Portland chamber opposes workers’ comp rollback during busy week at state house

Posted April 08, 2013, at 11:16 a.m.
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber
Courtesy/Portland Regional Chamber
Chris Hall, CEO, Portland Regional Chamber

The history of workers’ compensation in Maine is generally celebrated as one of the best state house policy achievements in the last two decades: A compensation system that had failed so completely by 1990 that insurance companies were forced to leave Maine was transformed into a national success story that improved workplace safety while also bringing insurance prices off the ceiling and back to affordable levels.

The workers’ compensation reforms of 1992 remain a landmark policy achievement where Democrats and Republicans took a deadlocked political issue and transformed it into a bipartisan victory that served both business and labor interests.

Of course everyone compromised – no one got everything they wanted – but as a result the state was better off for the next 20 years.

It’s easy to think that some current lawmakers have forgotten these lessons, otherwise why would we have LD 443, An Act to Amend the Maine Workers’ Compensation Act of 1992 To Provide Benefits to Seriously Injured Workers? The bill rolls back many of the 1992 reforms and returns our workers’ compensation system to its broken pre-1992 condition.

We oppose the bill, as do businesses across the state.

The Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development will be receiving testimony on LD 443 on Wednesday April 10th at 1 p.m. in Room 208 of the Cross Office Building in Augusta.

The Maine State Chamber will deliver lead opposing testimony, and if you can add your voice in person or via email please do so. If you’d like detailed talking points, or want to join others at the Maine State Chamber who will be speaking in opposition, you can get more information by calling Linda Caprara at 207-623-4568 x106.

Notable Read: Some days there’s just too much to read. If you only have time for one thing:

Maine state government provides general purpose aid to local K-12 education. The formula that determines how much state aid your local school district receives, and what that money helps to pay for, is called Essential Programs and Services (EPS). The fairness and effectiveness of EPS has been a constant source of concern at the state house, and across the state.

This Wednesday the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee will hear from California consultants Lawrence O. Picus and Associates as they present their initial findings entitled An Independent Review of Maine’s Essential Programs and Services Funding Act: Part 1.

What you ought to read is the 6-page executive summary. It’s a wealth of comparative analysis, placing Maine’s education system in a national context, and posing obvious questions that will be the subject of future study and legislative action.

This work will very likely impact your local school and your kids. If the future of K-12 education in Maine matters to you, read the summary, and discuss it with your local educators and policy makers.

Spotlight Legislation: A quick glance at this week’s legislative schedule ( click here, add the correct date range) shows how crazy things are at the State House. Highlights include:

  1. Two new suggestions for inclusion in LD 90, the workforce development legislation, up for hearing before the Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future;
  1. Seven bills being heard to reform K-12 school funding before the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee;
  1. Seven bills changing labor-management practices being heard before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee;
  1. Two bills amending tax increment financing laws up for hearing before the Taxation Committee.

And that’s just today. For the rest of the week:

  1. On Tuesday the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hear a bill to overturn a recent law allowing employees to keep guns in their car at work ( LD 265);
  1. On Wednesday the Health and Human Services Committee holds a work session on expanding Medicaid in Maine ( LD 1066);
  1. On Thursday there are public hearings before the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on two bills designed to lower consumer energy costs LDs 1187 and 1262);
  1. Also on Thursday there are hearings before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee on three bills dealing with priority toxic chemicals (LDs 365, 373 and 1181); and
  1. On Friday there are public hearing before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on two bills to restore full funding to municipal revenue sharing (LDs 713 and 940).

That’s the highlights, and there’s much more going on as well. Remember if you want to speak out on any of these bills, or on others that you care about, just use the links here or in our Digging Deeper section below.

In the State House: The Governor won a veto fight on a ‘housekeeping’ bill ( BDN, PPH, MPBN, BDN editors commented). Polling data came out on the Governor, his policies and the 2014 race ( PPH, BDN). The Governor’s allies launched a campaign ad ( BDN, PPH, MPBN), drawing reaction from former Governor Baldacci ( BDN) and Bill Nemitz.

Meanwhile Congressman Mike Michaud hasn’t decided if he will run for Governor in 2014 ( BDN), Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is thinking about it, according to Doug Rooks, Alan Caron wrote about Governor LePage, and Dan Demeritt nominated Rep. Barry Hobbins as Democrat emissary-in-chief to the Governor.

Legislators in committee have recommended enactment of several ethics provisions, including one to limit the ability of former lawmakers and administration officials to become lobbyists immediately upon their departure from government ( LSJ).

