May 16, 2024 Article

Veto Day and Final Day of the 131st Legislature

The Legislature convened on Friday, May 10th for Veto Day to take action on the six bills objected to by the Governor. As expected, all six vetoes were sustained by lawmakers allowing  Governor Mills to keep her unblemished record of having all of her 40 plus vetoes sustained during the 131st Legislature.

Although the one-day  “Veto Day” is designated in state law for vetoes, legislative leaders assumed they could take up “other business” on the same day. That is why the Appropriations Committee met on Tuesday, May 7th, to consider taking action on legislation still remaining on the Special Appropriations Table, and determine how to allocate approximately $11.4 million that was theoretically available for the 223 bills on the table.

The Appropriations Committee was scheduled to come in at 1 PM on Tuesday, but they didn’t get started until much later in the day, not finishing their voting until after 8:30 PM. House Chair Melanie Sachs, D-Freeport, announced that the House and Senate Democratic Caucuses had been allocated $4 million each to spend on items on the table, and the House and Senate Republican Caucuses would be allocated $1 million each. This large gap was surprising to observers as the precedent for dividing up the available funds on the table is an equal split amongst the four caucuses.

The House Democrats moved 44 bills off the table. The Senate Democrats moved 31 bills off the table. House Republicans did not offer any public comment, nor did they ask for any bills to be moved off the table. Senator Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, the only Republican Senator on the committee, objected to the process, the unequal division of the funds, and the idea of spending what little was left of the revenue. He made clear that Senate Republicans had no list of bills to be funded. However, he then offered a list of bills he personally believed should be funded and proceeded to move 8 bills off the table. Seven of these bills were supported by a majority of the committee and thus moved off the table.

Of the 82 bills successfully moved off the table, all but 4 or 5 items received bipartisan support. Representative Sachs voted against 3 or 4 items as well, expressing her concern about the future costs.

Almost all of the bills moved off the table were amended to either push the start dates into the next biennium, thus having no fiscal impact on the current budget, or stripping or significantly reducing the fiscal note. Commissioner Figueroa had explicitly communicated to the committee that the Mills administration did not want the committee to allocate any more money and that such gimmicks should be avoided.

As mentioned in the previous update, all bills supported in the committee must go back up to the Senate for enactment, or, if amended in the committee, for reconsideration and engrossment as amended. The latter then requires it be sent back to the House for engrossment and enactment as amended, and finally a vote in the Senate for final enactment as amended.

On Friday, the Senate moved through all the bills taken off the table. Thirty-five bills not requiring amended language were enacted and sent to the Governor for consideration. The remaining 55 bills that were amended were engrossed by the Senate and sent to the House for engrossment and enactment. Senate Republicans did not try to slow this process down, nor even roll call the vast majority of the bills. Senate Republican Leader Trey Stewart, R-Aroostook, stated that he hoped the Governor would agree with his caucus that nothing “unprecedented” should be allowed that would make these bills law. Senate Republicans also made clear they would roll call any bills that were sent back to the Senate.

By mid-afternoon on Friday the Senate waited for the House to reconvene. The House had acted on the vetoes in their possession by noontime and announced they would take a break until 3 pm. In the House Democrats’ morning caucus, a discussion was held about how and if the Legislature could take up “other business.” House Democratic leaders presented a joint order they believed would allow them to proceed with only a majority vote. However, many members of the Democratic House Caucus expressed discomfort with the idea of taking up any matters not related to the vetoes.

Senate Democrats had not only decided they could take up “other business” without a joint order, but were rumored to believe they could come in for an additional veto day, thus forcing the Governor to act on all of the over 80 bills that could have made it to her desk, either through signing, vetoing, or allowing bills to become law without her signature.

However, during the wait for either chamber to reconvene, two members of the Preti Team witnessed the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms being sent down with the box of bills enacted that morning and returning with the box. He explained to the Secretary of the Senate that the Governor refused to take possession of the bills, stating her position that the bills were not “properly before her.” This led to a gathering of all of Democratic leadership, their chiefs of staff, and the Clerk of the House and Secretary of the Senate. They then proceeded to meet with the Governor and the Attorney General in the Cabinet Room.

After a few more hours of waiting, the Senate and House both returned to their respective chambers. The Senate proceeded to enact four or five bills from the Special Study Table, but also passed the adjournment order Sine Die or “without day”, meaning when they adjourned, the Legislature was not to return, barring the calling of a special session.   

The House also adjourned Sine Die around 10 pm Friday evening without taking up any of the amended bills that were sent to them from the Senate. In addition to the fact that it appeared pointless to act given the Governor’s refusal to receive the bills, House Democrats no longer had enough members present to pass any partisan measure. They were no longer the majority of the body, a fact not overlooked by Republican Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, who announced on the floor of the House that this was the first Republican majority in the House since 2012.

While Governor Mills finally expressed a willingness to receive the 35 bills enacted in the Senate, she ultimately made clear on May 13th she would not act on any of them. She reiterated her earlier position that the bills were not properly before her given the statutory and constitutional language related to adjournment and the day allowed for taking up vetoes only.

So, does this mean that all unresolved legislation is officially dead? Not quite. Before adjourning on April 17th, the Legislature passed a joint order stating that all legislation not finally disposed of be carried over to any special session of the 131st Legislature. It is highly unlikely that the Governor or a majority of legislators from each political party will call themselves back to the State House this year. However, stranger things have happened. Be assured that the Preti Team will keep you apprised if there is any movement to reconvene before the start of the 132nd Legislature.