Here’s what issues lawmakers want to debate in the Second Session
The Second Session of the 131st Legislature is almost here. Over the next two months before the session officially begins, the Legislative Council – a 10-person body comprised of Legislative leadership – will screen new bill requests to decide if they will be considered in the coming session. Unlike the First Session where lawmakers can propose any number of bills they wish, the Second Session is reserved for so-called “emergency” measures, in addition to bills carried over from the First Session.
However, the party in power – and thus in control of a majority of the seats on the Legislative Council – often flexes its muscle during this time to allow several non-emergency measures into the session.
Earlier this fall, we learned that lawmakers submitted 284 new bill requests, hoping to get their ideas approved by the Council and admitted into the Second Session for debate. It’s important to note that, currently, we do not have the full legal language of these proposals. All we have to date is a proposed bill title. However, we can use those titles to surmise the direction in which these bills intend to go. Based on that albeit limited information, below is a list of good bills, bad bills, and bills that, if approved by the Council, will likely be the source of substantive policy disputes among lawmakers in 2024.
LR 2918: An Act to Remove the Enrollment Cap on Maine’s Virtual Charter Schools
Sponsored by Rep. Barbara Bagshaw, R-Windham
This bill request does exactly what its title describes. Though Maine has a public charter school system, the overall number of school allowed to operate in the state is capped at 10 schools. Similarly, the state employs an enrollment cap on the two virtual charter schools that operate in the state. LR 2918 would simply lift that enrollment cap for the two virtual charter schools and allow more students from across Maine to access their educational services.
This bill is a no-brainer. If students wish to enroll in a virtual public charter school and feel such a move would improve the quality of their education and future outcomes, arbitrary enrollment caps shouldn’t stand in their way. However, considering Democrats control the Legislature and are largely beholden to the interests of the teacher’s union – which opposes anything but brick and mortar, traditional public schools – this bill faces an uphill battle before the Legislative Council. If the party in power is serious when its members say they don’t want the quality of a child’s education to be determined by their zip code, they need to make options available to them outside of their local district.
LR 2708: An Act to Protect the Confidentiality of Attorney-Client Email Communications for Residents of Jails and Correctional Facilities
Sponsored by Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cumberland
With recent controversy surrounding Maine jails listening to and recording privileged phone calls between inmates and their attorneys, LR 2708 appears to be a common sense measure to protect the legal rights of inmates in state custody. Despite being in custody, inmates – whether proven guilty, awaiting trial or in the midst of an appeal process – have rights that need to be respected.
LR 2811: An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Income Tax
Sponsored by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winterport
There’s little indication of what exactly this bill aims to do regarding the income tax, but given the sponsor, we’re hopeful it would result in income tax reform that reduces the burden on Maine taxpayers. Faulkingham and his caucus sought large income tax reductions for all Mainers during the last round of budget negotiations, and it seems likely this bill would utilize whatever surplus Maine has in the bank by the end of the current budget cycle as a means to achieve some level of income tax reform before the 131st Legislature adjourns.
LR 2813: An Act to Encourage Business Growth and Improve Employment Benefits by Implementing a Voluntary Paid Medical Leave Program
Sponsored by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-WInterport
Last session, lawmakers passed and Gov. Janet Mills signed into law a paid medical and family leave program that amounts to the largest tax increase on Maine workers in decades, directly violating the governor’s campaign promise not to raise taxes. During those debates, the governor’s administration seemed favorable to a paid leave model more in line with New Hampshire’s, which is voluntary and does not come with required tax increases. Unfortunately, her administration eventually capitulated to legislative Democrats and signed their bill which includes new payroll taxes for Maine workers to fund the system.
LR 2813 looks like Faulkingham’s attempt to rewrite history be revisiting that idea and replacing the paid leave model lawmakers just enacted. While the New Hampshire model is a much better proposal and more business friendly than Maine’s new paid leave law, it seems unlikely that Democrats will be willing to play ball with Faulkingham after enacting their preferred paid leave model just months ago.
LR 2885: An Act to Enhance Legislative Oversight of Rules Regulating Electric Vehicles
Sponsored by Rep. Josh Morris, R-Turner
LR 2885 is likely a response to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s recent review of the Advanced Clean Cars and Advanced Clean Trucks programs, which the Maine DEP was required to consider as a result of a citizen petition of 150 signatures. Currently, rules in this space are considered “routine technical,” meaning they do not require legislative approval. By making electric vehicle regulations major substantive rules, they would be subject to legislative approval moving forward.
