Lawmakers advance nearly 80 new spending bills, setting up possible clash with Gov. Mills

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May 10—AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers moved Friday afternoon to send nearly 80 additional spending bills to Gov. Janet Mills, who has warned that the initiatives would push state spending past the "breaking point."

Typically, lawmakers only get one additional day at the end of a session to cast override votes on vetoes and occasionally take up other business. But the number of bills being advanced on veto day this year is the largest in recent memory.

The Maine Senate moved first to pass the bills, while the House was expected to follow suit later Friday.

Senators voted in rapid fire succession Friday afternoon in support of nearly all of the bills that require at least some state spending. The only bill rejected by the Senate would have delayed for two years a statewide referendum on a new state flag and created a commission to develop a new design. The bill's failure means voters will decide this November whether to retire the existing Maine flag and replace it with a new one based on the original 1901 design with a star and pine tree.

The Senate also cast a final vote on an ill-fated attempt to amend the state constitutional to add a right to reproductive autonomy, including abortion. That proposal had already failed to get the two-thirds support needed in the House to send it to a statewide referendum and it failed in the Senate Friday.

Another eight spending bills were still scheduled for Senate votes once proposed amendments were printed for lawmakers.

Senators gave final votes of approval to 29 of 30 bills that did not need amendments. Those bills, which now go to Mills, include creating a civil rights unit in the Attorney General's office, enhancing the storage and tracking of rape kits and requiring private insurance carriers to cover nonprescription birth control and medical devices, such as breast pumps.

Lawmakers also cast final votes on six other bills, including five related to labor, that were revived after eliminating additional positions or other built-in costs, requiring the proposals to be implemented with existing resources. They included ensuring flexible work schedules for employees and protecting workers from employer surveillance.

The funding bills were backed by Democrats but Republicans put up little opposition, only requesting a handful of roll call votes. Lawmakers had to suspend the rules to amend 5o of the new spending bills, a step that requires two-thirds support. Republicans went along with the amendments even though they could have blocked those bills from advancing.

Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, told the Press Herald that Democrats were planning to overcome any opposition with "a parliamentary trick," by voting against any bill for which Republicans blocked amendments, sending it back to the House for possible amendments or creating a procedural standoff — both of which he said would only prolong the session without affecting the final outcome.

"It wasn't really worth it," Stewart said. "This is all very much like the nuclear way of doing business. That's what they're left with. We will remember, though. Don't worry. Precedent-changing is a problem for everyone."

The amended spending bills face additional votes in the House and the Senate before being sent to Mills. Democrats hold majorities in both chambers, all but ensuring they will be sent to Mills for consideration.

If lawmakers finally adjourn for the session after veto day, as expected, Mills could pocket veto any bill she doesn't want to sign and lawmakers would not get an opportunity to override such vetoes unless they call a special session.

Last week, Mills urged lawmakers to show "fiscal restraint" and to take up only her half dozen vetoes when they returned to Augusta Friday. But the Legislature's budget-writing committee met this week and advanced 80 more spending bills for floor votes.

The supplemental budget, which raised two-year state spending to nearly $10.5 billion, left nearly $11.4 million unallocated.

The total cost of the new bills is not clear, with estimates ranging from $10 million to $12.3 next year. The administration estimates costs of the bills would increase to more than $37 million in the 2026-2027 fiscal year.

Mills blasted the advancement of the spending bills on Wednesday, saying lawmakers were pushing the state budget to the "breaking point" by "employing budget gimmicks like stripping fiscal notes, delaying effective dates and raiding other special revenue accounts."

The state budget has been an ongoing point of contention between Mills and her fellow Democrats, who originally proposed using funding earmarked for highway projects to fund other priorities, before reversing course amid strong, bipartisan pushback.

Mills also panned an unsuccessful last-minute attempt by the Senate to add tens of millions of dollars in unrelated spending to a storm relief bill the governor wanted passed quickly. An amendment offered by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would have added nearly $64 million in general funding spending to next year's budget — a sum that would increase to more than $90 million in the following years.

The House is expected to take up the spending bills Friday afternoon.

This story will be updated.

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