June 22, 2018
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Legislature’s Labor Lost

A proposal to eliminate the Legislature’s Labor Committee created quite a furor in Augusta this week. Now that the dust has settled, Republican and Democratic leaders are wise to call for a thoughtful reconsideration of the Legislature’s 16 standing committees.

As soon as Senate President Kevin Raye said labor issues should be handled by the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee, labor advocates denounced the suggestion as shutting out working Mainers.

At a time when both the incoming administration and Republican legislative leadership have made it clear they want to be more business-friendly, labor interests are understandably worried that their concerns will be diminished. Proposing to take away the Labor Committee heightened those fears.

House Speaker Robert Nutting was right that he and other leaders needed to take a step back and talk about changes to legislative committees as part of the biennial review process. When each new Legislature is convened, it adopts a set of rules. The process has just begun for the 125th Legislature, whose members were sworn in Wednesday. The Rules Committee will meet the week of Dec. 14 to consider rule changes, including revamping the 16 standing committees. The full Legislature will vote on any proposed revisions, ensuring that a diversity of views is heard before any changes are made.

Reviewing committees and their jurisdictions makes sense. Lawmakers should consider, from time to time, reworking legislative committees to reflect current times. For example, Sen. Raye also has suggested ensuring that the Natural Resources Committee reflects its environmental oversight role and that technology be added to the purview of the Utilities and Energy Committee.

Senate President Raye said that only seven other state legislatures have committees devoted solely to labor concerns. Most states have something akin to a commerce and labor committee. At the same time, the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee already has a broad purview and lawmakers must ensure it doesn’t become spread too thin.

Considering labor issues as part of larger business concerns is compelling. At the same time, considering why environmental, safety and other regulations are in place must be part of discussions of streamlining or eliminating such regulations.

Earlier this week, Gov.-elect Paul LePage’s administration held a discussion on eliminating “red tape.” It heard a lot about what was wrong with Maine’s regulatory system, but nothing about why that system exists and what benefits it has brought to the state.

Just as labor issues shouldn’t be segregated from business concerns, environmental, safety and health concerns shouldn’t be divorced from business interests.

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