By Michele MacLean, Council lobbyist
The pace at the legislature is slowly picking up and more and more bills are getting printed. We are around 700 bills printed so far with approximately 1,000 still yet to be drafted. We still await the ACF merger language.
The Tax Committee held hearings Monday on two tree growth bills, LD 400, An Act To Amend the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law, and LD 492, An Act To Increase Reimbursement to Municipalities under the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law. The Council strongly opposed LD 400 which would require wood harvested off of tree growth enrolled land to be harvested by Maine workers and processed within Maine. The only support for the bill came from the sponsor, Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, and co-sponsor, Senator Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, specifically raising bonded labor as an issue that should be tied to Tree Growth eligibility. Many lined up in opposition including MFPC, SWOAM, the Maine Forest Service (MFS), PLC, Maine Audubon, Huber Resources (see video) and The Nature Conservancy. A work session was held March 1 with some discussion by the legislative committee about bonded labor. However it was ultimately decided that the Tax Committee had no jurisdiction over labor matters. Furthermore the committee wanted to wait to see the MFS treegrowth report due back to them next session. The bill was unanimously voted ought not to pass.
LD 492, a separate tree growth bill, was drafted as a concept bill. Without legislative language and based upon the title, MFPC testified in opposition, raising concerns about increasing municipal reimbursement rates and negatively affecting the overall program as well as referring to the last MFS study on Tree Growth, which recommended no changes with regard to reimbursement. Language was brought to the Tax Committee at the public hearing specifically addressing municipal reimbursement versus the countywide rate. The bill was tabled in the Tax Committee, while a fiscal analysis is done. There is some interest on the committee in moving forward with a version suggested by the Maine Municipal Association at the hearing.
A work session was held on LD 107, A RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Permit the Legislature To Provide a One-year Period of Penalty Relief for Withdrawal of Forest Land from Current Use Valuation. The is a bill by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, which we wrote about several weeks ago. A motion was made by Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Somerset, to allow properties of 25 acres or less to be withdrawn for one year without penalty. The motion to accept his amendment failed and the bill was then voted ought not to pass by an 8-4 vote. Sen. Thomas’ proposal will be the minority report. The bill is essentially dead, as a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote by the Legislature before going to the voters, which clearly would be a challenge.
In Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry on Tuesday, there was a public hearing on LD 284, An Act To Amend the Duties of the Division of Forestry, which was a Department bill that would include landowner relations and a supporting program to be included within the Forest Services mission. MFPC and SWOAM testified in support referencing the outstanding work that has already been done between MFS and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to support landowners with clean-up days and efforts to stop illegal dumping of trash, as well as patrols in the spring for vehicle traffic on private roads to minimize rutting on soft roads. The bill was unanimously voted ought to pass by the committee.
The Natural Resource Network will be meeting next Tuesday morning at the Council office with ACF Commissioner Walt Whitcomb and Carlie MacLean, a senior advisor to Gov. Paul LePage, to hear their plan and legislative proposal on the ACF merger as well as to reviewing a proposed merger organizational chart.