AUGUSTA — With a packed field looking to replace Gov. LePage in November, this legislative session is going to be particularly challenging. While it is likely that the November elections will be on everyone’s mind, it is my hope that all of us gubernatorial candidates and legislative candidates alike will be diligent about checking our campaigns at the door and focusing on the job we have in front of us. That may be easier said than done, but it’s important nonetheless.
The second session of the Legislature is typically the session for us to consider emergency bills, budgetary matters, governor’s bills and carry-over bills, as mandated in the Maine Constitution. While we are constantly bickering over what rises to the level of being a true emergency, it is left up to the Legislative Council to make that call. A majority of the council, made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, must approve any bill submitted by a legislator before it can be considered in the upcoming session.
Typically very challenging, controversial bills are dealt with in the first regular session. That being said, on the very first day of the legislative session, one of Maine’s constitutional officers, Attorney General Janet Mills, who is running for governor, had a bill on the House calendar that would allow medical professionals who are not doctors to perform abortions. While it is typical for various departments and agencies to submit bills for both sessions, it is not a usual practice for a department or agency to submit something so controversial that has little to do with the operations of the department itself.
In an election year it appears as though Janet Mills is, in effect, using the Office of the Attorney General to help her pander to far-left Democrat primary voters by submitting legislation that has very little to do with her department and, frankly, little chance of ever becoming law. Abortions and who can and cannot perform them in Maine are clearly not within the purview of the Attorney General’s Office, a fact I can only assume Mills is also aware of considering she runs that office.
It is a drastic overstep for any department head to submit a bill that has little to do with their department. While the governor has the authority to submit any legislation he wants at any time, the attorney general does not. The Department of Health and Human Services is the department that collects data on abortion matters, and it’s DHHS that has some oversight.
The issue is also a drastic change in scope of practice for many medical personnel. Scope of practice issues typically go before the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. The bill Mills submitted, aside from being an abhorrent and hypocritical piece of legislation, is a clear violation of the standards for bills in the second session of the Legislature, a fact that should come as no surprise to the attorney general. Once we arrive at the conclusion that Mills knew better, it’s easy to see her motive, which makes her actions even more egregious.
This isn’t the first time Mills has used her office to overstep her authority as attorney general, but with a tough Democrat primary on the horizon, one has to question her reasoning for submitting such a bill. Her bill was tabled in the House and my hope is that it will stay on the table. But that still does not let Mills off the hook for using her office this way. If she can’t compartmentalize and separate being Maine’s attorney general from being a candidate for governor, she should follow the lead of former DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who resigned to focus solely on her gubernatorial campaign.
In a gubernatorial primary that is likely to be as contentious as this year’s, candidates will naturally try to move further to the left or right and endear themselves to the traditional primary voters. But state officials using their departments as quasi-campaign headquarters cannot be tolerated. We have a job to do, and that job is to work on behalf of our constituents and do what is in the best interest of the people of Maine. I would advise Janet Mills to remember that as we move through this session.