Gov. LePage’s epic Constitutional error means aid for asylum seekers will become law

Gov. LePage’s epic Constitutional error means aid for asylum seekers will become law

In a stunning reversal of fortune for more than a thousand immigrant asylum-seekers and their families in Maine, it appears that Governor Paul LePage, who vehemently opposes any state or municipal aid going to these victims of violence and persecution, has just accidentally enshrined into law their eligibility for General Assistance.

It became clear on Tuesday night that LePage had failed to veto a number of bills within the time limit set by the Maine Constitution, including LD 369, the amended version of which allows those seeking asylum to receive General Assistance aid for a period of 24 months while their asylum claims are being processed and they are prohibited from working or receiving other aid. The bill had not passed the House by a two-thirds margin and a veto override attempt was unlikely to be successful.

LePage’s staff is claiming that he engaged in what’s known as a “pocket veto” of LD 369 and other legislation – a maneuver that can be used to kill bills outright after the Legislature has adjourned. According to legislative leaders and Constitutional experts, however, that claim is ridiculous as the legislature hasn’t adjourned and is set to return to session on July 16th to consider LePage’s vetoes.

“The Maine Constitution is clear on this. The governor had 10 days to veto the bills, he did not veto them, and now the bills will become law,” said Zachary Heiden, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “We do not have a government of one, and the governor cannot make up the rules as he goes along.”

“LD 369, which clarifies that municipalities may support legally present immigrants, received bipartisan support in both the Maine House and the Maine Senate. It will now become law because the time for a Governor’s veto has expired,” said Representative Drew Gattine, House Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, in a Facebook post. “This is a giant step forward for Maine. We need to continue to attract and retain talented and educated people to our State from around the world in order to replenish our skilled work force. New Mainers will play an important role in Maine’s future and we need to invest in their success.”

LePage’s fumble comes after months of the governor railing against asylum seekers, whom he has often falsely called “illegal aliens.” The issue was also a major focus of his re-election campaign, with the Republican Governors’ Association running misleading attack ads on the subject in support of his campaign. The governor’s personal interest group, Maine People Before Politics, run by his daughter, even launched robocalls in Republican Senate districts during recent budget negotiations accusing a number of GOP senators of being soft on the issue.

LePage’s epic Constitutional error is good news both for persecuted immigrants and for Maine’s municipalities. Portland and Lewiston, Maine’s two largest cities, had already voted to fund limited aid for asylum seekers out of their own budgets in order to prevent them from being forced into homelessness after the state seemed set not to act.

Photo courtesy of Andi Parkinson.

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