On July 12, Gov. Janet Mills vetoed LD 1711, which would have allowed whistleblowers to bring a private enforcement action in the name of the state for violations of certain labor laws.
The bill allowed whistleblowers to take private enforcement action and act on behalf of the state if, after informing either the Attorney General, the Department of Labor, or the Maine Human Rights Commission of a labor law violation, those agencies declined to take action.
Settlements or voluntary dismissals of private enforcement action were required to be reviewed and approved by the state agencies involved, as well as the court. In the case private enforcement action succeeded, the bill created various penalties, which varied depending on whether the state had intervened and which agency had intervened. The whistleblower would have received anywhere from 20 percent to 30 percent of the civil penalty recovered.
The bill also required 15 percent of the penalty recovered to go to the Community Outreach and Labor Education Fund, a fund created by the bill to assist workers enforcing employment rights. The fund would have been involved in outreach, community-based education and training, and counseling, research and referral services.
In her veto, Mills objected to the idea that the bill authorized what she termed “private attorneys general” to file lawsuits in the name of the state and seek remedies normally reserved to the state. Mills alleged this process would bypass normal administrative procedures, operate without state oversight, and collect attorney fees for services the state already provides.
“Private attorneys represent the State only in limited circumstances and only with express approval of the Attorney General. Delegating the authority of the state to private individuals or organizations is unconventional and is potentially unlawful.” said Mills in her veto.
Mills also expressed concern that binding arbitration clauses in employment contracts would limit the employees’ ability to seek redress, a problem that is not addressed by LD 1711 and may create unintended consequences.
This concern led several Maine businesses to testify against the bill. Representing the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, Dana Doran testified that the bill would replace common workplace protections with “a pathway for an employee’s legal counsel to file a lawsuit, obtain an injunction, receive damages for lost pay or benefits and payment of the attorney fees for employee’s counsel.”
Doran testified this would create a more litigious and confrontational environment and “do untold harm to the business environment in Maine for the long-term.”
Other testimony against the bill was offered by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturers Association of Maine, among others.
LD 1711 was sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook). This is not the first piece of legislation sponsored by Jackson that Mills has vetoed this session. In June, Mills vetoed LD 1117 and LD 675, two bills sponsored by Jackson that aimed to curb price increases on non-prescription drugs. Jackson reacted strongly to Mills’ veto, saying in a press release, “This pattern of people in power caving the pharmaceutical industry and other wealthy special interests has gone on for far too long and it’s literally killing our families, friends and neighbors.”
Mills also vetoed LD 125, a bill that would have banned aerial spraying of glyphosate, which Jackson also sponsored. Again, Jackson was outspoken about his displeasure with the governor.
“To say this news is disappointing would be an understatement. How much longer are we going to allow large landowners to get away with spraying poison in our forests so they can grow their bottom-line?” Jackson said in a press release.
But Mills has also signed several bills sponsored by Jackson. On the same day Mills vetoed LD 1711, her office also touted the signing of LD 1712, which expands access to child care, which Jackson sponsored.