Special appropriations table holds fate of bills that have financial impact

Posted April 13, 2012, at 3:38 p.m.
Last modified April 14, 2012, at 6:51 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The 125th Legislature was expected to spend most of Friday clearing the last few bills from its schedule, but even after that happens, a slate of more than 50 pieces of legislation still awaits final approval by lawmakers.

Those bills are sitting in the legislative purgatory known as the Special Appropriations Table.

Essentially, each bill on the table has received all but final enactment, pending approval of its fiscal note. Anytime a bill affects the state’s budget — positively or negatively — a fiscal note is attached.

The Appropriations Committee is tasked with figuring out how to fund these bills. If lawmakers find funding, the bills usually go through. If not, they die a quiet death, at least for the time being.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that are on the Special Appropriations Table:

LD 958 is a resolve to study the state’s essential programs and services model that determines how to distribute funds for public education in the state of Maine.

That formula is complicated and everyone seems to complain about it, but changes haven’t come easily.

LD 1237 is an act to prohibit bullying in schools. The bill would provide educators and administrators with a clear definition of bullying, an explicit prohibition on bullying behavior, a range of alternative discipline strategies for schools, prevention policies and training for teachers.

Schools would be required to adopt a policy by August 2012 provided funding is identified for training and policy implementation.

LD 1422 is another education-related bill that generated significant debate during this session.

The measure directs the Department of Education to develop a plan that transitions all school districts to high school diplomas awarded based on a student’s demonstrated proficiency in all areas of assessment, not how long a student has been in school.

The bill first was rejected by the House amid concerns that it created an unfunded mandate. It then was amended in the Senate, where it passed and then sent back to the House for passage.

LD 1422 no longer contains mandate language, but it does have a fiscal note that says the state needs to provide funding for teacher training as school districts move toward standards-based education.

LD 1469 passed through the House and Senate earlier this week. The bill allows veterans organizations and fraternal clubs to operate up to five slot machines at their facilities for use by members and their guests.

Some expressed concerns that the bill could dramatically increase gambling in the state of Maine but the statewide cap would be 250 machines, not including what has been approved for Hollywood Casino in Bangor and the Oxford County casino.

LD 1514 passed earlier this session without much controversy even though its substance is controversial. The bill would overhaul Maine’s online sex offender registry and create a tiered system for offenders.

Under the proposal, offenders would be separated into 10-year registrants, 25-year registrants and lifetime registrants based on severity of the offenses. Not included in the bill was a valid risk assessment model, although some lawmakers say that part is just as crucial for classifying offenders.

LD 1683 is an act to provide funding for the Dolby Landfill in Millinocket. This bill passed through both the House and Senate, but needs an estimated $250,000 from the state to operate the landfill.

That bill sparked a “ he said, she said” fight between the governor’s office and Millinocket town officials.

LD 1798, the bill that overhauls the Land Use Regulation Committee, also awaits final passage amid funding questions. The bill replaces the seven-member slate of commissioners nominated by the governor with a nine-member commission of which eight members will be county commissioners or their designees.

Removed from that bill was a controversial provision that would have allowed counties to “opt out” of LURC, a piece that critics said would kill the agency over time.

LD 1809 did not get much attention during the legislative session, but its sponsor, Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said the bill is important to those who own campers and recreational vehicles.

The measure would waive the sales tax on camper trailers and motor homes when they are purchased by a person who is engaged in the renting or leasing of those items. Any rental of those vehicles would be subject to a 5 percent sales tax.

LD 1830, a bill that merges the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources with the Department of Conservation, is pending as well. The merger, proposed by the governor, was not offered as a way to save a ton of money, but it still has an expected financial effect and is subject to review by Appropriations.

LD 1840 limits reimbursement for methadone for opiate addiction to 24 months unless the provider gets approval for longer treatment ahead of time from the Department of Health and Human Services.

The legislation mirrors a similar cutoff placed on Suboxone, another common replacement drug for opiate addicts who are in treatment, that was approved as part of the DHHS supplemental budget which passed in February.

LD 1885 also passed earlier this week after considerable debate.

The bill would require that 10 percent of the annual allocation of the Maine Economic Improvement Fund be distributed among all campuses with the University of Maine System, as well as Maine Maritime Academy. The MEIF is an investment fund that generates $15 million every year earmarked for research and development. In the past, nearly all of that money has gone to two schools: the University of Maine in Orono and the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

The initial amount in the bill was 3 percent, but it was bumped up on the House floor after an amendment offered by Rep. David Cotta, R-China. The House passed the amended bill narrowly after a lengthy debate and the Senate followed pending the fiscal review.

LD 1887 is the bill to restructure the Department of Health and Human Services. It would consolidate four DHHS offices into two and reorganize another, resulting in a net loss of 15 positions, many of which are vacant.

The shifting of resources from middle management to frontline services is designed to make it easier to navigate DHHS’ web of services.

Although the bill was not submitted as a way to create savings, it does have a fiscal note.

LD 1888 is a governor’s bill that would add eight new fraud investigator positions to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Family Independence.

It also would make the unauthorized transfer or possession of electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards a Class D crime, and would prohibit the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, gambling facilities and adult entertainment businesses.

It’s possible that both LD 1887 and LD 1888 could get rolled into the other outstanding piece of legislation before the 125th Legislature — the second supplemental budget for DHHS.

Lawmakers are expected to reconvene in mid-May to deal with that budget. In the meantime, the Appropriations Committee will meet to discuss that budget and the host of bills on the Special Appropriations Table.

Follow BDN writer Eric Russell on Twitter @BDNPolitics.

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