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Gov. Mills declines to act on nearly three dozen bills, frustrating Senate Democratic leaders

Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the Budget address, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty
Gov. Janet Mills delivers her State of the Budget address, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, at the State House in Augusta, Maine.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills is declining to act on nearly three dozen bills sent to her by the Legislature late last week, meaning the measures will die on the vine.

The primary purpose of last Friday's House and Senate floor sessions was for lawmakers to vote on a half-dozen vetoes from Mills. But lawmakers also gave final approval to 35 additional bills before formally adjourning the 2024 legislative session late Friday night following an hours-long procedural standoff with Mills.

The bills deal with a range of issues. One would provide property tax relief to more veterans. Another would create a tracking system for sexual assault test kits to ensure that those being held by law enforcement are being properly utilized. There were also bills to help the state identify unidentified human remains and others dealing with health insurance and special commissions.

Because the Legislature adjourned, Mills had only two options: sign the bills into law or allow them to die without her signature. She could not veto the bills because the Legislature cannot re-convene to vote on whether to override her veto.

In a letter sent Tuesday to lawmakers, Maine's Democratic governor said she would normally support many of the bills. But she took issue with the Legislature sending her a slew of additional bills on a day that was supposed to be reserved for vetoes.

She wrote that she worried about theirlong-term financial impact. But her bigger concern was that signing the bills would quote "send the message that that the Legislature is allowed to flout its own self-imposed and Constitutionally-imposed limitations" because the Legislature was required to adjourn on April 17 with the exception of the veto day. Lawmakers could have extended the session, but that would have required a two-thirds vote in both chambers — and that never happened.

"Constitutional norms, no matter how inconvenient and even when they may be an impediment to achieving good policy aims, nonetheless provide important institutional safeguards," wrote Mills, a former state lawmaker and attorney general. "While well-intentioned, the Legislature’s decision to consider and enact dozens of additional spending measures on veto day without clear constitutional authority erodes longstanding norms and would create a destabilizing precedent that may be used by future legislatures to achieve aims not so desirable."

Democratic leaders in the Maine Senate — Senate President Troy Jackson of Allagash, Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli of Arrowsic and Assistant Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick — issued a strongly worded response to the Democratic governor's decision to allow the bills to die.

The trio said the bills were thoroughly considered and debated by lawmakers before receiving funding and final passage. And they referred to comments from the Secretary of the Senate — the chamber's chief parliamentarian — that if there were legal questions about how the legislative branch of government handled its business in its final days, those are questions for the judicial branch to decide, not the executive branch.

"The governor is well within her right to veto the legislation but she owns that veto," the Senate Democratic leadership wrote in a statement. "To case aspersions on the Legislature or claim that the Legislature acted in appropriately is not only wrong but not for (the) chief executive to determine."

Jackson and Mills have sparred publicly and privatelythroughout the recently concluded session.