Gov. Paul LePage on Tuesday vetoed two bills relating to unemployment issues, including legislation that was designed to fix problems with the state’s controversial ReEmployME unemployment insurance filing system.

As part of 13 vetoes issued Tuesday — coming after nearly two dozen vetoes the day before — LePage vetoed L.D. 700 and L.D. 1770.

The governor took a number of shots at legislators and the bills, calling one effort a “politically motivated, ignorant intervention” while saying efforts in the other bill amount to “wage collusion among employers to keep wages low.”

The vetoes come shortly after the Government Oversight Committee agreed that the investigation into the Maine Department of Labor, to be conducted by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, would be the next priority once their review in the Department of Health and Human Services concluded. The labor department is being investigated over several concerns, including the destruction of documents about complaints that the system wasn’t working.

ReEmployME was rolled out last December, with the first phase geared toward claimants trying to file for their benefits. However, the system instantly presented problems, locking countless claimants out of the system and leaving them unable to file for their benefits for weeks and months at times.

The labor department maintained the new system was working as it should, but whistleblower information and leaked documents marked “confidential” that were obtained by the Morning Sentinel told a different story. Those accounts stated ReEmployME was rushed out despite serious concerns from people within the department, and that high-ranking officials within the department and specifically within the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation illegally ordered that records of claimant complaints be destroyed.

The department has maintained these accusations, corroborated by multiple sources, are false and have denied any wrongdoing. In multiple legislative hearings, lawmakers expressed their skepticism over these claims of innocence. The department is also planning to push forward with the next phase of ReEmployME, aimed at employers, in August.

L.D. 700, “An Act to Give Flexibility to Employees and Employers for Temporary Layoffs,” aims to make it easier for employees who are laid off temporarily from jobs but will be re-hired at the same position later in the year, according to Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford. He said this bill would have allowed employees to not have to keep filing their work search histories online in the event they are not actively looking for work and will be returning to their previous job.

In his vetoes message, LePage said L.D. 700 would “exempt a person from the core social contract and federal law underpinning unemployment: that a person collecting benefits actively look for work.”

The exemption under L.D. 700 would have been for six weeks, which Fecteau had said would provide relief to seasonal workers.

LePage wrote that unemployment insurance is “an insurance program for workers, not an entitlement, with employers paying into the Trust Fund, not employees.” He wrote the intent of the this is to protect workers, not employers, and said this bill was the opposite. He wrote that when employees lose a job through no fault of their own, they are eligible to apply for unemployment insurance benefits. He said there are three requirements for this: a person must be looking for work, able to work, and able to work if a job is offered.

“The goal of unemployment insurance is not simply to provide a temporary wage supplement — its second and equal goal is to keep workers actively connected to the labor market so that they are more easily and quickly reemployed,” LePage wrote. “Therefore, workers under Maine and federal law are required to submit proof that they have actively searched for at least one comparable job per week for each week they apply for benefits. This is not a burdensome requirement.”

LePage said shielding workers from this obligation “is akin to allowing wage collusion among employers to keep wages low.”

“By passing L.D. 700, the Legislature is telling Mainers to settle for what they have now instead of doing one work search per week for a job — one that could change their entire future — in exchange for unemployment insurance benefits,” he wrote. “No Mainer should be satisfied with settling, and government should not discourage them from seeking greater prosperity.”

The second bill, “An Act to Revise Laws Regarding Unemployment That Were Amended or Affected by Recently Enacted Legislation,” couldn’t get a two-thirds majority to pass in an emergency, but did pass in the House and Senate. L.D. 1770 required a number of things, including filling vacant positions in the Department of Labor, posting notice of the vacant positions, and creating a voicemail and call-back component for claimants. The voicemail portion later was dropped.

It also included amendments that required the department to allow claimants alternative filing methods for their work searches. The bill addressed how employers pay into the system and requires the state labor department to address concerns about filing claims using the ReEmployMe system.

In his note to legislators, LePage wrote that the bill originally sought to correct language in the biennial budget affecting the way employers were charged, and brought the department into compliance with federal requirements “by providing that initial tax appeals are handled by the Department of Labor’s Division of Administrative Hearings, rather than by the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission.”

“Instead of moving this maintenance bill forward, the committee held it hostage, adding language that did not pertain to employer chargeability without seeking the advice or consulting with any subject matter expert from the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation,” LePage wrote. “Instead, they adopted language drafted by first-term legislators who believe, erroneously, that employees pay into the unemployment system.”

LePage wrote that the labor department is responsible for the financial administration of the unemployment insurance program under a state and federal partnership.

“The Legislature’s politically motivated, ignorant intervention on this bill will result in reduced funding to the unemployment system,” LePage wrote. “The bills amendment mandates that certain positions be filled without regard to claims volume. If the Bureau’s number of employees does not correlate to workload, the federal fiscal model’s efficiency measures will penalize the state for having too high cost per claim. This will actually decrease funding.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

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Twitter: @colinoellis