Why I Vetoed LD 2004

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.

I care for the health, welfare, opportunity, prosperity, and future of the Wabanaki people, just as I care for every Maine person, and that’s why I signed into law several important tribal bills this week.

I signed into law the historic Mi’kmaq Restoration Act to extend to the Mi’kmaq Nation the same rights and benefits enjoyed by other Wabanaki Nations in Maine. I signed into law the Maine Indian Child Welfare Act to preserve the rights of Indian families during custody and child welfare proceedings involving Indian children. And I signed into law An Act Regarding the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission to improve the functioning of the Commission at the request of the Tribes and legislative leadership.

I share the goal of ensuring the Wabanaki Nations can access benefits that are generally available to other Federally recognized Tribes.

Unfortunately, I do not believe that LD 2004, recently enacted by the legislature, will achieve that goal. I fear it would result in years, if not decades, of new, painful, complex litigation that would only further divide the state and our people.

And that is why last week, I vetoed that bill.

Under the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980, negotiated by the Tribes, the State, and the Federal government, the Maine Tribes received more than $80 million in federal funding to acquire up to 300,000 acres of land—about the size of Androscoggin County. Recognizing that that land, when bought, would likely be spread out all across the state, the State of Maine asked that the parcels remain under State law to avoid a confusing patchwork of laws statewide, and the Tribes agreed.

Under the Settlement Act, the Tribes became eligible for all federal benefits and services afforded to other Tribes. The only exception is a very few number of laws that might conflict directly with Maine laws, just a handful.

As a result, Maine’s Tribes receive a lot of Federal money – more than $420 million just since 2019. They also receive State funds – education funding, revenue sharing, general assistance, and money from the Oxford Casino – funds that other Tribes across the nation do not receive.

But instead of specifically addressing the very few Federal laws that do not now apply to the Wabanaki Nations, LD 2004 attempted to upend the 1980 agreement wholesale.

LD 2004 would repeal a broad swath of unnamed, unidentified State laws on Tribal Territory, lands that they now hold or might later acquire anywhere in the State of Maine – laws that could regulate things like fish and game, water quality and land use, fire safety and building standards, education requirements, labor and employment laws. This would create a situation where people would not know what laws are in effect in any particular place in Maine. The only way to solve those questions would be by very contentious and lengthy lawsuits.

By removing any State or Local regulatory authority, this bill would transfer the authority of Tribal lands to the Federal government – putting the Feds in charge.

Well, don’t we think that the turmoil that the federal government just put Maine lobstermen through with its Right Whale regulations is a pretty good example of why we shouldn’t leave the Feds in charge?

But maybe the most alarming part of this situation is that if this bill were to take effect, with all these unintended consequences, the Maine Legislature could not simply come back and fix them in the next session or in later sessions on their own. They’d have to get the agreement of all four Tribes. It’s in effect, a binding contract and in effect, irreversible.

That’s a high stakes proposition for all the 1.3 million citizens of Maine, especially since they didn’t even have a chance to understand the complex bill. After all, the final language was printed the same day it was voted on in both the House and Senate.

You know, like any politician, I could just stick my finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing and I could sign this bill and make a lot of people happy, but that would not be the responsible thing to do – and not doing my job as Governor.

I vetoed LD 2004 because I know that we can deliver the promise of greater benefits for Tribal communities while avoiding the confusion and litigation that bill would cause. I want to focus on the specific problems and the specific Federal laws the Tribes may not be benefitting from, and work together with them and Maine’s Congressional Delegation, and make those laws apply where we think they make sense.

The State and the Tribes have made historic progress these last four and a half years — more than under any governor in the last forty years — and that’s as a result of deliberate and respectful dialogue, and I am committed to continuing that work in the years to come.

This is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.