by Félix Pérez
By now residents of Maine are no longer surprised at the illogical, harebrained and sometimes profane statements and actions by Gov. Paul LePage. But his veto of a bill to help feed hungry students during the summer was one step too far for state legislators.
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The Maine House voted last week, 92-45, to block LePage’s veto of legislation that would increase the number of Maine low-income schoolchildren who can get food over the summer. The state Senate voted to override the veto two days earlier on a vote of 25-10. Both chambers were able to gather the required two-thirds vote.
Senator and Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland said in a statement:
This is a victory for Maine students. The Legislature stood together in helping potentially thousands of hungry students all across Maine during the summer time. Our students are Maine’s future and it’s critical we give every student the opportunity to thrive all year around.
According to the Food Research Action Center, only 16.5 percent of the 84,000 Maine children who qualify for the summer food program participate in the program. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 20 percent of Maine children are “food insecure,” defined as not having consistent access to adequate food because of a lack of money or other resources.
The bill would require school units where at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch to operate a summer food service program if the public school in the area operates a summer education or recreation program. School units that want to opt out of the program for any reason can do so.
LePage called the bill an unfunded mandate on local communities. To that point, Alfond pointed out the federal school nutrition program reimburses school districts for 100 percent of the cost.
LePage, described recently by a national magazine as “America’s craziest governor,” has been a magnet for controversy since entering office in 2011.
In his first month as governor, he told the NAACP to “kiss my butt” after the organization criticized his decision not to attend a Martin Luther King Day breakfast. He dismissed complaints of his elimination of the ban on the toxic chemical bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, saying the worst that could happen was that “some women may have little beards.” Most recently, LePage argued that state regulations governing child labor are hurting the state’s economy and holding back children who may not be cut out for school.
Alfond’s bill will become law 90 days after the legislature adjourns.