Gov. Janet Mills announced Tuesday that she will not sign any of the 35 bills enacted and sent to her by the Senate on Friday, effectively allowing them to die through what’s known as a pocket veto.

Mills said the lawmakers may have lacked the legal authority to send her additional bills after the Legislature’s statutory adjournment date of April 17 and expressed concern about the precedent it would set.

In a letter to lawmakers, Mills cited the unprecedented number of spending bills that were enacted by the Senate’s Democratic majority on a day that is usually reserved for override votes on gubernatorial vetoes and other limited bipartisan business.

“This is not a decision that I have reached lightly, especially given that I see value in – and would support – many of these bills otherwise,” Mills said.

The Maine Constitution requires lawmakers to set their adjournment dates in state statute. That statute requires the second session to end on the third Wednesday of April, which was the 17th this year. Lawmakers are allowed to return once more to try to overturn or sustain any bills vetoed by the governor.

Lawmakers have the option of voting to extend the session for up to 10 days or to call a special session to finish their work. Mills noted that lawmakers also could have changed the adjournment date by enacting an emergency change in state law, which would have required a two-thirds vote in the Legislature.

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But none of these things happened, and instead the Senate advanced additional bills on what is known as “veto day.”

“The consideration and enactment of dozens of additional spending bills on veto day, without support from two-thirds of each body, appears to be without precedent in the history of the Maine Legislature,” Mills wrote. “Operating in this way leaves me gravely concerned because it is an erosion of important norms that are central to the conduct of public business and the creation of public policy.”

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Senate Democratic floor leaders, Eloise Vitelli, of Arrowsic, and Mattie Daughtry, of Brunswick, accused the governor of overstepping her authority by claiming the bills were not legally enacted – a determination they said should have been left to the courts.

SENATE LEADERS PUSH BACK

“The governor is well within her right to veto the Legislation but she owns that veto,” they said. “To cast aspersions on the Legislature or claim that the Legislature acted inappropriately, is not only wrong but not for (the) Chief Executive to determine.

“Despite this setback, we remain tremendously proud of what the 131st Maine Legislature accomplished over the past two years for the people of Maine on issues from affordable housing to child care.”

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A spokesperson for House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, said “the speaker is deeply disappointed that these initiatives will not be funded.”

During legislative sessions, bills that are not signed or vetoed by the governor automatically become law. But once a legislative session ends, bills that are not signed simply die, and there is no opportunity for lawmakers to overturn a pocket veto.

The suite of funding bills sent to Mills amid the acrimonious end of the 131st Legislature include several high-profile measures, including requiring better tracking and storage of evidence in possible rape cases, and establishing a civil rights unit in the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

Others bills would have required insurance companies to cover the costs of nonprescription contraceptives, provided free access to state parks for indigenous people and sought to identify unknown human remains.

“Signing any of these bills, no matter how much I may see value in some of them, would send the message that the Legislature is allowed to flaunt its own self-imposed and constitutionally imposed limitations, which would create a precedent for future Legislatures to do the same, and subject the bills to the threat of serious legal challenge,” Mills wrote.

It’s unclear why the additional spending bills were not voted on earlier in the session when they might have won Mills’ support. Democrats control the House of Representatives, Senate and the Blaine House, and by extension the budget process, so they could have either included some of these bills in the supplemental budget or voted on them individually before statutory adjournment.

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‘WE RAN OUT OF TIME’

Sen. Margaret Rotundo, a Lewiston Democrat and budget committee co-chair, said in a written statement that the bills weren’t added to the supplemental budget because the budget was finalized so late in the session. She also noted that the second session was supposed to be limited to emergencies and balancing the budget, though presiding officers and caucus leaders decide which new bills can be introduced in a short session.

Lawmakers considered over 250 new bills in the second session, in addition to those carried over from the first session.

“A supplemental budget is just that – its purpose is to deal with emergencies and to make changes that keep the budget in balance,” Rotundo said. “It is not a vehicle into which you put a ton of new initiatives. …

“We ran out of time at the end of the session. There was not resolution to the budget until around midnight on the night we adjourned.”

Lawmakers, particularly in the House, delayed action on many controversial bills until late in the session.

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Democrats also had to redo their own budget after a series of last-minute changes drew strong pushback from Mills and some fellow Democrats, as well as from Republicans. Those changes included using money earmarked for highway projects to fund other bills, reducing aid to dairy farmers and rolling back income tax relief for pensioners.

Jackson also was working on a last-minute effort to add a nearly $64 million amendment to a standalone bill introduced by the governor to spend $60 million to repair damage from a series of winter storms and help impacted businesses.

Talbot Ross spokesperson Mary-Erin Casale pushed back on the notion that the bills could have been included in the budget.

“The supplemental contained a number of Democratic priorities – including significant investments in affordable housing, education, health care and child care,” Casale said. “At that point, the focus could then shift to any additional appropriations. So, no, Democrats could not have just included all the various bills that had made it through to the table in that supplemental.”

As the session ended, more than 240 bills that had been approved by each chamber were placed on what’s known as the special appropriations table for possible action at a later date because they either called for new spending or would cost the state revenue. Those bills needed to be funded before being sent to Mills.

MORE THAN 240 UNFUNDED BILLS

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Lawmakers tried to advance more than 80 of those bills on Friday so they could be sent directly to the governor. Of those bills, 35 did not need changes and were given final approval by the Senate.

The other 50 bills needed the House of Representatives to sign off on amendments, but the House adjourned without taking action because Democrats didn’t have enough members present Friday evening to pass them.

Among the bills that did make it to Mills but now face pocket vetoes is L.D. 2129, which would have improved statewide tracking and storage of rape kits. That bill was projected to cost over $350,000 a year and would have required local police departments to submit additional information to the state. Fiscal analysts raised questions about whether the bill would be an unfunded mandate.

Another bill, L.D. 2210, would have established a civil rights unit in the attorney general’s office at a cost of more than $230,000 a year for another assistant attorney general and a paralegal. The proposal was one several legislative responses to the rise of hate groups and white supremacist demonstrations last summer.

Other bills include:

• L.D. 2274 would have created a system to collect information provided voluntarily by people who have attended military training in Gagetown, New Brunswick, and have health problems that could be associated by being exposed to toxins, like Agent Orange.

• L.D. 2203 would have required insurance companies to cover the costs of nonprescription contraceptives, which would have added about $100,000 in costs to the state employee health plan.

• L.D. 25 would have granted free admission to state parks by indigenous people at a cost of $30,000 a year in lost revenue.

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