lepage veto
Maine Governor Paul LePage tried to kill pro-immigrant legislation and other bills with a "pocket veto"; letting the bill die without giving the legislature the chance to override a normal veto. Experts say that he misread Maine's constitution, and that the bills are now law. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The state of Maine doesn’t have a lot of immigrants, but that hasn’t stopped Gov. Paul LePage from going after them, in particular asylum seekers -- a small group of legal migrants who have a credible fear of returning to their home countries. Those immigrants are not automatically eligible for federal assistance, but supporters of the “New Mainers” argue that the state can help them get on their feet. Last year LePage vetoed funding for a miniscule assistance program that gave benefits to a mere 50 asylum-seeking families who are looking for work after recently arriving to the country. The legislature overrode his veto, granting around $250,000 to a program that helps around 130 individuals, including children.

When a similar measure passed this June in a 29-5 vote, LePage knew that the bill would survive a veto. So his office got the clever idea to execute a ‘pocket veto’: let the pro-immigrant bill die on his desk, which under the Maine Constitution is supposed to happen if he does not sign the bill 10 days after the closure -- “adjournment” -- of the legislative session. LePage planned to employ the maneuver on as many as 19 bills that he opposed, but the plan reportedly backfired. On June 30th, legislators went on recess. Ten days later, as LePage thought his pocket veto was going into effect, multiple legal expert say that this recess doesn’t count as adjournment, as the session did not actually close. They included:

  • The Clerk of the Maine House, according to TPM. “The legislature, which is nearing the end of the first regular session, has not adjourned. By not vetoing the bills within the required 10-day period, LePage allowed the bills he opposed -- some ferociously -- to become law,” Tierney Sneed reported.

  • Maine’s (Democratic) Speaker Of The House, according to the Sun Journal. “The constitution and historical precedent make clear that these bills are law [...] The governor is wrong," Speaker Mark Eves said in a statement.

  • The ACLU: “The Maine Constitution is clear on this,” Zachary Heiden, Maine’s legal director, told the Portland Press Herald, in the statement. “The governor had 10 days to veto the bills, he did not veto them, and now the bills will become law.”

LePage doesn’t agree with those who have weighed in (most are his political opponents), and plans to argue that his pocket veto is valid. It’s not the first time he’s taken the asylum law controversy to court. In June, a judge ruled that LePage could not punish municipalities who used their own resources to aid undocumented immigrants, but that the state government did not have to subsidize such programs.

“We’ll go to the courts and we’ll ask them,” LePage told the Herald. “It’s in the Constitution … It’s very clear – very, very clear. Even I can understand it and I’m French.”

According to a Herald profile of LePage, he grew up in a French-speaking household.

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