Gov. Janet Mills has so far vetoed two bills passed during the 130th Legislature’s second session, and more vetoes could follow.
On April 26, Mills vetoed LD 1820 and LD 170. LD 1820 adds three non-voting members to the University of Maine System’s (UMS) Board of Trustees. LD 170 creates requirements for approving the construction of nonessential transmission lines.
The Senate voted 19 to 13 on April 14 to finally pass LD 1820. The House of Representatives passed the bill on March 31. It was then tabled by the Senate.
The bill adds a faculty member, a non-faculty member, and an adjunct faculty member to the UMS Board of Trustees. The members would serve two-year terms and be appointed by the governor from a list provided by the unions to which each of the prospective members belong.
In her veto letter, Mills compared LD 1820 to LD 1253, which she vetoed in June 2021. Like LD 1820, LD 1523 added faculty and non-faculty members to the UMS Board of Trustees.
Mills vetoed LD 1523 out of concern that it would violate policy guarding against conflicts of interests. She noted in that letter that UMS policy bans trustees from being employed by the university system during their tenure or for one year following its conclusion.
Mills noted that, unlike LD 1523, LD 1820 would make the individuals it adds to the UMS Board nonvoting members. But Mills said, despite the change, LD 1820 “has the same flaws.”
“This proposal, once again, contravenes long-standing policy and law that guard against members of public boards having real or perceived conflict of interest in matters in which they benefit financially or otherwise from board action,” Mills wrote in her veto message.
The House voted to pass LD 170 on April 13. The Senate subsequently voted for final passage on April 14.
The bill defines nonessential transmission lines as transmission lines not constructed primarily to provide electricity to retail customers, provide electric reliability, or meet the state’s renewable energy goals.
The bill further creates a process allowing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to decide whether construction of nonessential transmission lines can move forward. The PUC can issue a certificate of public convenience and necessity, allowing construction to move forward, only if the petitioner demonstrates it has entered into negotiations with stakeholders, made reasonable attempts to contact municipal officials in impacted communities, and negotiate ownership of the line if it does not have the ability to finance construction through revenue bonds.
The bill also includes a provision stipulating that the PUC cannot approve the taking of land through eminent domain for construction of a nonessential transmission line without first consulting with municipal officials in the affected area.
In her veto letter, Mills wrote that the bill would create “inappropriate barriers” to the construction of transmission lines, which she worried would hinder the state’s ability to meet climate and clean energy goals.
“As an initial matter, designating transmission line projects as ‘non-essential’ because they provide substantial benefits beyond Maine’s borders fails to recognize the regional nature of our electrical grid, and the global dimension of the climate crisis,” wrote Mills.
Mills continued, writing it would be a “serious mistake” to penalize interstate transmission projects because they primarily provide benefits to states other than Maine.
Mills also objected to language in the bill that requires an entity looking to build a transmission line to “make a reasonable effort to negotiate ownership of the line by an entity that is authorized by charter or other law to own transmission facilities and that has the ability to finance the line through the use of revenue bonds,” if it cannot finance construction on its own. Mills said this language is “too vague to have regulatory meaning” and may have constitutional issues.
“If this [language] implies an obligation to negotiate the sale of the project, it is constitutionally suspect. Even assuming a project’s owner can identify a negotiating partner, this bill attempts to compel a negotiation between two parties when neither may have independent interest in the transaction,” Mills wrote.
The legislature will have an opportunity to vote to sustain or override both of MIlls’ vetoes when it returns on May 9. A two-thirds majority in both legislative chambers must vote to override a veto in order for the vetoed bill to become law.