Gov. Mills vetoes federal tribal rights bill, setting up showdown with the Legislature
Gov. Janet Mills has vetoed a bipartisan bill that would allow tribes in Maine to benefit from more federal laws that other federally recognized tribes enjoy.
The governor's veto, while expected, is likely to further strain the relationship between the tribes and the Mills administration.
The bill saw widespread support in both chambers despite Mills' opposition. Her administration has argued the bill would create legal uncertainty and lead to years-long litigation over environmental regulations and other matters.
The governor said in her Friday veto letter that she agrees that the tribes should not be unfairly excluded from federal law, but that a sweeping isn't the answer.
"I believe the interest we share to do right by the Wabanaki Nations and Maine people must be accomplished through legislation that is clear, thoroughly vetted and well understood by all parties," she wrote.
Studies have shown that the tribes, who cannot benefit from federal law unless specifically named under a 1980 settlement agreement, have been economically disadvantaged by the state's policies. A Harvard University study commissioned by the Wabanaki Alliance, a lobbying group for the tribes, has become a central argument in the overall tribal sovereignty fight. But Mills says in her veto letter that the tribes still get benefits that include federal funding.
The veto was slammed by the Wabanaki Alliance, a lobbying group for the tribes. Chiefs expressed disappointment in the decision, with Chief of the Passamaquoddy Tribe of Sipayik Rena Newell specifically hitting Mills on her previous opposition to a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine at the federal level that tried to do the same thing.
"Her office testified on her behalf in Congress ... that this issue should be dealt with in the state. So we put in state legislation," Newell said. "Now she says this issue should be done by Congress. We can only conclude she wants nothing done on this issue."
The veto is expected to be challenged by Maine lawmakers, who need a two-thirds vote to override it.