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Maine Lawmakers Fail to Override Most of Governor's Vetoes
07/09/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Gov. Paul LePage's veto spree showed no signs of slowing down, with more than 80 bills already torpedoed in a single legislative session. In fact, LePage vetoed 21 bills over a 24-hour period, and the Democratically-controlled Legislature met nearly continuously today to try and override the governor, with the help of some sympathetic Republicans. By mid-afternoon, the House and Senate had failed to save most of the targeted bills, but two of them are still struggling to stay alive. A.J. Higgins has more.

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One of the few bills poised to survive a veto from LePage would require police to obtain a court warrant to access location information from a cell phone. LePage opposed the bill, which he said would be burdensome to law enforcement agencies. He found an ally in Democratic state Sen. Linda Valentino of Saco.

"Mr. President and members of the Senate, I rise today to urge you to sustain the governor's veto," Valentino said.

Meanwhile, assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz asked his seatmates to oppose the governor, and support an override. "I just think that if we sustain this veto, we are losing a remarkable opportunity to take a stand in favor of keeping government out of our lives unless a judge deems it necessary," Katz said.

Katz, who sponsored the bill, said warrants to obtain location information from cell phones and other electronic devices are consistent with long-standing investigatory protocols deemed necessary by the courts. The law approved by the House and Senate also requires police to inform cell phone owners within three days that they had accessed their information from cell phone providers.

Although Katz was supported by four other Republicans, others opposed his attempt to override the veto. Sen. David Burns is a Republican from Whiting and a former state trooper.

"This is something that's very useful to law enforcement, it doesn't infringe on anybody's personal security and privacy," Burns said. "It's being done in most every other state."

The Legislature's Judiciary Committee gave the bill an ought-not-to-pass recommendation after Maine Attorney General Janet Mills expressed concerns that it could hinder police investigations. State Sen. John Tuttle, of Sanford, is another Democrat who says the Legislature should sustain the governor's veto and give the issue a second look.

"The majority of the committee was against this bill in its present form, so I would ask that you would allow this veto to be sustained and allow the committee and the executive to get back and to review this issue in the future," Tuttle said.

But in a 22-11 vote, the Senate gave the two-thirds support needed to override LePage's veto, leaning heavily in favor of arguments voiced by Democrats, like Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, who said the bill was all about making sure that government stays out of people's lives.

"And if they do need to intervene, they do so by getting that piece of paper that is delivered to them through a judge," Goodall said. "It is an increased burden, and that's what our founding fathers envisioned. We've all had the opportunity to reflect on these moments in terms of our founding fathers recently, and I ask myself, do we think the founding fathers, when they drafted our Constitution, would allow such activity if carriages or horses would be tracked? Times have evolved - technology has evolved."

The House followed the Senate in a 125-17 vote that effectively overrode the governor's veto. The Legislature also overrode a LePage veto of a bill that provides funding for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Council.  

As of Wednesday morning, it was only the fifth bill out of more than 80 vetoed pieces of legislation to be overridden by the Legislature. Lawmakers adjourned the legislative session shortly after 12:15 a.m.


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