With deadline six weeks away, legislative pace picks up

Although the 128th Legislature got off to a slow start, the pace has most definitely picked up. We are halfway through the session and bills are coming fast and furious. Many of these bills have had public hearings, but haven’t had work sessions yet. So with the deadline nearing to get bills out, the next six weeks will be incredibly busy.

I encourage everybody to pay attention to MFPC’s legislative update and members are always welcome to participate in the policy conference calls on Friday mornings at 8:30 a.m. Just contact Sue McCarthy for information about how to phone in.

With so much going on, I’ll focus today on brief updates.

ARMING RANGERS: Still no details or a fiscal note on exactly how LD 8 proposes to arm and train rangers.

LANDOWNER LIABILITY: LD 128, Sen. Tom Saviello’s bill regarding foraging, has been getting some media attention, but is still tabled in ACF, while the other two landowner liability bills, LD 39 and LD 112, are being discussed by a stakeholder group in Judiciary. We’ve met now a couple of times with the committee analyst and we’re waiting for information to come back to the committee before these bills are worked again. This is a complex issue because what seems to be an easy solution doesn’t always work out that way with lots of unintended consequences. MFPC is there to insure that no matter what – if any – bills were to pass, the liability protections that landowners currently have when the public accesses their property remains in place.

MINING: There are a number of bills and initiatives before ENR and they run the gamut from LD 395, which would adopt the proposed rules that DEP promulgated (MFPC supports) to various bills that seek to either repeal or minimize the mining opportunities that the statute affords. The committee is just starting to take on the post-hearing work on those bills. The issue generally will be around for some time because it’s so complex. So stay tuned.

EDUCATION: Rep. William Tuell’s bill, LD 840, would expand the educational opportunities for students in the unorganized territory (UT). As written, the bill would allow UT students to go to school wherever they want and the cost, including travel, would be borne by the UT, affecting the UT budget and everybody’s tax bill. MFPC opposes this bill and testified that the process should be the same in the UT as in other school districts.

ENERGY: There are a number of initiatives before the EUT committee, including LD 532, another attempt to remove the 100-megawatt limit on hydro generation, which MFPC opposed. The committee is waiting for the PUC’s annual report on Maine’s renewable energy portfolio before it moves forward. MFPC supported LD 822, An Act to Ensure Fairness among Large Consumers of Natural Gas which attempts to address inequity between similar manufacturing facilities that source their natural gas from Maine gas utilities vs the federal pipeline. Right now if you get natural gas at a manufacturing facility from a federal pipeline, you don’t pay an assessment to the natural gas conservation fund which is the Efficiency Maine fund. However, if you buy it locally from a Maine gas utility, then you are subject to the conservation fund assessment. This bill attempts to level the playing field.

SUNDAY HUNTING: All the bills on Sunday hunting – and they run the gamut – have been grouped together for public hearings on Thursday, April 6, in IFW. MFPC will oppose LD 61,  LD 109, LD 189, LD 485 and LD 694 .

TOXIC CHEMICAL ACT: Along with many others, including the governor’s office, MFPC opposed LD 699 in Labor because it would create a new and other layer of regulation around toxics in the workplace used by employees on top of the current state Toxic Use Reduction Act and federal regulations.

COMMERCIAL FORESTRY EXCISE TAX: MFPC opposed LD 541, which would have broken the connection between the tax and the cost of fighting fires. Only the sponsor, Rep. Craig Hickman testified in favor of the bill, which hasn’t had a work session yet.

SCENIC VIEW BOUNDARIES: LD 901 would expand the view range from 8 to 15 miles for wind energy projects. MFPC opposed, along with a number of landowners, contractors, wind energy companies, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and others. There was a support from the environmental community for the bill’s more restrictive approach. A work session on the bill was tabled because EUT has a hearing on another bill, 1061, next Tuesday (April 4) that would pull a stakeholder group together through DEP to look at the scenic view issue and bring recommendations back to the Legislature. That seems to be a conversation that people would rather have before any bill passing. MFPC supports LD 1061.

BUY AMERICA, BUILD MAINE: Public hearings have been held on two familiar and nearly identical bills. Sen. Troy Jackson started this effort in 2013 with LD 890 (vetoed), Rep. John Martin continued it in 2015 with LD 407 (died between the houses) and now Troy Jackson has proposed LD 956 and Sen. Saviello has put in LD 895 this session. The only difference between them is that Sen. Jackson has added language to favor in-state contractors and that’s what the discussion is focused on right now, preferential treatment in bidding of state contracts to Maine-based companies.