Cloture deadline reveals peek at Legislature’s upcoming agenda

Posted Jan. 07, 2011, at 9:39 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Some are broad and certain to spur debate: An Act to Ensure Regulatory Fairness and Reform. An Act to Extend the School Year.

Others are more specific and comparatively routine: An Act to Allow the Registration of a Bus as an Antique Vehicle. An Act to Allow Holders of Junior Hunting Licenses to Take Antlerless Deer.

Friday afternoon marked the cloture deadline to submit bills for consideration by the state’s 125th Legislature. Although few bills had been put online by the end of the day, a small sample revealed familiar topics and the usual smattering of obscure.

Most bills that came in by the cloture deadline listed only the title and the bill sponsor, but the titles so far are indicative of the reclamation of power by the Republican Party.

Senate Republican leader Jonathan Courtney is sponsoring LD 9, among other bills, which seeks use of any surplus in General Fund revenues and to draw down individual income tax burden.

“It sends a message that Maine is not a high-tax state,” he said, adding that during a 10-year period in which the state’s coffers were flush, $7 billion could have been used to reduce taxes. Instead, Courtney said, that money was used to expand state programs.

The first bill submitted in 2011, sponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye, seeks to tackle regulation reform, which was one of the platforms that got Gov. Paul LePage elected.

Courtney said his party’s top goal is to create a more business-friendly state.

Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, said his party’s legislative focus is the same as the Republicans’ even if the ideas for improvement are different.

“We’re looking forward to working with them and finding compromise,” he said. “I don’t think Democrats or Republicans have a monopoly on good ideas.”

House Minority Leader Emily Cain agreed that reducing red tape is a goal of Democrats, but she also said the state needs to invest in things that will improve the economy and create jobs.

Suzanne Gresser, the state’s reviser of statutes, and her staff are responsible for submitting all bill requests and, eventually, indexing them into categories. That process could take several days.

Historically, she said, as many as 25 percent of all bill requests come on the deadline day. Bills may be submitted after cloture deadline in the event of emergency or a developing issue. Additionally, the governor is not bound by the bill-submission deadline.

Two years ago, the Legislature considered 1,700 bills during its regular session, and Gresser said at least that many are expected this session. The high-water mark was during the 119th Legislature in the 1990s, when 2,600 bill requests were submitted.

Gresser also said bills are often combined or consolidated, which brings the number down considerably. Of all the bills that are considered, hundreds are debated in committees, but only dozens actually result in changes to law.

Last year, one legislator introduced a bill that would limit the number of bills each legislator may submit. It didn’t pass.

The bills submitted so far include:

ä A bill by Rep. Peter Edgecomb, R-Caribou, to extend the school year from 180 days to 185 days.

ä A proposal from Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, to regulate the keeping of wolf hybrids.

ä Another Trahan bill to tighten oversight of Maine Revenue Services, specifically its role in interpreting tax policy set by the Legislature

ä An idea by Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn, to limit the annual salary and compensation package of hospital administrators to the annual salary of the governor, which is $70,000.

ä A bill sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, to require an independent audit of state government every four years beginning in 2013 and another from Cebra that would require candidates for public office to show proof of United States citizenship.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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