News Health Systems

Maine Governor’s Veto of Women’s Health Bill Sustained by Legislature

Emily Crockett

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have expanded Medicaid coverage of family planning services for nearly 14,000 low-income women, and a vote to override the veto failed.

A bill that would have ensured access to preventive health services for nearly 14,000 low-income women in Maine was vetoed by the governor this week. Despite having passed the bill with broad bipartisan support, the state legislature failed to override the governor’s veto during a special session on Thursday.

The session was called so legislators could reconsider at least 48 of Gov. Paul LePage’s vetoes, which Democratic leaders said were being overused as a campaign tool. LePage has vetoed a record-breaking 182 bills since he took office in 2011.

The proposal to expand Medicaid coverage of family planning services, LD 1247, failed to gain the two-thirds of votes in the state house necessary to override the governor’s veto. The vote was 90 in favor of an override and 55 against.

The expansion would have provided coverage of cancer screenings, well-woman exams, birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual health information for women who make less than $23,000 a year for a household of one. The governor said that women could receive this coverage by signing up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act, while opponents argued that the state would receive $9 from the federal government for every dollar it spent, and that 30 other states have seen a significant reduction in unintended pregnancies after implementing similar plans.

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“Governor Paul LePage put his own personal beliefs over women’s health when he vetoed this important measure,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.

News Law and Policy

Georgia GOP Vows to Override Veto of ‘State-Sanctioned Discrimination’ Bill

Teddy Wilson

Churches and other religious groups would be protected from refusing to serve or hire people on the grounds that their religious beliefs would be violated.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R), responding to mounting pressure from corporations threatening to stop conducting business in the state, said Monday that he will veto a so-called religious liberties bill that would have legalized discrimination against LGBTQ people. 

Republican lawmakers have vowed to override the governor’s veto.

HB 757, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Tanner (R-Dawsonville), would create broad protections for people or organizations who have “sincerely held religious beliefs” from being forced to participate in activities that they find “objectionable.”  

For instance, clergy who refuse to perform marriages for same-sex couples and people who refuse to attend a wedding for religious reasons would be protected by the proposed law, even though there is no law requiring either action.

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Adoption and foster care agencies funded with tax dollars could legally refuse to place children in the homes of same-sex couples under the “religious liberties” legislation.

Churches and other religious groups would be protected from refusing to serve or hire people on the grounds that their religious beliefs would be violated. People could claim their religious freedom is burdened by state or local laws, and force governments to prove there’s a “compelling” state interest to override their beliefs.

Republican majorities passed the measure in both chambers of the Georgia legislature. The house passed the bill with a vote of 104 to 65, and the senate passed the bill with a 37-18 vote.

Republicans hold a 118-61 majority in the house and a 39-17 majority in the state senate.

Deal said in a statement that language in the bill could give rise to “state-sanctioned discrimination,” and cited changes made to the bill in the state senate.

“I do not think we have to discriminate against anyone to protect the faith-based community in Georgia, of which my family and I have been a part of for all of our lives,” Deal said. “My decision regarding HB 757 is not just about protecting the faith-based community or providing a business friendly climate for job growth in Georgia.”

Deal said that he supported the bill’s original incarnation in the house, but that he took issue with the version passed by the state senate and eventually ratified by the house.

Companies including Disney, Apple, Time Warner, Intel, and Salesforce called on Deal to veto the bill. State business organizations, including the Metro Atlanta Chamber and the Georgia Hotel & Lodging Association, also publicly opposed the bill.

Walt Disney Co. officials announced that they would halt production of films and television programs in the state if Deal signed the Republican bill.

AMC Networks, whose megahit The Walking Dead is filmed mainly in Georgia, has been publicly critical of the bill. “As a company, AMC Networks believes that discrimination of any kind is reprehensible,” the company said in a statement, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Time Warner came out against the so-called religious freedom measure. “Georgia bill HB 757 is in contradiction to this campaign, to the values we hold dear, and to the type of workplace we guarantee to our employees,” the company said in a statement.

The influence of business interests opposed to the legislation appeared to color the governor’s remarks upon vetoing the bill.

“Our people work side-by-side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion to which we adhere,” Deal said. “We are working to make life better for our families and our communities. That is the character of Georgia. I intend to do my part to keep it that way.”

State Sen. Mike Crane (R-Newman) called on lawmakers to override the governor’s veto, and said Deal’s decision is an example of “how the political class is bought and paid for by corporations and lobbyists,” reported the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  

“Rather than standing up and protecting the 1st Amendment, the political class would rather sacrifice those rights to keep the money flowing,” Crane said.

There are hurdles legislators must overcome in order to override Deal’s veto.

The legislature has adjourned for the year. Without the governor calling for a special session, lawmakers would need a vote of three-fifths of the members of both chambers to certify to the governor in writing that an emergency exists requiring a special session. The house would need the support of at least 108 members and the state senate would need the support of at least 34 members in order to secure a special session.

An even larger majority would be required to override the governor’s veto. A vote of at least two-thirds of members of each legislative chamber would be required for an override. 

State Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen) told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is confident GOP lawmakers can upend Deal’s veto. “We will call for a veto session,” Heath said. “And we have the votes.”

News Abortion

Maine’s GOP Governor Slashes Food Assistance

Jenn Stanley

Maine's work requirements made thousands of residents lose their food stamp benefits before the federal requirement went into effect.

Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken opponent of public assistance, managed to remove thousands of residents from the state’s food stamp rolls over the past 15 months by way of his new work requirements.

The number of healthy, childless adults receiving food stamps fell from 13,589 to 1,206 between November 2014 and November 2015 due to LePage’s new policies.

The scenario in Maine could be mirrored nationally, as more than one million residents in 21 states will face losing food stamps if they don’t meet federal work requirements that began this month.

“Food has implications in every area. It affects your ability to work, it affects your ability to stay housed, it affects your ability to keep your children in school,” Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners, told the Associated Press. “This took us in the other direction.”

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Though many advocates for the poor believe these requirements have had a disastrous result on Maine’s low-income and food-insecure population, the governor’s office points to the state’s declining unemployment rate as a sign that LePage’s program is working.

“Requiring able-bodied people to work to receive their benefits just makes common sense and sends the message to Maine’s hard-working taxpayers that their money is truly being use as a hand up, not a hand out,” Peter Steele, a spokesman for the governor, told the Associated Press.

LePage has claimed that 47 percent “of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work.” The state’s labor force participation rate stood at 64.1 percent in 2014, higher than the national average of 62.8 percent.

Increased work requirements aren’t the only obstacle LePage has put in place for those receiving public assistance. Roadblocks from his administration include mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients with felony convictions and ineligibility to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for childless households with assets worth more than $5,000.

Late last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sent a letter to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that said the state was breaking the law because its application response times for SNAP benefits were too low and its data were insufficient.

Maine ranks last in response time out of 53 SNAP programs in the nation. In 2014, it ranked 36th, marking a drastic drop in efficiency for a state with one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the nation.

LePage has also pushed to roll back child labor laws that have been in place since the mid-1800s, as first reported by the Bangor Daily News. The Republican governor has long backed a proposal that would lower the legal working age to 12. Those children would work for $5.25 an hour under LePage’s 2013 proposal.