Bills

LePage vetoes bills to raise tobacco-buying age and ban cellphone use while driving

AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday he had vetoed two bills that ban the use of cellphones and other hand-held devices while driving and raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21.

Lawmakers will take veto override votes when they return to the State House for what is expected to be a one-day session on Aug. 2.

Speaking during his weekly call-in appearance on the Bangor-based WVOM talk radio show, LePage said he was opposed to laws that amounted to “social engineering.”

“I don’t believe that social engineering a society is going to create a good society,” LePage told the show’s hosts, George Hale and Christian Greeley.

Greeley, the town of Holden’s police chief and a former state lawmaker, said enforcing Maine’s current laws against distracted driving and texting while driving is difficult because drivers frequently say they were only answering a call, or picking their phone up to make a call.

“(It’s) a very hard law to enforce because the automatic defense from the driver is I was just about to make a phone call, I was accepting a phone call,” Greeley said, “and that takes away the ability, oftentimes, for law enforcement to prosecute texting and driving cases.”

But LePage argued with Greeley, saying police should simply confiscate a person’s phone and look at it to tell whether they were trying to make or accept a call or send a text message. Greeley responded that police can’t simply confiscate evidence without a search warrant.

LePage said he vetoed the bill that increases the legal age to buy cigarettes or other tobacco products, including vaping equipment, because 18-year-olds are deemed mature enough to join the military.

“I’m not going to strap a gun to their shoulder and go fight a war if they can’t go buy cigarettes,” LePage said. “I’ll tell you this is just sinful, it is absolutely sinful, and I believe that at 18 they are mature enough to make a decision and I’m tired of living in a society where we social engineer our lives.”

Both bills passed with broad bipartisan support in the Legislature, with the House voting 113-34 to raise the age for purchasing tobacco to 21 and the Senate backing the measure on a vote of 31-4, more than the two-thirds margin that would be needed to overturn LePage’s veto.

The bill banning the use of hand-held electronic devices passed by a narrower margin, with a House vote of 85-60 and a Senate vote of 21-14. Neither of those votes exceeded the two-thirds margin.

Official veto messages for the bills, which explain the governor’s reasoning in letters addressed to the Legislature, were not available from LePage’s office Tuesday morning. His communications director, Peter Steele, in an email to the Press Herald that LePage had not actually vetoed the bills yet but will do so within the 10-day period alloted from the time lawmakers passed the two measures.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

[email protected]

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