AGO 05-4.

Case Date:March 30, 2005
Court:Maine
 
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Maine Attorney General Opinions 2005. AGO 05-4. STATE OF MAINE DEPARTMENT OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL 6 STATE HOUSE STATION AUGUSTA, MAINE 04333-0006 March 30, 200505-4Representative Barbara E. MerrillMaine House of Representatives 122nd Maine Legislature 2 State House Station Augusta, ME 04333-0002 Dear Representative Merrill: In correspondence dated March 7, 2005, you asked me to address a series of questions regarding L.D. 1, now P.L. 2005, c. 2 (hereafter "Chapter 2") and the interplay of that bill with the school funding initiative approved by voters in June, 2004 (IB 2003, c.2; hereafter, "the Initiative"). As a general matter, your questions concern the power of the Legislature to amend the terms of an initiated measure that has been approved by the voters. The Legislature does possess this power as a matter of law, because the Legislature's constitutional authority to amend or repeal existing law applies equally to initiatives. Moreover, where an initiative makes no provision for raising the revenue required for its implementation, Maine's Constitution delays the initiative's operative date until 45 days after the Legislature has next convened, thus expressly recognizing a role for the Legislature. In this instance, the Initiative left the Legislature with the responsibility of determining how to fund an increase in state aid to education within existing budget constraints. The Legislature's resolution of this funding issue, as embodied in Chapter 2, reflects a lawful exercise of its constitutional authority to enact laws and make appropriations. I. Background The legislative history recounted in your letter agrees with my understanding of events. Briefly restated, in June of 2004 the voters approved a citizen initiative pursuant to Me. Const. art. IV, pt. 3, § 18. The Initiative provided that the State should pay 55% of the cost of public ucation, and 100% of special education costs.(fn1) Because the Initiative contained unfunded financial obligations, it did not become operative until January, 14, 2005.(fn2) After the operative date of the Initiative, the Legislature passed An Act to Increase the State Share of Education Costs, Reduce Property Taxes and Reduce Government Spending at All Levels, P.L. 2005, c. 2 (Chapter 2). Signed by the Governor on January 21, 2005, Chapter 2 is a comprehensive law that attempts to address and harmonize education laws relating to finance, programs and services. It contains state-share funding provisions different from those established by the Initiative, in that Chapter 2 contemplates a phase-in period spanning five years before the 55% goal is reached. Because Chapter 2 was not enacted as an emergency measure it will not become effective until 90 days after the Legislature adjourns. It is important to note, however, that once effective, Chapter 2 will retroactively apply to school budgets passed for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2005.3 II. Questions(fn4) Question 1: Article IV of the Maine Constitution reserves for the people the right to enact into law initiatives which the Legislature has rejected. When the people enact such a law, as they did in the present case, does the Legislature have the power to repeal the law before it is ever implemented? The short answer to this question is yes; the Legislature does have the power to repeal or amend an initiated law, and may do so either expressly or by implication. Farris ex rel. Dorsky v. Goss, 143 Me. 227, 60 A.2d 908(1948); Opinion of the Justices, 673 A.2d 693, 695 (Me. 1996), citing to Manigault v. Springs, 199 U.S. 473 (1905) and other cases; Op. Me. Att'y Gen. (April 26, 1976). Your letter is correct in pointing out that Article IV reserves for the people the right to initiate legislation and to nullify, by way of a "people's veto" laws they do not approve of. At the same time, there is nothing in Maine's Constitution that forbids the people's elected representatives, when gathered in legislative session, from reconsidering, amending, or repealing initiated laws. This is so because, while citizen-initiated laws take a different route towards adoption and are subject to different enactment procedures from those followed by the Legislature, at the end of the day, initiated laws are like any other. Maine's Law Court has described this principle as follows: "This [initiated] bill, if...

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