AUGUSTA, Maine - Republican Governor Paul LePage has again vetoed a bill designed to ensure that Mainers with private wells are drinking water that is safe. LD 454 attempts to bring private drinking water sources more in line with the oversight already in place for public water supplies, through improved education, recommendations, and expanded testing for potentially lethal contaminants.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Karen Vachon (R- Scarborough) was disappointed to learn of the governor's veto. "This bill was so very important to me," she told Maine Public Saturday morning, "and this is the second time around, as you know."
A similar bill was passed by the 127th legislature and vetoed by Governor LePage, where lawmakers failed to overturn that veto by a margin of two votes.
"What happened last time will not happen this time," said Vachon. "where I think we are heads and tails over where we were last time, is I think that law makers really, really understand what's going on in each of their districts. I'm confident we've got the votes to overturn the veto."
Emma Halas-O'Connor, Environmental Health Campaign Manager with the Environmental Health Strategy Center, says the bill had strong bipartisan support, because it was a health issue that affected people in all districts of the state. "Most of our population actually relies on well water for drinking and cooking. So, when you have a state where so many people are relying on residential well water it's really important that everyone who has a well knows to how to get it tested for arsenic and other contaminants."
Halas-O'Connor says about one in eight wells in Maine contains arsenic- a figure which may surprise Mainers living in more pristine areas of the state; the metallic element occurs naturally in Maine, and prolonged exposure can cause a variety of health problems, including bladder cancer.
In vetoing the 2015 bill, Governor LePage said he saw it as largely unnecessary, as the numbers of people requesting well tests had increased significantly in recent years. This session, those with objections included Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport) who expressed reservations about the bill's funding source, which comes from water testing fees. Fredette was one of 25 members to vote against the bill in May.
LD 454 is now scheduled to be taken up by the House on Monday morning, and by the Senate later that day, where it must attain a two-thirds majority in both chambers to achieve an override of the governor's veto.