Committee rejects three bills to shrink the Legislature

Posted May 02, 2011, at 7:31 p.m.
Last modified May 03, 2011, at 9:54 a.m.
A flag hangs on the microphone of a legislator's desk in April. A legislative committee on Monday rejected three bills that would reduce the size of the Legislature.
AP
A flag hangs on the microphone of a legislator's desk in April. A legislative committee on Monday rejected three bills that would reduce the size of the Legislature.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Lawmakers voted Monday to reject three bills that would have given voters the chance to decide whether to reduce the size of the Maine Legislature.

A fourth measure that would create a single-chambered or unicameral Legislature remains alive, however, and could be debated on the House floor in coming days.

Maine has the 10th largest legislature in the nation, despite ranking 40th in total population. But the Legislature consumes less than 1 percent of the total General Fund, and Maine lawmakers’ compensation is in the lower tier nationally.

As part-time lawmakers, each legislator is paid a salary of $13,852 for the first, longer year of the the two-year session and $10,082 for the second, shorter year. Lawmakers receive health insurance and are entitled to either $38 per day for housing or 44 cents per mile. They also receive $32 per day for meals during the legislative session.

Members of the State and Local Government Committee considered three bills that proposed constitutional amendments that would have reduced the size of the Legislature by varying degrees.

LD 40 proposed shrinking the membership of the House from 151 lawmakers to 131 while LD 153 proposed amending the constitution to reduce membership of the House to 101. The latter bill also proposed changing the maximum Senate membership from 35 to 23.

A third bill, LD 669, proposed a 101-member House and a 17-member Senate but would have lengthened the legislative session and increased compensation.

Committee members discussed deferring a decision on the issue until next legislative session, a move that would keep at least one of the bills alive presumably with the aim of having a more thorough discussion of the issue next year.

“When I was elected, the message was clear that we need to do things differently,” said Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, who supported taking the issue up again next year. “So I want to make a considerate decision.”

But the majority of committee members said they saw no need to push a decision until next session if they weren’t going to study the issue between now and then.

At the beginning of Monday’s work session, Sen. Doug Thomas, R-Ripley, took the time to read the names of the roughly 40 towns in three counties that he represents to illustrate a point.

“That is bigger than the state of Connecticut and we are talking about making that bigger,” said Thomas, co-chairman of the committee.

While none of the three bills received the committee’s endorsement, the vote on LD 40 was not unanimous, meaning it could be debated on the floors of the House and Senate.

House and Senate lawmakers also are slated to debate a fourth bill, LD 804, that would allow voters to decide whether to switch to a unicameral Legislature consisting of 151 members. The change, proposed by Democratic Rep. Linda Valentino of Saco, would save the state an estimated $11.5 million every budget cycle.

Both Republicans and Democrats on the State and Local Government Committee voted 8-5 last month to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which, if passed by voters, would make Maine and Nebraska the only states with one-chambered legislatures.

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