October 23, 2017
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LePage’s flood of late bills includes bid to spike Maine Turnpike Authority

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
BDN File | BDN
BDN File | BDN
Northbound traffic at the Maine Turnpike toll plaza in West Gardiner

AUGUSTA, Maine — With the end of the legislative session drawing near, Gov. Paul LePage continues to submit new bills for consideration. Thursday was no exception.

The governor, who has been known to submit bills just hours before the Legislature is set to adjourn for the year, has offered 34 so far in 2017.

Some of his boldest proposals traditionally come the latest. On Thursday, he unveiled one bill that would begin the process of eliminating the Maine Turnpike Authority by 2027 and another that circles back to the issue of testing recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding for drug use.

The latter concept was first introduced by LePage in 2015, but that bill failed in the Legislature. Regardless, the executive branch launched a pilot project for any TANF applicant who had a felony drug conviction within the past 20 years. That process started with a written screening and, depending on the results, a urine test.

The bill unveiled Thursday is similar on the front end but extends help to addicts on the back end. Anyone who is shown to be at risk for suffering from addiction would be offered a state-funded substance abuse treatment program as a condition of receiving benefits. If the applicant refuses the treatment program, he or she has the option to appeal the decision but would be subject to a drug test.

Democrats might be a bit more receptive to the drug testing proposal than they were in 2015 because of the offer of a treatment program, but there will still be push-back from some constituencies who believe it’s unfair and possibly unconstitutional to subject specific classes of people to drug testing when they have no more predisposition to using drugs than anyone else.

In recent days and weeks LePage has submitted a number of other bills that seek to assert his will on the Legislature. Lawmakers have dozens of proposals for state bonding before them, and LePage added to that stack with bills that call for $10 million for the Maine Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Loan Program to help students pay for school and $50 million to accelerate growth and investment by leveraging private investments.

He has also submitted a bill that would make changes to the new $12 minimum wage law approved by voters in 2016. The changes include restoring the tip credit, reducing the ramp-up of the minimum wage and eliminating cost-of-living increases that are in law. LePage’s bill also allows for a “training wage” for young workers.

The governor has the authority to submit new bills any time the Legislature is in session. The majority of his bills are amended or defeated, but with less than two years left in his term, LePage is intent on adding to and cementing his legacy. In these bills he hits on several of his core areas: fiscal restraint, executive authority social service reform and fighting addiction.

One element at play is obviously time. Will the Legislature have ample opportunity to mull issues as broad as eliminating the Maine Turnpike Authority by next month? Doubtful. That could mean bills like that are either doomed or destined to be put off until next year.

By submitting some of these proposals so late, LePage has ensured that whether or not any of his bills survive, he’ll be front and center in the political conversation during the next month.

This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.

 


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