This bill would give lawmakers – who represent Maine people, unlike the unelected bureaucrats at the Maine DEP – a direct say in the regulations adopted related to electric vehicle requirements. No Mainer should have their consumer choice in the automobile market stripped from them by unelected bureaucrats. LR 2885 is a common sense proposal that most Mainers likely support, but given the makeup of the Legislative Council, it’s unclear if Democrats are willing to have this policy fight in public.
LR 2826: An Act to Protect Maine’s Supply Chain and Consumers by Requiring Major Substantive Rulemaking for Certain Emissions Standards
Sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash
The bill title here sounds promising like the one above, but I’m skeptical considering who is sponsoring this bill request. There’s little doubt that the people of Allagash have no interest in being required to purchase electric vehicles as the new Advanced Clean Cars rules would require, but it’s unknown if Senate President Troy Jackson has submitted this bill on behalf of a concerned constituent or if it’s really a fight he’s willing to pick with the rest of his party, which largely supports the proposed electric vehicle rules.
LR 2799: An Act to Require the Return of School Budget Surplus Funds to Their Respective Municipalities
Sponsored by Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Winterport
This bill seems like such a no-brainer that it makes you wonder why it’s not law already. Mainers often complain about their property taxes, which often rise annually based on local school budgets. It’s simply prudent and fiscally responsible to have schools return those funds to the towns which support them if they are running a surplus, and those funds could be returned to taxpayers or kept to reduce tax collections during the next budget cycle, ultimately lowering property taxes.
LR 2643: An Act to Repeal the Law Requiring Initiation of Agency Routine Technical Rulemaking Proceedings upon Receipt of a Petition of 150 Voters
Sponsored by Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Androscoggin
This request is also a response to the Maine DEP’s consideration of the California-style electric vehicle regulations mentioned above. Environmental activists utilized a relatively unknown provision of law which allows Maine citizens to petition an executive agency to consider the adoption of a routine technical rule if they collect the required 150 signatures. Thus, 150 people in a state with 1.3 million citizens forced a new rule – which affects everyone who drives a motor vehicle – without the affirmative vote of a single legislator.
If lawmakers don’t put stricter limitations on this process or abolish it altogether, it’s only a matter of time before it gets abused by special interests, much like Maine’s ballot initiative process has been in recent years.
LR 2875: An Act to Provide Greater Parity in Campaign Financing by Including Child Care as an Allowable Expense
Sponsored by Rep. Kristen Cloutier, D-Lewiston
This request really makes you scratch your head, not only because Maine people shouldn’t be footing the bill for other people’s childcare expenses so that individual can run for public office, but also because it makes a mockery of what an emergency is and what kind of bills should be considered during the legislature’s so-called “emergency” session.
LR 2947: An Act to Enact the Maine Won’t Wait Forkforce Development Act to Extend Free Tuition Provisions to the University of Maine System
Sponsored by Rep. Amanda Collamore, R-Pittsfield
The only thing worse than all Maine taxpayers underwriting the higher education of community college students is doing the same thing for all students in the University of Maine System. If someone needs to take out loans to afford their pursuit of higher education, that burden is on them as an individual, not on the rest of society. In no way does this bill qualify as an emergency measure and the fiscal note it would come with would require tax increases that Maine citizens cannot afford.
LR 2784: An Act to Change the Minimum Wage to a Living Wage
Sponsored by Rep. Victoria Geiger, D-Rockland
Several bill requests like to LR 2784 were considered by lawmakers in the First Session and were defeated. In addition, a bill nearly identical to LR 2784 was carried over. It’s hard to understand how this bill can be considered an “emergency” when another one exactly like it is already up for consideration.
LR 2856: An Act to Provide Investment Incentives to Keep the Portland Sea Dogs in the State
Sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash
Who doesn’t love the Portland Sea Dogs? I know I do. But this proposal reeks of corporate welfare. States and cities often hand out lucrative financial incentives to sports teams in the form of corporate welfare and sell it to the public as a way of creating jobs. Unfortunately, research is clear that these corporate handouts do little to improve the economy as a whole. If the Sea Dogs need financial incentives to stay in Portland, maybe they should move to another state where taxpayers are willing to underwrite their existence.