The quest continued for a bipartisan deal on a new liquor contract that enables repayment of state’s debts to hospitals ( PPH). Kathryn Skelton in the LSJ looked at the state’s liquor business in depth, while Eben Marsh commented, as did Greg Kesich. Elsewhere:

State Policy round-up:

  1. Ballot watch: The BDN editors supported some proposed changes in lawmakers’ terms. A bill was introduced to restore funding for the Maine Clean Elections Act ( PPH).
  1. Bonds: The Mayors’ Coalition (12 mayors from all around Maine) introduced an $85 million dollar bond proposal focused on education, R&D and transportation ( PPH).
  1. Budget: Public hearings have concluded on the Governor’s proposed two-year state budget – the framework for a bipartisan agreement is under discussion ( MPBN).
  1. Economic Development: The BDN editors did a nice job listing out existing workforce training programs that can be incorporated in additional state policy efforts to close the skills gap.
  1. Education: Public hearings last week on changes to Maine’s charter school laws brought out supporters and opponents ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) – the PPH editors said the state, not local school districts, should fund charters. The Government Oversight Committee delayed a decision on whether to investigate Baxter Academy ( PPH, BDN PPH). Portland Rep. Ben Chipman introduced a bill to waive college tuition for poor students ( BDN).
  1. Energy: The Governor appointed Timothy Schneider, formerly of Pierce Atwood, as Maine’s new Public Advocate ( BDN). Sen. Ron Collins wrote in support of tar sands in Maine.
  1. Environment: DEP will hold a two day public hearing this week on sending southern Maine trash to the Old Town landfill ( BDN). A bill directing DEP to restart its global climate change planning efforts had a public hearing ( PPH).
  1. Health Care: Gorham Rep. Linda Sanborn’s bill to expand Medicaid in Maine received a public hearing ( PPH, BDN) – Joel Allumbaugh cautioned against the move, while Congressman Mike Michaud encouraged it. Two years ago PL 90 – the Republican state level health care reform law – began changing Maine’s health insurance market. A bill to undo parts of that law was heard last week ( LSJ, MPBN).
  1. Labor: Two bills to enact ‘right to work’ legislation in Maine had hearings ( PPH, BDN, MPBN) and went down to party-line defeat in Committee ( BDN). LD 611, raising Maine’s minimum wage, was sent to the Governor’s desk ( PPH, BDN). Comment on minimum wage came from Jon McKane, Mike Tipping, Lisa Morris, Bruce Poliquin and Terrence L. Magee.
  1. Tax: A bill to expand the Maine earned income tax credit passed the legislature, while a bill to lower the Maine capital gains tax rate was defeated – both bills on party line votes in the House ( BDN, MPBN) and in the Senate ( PPH, BDN, PPH). The BDN editors urged lawmakers to look to more comprehensive tax reform options.
  1. Transportation: Comment came from Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt on bond proposals, and from the PPH editors in support of toll roads and transparent public private partnerships.

Around the Region: Last week our Eggs & Issues program featured presentations from three local developers who are bringing 500 new hotel rooms to Portland – it’s clear that our region’s hospitality industry is strong and poised for more growth ( BDN).

  1. In Cape Elizabeth the School Board approved a 3.5% budget increase ( Forecaster).
  1. In Falmouth Councilors explained proposed changes to Route 1 ( Forecaster). The School Board approved a budget with a 4% increase, and recommended two school repair referenda ( Forecaster).
  1. In Gorham the municipal budget presented by Town Manager David Cole is almost flat compared to last year ( Current). All-day kindergarten advocated pressed for funding ( PPH).
  1. In Portland Jim Grattelo’s op-ed in the Saturday PPH caught something that was also discussed by local developers at Eggs & Issues – Portland’s business climate has changed for the better. While there’s still more to do, it’s important to recognize that City staff and regulators are looking for solutions, not reasons to say ‘no,’ and both big investors and regular people are noticing. Pass the word, and if you get a chance to say thanks to the folks at City Hall, please do. Elsewhere:
  1. The City’s study of the Portland Fire Department continued to raise questions ( PPH, PDS, Forecaster);
  1. The School Board’s Finance Committee made additional cuts in the proposed school budget ( PPH);
  1. City Manager Mark Rees presented a proposed municipal budget with a 5.8% increase over last year and a small property tax increase. It did not include cuts proposed in the Governor’s 2-year state budget ( PPH, Forecaster). The Council’s Finance Committee was critical (PPH), while the full Council voted to formally oppose the Governor’s proposed state budget ( PDS);
  1. Steve Hirshon wrote about the Bayside ‘Midtown’ development; and
  1. 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.
  1. In South Portland a public hearing on the proposed municipal and school budgets was held ( Forecaster, PPH). It’s likely that voters will get a $14 million dollar public works bond in November ( Current).
  1. In Scarborough the Council asked for changes in the proposed school budget for next year ( Forecaster).
  1. In Westbrook officials ended efforts to combine municipal and school finance departments ( Current).

Contact your local officials: Visit our website to find links to all your municipal and state house officials. Remember – if you don’t speak out, the people who represent you have no way to know what you think. So keep those email, calls and visits coming.

Digging Deeper at the State House: Most of you probably don’t want to find daily schedules at the state house, research copies of every piece of testimony submitted at every public hearing, track the status of a particular bill, find contact info for Committees, or House members, or Senators, or listen to public hearings on the computer, or watch selected state house proceedings on MPBN’s Capitol Connection. But if you do, just follow the links. The state house is increasingly accessible to the public, at least to those who put in a little work.

Back issues: Miss a Policy Update? Want to find that story or link that you lost track of? Just click here for recent back issues of Policy Update.

Feedback: What do you think? We’d love to have your thoughts on anything you’ve read here, or other topics that are important to you. The more you talk to us, the better we’ll represent your views. Send an email to share your feedback with me – and thank you!

Partners for Progress Policy Updates from the Portland Regional Chamber are supported by generous contributions from our Partners for Progress. For more information about joining the Portland Regional Chamber just click here.

 

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