Maine Gov. Paul LePage has won his latest fight against the final legislative Medicaid expansion proposal of his tenure, with lawmakers on Monday failing to override his veto of funding for a voter-approved “Obamacare” health care expansion that he’s long opposed.
Lawmakers overturned 20 of 43 recent vetoes issued by LePage, who has chastised lawmakers for trying to spend all of Maine’s $141 million in surplus funds.
Lawmakers approved $170 million in bonds for infrastructure and higher education projects, and failed to overturn vetoes on Medicaid expansion funding and conversation therapy. The Legislature remained at an impasse over the release of public campaign finance funds while politics held up widely supported tax code reform.
The governor has for years rebuffed legislative attempts to expand Medicaid under former Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Voters last fall approved a law requiring Maine to expand Medicaid to at least 70,000 to 80,000 low-income residents by July 2.
The House was short by about 10 votes needed on Monday to override LePage’s veto of Medicaid expansion funding. His veto came as LePage’s lawyers argued that lawmakers must first send him funding to allow him to roll out Medicaid expansion.
The vetoed bill aimed to ensure the state can pay for its share of the expansion’s first year by providing money for over 100 new staffers and up to nearly $55 million in one-time surplus and tobacco settlement funds in case of a budgetary shortfall. LePage and several House Republicans said the state needs a long-term funding plan, not “one-time funding.”
Meanwhile, advocates are suing to force LePage’s administration to seek federal funding for Medicaid expansion, and the next court hearing is set for July 18. Maine Equal Justice Partners is encouraging residents to sign up for coverage in the meantime: State law says Mainers could receive temporary Medicaid coverage after 45 days if the state doesn’t determine whether they’re eligible.
“Those funds will sit on the table while the people who have a legal right to care turn to the courts to force the administration to implement the law,” said Maine Equal Justice Partners policy analyst Kathy Kilrain del Rio.
A bill to prevent therapy aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity died after the House upheld LePage’s veto.
The bill would have defined so-called “conversion therapy” as any treatment to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill would have excluded treatment providing acceptance and support.
Democratic Rep. Ryan Fecteau said lawmakers have passed similar bills in Maryland and New Hampshire. Advocacy group EqualityMaine tweeted they could bring the issue to voters.
“LGBTQ youth do not have a defect or disorder. They do not need to be repaired,” Fecteau said.
LePage and some Christian leaders have said the bill could infringe on personal and religious liberty.
PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FUNDS
Over 200 legislative candidates and an independent gubernatorial candidate are calling on lawmakers to release $3 million in funds that the Legislature already agreed to spend last year.
Lawmakers passed a budget last year to provide an advanced transfer of $3 million to Maine’s public campaign finance fund. But an unintended error in the budget doesn’t allow the state to disperse public funding to candidates after July 1.
State treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Terry Hayes says over 5,500 voters contributed $5 to help her qualify for public funds, including $259,000 she’s still owed.
Lawmakers on Monday failed to pass a veto-proof deal to reduce 2018 payments to publicly financed candidates while prohibiting campaign fundraising at the polls, as the governor has proposed. Democratic Rep. Louis Luchini offered to take $1.5 million out of the fund and return it in January., while Assistant House GOP Leader Ellie Espling proposed temporarily transferring $2 million.