April 9, 2012

For first time ever, LePage veto overridden

From wire and staff reports

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage's streak of 16 consecutive vetoes with no overrides ended today, as Maine lawmakers voted to restore MaineCare services to special-needs children in the state's schools.

The 35-0 vote Wednesday in the Senate came without debate and a day after a House vote of 124-16.

The measure directs the state education and health departments to develop a plan to reinstitute a program that provides medically necessary services to children in Maine schools.

Supporters of the legislation say the program, run through MaineCare — the state's Medicaid program — was funded entirely with federal Medicaid dollars until it was phased out about three years ago. Federal funding has dwindled from about $30 million to $7 million last year, supporters said.

Restoration of the program would help schools pay for such services as speech clinicians and psychologists, transportation and nursing services.

Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in handing the GOP governor a rebuke on the bill, which was sponsored by Republican Rep. Peter Edgecomb of Caribou and encountered virtually no opposition as it worked its way through the Legislature.

In his veto message, LePage said the bill distracted the administration's effort to straighten out other problems in MaineCare. Officials are trying now to correct a problem with state computers, which resulted in as many as 19,000 people erroneously receiving MaineCare services.

LePage said Edgecomb's bill "attempts to force action before we have all the facts."

"The Federal Inspector General is currently undertaking an audit of our school-based MaineCare service program and it is unclear what their findings will be. It is possible that we will be required to repay the Federal Government for past misuses of funds," the governor wrote.

While there was no Senate debate, some lawmakers said after the vote they support restoration of the program.

"I think it's a great idea," Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland. "Kids come first. We have to address their health."

Maine's last override of a gubernatorial veto, according to the state law library, was a decade ago: April 24, 2002. Lawmakers then overrode Gov. Angus King's veto of a bill allowing sales-tax exemptions for equipment purchased by Maine broadcasters to produce radio and television signals

Since last May, LePage has vetoed 17 bills. Until now, neither the House nor the Senate mustered the two-thirds necessary to override his veto. Other bills vetoed by the governor include a measure to give a sales-tax exemption to nonprofit performing arts groups, a bill to create an early childhood stakeholder group and a resolve to promote oral health care.

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