Update From Augusta
by Dist. Rep. Matt Peterson
Legislative Session Wrap-Up
After more than six months, I will not be turning instinctively to drive to Augusta when I head out of my driveway, for the First Session of the 125th Maine State Legislature adjourned on June 29th. The new Governor and new Republican majority in both the House and Senate came to Augusta promising to change the direction of Maine state government and began the session with many bold initiatives to make good on that promise. By the time the session ended, there were clearly some new priorities and some new directions, but in the tradition of Maine’s government most of the changes were incremental and there was significant bi-partisan support for many initiatives.
Here are some of the highlights from the session, as well as an update on the legislation that I sponsored and shepherded through the process.
First, the Legislature passed a number of bills that will be a “down payment” on far-reaching regulatory reform the Governor and his party promised during the campaign. L.D. 1, which was designed as a comprehensive regulatory reform bill passed in a modified form that included many common sense elements and was supported almost unanimously by members. The more far-reaching elements in that bill were eliminated during the debate as a bi-partisan compromise was shaped.
Similarly, initiatives to eliminate the Land Use Regulation Commission which oversees development in Maine’s unorganized territories was defeated, as were efforts to eliminate Maine’s ban on billboards and recently enacted protections for vernal pools. These issues will likely be revisited in the next session.
Second, major changes in the rules governing the health insurance market were enacted over strenuous objections. This initiative will also likely be revisited as the effects of federal health care changes are more fully understood, as well as the impact of these changes in the state insurance regulatory environment. This is another area where the debate will likely be ongoing.
Third, there were a number of initiatives that would change the rules governing abortion, reproductive rights and the status of unborn children. All of these initiatives were defeated after lengthy and often emotional debates on the floor in both Chambers. These were votes of conscience for many lawmakers and did not tend to follow party affiliations.
Another area of concern was changes in laws governing voting in Maine. Most of these initiatives, described by supporters as measures to protect against voter fraud and characterized by opponents as efforts to limit voter participation, were defeated with one important exception. The 40-year tradition of same day registration was overturned on a close, party-line vote after passionate debate. We have not heard the end of this issue and supporters of Maine’s tradition of same day registration have already started organizing a petition drive to put a people’s veto of this matter on the November ballot.
A group of other bills aimed at limiting the rights of workers to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining and participate in union activities were also defeated, although this discussion will re-emerge in the next session.
I sponsored a diverse set of legislative initiatives in this session and had a good deal of success working across the aisle to get these initiatives passed. Several of these bills were as a direct result of concerns expressed by constituents in District 92, and it is a special privilege for me to work for the passage of these initiatives. Here is a brief rundown of the bills I introduced in the 125th Legislature.
"Resolve, To Establish the Commission To Study the Promotion and Expansion of the Maine Maple Sugar Industry" was designed to enhance the branding of Maine maple sugar products, the use of the maple resource, increasing value added jobs and promoting export markets. This bill passed with strong support and has been signed into law by the Governor.
“An Act To Prevent the Disclosure of Student Social Security Numbers" protects the security of our children and students’ confidential information by repealing the provisions authorizing the Commissioner of Education to require local school units to request and report student social security numbers to the Department of Education. This bill passed with unanimous support and has been signed into law by the Governor.
“Resolve, To Leverage Federal Opportunities for Job Creation in Maine” which directs the Department of Economic and Community Development to monitor and evaluate federal development incentives and analyze how state programs and resources, including tax policies and training programs, coordinate with these federal initiatives to make sure that Maine is maximizing and taking advantage of all available resources to create quality jobs for Maine citizens. This bill passed with unanimous support and has been signed into law by the Governor.
"An Act To Enhance Long-term Care Services for Maine Citizens" builds upon a previous legislative proposal that I sponsored and passed in the 124th Legislature, and reorganizes the provision of long-term care services for Maine citizens. It streamlines long-term care services with the goal of making them more accessible for seniors and people with a disability and provides a framework for consolidated in-home and community support services and nursing facility services with combined funding and integrated service delivery. This bill passed with unanimous support and will become law at the end of September.
"An Act To Regulate Boxing and Prizefighting in Maine" amends the law that creates the Mixed Martial Arts Authority of Maine to include boxing and renames the authority the Combat Sports Authority of Maine. By doing this, professional boxing events may commence in Maine once again. This bill passed with unanimous support and has been signed into law by the Governor.
"Resolve, To Establish Baseline Information on Health Impacts from Grid-scale Wind Energy Development" would direct the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health and Human Services, Public Utilities Commission and Executive Department, and the State Planning Office to establish an interagency task force to develop a database of scientific studies that document possible health impacts from grid scale wind energy developments. This bill, one of a large group of bills dealing with wind energy was voted Ought Not to Pass unanimously by the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology. However, a significant amount of the language of the bill was added to the more comprehensive bill on wind power developed by the Committee that drew the best elements from all the bills presented on this subject. That measure passed both chambers of the Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor.
Overall, this session was both challenging and rewarding. I am pleased with the success of bills that will improve the economic and job prospects for the citizens of District 92, protect the privacy of Maine students, and improve outcomes for vulnerable citizens who need services in order to secure their health and safety. Those bills where I worked with local citizens in District 92 to pass important legislation are a matter of particular satisfaction.
Serving as your legislator and representing you in Augusta is a very great honor and one that I take very seriously. Again this year, I am happy to report to you that I have 100% voting record -- having never missed a recorded vote in the House Chamber. In the three years I have served, I have only missed a few recorded votes, and those came in my first year as a legislator because I had to travel out of state on legislative business for a day and a half during the session. I was elected to serve, and I will continue to try to do that to the best of my abilities. The best way for you to help me reach that goal is to keep in touch with me -- share your concerns, your ideas and you opinions. As always, you can call me at 776-8051 or reach me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again for your support and the privilege of serving you. I look forward to seeing you this summer as we enjoy our beautiful part of the world.