The good, the bad and the familiar at the Legislature

Happy New Year, happy new legislative session. The 128th Maine Legislature has convened its first regular session, first-time legislators are learning their way around the State House and the process within, and we are all learning about them. 

Joint committee assignments have been released and bills titles have been filed, which gives us some sense of the issues we will be working on.  Many of the debates we’ve been involved with in years past will be back, including arming rangers, attacks on Tree Growth, Sunday hunting, mining regulations, the citizen-initiated referendum process, landowner liability, biomass and scores of bills to improve the energy market in Maine.

I have high hopes for a successful session. Legislative leaders have spoken to the need to “work together for the citizens of Maine,” “collaborate” and “put party politics aside.” In the first days of this session we have seen just that, with a bipartisan and unanimous response to address concerns with one of last fall’s ballot initiatives.  That sentiment and approach is what we need as we engage in the various issue debates and the Legislature works to create a biennial budget required by June 30.

On February 2, the members of the Maine Forest Economy Growth Initiative (MFPC, PLC, SWOAM, MDF) will be making a presentation to the  Labor, Commerce, Research and  Economic Development Committee about our priorities to strengthen the economy and how the recently completed EDAT report addresses these priorities. This same group will be presenting on February 7 to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee about our priorities and findings in the EDAT report that relate to the topic of biomass energy in Maine.

At MFPC, the Policy Committee holds a conference call each Friday at 8:30 a.m.  to discuss and determine positions on bills as they are printed. I would encourage members to join in for an interesting and healthy conversation about the issues before us. Contact Sue McCarthy if you’d like to participate.

Thus far, we have discussed several bills of particular interest:

LD 39 and LD 112 are two bills before the Judiciary Committee that would amend the landowner liability statute, the first by including “lessee or sublessee or holder of an easement from the landowner” and the second by including “construction, maintenance or expansion of trails and facilities commonly associated with recreation or harvesting  activities including parking lots, warming shelters, restrooms, outhouses, bridges and culverts.”  Both attempt to expand the list of recreational and harvesting activities allowed and provide more protections to landowners, which we generally support. However we always need to be cautious of tinkering with the provisions of this statue and creating some unintended consequence.

LD 8 is a bill sponsored by Rep. Tuell of East Machias that will be heard before the ACF Committee and would allow “forest rangers to have a personal concealed firearm for personal protection while on duty.” MFPC will be opposing this bill at the public hearing on Tuesday, January 31st.

The Council will be again hosting a Legislative Reception on Thursday, February 9th from 4 – 7 p.m.  I would encourage all to attend as we get to meet legislators from around the state who are making critical decisions about and for our industry. (RSVP for reception.)

Additionally, I ESPECIALLY encourage all of our members to reach out and create a dialogue to your elected officials in the House and Senate.  As bills are debated, Patrick, MFPC staff and I are all engaged at the State House, but a constituent call or message is powerful and often can be the difference between a vote for us or against. (Find your town’s senator and representative.)

They are your elected officials and work for you, so please take the time to develop a relationship and tell them about the amazing and significant industry we have in this state.