Illegal? Facts be damned! We want LeBuffoon! Because we are angry and picking on the less fortunate makes us feeeeeel goooooooood!

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Illegal? Facts be damned! We want LeBuffoon! Because we are angry and picking on the less fortunate makes us feeeeeel goooooooood!

Post by T on Sun Nov 30, 2014 12:41 pm

Karen Bilodeau: Maine's Constitution holds reason for hope

With the elections a few weeks behind us, it is time for Maine workers to regroup and remember what they stand for. While Gov. Paul LePage is in office for another four years and likely not interested in ensuring that Maine workers are protected, people cannot simply turn a cheek and hope for the best.

We need to continue our efforts to protect the working class of Maine. It may seem like a fool’s errand, but we can hold on to some hope that there are ways to stop the more egregious policies and laws that will likely come forth in the next four years.

That hope lies in the checks and balances system built into the Constitution. There are three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial, to make sure not one area steps out of line.

Take, for example, the recent work of the judicial branch when a federal appeals court determined Gov. LePage’s proposal to cut 19- and 20-year-olds from MaineCare was illegal. When LePage originally proposed those cuts, the federal government rejected them. Maine’s own top attorney, Attorney General Janet Mills, determined and advised Gov. LePage that they were unlawful. Because the cuts were deemed unconstitutional, her office declined to represent the state on this matter.

Unfortunately, Gov. LePage continued on, earmarking $100,000 of taxpayers’ money to hire a separate attorney to fight the battle for those cuts. He has had the state of Maine sue for the cuts and has now been rejected by the courts twice. Despite the fact that nobody on either side of the aisle believes these cuts pass legal muster, it looks like that fight won’t end any time soon.

Not exactly the best use of Maine’s resources.

At least the checks and balances provided by the three branches of government ensure that even if you are elected governor of this state, you are not allowed to circumvent the law.

Of course, when dealing with the judicial branch, it is helpful if the executive branch has somebody with a great depth of knowledge and experience to help with determining whether laws and policies are legal before going through the cost and time involved in dealing with them in court. The attorney general is that expert.

Which, of course, leaves me wondering what will happen if Gov. LePage’s vision of reducing the role of the attorney general comes true? Upon his re-election, he said one of his priorities is to introduce legislation that eliminates the requirement that the attorney general has to make sure laws created by the state’s departments are, in fact, legal.

The role of the attorney general is to be the top law enforcer and provide legal advice to the government. Part of that advice would be on the legality of laws and proposals the state would like to pass. By bypassing the attorney general’s advice, the state of Maine risks running into time-consuming pointless lawsuits, costly fines and even more costly mistakes.

I thought LePage's agenda was to save money.

Take, for example, the potential loss of 50 percent of the administrative funding for the Food Stamps program that Maine could face for instituting a new policy requiring photos to be on the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. That new policy, introduced without any sense of discussion or debate by the Department of Health and Human Services, may actually represent a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Had the DHHS presented this policy to the attorney general, she could have advised the department on its legality. Instead, Maine is facing a potential cut in funding for that important program.

Mainers may have a long four years ahead, but now is not the time to give up. We must believe in the power of the three branches of government and fight to ensure the legality of the laws and policies introduced in the next few years.

Maine’s working class depends on it.

Karen Bilodeau is an attorney and partner at the workers’ rights law firm of McTeague Higbee. She is a resident of Auburn.

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