Keeping everything in perspective this week, the most important news is that Deputy Director Krysta West had an 8lbs. 6 oz baby boy named William James West on Tuesday. We wish them well while Krysta is out on leave.
The legislature is working diligently to finish committee work by next Friday the 26th. Committees will vote on the bills that should be carried over into the next session. The activity will then shift to the House and Senate where bills will be debated and voted on. There are still big-ticket items like the Part II Budget and whether parties can agree to a bond package. Other issues include Paid Family Leave, Tribal Sovereignty, and a host of Labor and Environmental bills. This is a lot to deal with prior to the planned June 21st adjournment and, there are rumors that the legislature may return in late summer to continue with unfinished business. We will keep you posted because your voices are important and make a difference.
Here’s a look at the bills we engaged on this week in Augusta:
In the ACF Committee on Monday, we had several bill hearings. The first was LD 1874, “An Act to Support Maine Loggers’ and Truckers’ Right to Work in Maine by Improving Labor Standards. This bill turned into an indictment of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, with claims by the sponsor that the standards did not support labor rights. The Professional Logging Contractors also spoke against SFI in favor of the Forest Stewardship Council standard (find their testimony here). The SFI State Implementation Committee will weigh in on the issue. (Our testimony can be found here)
The second hearing was LD 1849 “An Act to Ensure Fair and Timely Payment In the Harvesting of Forest Products”. Senator Jackson testified that the provision for loggers to get scaled by an alternative method (e.g., “Butt Scaled”) if loads were to remain unhauled for 15 days, was not being adhered to and suggested the MFS should perform spot checks of compliance. It’s still unclear if the provision also includes a 15-day payment schedule. We disputed the concern that this was a widespread issue (read our testimony). We will provide more information at the work session.
The Tax Committee on Wednesday held a hearing on LD 1648 “An Act to Make Changes to the Farm and Open Space Law.” The Council testified in opposition to this bill because it needs further work. We seek input into the re-design of the program and also need to ensure it compliments the Tree Growth Taxation program. We are willing to work with stakeholders if the bill is carried over into the next session.
The ENR Committee continues to discuss Mining bills. It appears that LD 1363 “An Act to Support Extraction of Common Minerals by Amending the Maine Metallic Mineral Mining Act” will be the vehicle to a negotiated agreement enabling Lithium mining.
Also in ENR, LD 1926 “An Act to Impose a Moratorium on New Point Source Waste Discharge Licenses On the Lower Presumpscot River” had a hearing. The Council is opposed to this legislation that could affect member mills located in that section of the river.
The Week Ahead
The Labor Committee met on Thursday for a hearing on LD 1794 An Act to Enhance the Predictability of mandated Overtime for Pulp or Paper Manufacturing Facility Employees. Ryan McAvoy from SAPPI testified as the Council President against this bill along with Executive Committee member Scott Beal from Woodland Pulp (our testimony can be found here). The proposed bill would legislate overtime terms that are typically part of contract negotiations and could significantly disadvantage both employees and the companies they work for. In order to run operations 24/7, overtime is a requirement for pulp and paper mill jobs. In exchange, workers are paid well with generous benefits packages. Recent mill closures show what happens when expenses get too high. LD 1794 would undoubtedly drive up costs and exasperate the ongoing workforces shortages that are being felt all across the state.
Next Thursday the hearing on LD 1964, “An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Commission to Develop a Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits Program” will be the focus of the business community. We are evaluating the language as we speak in preparation for the hearing on Thursday in front of the Labor Committee and will share talking points the first of next week. The bill is arriving at the ninth hour and involves many provisions. Complicating the debate will be the Maine People’s Alliance Ballot Initiative which will be submitted if the legislation fails. The Council will be opposed to the bill because increasing costs and potential leaves of absence during at time of labor shortages will place a severe strain on our member companies and communities. We will provide more materials for your review early next week.