Executive Director Patrick Strauch, Bill Ferdinand and I have been spending a lot of time at the Legislature mostly focused on public hearings and work sessions in front of the various committees that have jurisdiction over the many bills we are interested in, however we very much have our eyes and ears around the House and Senate sessions watching day in and day out (along with a few nights), because this is often when shenanigans happen.
Here’s the big picture. Friday is the deadline for committee work – never mind that bills are still getting printed and referenced to committee. There’s intense pressure on the committee process, which is good if you’re trying to kill a bill. It’s bad if you’re trying to get legislation passed that’s complex, because they just don’t have the time. There’s still focus on key issues, but by and large they’re fast and furiously killing bills and carrying many of them over. Soon all the action will move to the House and Senate floors. See chart.
Budget negotiations are at a stalemate. Negotiations are underway with the Appropriations Committee and legislative leadership, however feedback is not positive to date. The current budget expires on June 30th of this year and a new biennial budget is required to start the next fiscal year on July 1st. This requires a 2/3 vote to make it an emergency bill that takes effect (beyond the Governor’s veto authority) by midnight on the 30th of June.
So while waiting to see what unfolds, let’s look at some of the most important of the more than 130 bills MFPC has been watching this session.
ARMING RANGERS: LD 8 finally got its fiscal note, but the details are in the text, more than the numbers. It’s $136,000 for the first year and $6,000 after that. That doesn’t looks like a lot of money, but it doesn’t include training (it says because the training program hasn’t been designed yet, they can’t put a fiscal note on it) or reclassification, which would cost about $500,000. So when the bill is reported out — likely with a divide report — it will go on the Appropriations table with everything else. Then it’s a question of whether it gets funded or not. Then it’s a question of whether the governor vetoes it, although he has consistently vetoed these kinds of bills. If he vetoes, then we’ll try to sustain it.
LANDOWNER LIABILITY: LDs 112, 39, 128 all had implications for landowner liability, which was very concerning from our perspective because of the possibility of unintended consequences tinkering with the laws. There was a very strenuous discussion of the bills and, while we might have been supportive of some of the initiatives, we weren’t unhappy they’ve all been killed and the status quo was preserved. DEAD.
INDIAN TRUST LAND: I want to give credit to Tim Woodcock of Eaton Peabody for his excellent work for MFPC on LD 921, which proposed removing the time and acreage limits on placing Indian lands in federal trust. Tim helped the Judiciary Committee understand the complex Indian Lands Claim Settlement and ultimately legislators had no appetite for extending the acreage limit, but decided extending the time limit made sense because of the complexity of the state and federal process needed to place land in trust. NOT REPORTED OUT.
CITIZEN INITIATIVES: Most of the bills to tighten up the initiative process have been killed, but we’re still waiting for language on LD 31, which likely to come out of the Veterans and Legal Services Committee with a divided report.
BIOMASS: The EUT Committee had an overwhelming agenda since they have oversight of everything from water and sewer districts, to telecommunications and energy. They had many bills and it got to the point this late in the session where they just couldn’t deal with them all. So many of the biomass initiatives that we were interested in were carried over, as well as energy bills, including LD 532, which would have removed the 100-megawatt limit on hydroelectric generators
SCENIC VIEWSHED: We supported LD 1061 in EUT because it initially would have created a stakeholders group to look carefully at visual view shed before expanding the visual impact component of wind energy. Unfortunately the DEP study group was removed from the final version passed by the EUT committee however LD 901 (amendment A) in the Natural Resources Committee was a compromise that we had no objections to because it retains the standard 8-mile limit. It’s passed in the House and Senate and is headed to the governor’s desk.
CAPITAL GAINS: We opposed Sections 11 and 17 of LD 1581 because they would have repealed capital gains tax rates on timberland that were put in place to discourage liquidation harvesting. Many other sections were opposed by other groups and so many concerns were raised that the Taxation Committee just killed the bill.
TOXIC CHEMICALS IN THE WORKPLACE: LD 699 was concerning to many of our manufacturing members who already have sophisticated state and federal procedures and policies in place to protect worker safety. This bill is DEAD.
STATE ASSESSMENT OF MILL PROPERTIES: To retain and attract new manufacturing in Maine we felt it was important to deal with a widely varying process among towns when they assess manufacturing properties in their towns. LD 1479 sought to create a state assessing function for large complicated facilities and create a consistent evaluation criteria. CARRY OVER REQUESTED
That brings us to the point in the session where the rubber hits the road and anything goes. We have some bills that we’re advocating for and some we’re looking to defeat. So stay tuned. It’s quite likely that we will put out a call to action for members to engage with their legislators on significant issues.