the vetoes this session.

 


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