AUGUSTA — A legislative committee endorsed a bill Wednesday aimed at forcing Gov. Paul LePage to allow staff members to testify before the Legislature despite the sponsor’s assertions that administrative no-shows were no longer a problem.

The 6-5 vote fell largely along party lines, with five Democrats and one independent supporting the measure and five Republicans opposed. The partisan vote is yet another sign of the distrust among Democratic and progressive lawmakers toward a Republican governor who openly disdains the Legislature and has taken to dismissing his opponents as “socialists.”

“I don’t feel that two or three weeks of appropriate conduct is enough of a sign or signal … regarding what can only be described as a dereliction of duty,” said independent Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos of Friendship.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta introduced the bill, L.D. 1560, last year after LePage limited the appearances of Cabinet-level commissioners or other staffers before the Legislature because of what the governor saw as unfair or disrespectful treatment by lawmakers. Although it was never a blanket ban, some officials provided written responses to lawmakers’ questions.

The move infuriated some lawmakers because they regard the back-and-forth process of public hearings and work sessions as key to the legislative process. Katz’s bill says that a commissioner, program director or their designee “shall appear before and participate in the public hearings and work sessions of that committee, commission or work group” if the request is made in writing. There would be no penalty for failing to comply.

Katz has been among LePage’s top targets because of the moderate Republican’s willingness to criticize the governor. Katz also co-chaired the Government Oversight Committee that investigated LePage’s role in the nonprofit Good-Will Hinckley’s decision to rescind a job offer to House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, last year. LePage dismissed the process as a “kangaroo court” and repeatedly blasted Katz.

Yet on Wednesday, Katz requested that the bill be killed because administration officials have been participating in legislative committee hearings.

“I think it is a battle that doesn’t need to be fought,” Katz told the State and Local Government Committee.

But Democrats on the committee disagreed, along with Evangelos, who was part of an unsuccessful push to impeach LePage earlier this year.

Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, said the language of the bill is “quite benign” and merely requires intra-government communication.

“Our job is to make law, and without information, we can’t do that,” Babbidge said. “And where do we get information? From the agencies of government that are within the executive branch.”

Rep. Richard Pickett, R-Dixfield, unsuccessfully urged his fellow committee members to acquiesce to Katz’s request to reject the bill.

“I would also like to think this would not become a character assassination of the chief executive here today,” Pickett said. “I don’t think that is our purpose at all.”

Two members of the committee – one Republican and one Democrat – were absent Wednesday and can still cast votes.

The bill will now go to the Senate and House floors, where it will likely spark more debate.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.