Editor’s note: This report is compiled weekly for members of the Portland Regional Chamber. It provides a breakdown of recent news around state policy, as well as a heads-up on coming events. The Bangor Daily News is publishing this report in cooperation with the PRC.
PRC speaks out:
So far one of the best parts of the legislative session has been the initial progress made by three education bills now moving through the state house. They each have great potential to advance one of our top priorities – the improvement of K-12 education outcomes in our region and all across the state.
First there’s LD 1422, a bill that’s been re-written to establish standards-based high school diplomas for all our students. LD 1422 received unanimous approval from the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee, and if the full House and Senate support the bill then soon every high school diploma in Maine will mean that you learned everything you needed to move on to the next part of your life. That will be real progress toward greater individual and economic prosperity in Maine. See the Education section below to learn more about LD 1422.
LD 1865 coordinates High School and Career and Technical Education schedules so that all but 5 days are the same ( BDN). It may seem like a small thing, but just imagine the opportunities for regional coordination and collaboration if every school in an area had the same times set aside for teacher training, vacations and similar activities. And of course coordinated calendars mean better opportunities for all students to access CTE programs.
Finally there’s LD 1858, a bill that restructures teacher and principal evaluations. It’s critical that state law defines a fair, effective way to assess professional classroom and school performance. This bill does that, and better yet, the bill comes out of Committee with a unanimous vote and the support of the Maine Education Association – a real breakthrough ( BDN, LSJ, MPBN). Traditional opponents worked together to make this success possible, and everyone involved deserves recognition.
All these bills face additional votes in the full House and Senate, so nothing is finished yet, and there will be questions (and answers) about the costs of implementing new systems.
But the strong support of Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen along with bipartisan legislative endorsement and the goodwill of key stakeholders have created an opportunity for Maine to gain ground on what is arguably the most important social and economic challenge facing our state – improved educational outcomes for all our students.
State Policy round-up: The PPH’s Susan Cover took a look at upcoming state house elections, and John Richardson surveyed the remaining work load at the state house. A bill ( LD 1880) to allow on-line lottery sales in Maine drew opposition from convenience store owners ( BDN). A national survey criticized Maine’s lack of state government transparency ( PPH, MPBN) – the PPH editors commented. The Governor’s domestic violence bill moved forward ( BDN). The LSJ editors found a disconnect between Maine’s low crime rate and rising concealed weapon permit applications.
- Budget: The Governor’s second supplemental budget has yet to be printed, but public hearings went forward last week anyway (OFPR budget summary). Day 2 hearings saw opposition to Maine Public Broadcasting cuts and new tax breaks ( BDN, PPH, MPBN).
Day 3 hearings brought strong criticism of plans to cut municipal general assistance ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) – 10 mayors from all around Maine announced a new bipartisan alliance to fight proposals that disproportionally hurt urban centers ( PPH). A late Administration ‘block grant opt-in’ proposal for general assistance got a big thumbs down as well ( PPH).
Concerns about the accuracy of the administration’s numbers continued to dog the budget process ( BDN and an op-ed from Sen. Dawn Hill and Rep. Peggy Rotundo), and missing numbers are holding up the budget process ( WGAN). Eliza Townsend commented on the budget’s attitude toward women.
- Ballot watch: Matching funds’ removal from the Maine Clean Election Act only requires the Governor’s signature ( PPH) – House Speaker Robert Nutting wrote about the change.
- Economic Development: The 2012 Maine STEM Summit was held last week – bridging the skills gap in science, technology, engineering and math is critical to Maine’s future economic prosperity ( BDN). The BDN editors reflected on lessons learned from Jackson Labs’ recent expansion in Maine.
- Education: More on LD 1422: The KJ’s Susan McMillian wrote 6 articles last week: McMillian provided an in-depth look at the bill ( KJ), examined the history of standards-based education in Maine ( KJ), reviewed the way student choice drives the new system ( KJ), looked at how teachers must change in a standards-based system ( KJ), and found 22 schools already using a standards-based approach to learning ( KJ), with data beginning to come in on how the new system works ( KJ).
The Governor’s school choice bills ( LD 1854 and LD 1866) found little support last week in the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee ( PPH, BDN, LSJ). The State Charter School Commission is engaged in rulemaking for charters in Maine, and last week the Commission heard about the need for ‘virtual charters” ( KJ) – Doug Drew wrote about the impact of charter schools in Portland. The University of Maine suspended administrative salary increases ( PPH). Charles Lawton commented on the Council on Foreign Relations’ new report that relates national education shortcomings to a lapse in national security.
- Energy: The PPH’s Tux Turkel reported on how energy issues impact Maine’s economy, and how the picture is changing in ways that don’t always match up with the Governor’s policy initiatives. Tom Tietenberg wrote about ‘district energy’s’ potential in Maine, and the BDN editors wrote to oppose proposed changes to Efficiency Maine.
- Environmental: LD 1850, a bill to update mining regulations in Maine, continued to stir debate ( BDN) – Rep. John Martin appeared on WGAN to defend his bill, while the BDN editors and Jeff Reardon commented. The bill to restructure LURC ( LD 1798) won a unanimous committee vote, another notable bipartisan compromise on a difficult issue ( BDN, MPBN) – Steve Mistler provided additional insight (scroll down). Sen. Doug Thomas had previously commented.
- Health Care: Proposed new methadone limits in LD 1840 won committee approval last week ( BDN, MPBN) – Rep. Mark Dion explained why he opposes the move. A bill asking for an audit of DHHS was rejected ( BDN, MPBN), but the Health and Human Services Committee may conduct their own ( PPH). A bill to reorganize DHHS ( LD 1887) received opposition during its public hearing ( PPH, BDN, LSJ). LD 1179, requiring administrative review of future proposed small group health insurance rate increases, was rejected in the Senate ( BDN).
