Update from Augusta
Spring must be coming -- the Legislative session is in full swing, with activities and deliberations four or five days a week. What follows are some general observations as well as some specifics of legislation that I have introduced and will be working to promote.
The General Mood
The session opened with predictions and warnings coming from all sides. “There will be a revolution and a massive shift in priorities.” “Maine’s government and institutions will be fundamentally transformed.” “This will be the end of ‘business as usual’ under the dome in Augusta.” “The interest of Maine citizens will be sacrificed to a radical agenda.” And on and on. After a couple of months of overheated rhetoric, the actual picture is beginning to emerge.
Yes, the historic realignment between the parties has meant some significant change in Augusta, but they have not been as earth-shaking as either side predicted. The people pursuing a strong political agenda from either side are still pursuing their agendas -- but overall legislators from both parties tend to do most of their work together in the middle. That does not seem to have changed. The atmosphere is not overcharged with partisanship and the vast majority of legislators in both parties are looking for ways to work together to get things done for their constituents -- Maine citizens.
The centerpiece of any legislative session is the deliberation of the biennial budget, or modifications to that budget based on changes in the state’s revenue forecasts. Our budget, more than any other piece of legislation, reflects our priorities as a government and our values as a state. The same is true this year. It is always difficult for any newly elected Governor to come off the campaign trail and immediately start the process of developing a new two year budget. This year has been no exception.
Governor LePage’s budget as originally submitted to the Legislature makes a clear statement about his priorities and his political philosophy. The deliberations to this point have followed a familiar pattern, and the Legislature is now “circling the airport” a bit waiting for the Governor to release a change package -- modified proposals based on the new information that has been received -- both in terms of changing revenue projections as well as some early reactions to the initial budget document.
Once the “Governor’s change package” has been released, the negotiations will intensify, but it seems clear now that the final budget will be a document based on compromise and consensus as it has been in most past years. Since the budget must be in place by July 1st, and no regular bills -- including the budget -- go into effect until 90 days after the adjourned of the Legislature, once we reach April 1st, the budget must be passed as emergency legislation (which means it can go into effect sooner than the 90 days post-adjournment mandated by the state’s constitution). Emergency legislation requires a 2/3rds vote of the Legislature -- so the budget will move to the center where it must be supported by members of both parties.
That process, while cumbersome, produces a budget that is usually more in line with the values and common sense of Maine people -- and I expect that will be the outcome this session. There will be drama and lots of rhetoric from all sides, but in the end, I expect we will pass a budget that will continue to serve Maine people. No one will be 100% happy with the outcome -- but the document will end up being much more centrist than the early commentaries have indicated. Hold on for a long and lively debate.
Specific Legislative Proposals
So far this session, I have presented a few bills and more are scheduled in the next few weeks. Here is a brief update on these initiatives.
L.D. 109 Resolve, To Establish the Commission To Study the Promotion and Expansion of the Maine Maple Sugar Industry. I have presented a bill to look more closely at our Maple products industry to find new ways to promote these products -- better utilize our natural resources and create more jobs. The bill was heard on February 10th by the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, and was generally well received. A work session will be scheduled soon, but since this is “sugaring season” that discussion will wait until more of the interested processors are out of the woods and available to help the committee in its deliberations.
L.D. 679 Resolve, To Leverage Federal Opportunities for Job Creation in Maine. On March 17th, I presented this bill to the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development where it was discussed and a work session will be scheduled in the near future. This bill calls upon the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development to look for ways that federal and state resources may be leveraged together to create more job opportunities for Maine citizens.
Over the next few weeks, other bills I am sponsoring will be coming before the appropriate committees and I will provide updates as they approach. Already printed, but not yet scheduled for public hearings are:
L.D. 504 An Act To Prevent the Disclosure of Student Social Security Numbers;
L.D. 683 An Act To Enhance Long-term Care Services for Maine Citizens;
L.D. 818 Resolve, To Improve the Training and Retention of Maine's Professional Direct Care and Personal Supports Workforce;
LD 889 An Act To Regulate Boxing and Prizefighting in Maine;
LD 1035 Resolve, To Establish Baseline Information on Health Impacts from Grid-scale Wind Energy Development.
I will post updates as these and other initiatives continue to develop throughout the remainder of the First Regular Session of the 125th Legislature. In the meantime, I can always be reached by phone at 776.8051 and via email at email@example.com. As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve you.