Lawmakers still face workers’ comp, regulatory takings, and more in Augusta

Posted April 09, 2012, at 9:25 a.m.
Chris Hall, senior vice president of government relations, Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, senior vice president of government relations, Portland Regional Chamber

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:

Sometime this week we expect the Maine Legislature to finish its work and head home to campaign — just when they finish depends on how quickly they can wrap-up all their remaining bills. Some of those bills will be important to you. Here’s a quick rundown of a few of the more significant debates you’ll hear this week:

  • Changes to Maine’s workers comp system – the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee has been hard at work on a set of changes to the comp system that have the potential to help both employers and employees. Since this is a volatile, complex subject you’ll want to listen carefully to both sides – especially since the bill hasn’t been printed yet.
  • Education reformLD 1422 requires student demonstrated proficiency to earn a high school diploma. It’s a big change that would improve K-12 performance, but not everyone is on board (see below). The bill is up for another vote in the House today.
  • Future tax cuts – The House votes today on enactment of LD 849, the bill that puts income tax reductions into the list of priorities for spending future state revenue surpluses. It may be close – the bill won its last House vote by a narrow 74-71 count.
  • Regulatory takings - LD 1810 is up in the House today, proposing additional compensation to landowners who suffer substantial regulatory takings. Only a minority of the Judiciary Committee supported extra compensation.
  • Changes to municipal general assistanceLD 1903, the second supplemental budget, ought to be finished early this week. It will include recommendations on how to reduce state spending on GA. The question is whether those recommendations will increase local property taxes.

There are plenty of other bills, from energy policy changes to unemployment insurance reforms to a new definition of independent contractor. Lawmakers will work long hours this week finalizing most bills, returning in May to conclude MaineCare budget work (and maybe a bond package). As always, if you want to have your say it’s not too late — but it will be soon!

State Policy round-up: Maybe it wasn’t the best week at the state house for Gov. LePage ( MPBN, Doug Rooks). The g overnor’s veto of a bill on production of mortgage documents during foreclosure was upheld ( KJ, BDN, PPH editors disagreed), but a second veto of a bill seeking additional federal funds for special needs students was overturned ( BDN, KJ) – the first veto that’s been flipped in Augusta in 10 years. His request to shield his working papers from public scrutiny was defeated in the House ( BDN, MPBN). And the governor’s 3/31 interview with Phil Harriman on WGAN ( listen here) stirred controversy on several fronts – coverage in the BDN and reaction from Mike Tipping.

Elsewhere:

  • Budget: A clerical error resulted in lawmakers finding an additional $14 million dollars in state revenues ( BDN, PPH) – the mistake raised questions ( BDN), but it was generally regarded as good news. Commissioner Sawin Millet explained what happened on WGAN. Helped along by the newly found money, the Appropriations Committee made progress toward finalizing LD 1903, the second supplemental budget ( MPBN), including elimination of the proposed cut to MPBN funding ( MPBN, BDN, PPH).

Meanwhile the DHHS data problems grew – another 5,000 ineligible recipients were found on the DHHS computer system ( PPH, BDN). Lawmakers are expected to wait until May to finally resolve MaineCare budget troubles for FY 2013. However decisions about proposed cuts to municipal general assistance are still pending – Bangor Mayor Cary Weston explained why the cuts would increase property taxes.

