Inside Augusta

Lawmakers sustain Mills’ veto on bill allowing farm workers to unionize

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Members of the Maine Legislature’s House of Representatives failed to override Gov. Janet Mills’ veto on Wednesday of a bill that would have given farmworkers the right to collectively bargain. The full legislature convened in-person on January 26 for just the second time this year.

Mills vetoed LD 151 on January 7. Members of the House sustained the veto by a vote of 67-66. The Senate did not take up the bill, as a vote of two-thirds of the members of both legislative chambers is required to override the veto. The bill never reached the Senate because the veto was sustained in the House.

During the House’s January 26 session, Rep. Thom Harnett (D-Gardiner), the bill’s sponsor, spoke in favor of overriding the chief executive’s veto.

Harnett asked members present in the House chamber what the phrase “with liberty and justice for all” meant to them in urging his colleagues to override the veto. According to Harnett, LD 151 extended farmworkers the same rights that protect workers in other areas of the economy. 

Rep. Christopher Babbidge (D-Kennebunk) also spoke in support of overriding the veto. 

Several representatives, including Rep. Richard Bradstreet (R-Vassalboro) and MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox), spoke in opposition to overriding the veto. Kinney, who owns and operates a maple farm, said she treats employees like family and gives them adequate leave and benefits.

Rep. Gary Drinkwater (R-Milford) spoke about the economic hardships being caused by inflation, which he said would only be made worse by LD 151. Drinkwater said forcing new labor and legal compliance costs on small family farms would lead to astronomical prices for consumers. Reps. Susan Bernard (R-Caribou) and Joseph Underwood (R-Presque Isle) also spoke in opposition to overturning the veto, noting that many of the farmers who participated in the public hearing on LD 151 spoke in opposition of the bill’s passage.

Earlier in the session, Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) inquired about the status of the legislature’s remote meeting policy. When the legislature convened for the start of the second session on January 5, both houses passed a joint resolution allowing legislative meetings to be held and attended remotely. The resolution also considers any vote cast electronically to have taken place at the seat of government.

During that session, Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) said that he and Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) had agreed to determine whether to allow hybrid meetings to occur on a monthly basis. He stated the legislature had purchased the equipment to make hybrid meetings possible, though the technology had not been installed in every committee room.

Fecteau responded to Andrews’ question on Wednesday by saying that he had a meeting scheduled with President Jackson later in the day to determine the legislature’s working arrangements moving forward. He further said legislators and the public should expect an update soon.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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