- Real estate: Dale McCormick resigned as the Executive Director of the Maine State Housing Authority ( PPH, BDN, MPBN, LSJ) – with her departure changes at MSHA are expected ( BDN). Bill Nemitz commented.
- Regulatory Reform: Sometimes it’s the little things – the Governor signed LD 1695, a bill that frees small businesses from the requirement of publicly displaying some licenses and permits (you can just keep them in a drawer at work and show them to folks if they’re interested) ( PPH).
- Small Business: Rep. Amy Volk saluted the work of entrepreneurs around the state.
- Taxation: The Governor got some attention last week for saying that he’d like to eliminate Maine’s income tax in the long run ( BDN, MPBN). The Governor also spoke out in favor of a federal law to require internet sales tax collections ( BDN). LD 849, the bill requiring use of future surplus state revenue to reduce the income tax, passed the Senate but awaits votes in the House ( BDN) – the BDN and PPH editors worried about the bill’s impacts. LD 1835, revising the future distribution of municipal Revenue Sharing II, was approved by the Taxation Committee ( BDN).
- Transportation: Andy Hamilton and Elizabeth Sutherland wrote in support of the east/west highway study, which is pending final enactment ( BDN). Pete Vigue spoke about the project with Phil Harriman on WGAN
- Welfare reform: LD 1888, a bill to tighten up enforcement against welfare fraud, received a public hearing ( BDN).
Bills to Watch: As legislation is printed we highlight some of the bills you may want to know more about, or participate in. Need to investigate a bill? Just click the LD number below and off you go! (Please remember this isn’t legal advice – for that you must contact your own councilors).
We may be coming to the end of the late-session bills – the Governor said he’ll stop submitting them as of today ( PPH).
LD 1893, Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 850: Health Plan Accountability– the rule that deals with patient travel under health insurance policies.
- LR 2847; The Governor’s Second Supplemental Budget – the bill has not been printed yet. OFPR summary.
What’s happening this week at the State House: In every Update we highlight a wide variety of bills that will affect you, your business and your community. To keep track of the bills that are most important to you, you can find the entire state house schedule right here including public hearings, work sessions and all the other legislative activity around any bill you’re interested in. Make sure to use the navigation buttons on the left to find all the information you need.
Here’s another handy resource – this link takes you to a list of all the legislative committee activities scheduled for the next 5 days.
Senate watch: Matt Gagnon introduced readers to the 6 Republican candidates for the U. S. Senate, while Gordon Weil looked at how Angus King may fare in the general election. The PPH examined how the three constitutional officers will campaign and do their jobs at the same time. The Maine Republican Party is planning 9 candidate forums around the state – a schedule ought to be available soon ( BDN).
Around the Region: It’s officially good news – the University of Southern Maine will be offering a four-year degree program in tourism and hospitality (the PPH editors celebrated). Speaking of career opportunities, the Portland Arts and Technology High School wants more students ( Forecaster). The Forecaster looked at upcoming state house races in Portland and the rest of the region. Closed schools in the region need new tenants ( PPH).
- Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth the School Board has set 7 ‘ambitious’ goals for 2012.
- Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the SAD 51 budget may increase by as much as 6% ( Forecaster).
In Falmouth the school budget may increase by as much as 12% ( Forecaster).
- Portland: Changes to Portland’s municipal general assistance program proposed in the latest state supplemental budget would increase property taxes and homelessness – Mayor Brennan pointed out that Portland already has a model system for administrating the general assistance program ( BDN). Elsewhere:
- Forbes magazine – the one that ranked Maine last for business – now thinks that the Portland region is among the nation’s 10 best for job opportunities ( PPH, BDN). Go figure.
- If you missed last week’s first ‘Cash Mob’ in Portland you can see a video of all the fun and get ready for next month’s mob here at Gr8 Portland;
- Husson University won Planning Board approval of a zoning change needed to build their new Portland facility ( BDN, Forecaster);
- City Manager Mark Rees talked with the PDS about his first 8 months on the job;
- The City’s Storm Water Task Force voted unanimously to recommend new storm water fees for final City Council approval ( PPH); and
- For the latest check out Chris O’Neil’s Inside City Hall. Chris serves as a consultant to the Portland Community Chamber, working closely with members and staff to represent the Chamber before Portland City officials. Inside City Hall covers a host of Portland related issues. It’s something that everyone with an interest in Portland affairs will want to read.
- Scarborough: Spending is up and a tax increase may be coming ( Forecaster, Current), but the Wentworth School costs are not expected to contribute ( Current). A workforce housing project moved ahead last week ( Forecaster), as did a senior housing project ( Forecaster, Current).
- Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook budget work continued last week ( Current). Idexx’s long-awaited expansion is moving ahead ( Current).
Want to speak out? It’s easy to do, and believe it or not, it can really work. Notice that all the legislative committees mentioned above are linked – just click on them and you’ll get emails, phone numbers and everything you need to make your voice heard in the state house. If you need help, just email me!
Feedback: So what do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or on other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email if you’d like to share your feedback with me – and thank you!
Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by the generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. If you’d like to become a Partner, please contact Chamber CEO Godfrey Wood. And for more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber – businesses building a better community – just click here.
Chris Hall is senior vice president for government relations at the Portland Regional Chamber. He can be contacted at email@example.com. Partners for Progress Policy Updates are supported by contributions from Partners for Progress.