‘Best we’ve felt in a long time,’ Commissioner Whitcomb says after latest ACF merger changes approved

Commissioner Walt Whitcomb at ACF Committee Thursday.
Commissioner Walt Whitcomb speaks with the ACF Committee Thursday.

The discussion of the ACF merger bill Thursday was quiet, short and mostly technical, but the vote to approve this version of LD 837 was another major step, said ACF Commissioner Walt Whitcomb.

When asked after the work session if he was relieved, Whitcomb smiled. “Oh yes,” he said. “It’s the best we’ve felt in a long time.”

The ACF Committee voted to approve various changes in Parts B, C and D of LD 837, including shifting of positions in the department, thus avoiding a bill that would have added any new ones, and changes in names, such as replacing the word “bureau” with “division.”

Whitcomb also presented the committee with an organizational chart of the department (which preserves the four-bureau structure proposed by the Natural Resource Network) and a chart of the commissioner’s office.

All nine committee members present voted yes, but the two who had voted no consistently Rep. Peter Kent, D-Woolwich, and Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, were absent from the room, as were two supporters, Sen. James Boyle, D-Cumberland, and Rep. Robert Saucier, D-Presque Isle.

Still, Whitcomb was cheered by the 11-2 majority the bill achieved in earlier votes. “We had a good vote the other day,” he said. “And we liked the look of that.”

It will take time to get all the changes incorporated into LD 837 and, since some are substantive, the committee will vote again. Then the bill will be considered by the House and Senate.

“I certainly expect it will come up within the next 10 days,” Whitcomb said. “It’s going to be debated. They’ve got hundreds of bills to debate so there’s a scheduling issue.”

With the merger details ironed out, Whitcomb said, the committee can go forward with the ACF budget, which was approved last week.

“My sense is the major decision was made just now and the (ACF) budget will chase that decision,” Whitcomb said Wednesday. “I’ve had no indication they want to tinker with the budget.”

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