With less than 70 days remaining until statutory adjournment, committees are working through the bills that remain. Our team is hard at work following bills our members have identified as priorities through the process. At the same time, we are tracking a number of policies through the rulemaking process. Two draft rules were posted this week with public hearings scheduled and comment periods opened. We have included a special section on rulemaking below for your information. The Council is actively following the process for Chapter 375. This proposed rule is of particular concern because it would have significant impacts on thousands of landowners in all corners of the state. Stay tuned for more information to follow.
On Tuesday, Krysta testified before the Housing Committee in support of LD 2169, “An Act to Support the Development of Workforce Housing to Promote Economic Development in Maine.” This bill, sponsored by Senator Daughtry, would create a loan fund to support the development of workforce housing. While the details of the bill are still in flux, the Council recognizes that the lack of available and affordable housing presents challenges to our members’ ability to attract and attain workers. We appreciate Senator Daughtry’s willingness to address this issue, as it is statewide and significant for employers of all industries.
At the same time, Patrick was in the State and Local Government Committee to present testimony in opposition to LD 2101, “An Act to Strengthen Shoreland Zoning Enforcement.” Presented in response to a specific problem in one municipality, this bill is an overly broad, heavy-handed solution that would be of concern to all landowners, especially those with large land bases that potentially have many permitted projects happening at a single time. As drafted, this bill would give towns and the LUPC the authority to restrict the issuance of, suspend or revoke every permit issued by that authority to a landowner over as little as one single shoreland zoning violation (even if it was unintentional), with the ability to place a lien on that property to recover costs and unpaid fines related to the violation.
While it is important for landowners to be held accountable for violations to shoreland zoning, this bill is overly punitive and it lacks due process. We anticipate that this conversation will continue at the work session. Patrick will continue to make himself available to the committee as this bill evolves.
On Thursday, the Taxation Committee held a work session on LD 1648, “An Act to Make Changes to the Farm and Open Space Tax Law.” After initially opposing the bill last session, the Council joined a stakeholder group to iron out a compromise. After months of work, that group reached agreement on a revised Open Space Tax Law structure designed to make the program more meaningful for landowners while avoiding a potential exodus of the Tree Growth Tax Law program that is important for maintaining wood supply for the industry. While the details of the revision seemed to be accepted by the committee, the Republicans objected to lifting the current acreage cap on the open space law for non-profit landowners and the provision for municipalities to receive a reimbursement similar to the tree growth program. The bill was voted along party lines with the majority voting OTP-AM and the minority voting ONTP.
Next week, we will testify in support of LD 2191, a bill designed to establish a $50 million fund to provide relief to small businesses impacted by the severe weather events that occurred late last year. While our landowners are still assessing the damage, it is clear that the storms inflicted significant damage to vital infrastructure – roads and bridges – and that the repairs needed in both western Maine and Washington County are extensive. Considering the ripple effect these closures have not only on the forest products industry, but also on recreation and tourism, it is our hope that these funds be made available to help offset some of the cost to repair and rebuild for those landowners who wish to participate in the program.
Also next week, the Taxation Committee will hold a second work session on the two child care tax credit bills we support – LD 1222 and LD 1891. We hope that the committee will support some sort of meaningful credit to help employers offset the high cost of child care for employees. Like housing, the lack of affordable child care options in rural Maine limits potential, both for our manufacturers and for families.
As always, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Pat and Krysta