AUGUSTA, Maine — In just about two hours Monday, the 10 members of the Legislative Council struck down nearly 60 percent of the 300 bills submitted for consideration during the 125th Legislature’s second session.
When the dust settled, approximately 125 bills had been approved and will be added to 120 carry-over bills that will be considered during the session that begins in January.
House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, said his voting criteria was simple.
“If it was not an emergency and it looked to be a complicated issue that would gin up a lot of debate and keep us here longer than I want to be here, I voted against it,” he said.
House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said she wasn’t really surprised by any of the votes.
“I think in some cases you saw geographic differences, in some cases there were partisan differences,” she said. “But today was just an initial look. All of these will have the chance to be heard on appeal.”
The date for appeals to the Legislative Council is scheduled for Nov. 17.
Bills submitted for consideration during the second regular session are supposed to be budget-related or fit the definition of emergency. However, Nutting acknowledged that a few bills were allowed because they were simple enough not to bog down legislators for hours or days.
Themes were hard to come by Monday as the council — made up of party leaders in both the House and Senate — quickly voted up or down on each bill as it was read by Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry.
The bills that were approved included:
• An act to provide funding to operate the Dolby Landfill in East Millinocket, which the state acquired as part of a deal to restart the region’s two paper mills.
• A resolve to establish a task force to facilitate the development of unoccupied mills.
• An act to expand the availability of natural gas to Maine residents.
• An act to ensure a reliable funding stream for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.
• An act to allow the Maine Educational Loan Authority to issue bonds.
• An act to establish a pilot program as an alternative to drug court.
• An act to define, prevent and suppress gang activity in the state.
Among the bills that were defeated:
• An act to provide funding to the Department of Transportation for a feasibility study for an East-West highway.
• An act to require the use of a personal flotation device in a kayak and canoe.
• An act to authorize a general bond issue to redevelop the former Loring Air Force Base.
• An act to permit hair braiding without a cosmetology license.
• An act to ensure the continuation of federal matching funds for certain MaineCare services.
• An act to eliminate the Office of Information Technology.
• An act to establish a veterans court.
• An act to allow automobile sales on Sunday.
Health insurance was the focus of several bills and in many cases the legislation took aim at changing the recently passed health insurance reform bill known as LD 1333.
“From the beginning when we passed the legislation, we felt there may be some problems we weren’t able to identify,” Nutting said. “And from the beginning we said we’d be willing to go back and look at those.”
But the health insurance bills that did get approved by the Legislative Council were mostly Republican-sponsored bills. Among the Democrat-backed bills was an act to enhance affordable quality health care in Maine, sponsored by Rep. Anne Graham of North Yarmouth.
“This is a bill that would have prevented insurance companies from excessively hiking rates without any kind of oversight,” said Graham. “Maine families and small businesses just can’t afford to put more money in the pockets of big insurance.”
Some bills will be appealed, likely those that failed in a close vote, including Graham’s bill and legislation from Rep. Maeghan Maloney, D-Augusta, that sought to create a veterans court to help veterans suffering from substance abuse and mental illness.
“I was surprised to see that this critical measure to support our veterans didn’t earn hands-down support today,” said Maloney, who plans to appeal.
Once appeals are heard, the only puzzle piece remaining for the second session is Gov. Paul LePage. The governor has the right to introduce a bill at any time before the start of the session or once the session begins.
Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the governor has a number of priorities, including energy and education, but is not ready to release details of any proposed legislation. He is expected to submit a supplemental budget to adjust state spending to meet changes since the two-year budget was passed in the spring.
“I have not heard from the governor’s office,” Nutting said.
Cain said she and other members of her caucus are anxiously awaiting anything that comes out of LePage’s office.
“I haven’t met with him about his agenda for the second session, but he clearly has established a theme related to social programs, energy and some types of economic development,” she said. “Those are all broad areas and until we see specifics I can’t say exactly what I would be on board with.”