December 11, 2017
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Try, try again: Maine lawmakers keep proposing bills that previously failed

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Micky Bedell | BDN | BDN
Micky Bedell | BDN | BDN
Maine senators raise their right hands as they are sworn in during the first session of the 128th Legislature at the State House in Augusta in this December 2016 file photo.

AUGUSTA, Maine — On this year’s legislative docket: Medicaid expansion, creating a state-level energy office, reducing the welfare rolls, abolishing term limits and legalizing hunting on Sundays.

Sound familiar?

That’s because these are all legislative proposals that have previously failed but will be floated again by members of the newly seated 128th Legislature. That’s just a sampling of bills that — despite in some cases having decades-long losing streaks — will go through the legislative process again.

“A lot of legislators probably think that sooner or later some of these bills will pass, even though they probably shouldn’t,” said Peter Mills, a former lawmaker who served 16 years in the Legislature.

Mills once proposed more than 80 bills, which he thinks might be an all-time state record.

“I’m a little bit guilty of having a lot of bill proposals in my own history,” said Mills. “I’d lose on a bill one year and put back in the next.”

Every two years when a new Legislature is elected, it’s only a matter of weeks before a new flood of bill proposals, which this year number in excess of 1,800. That’s just from lawmakers. State agencies have submitted more than 100 more and before the 128th Legislature is finished, there will be more after-deadline and gubernatorial bills added to the heap.

But the heap is not as high as it has been in the past. In 1987, the 113th Legislature processed more than 2,700 bills, an all-time record for Maine, according to data kept by the Maine Legislative Law and Reference Library.

That’s a far cry from Maine’s first year as a state. In 1820, lawmakers submitted just 32 bills.

One of the places where the sheer number of bills is felt most is in the Legislature’s Revisor of Statutes office, which is responsible for writing the text of bills — as well as a dizzying flurry of amendments to those bills.

Suzanne Gresser, who directs that office, said it will take well into March for all of this year’s already submitted bill ideas to be written.

Mirror images

The bill titles are kept confidential until the list is released in its entirety, which leads to duplicative ideas.

Gresser said her office attempts to notify the lawmakers involved in an effort to cull some of the titles.

“We’ve already managed to identify a number of duplicate requests,” said Gresser recently.

However, it’s an imperfect process.

Here are two examples:

— An Act To Create Equity in Funding of Rural Schools, sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, and An Act To Improve the Equity of State Aid to Schools, sponsored by Rep. Paul Stearns, R-Guilford. Though the text of those bills is not yet available, they appear to be aimed at the same goal and both center on a concept the Legislature grapples with year after year.

Here are some more examples of perennial proposals:

— An Act To Strengthen Work Participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program, sponsored Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea. This concept has been debated at length under the tenure of Gov. Paul LePage.

— An Act To Establish a State Bank, which has two identical bill titles filed by Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, and Rep. Owen Casas, I-Rockport. This concept was attempted last session by Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick.

Strength in numbers

Veteran Republican Sen. Tom Saviello of Wilton has submitted 43 bill titles this year, which ties him with Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash for having the most submissions among all lawmakers. Saviello said several of his bills are reprisals from concepts he’s tried in previous years.

One example is a “good science” bill he sponsored years ago that required the Department of Environmental Protection to cite a source when it makes scientific representations. He said that bill took nearly a decade to achieve enactment.

“After it failed I put it in in another year,” he said. “I changed it slightly, learning from what I had heard before. … You have to be persistent in what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Mills said the high number of bills is substantially because of new lawmakers struggling to make their mark and fulfill requests from constituents.

“They have no idea how to dip in and make a difference,” Mills said. “There’s no system of guidance. The good part is even though every bill gets a committee hearing, they tend to be disposed of rather deftly.”

Usually that requires only a negative committee vote, which in most cases blocks consideration by the full Legislature.

“I think our Maine system is better built to tolerate the flood of incoming proposals than perhaps other legislative bodies,” he said.

Race to the finish

Every piece of proposed legislation needs to be referred to its committee of jurisdiction by both the House and Senate. In other states, legislative staff send bills to committees. That’s why it takes weeks or months before the Maine Legislature begins to debate and vote on final enactment.

“This time of year, they’ll spend all morning running through a calendar full of bill references,” said Mills. “It lulls the new members into thinking the State House is a sleepy place to come down to. Then all of a sudden it gets to be the month of May, and all of a sudden you’re in a rush to vote and understand stuff.”

That’s when things become interesting, said Mills, who is the executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.

“If I could go to heaven and pick an environment to live in perpetually, it would be the last three weeks of the legislative session,” he said.

Here is a sampling of more bill titles that will come up for debate soon, or maybe not so soon:

For the plants and animals

— An Act To Prohibit Participation of Elephants in Traveling Animal Acts, Rep. Kimberly Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth.

— Resolve, To Allow the Unlicensed Ownership of Hedgehogs as Pets, Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn.

— An Act Regarding the Regulation of Rabbit Production for Local Consumption, Rep. Matthea Daughtry, D-Brunswick.

— An Act To Promote Safety at Petting Zoo Installations, Rep. Roger Fuller, D-Lewiston.

Let’s borrow more money

— An Act To Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue To Address Changes in Sea Level and Storm Surge, Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle.

— An Act To Carry Out the Will of the People of the State of Maine by Ensuring the Issuance of Bonds To Support the Independence of Maine’s Seniors, Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

Bills that contradict one another

— An Act To Address the Shortage of School Administrative Professionals, Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias. That bill pushes in the opposite direction of LePage’s biennial budget bill, which seeks to consolidate school administration units.

— An Act To Prohibit the Privatization of State Correctional Facilities and the State’s Mental Health Hospitals, Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell. This is 180 degrees against the LePage administration’s goal of creating a private forensic mental health facility in Bangor.

— An Act To Repeal the Legalization of Marijuana, Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, and An Act To Responsibly Implement an Adult Use Cannabis Program, Brakey.

— An Act To Require Background Checks on All Private Sales of Firearms, Miramant, and An Act To Prohibit the Creation of a Firearms Owner Registry, Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham.

Charity ends at home

— An Act To Eliminate Retirement Benefits and Paid Health Insurance for Legislators Elected after 2017, Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock.

Bills with the most general titles

— An Act To Let Teachers Teach and Students Learn, Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred.

— An Act To Protect Maine’s Environment, Rep. Scott Hamann, D-South Portland.

— An Act Concerning the Department of Health and Human Services, Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York.

To expand health care options (again)

— An Act To Establish Universal Health Care for Maine, Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor.

— An Act To Expand Medicaid in Maine, Rep. Benjamin Collings, D-Portland.

Statutory adjournment is scheduled for June 21, so theoretically, lawmakers will have dealt with 2,000 or so pieces of proposed legislation by then. However, consideration of many — especially the more complicated proposals — will be held over to the second legislative session, which begins in January 2018.

And as this year’s swarm of resurrected past failures demonstrates, some that die at the hands of the 128th Legislature will be reborn in future legislatures.

 


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