  • Bonds: The BDN editors called for an end-of-session agreement on new bonds.
  • Economic Development: The BDN editors commented on Maine’s 50th-in-the-nation 2011 personal income growth performance. Maine Heritage Policy Center’s Scott Moody looked at slow private sector personal income growth in Maine. Charles Lawton found another angle on slow income growth in Maine – reduced government transfers.
  • Education: LD 1422 requires every high school diploma to reflect student-demonstrated proficiency by 2017 – the bill did not get enough votes to pass the House ( BDN, PPH), but an amended version passed the Senate, and will be back for approval in the House today ( BDN). The Governor’s bill setting new standards for teacher and principal evaluation ( LD 1858) easily passed both houses and sits today on the Governor’s desk – Commissioner Bowen called it the ‘most significant education bill this year’ ( PPH). UMS decided to freeze salary increases ( PPH, MPBN, PPH editors). The BDN editors discussed new Chancellor James Page’s challenges.
  • Energy: The Governor’s energy bills haven’t made as much progress as he’d like – the BDN ran two stories on 4/2 and 4/3. As last week wore on the politics grew more intense around the Governor’s energy bills ( BDN).
  • Environmental: John O’Dea wrote in support of LD 1853, the mining regulation revision bill, which remains pending in committee.
  • Health Care: The Senate passed LD 1497, delaying the formation of state health care exchanges in Maine ( BDN).
  • Labor: A proposal from the Governor to streamline student work permits ( LD 1890) hit a roadblock in the Senate ( BDN), and subsequently died. LD 309, the public sector ‘right to work’ bill, was tabled in committee ( BDN) and looks likely to die without further action ( PPH, MPBN, KJ) – M.D. Harmon commented. The Governor’s changes to the State Workforce Boards are moving ahead ( BDN).
  • Regulatory Reform: LD 1564, a proposal to reduce judicial deference to final agency actions, has died in the Senate ( LSJ). Catherine Connors and Linda Gifford went on WGAN to explain support for LD 1810, the regulatory takings bill.
  • Small Business: MaineBiz’s Randy Billings wrote about the success of young entrepreneurs in Maine. The Governor saluted family-owned businesses ( BDN).
  • Taxation: Rep. Seth Berry and Garrett Martin both wrote in opposition to LD 849, the bill that adds income tax reductions to the list of priorities for use of surplus state revenue. The bill passed the House last week, with further action pending ( PPH). Maine isn’t alone in outlawing ‘tax-zapper’ software ( BDN).
  • Transportation: The Governor signed the bill setting up a new study of the east-west highway ( LSJ) – Kent Ward commented.

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).

For the first time since December there are no new bills to alert you to – but a new workers comp bill has yet to be printed.

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: A new poll found Secretary of State Charlie Summers and State Senator Cynthia Dill leading their primary opponents – but both trailed Angus King ( BDN, MPBN, PPH). The PPH’s John Richardson looked at the impact of independent voters on the race. Republican candidates held the first of nine forums ( BDN, PPH), and Democratic candidates held their first debate ( PPH).

Around the Region: If you know a recent veteran looking for work please share this Matt Wickenheiser story with them and then point them toward the Portland Veterans Network – thanks! The timeline for renovations to the Cumberland County Civic Center is emerging ( PPH). Elsewhere:

  • Cape Elizabeth & South Portland: In Cape Elizabeth check out the Town’s website for local news and notes.

In South Portland the Council has asked for deeper cuts in municipal and school budgets ( Forecaster). Changes to the high school renovation contract have been approved ( PPH).

  1. Cumberland and Falmouth: In Cumberland the Town’s website has information about the upcoming budget, Cumberland’s application to become a ‘Certified Business Friendly Community,’ and much more.

In Falmouth conversations about changes to Route 1 zoning are accelerating ( Forecaster).

  • Portland: City Manager Mark Rees and Mayor Mike Brennan submitted the Portland municipal budget for FY 2012-2013 ( PPH, BDN, Forecaster). The PPH editors supported a review of the City’s fire department as a part of the budget process. Elsewhere:
  • An investigation into uncollected sewer charges found no wrong-doing, but numerous errors ( BDN, PPH);
  • Bulky waste pick-up is back ( PPH, Forecaster);
  • Professor John Bauman wrote about the history of Portland’s waterfront;
  • Travel & Leisure Magazine gave Portland a ‘green’ star and a good rating ( PPH, BDN, comment from Matt Wickenheiser);
  • Central African asylum seekers are the City’s fastest growing immigrant demographic ( 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: Review of the proposed school budget has begun ( Forecaster), but substantial increases are still on the table ( Current).
  • Westbrook and Gorham: In Westbrook the school budget is in its final stages of approval ( Current, PPH). If MREC closes in Biddeford the move may involve new investment in Westbrook ( Current), and changes in landfill ownership may also be triggered ( BDN).
  • In Gorham there will be budget increases, but it looks like they will be small ones ( 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 chall@portlandregion.com.

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