Gov. LePage on Wednesday vetoed a bill because, he says, it would limit his power as chief executive. He’s right - and that’s exactly the point.
The governor wants to use his executive power to all but eliminate a program that’s effective at identifying and helping at-risk kids. While evidence mounts that the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t doing enough to protect children from abuse, LePage wants to make certain that it can’t do any more.
L.D. 1874 would fund the $2.2 million Community Partnerships for Protecting Children program through the end of January, when the next governor will be in office. It passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House, and lawmakers should remember why it got so much support when they return to Augusta next week to deal with the governor’s veto.
Until very recently, the program appeared to have a bright future. Started in the Portland area about a decade ago, it had great success bringing schools, police, churches, nonprofits and others in a community together to work with families whose children were at risk of abuse or neglect. The program was expanded just two years ago, and now serves all of southern Maine plus Augusta, Bangor, Belfast and Lewiston.
Earlier this year, however, the Le-Page administration told the organizations that contract to run the program that it would be eliminated in the fall, saying that state officials had determined it to be duplicative of other state efforts and not “evidence-based” enough for their liking.
Even if the decision had not come out immediately after the beating deaths of 4-year-old Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, it would have been a poor one.
The program’s ability to target resources just where they are needed, and to deal in a variety of ways with difficult and vulnerable populations, soon became apparent, and lawmakers acted swiftly to save it.
But the deaths of Kendall and Marissa, both after extended periods of physical abuse that appear to have been missed by the state, revealed the likelihood of deep problems within Child Protective Services, and led the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee to launch an investigation into the state’s handling of the children’s cases and the child-protection system as a whole.
It would be foolish to change anything until that investigation is complete. The evidence points clearly to a system that has far too few eyes watching out for child abuse, yet LePage still wants to end it.