Inside Augusta

Adjournment fiasco underscores dysfunctional legislative session

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The clock struck midnight, but what did that mean?

The second regular session of the Maine Legislature is supposed to conclude on the third Wednesday in April, or April 18 in 2018 for the 128th Legislature. However, the Maine House of Representatives did not finally adjourn until just shortly after 1:30 a.m. Thursday morning, April 19.

In a political game of chicken, the Democratic-led House of Representatives continued to table and indefinitely postpone important issues into the waning moments of the “emergency” session, hoping to call Republican House Minority Leader Ken Fredette’s bluff that his caucus would not vote to extend the session an additional five days.

It was no bluff.

With House Democrats needing a two-thirds vote from the body to extend session, House Republicans fought back on two separate occasions Wednesday evening by voting to conclude session by the statutory deadline. When session continued past midnight, House Republicans grew furious as their counterparts used an obscure legislative rule to keep the session open into Thursday morning.

After midnight, House Speaker Sara Gideon said that session was extended “by implication of unanimous consent because there was no objection.” According to many House Republicans, including Fredette, Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway, objected to the continuation of session into Thursday morning, however his objection was never officially recorded.

Democrats then passed two joint orders, one to carry all matters over into a special session and another to adjourn. House Republicans objected to carrying all matters over into a special session because there was no indication that a special session would occur. A special session may only be called by the Governor or at the consent of each party, neither of which had taken place at the time of the vote.

Throughout the day Wednesday, the State House was in frenzy over a possible extension. Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle had been working over the past week to strike a deal on issues such as tax conformity, Medicaid expansion and pay increases for direct service workers, however no deal was reached by adjournment.

Contentious back and forth and finger pointing continued throughout the night. Republicans, including Jeff Hanley, R-Pittston, argued that the Legislature had plenty of time throughout the session to conduct its work. Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, called that “a lie.”

But the facts tell a different story.

For the last month, the House of Representatives, at the request of Democratic members, has continuously tabled important matters before the body; some to die on adjournment and others for political purposes. Of the 37 days of session, the House easily wasted 30 of them by essentially doing nothing; they would convene, conduct legislative sentiments, table bills that came from the senate, leave dozens of items in unfinished business and then conclude their work for the day. It happened on several different occasions.

There was plenty of time yesterday for the Speaker to hold votes on the important issues. Rather than rushing to complete their work in a timely manner, legislators fought over an extension of session. Several bills that had bipartisan support were not run in the House yesterday.

The House was at ease for lunch at 12:30 p.m. and was set to reconvene at 3 p.m. Session did not resume until 4:52 p.m. Despite calls by Democrats to extend session because they had important work to do, the House was at ease again last night for nearly three hours – from 6:52 p.m. to 9:46 p.m. – so legislators could eat pizza. Combined, the House wasted at least seven hours yesterday when it could have been running bills with bipartisan support.

And after the three hour pizza recess, House Democrats again asked for an extension of session at the expense of Maine taxpayers.

Almost every day throughout the second session, the House, under Speaker Gideon’s leadership, started late, took extended breaks and kicked the can down the road. By doing so, House Democrats backed themselves into a corner on the day of adjournment, positioning themselves in a situation where they must find a way to extend session or every measure on the table would die.

There is no reason these issues couldn’t be resolved by 11:59 p.m. last night besides an inability to try. The contentious issues could have been dealt with well before the final week of session, and there is no excuse for several bipartisan bills failing to make it under the hammer.

This level of dysfunction should appall every taxpayer in this state. We must demand more from our elected officials.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is a policy analyst for the Maine Heritage Policy Center. He can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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