AUGUSTA — It was supposed to be the so-called “short” session of Maine’s part-time, citizen, two-year Legislature. No two-year state budget to build, no major overhauls of state law to go after. Only emergency bills, things critical to the function of government or the safety of the state, were to be on the docket – if past tradition were to dictate.

Instead, partisan standoffs – especially in the House – dragged the 128th Legislature into the dog days of August, and lawmakers will now return well after Labor Day to consider any final vetoes by Gov. Paul LePage.

Late Thursday, the Legislature finished the bulk of its important work, more than eight months after it started in January and only two months before voters go to the polls to elect the next Legislature in November. It was supposed to be done in April, but the session was prolonged by disputes over everything.

There were battles over typographical errors in law already passed, school funding and extensive debates over banning conversion therapy and outlawing female genital mutilation. There was gridlock over funding clean election candidates and even a breakdown over extending the legislative session to provide more work time. These conflicts left a near evenly divided Legislature in a partisan paralysis.

“Make no mistake, there are people that are very, very disappointed that we find ourselves here and I am one of them,” outgoing Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport said late Thursday night.

Thibodeau had stepped down from the Senate rostrum to speak from his seat on the floor to explain why he was going to vote for a routine bill correcting mistakes in laws already approved by the Legislature – despite the fact it had been stripped of a fix to a typographical error affecting funding for the state’s Clean Election Act.

“I have no desire at all to celebrate the fact that we are going to finish up our work today and then in 10 days we can come back for a veto and then finally adjourn the 128th Legislature,” he said. “I am disappointed. This work should have been done in April, yet we found a way to make the most nonpartisan bill a partisan bill – something that was to be negotiated for.”

House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, speaks Thursday during a debate at the State House. The Legislature had been in recess for a period but returned to work on unfinished business. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Thibodeau, who is finishing his fourth term and cannot seek reelection because of Maine’s term limits law, said the late adjournment, which won’t come until sometime after Sept. 11 – will likely go in the record books as one of the latest adjournment dates in state history. The last time the Legislature adjourned in September was in 1996, when lawmakers came in for a three-day special session, according to the Legislative Law Library.

The long haul of 2018 follows a lengthy first session in 2017 that featured a three-day government shutdown in July when lawmakers could not reach a compromise on the state’s two-year budget.

With hundreds of bills left unfinished, the 128th Legislature had to adjourn its second regular session on May 2 after Republicans in the House refused to vote for a four-day extension. Lawmakers returned on June 19 for a special session to finish key legislation, including a bill to align Maine’s income tax code with the new federal tax code.

That bill, which received initial approval in April and was a top priority for LePage and his fellow Republicans, was finally sent to the governor with unanimous support late Thursday.

Sen. Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, chairman of the Taxation Committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, called the vote on it Thursday, “by far the most important vote this year.”

“All Maine taxpayers will benefit from tax conformity,” Dow said of the legislation that languished on the Legislature’s table for five months.

Also on Thursday, lawmakers approved additional funding for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to conduct the state’s first ranked-choice general election of candidates for Congress in November. Dunlap had asked lawmakers to fund the transition to the first-in-the-nation ranked choice system with $1.5 million during the 2017 budget-writing session.

But the funding was not included in the budget, and for much of this year the new voting system has been under legal siege by Republican candidates and party officials, who fought an unsuccessful battle to kill it.

The bill Thursday night to provide additional funds for the Nov. 6 ranked-choice election had bipartisan support, but did not get a two-thirds margin that would protect it from a LePage veto.

Maine Political Report



Dunlap said Friday that the vote was an important acknowledgment.

“I think the sentiment in the Legislature – even amongst opponents of ranked-choice voting – was that the state has to pay its bills. For us, that was gratifying,” he said.

LePage’s office declined to comment on the ranked-choice funding bill Friday.

The measure provides Dunlap with $334,330 to print ranked-choice ballots, lease and purchase ballot tabulating machines and software, and cover the costs of a courier services needed to transport ballots to Augusta for tabulation.

Some of the most outspoken Republican opponents of the ballot-box law said it was clear the state needed to fund the election in November. Those opponents included Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, a member of the Appropriations Committee.

He said if the state didn’t make timely payments to vendors who provide ballots, voting machines or software, then taxpayers could be on the hook for an additional $10,000 a month in interest payments to those vendors.

“I learned a long time ago that I’m either going to pay the bill now or I’m going to pay the bill later, but I’m going to pay the bill,” Timberlake said.

The cost to taxpayers for the 128th Legislature is likely to be sizable as well, although an estimate for the current special session was not immediately available Friday. Legislative officials have previously said that the cost of per diem lodging, food and travel allowances,  not including legislator pay, averages about $96,000 every five days lawmakers are at work.