LR 2967: An Act to Prohibit Clearing Encampments of Unhoused Individuals
Sponsored by Rep. Ambureen Rana, D-Bangor
If homeless encampments are posing a health or safety risk to the public, it makes little sense why they can’t be cleared by state or local officials. These encampments often disturb the public as well as businesses that operate close to wherever they crop up. Those who live in and around Portland are more than familiar with them. Unfortunately, they’re also familiar with walking through the public parks that have been taken over by encampments and encountering used needles, drug paraphernalia, feces, and other public health and safety risks.
The government agencies that are eventually tasked with clearing out these encampments when they get too big or unsafe should be wary of destroying private property owned by tenants – even if it sits in a public place – but there’s no reason why encampments that grow dangerous can’t be cleared in the interest of public health and safety.
FIGHTS TO COME?
Prohibiting Paramilitary Camps
At least three bill requests – LRs 2618, 2624 and 2626 – aim to prohibit paramilitary camps in response to the group of neo-Nazis who have settled in northern Maine and have been seen protesting throughout the state. There’s no doubt that lawmakers want to do something to address the situation, but they’ll have to thread the needle carefully. Even if groups espouse ideas and ideologies that most people think are abhorrent, these individuals still have First Amendment rights that must be respected. It will be interesting to see what resolution lawmakers ultimately reach and whether that action can withstand legal scrutiny.
LR 2779: An Act to Reestablish the Property Tax Stabilization Program for Seniors
Sponsored by Sen. Russell Black, R-Franklin
Two years ago, lawmakers passed a property tax stabilization program championed by Republicans that was incredibly popular among seniors. However, it came with a substantial price tag that was estimated to balloon over time as Maine’s old population continued to age. That expansive program was eliminated last session in favor of a proposal that expanded several existing programs to provide tax relief to seniors. It’s unlikely that Democrats in control of the Legislative Council will admit this bill into the session considering the senior citizens affected by the law change would turn out in droves to support it.
Eminent Domain and the Northern Maine Renewable Energy Development Program
At least four different bill requests all relate to the use of eminent domain related to the Northern Maine Renewable Energy Development Program, which is home to the latest transmission line proposed to run through northern Maine. After the project received initial approval and its backers workedd to finalize exactly where the line will run, affected property owners have called on their lawmakers to throw a wrench in the works and save their property from seizure.
Considering lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have proposed prohibiting the use of eminent domain for the project, or developing alternative pathways for this specific transmission line, it will be interesting to see what rises to the top and whether any of these proposals will be green-lighted for debate in the Second Session. Another bill request, LR 2783, sponsored by Rep. Steve Foster of Dexter, would require legislative reconsideration of the transmission line altogether.
Minimum Wage for Agricultural Workers
LRs 2644 and 2891 both relate to allowing agricultural workers to earn the state minimum wage. This is an idea that has been debated numerous times in the last few years, including in the most recent session. Though the idea has been largely supported by Democrats – with just enough fissures within the party to stop it from crossing the finish line – one of the bill requests this time around is sponsored by Republican Rep. Gary Drinkwater of Milford. The other is sponsored by Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross of Portland. We’ll have to wait and see whether Democrats sink these proposals considering their similarity to defeated bills in session past, or if they glom on to Rep. Drinkwater’s request and use it as the vehicle to achieve a labor reform they’ve long sought for in Maine.
LR 2809: An Act to Amend the Maine Indian Claims Settlment Act of 1980 to Allow Maine Tribes to Benefit from Federal Laws
Sponsored by Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor
The idea of amending the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 is nothing new to Maine politicos – it too has been proposed in numerous consecutive legislative sessions – but it seems unlikely this bill request will be the vehicle to make the settlement changes which Maine Tribes seek. However, rank and file Democrats, who are at odds with Gov. Janet Mills on this policy, may be willing to use Rep. Faulkingham’s bill to pick this fight again with the governor next session. It’s hard to tell at this moment if Democrats want to poke the bear again with Faulkingham’s bill or wait until the First Session of the 132nd Legislature in 2025 to have this fight again.