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With bills revealed, Legislature’s second session taking shape

AP file photo | BDN
AP file photo | BDN
In this June 9, 2011 photo, legislators stand and applaud in the House chamber at the State House in Augusta.

AUGUSTA, Maine — With more than 130 bills held over from the last session and about 300 new bills submitted, a busy second session of Maine’s 125th Legislature is taking shape.

Among the bills submitted ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline were two measures seeking to overturn a new law banning Election Day voter registration, several offering changes to a new state law that overhauled health insurance and a handful proposing adjustments to Maine’s complicated education funding formula.

Other bills include An Act To Expand the Availability of Natural Gas to Maine Residents, An Act To Establish a Pilot Program as an Alternative to the Drug Court and An Act To Define, Prevent and Suppress Gang Activity in the State.

So far, only the bills’ titles have been submitted, not their full text.

The new bills will be added to those that were carried over from the first session, which range from a controversial plan to require voters to show valid photo identification at the polls to a law that would make membership in a public employee labor organization voluntary.

Perhaps the biggest bill of all — Gov. Paul LePage’s supplemental budget — is not on either list.

During the Legislature’s first session any bill can be introduced, but in the second session there are more restrictions on what types are allowed. In general, bills are restricted to budgetary matters, reports from study commissions, citizens initiatives, legislation from the governor and emergency legislation.

The term “emergency” has always been applied relatively loosely, leaving the final determination with the 10-member Legislative Council, which is made up of party leaders.

“This is not supposed to be a session where we’re taking up a lot of new things,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Debra Plowman of Hampden. “We do have a lot of carryovers and those are substantial issues, too, so I think we need to stick to truly emergency bills.”

The council meets on Oct. 31, where members will consolidate any redundant bills and decide whether each bill fits the definition of emergency. Lawmakers whose bills did not make the cut can appeal to the council on Nov. 17.

The list of second session legislation will be finalized sometime after that and should be pared down to fewer than 200. The number of second session bills is smaller than the last session in 2009, for which 390 were submitted, and about half the number (596) submitted in 2007, but there are more carry-over bills this year than in years past.

One carry-over bill seeks to overhaul the state’s sex offender registry by creating a tiered system for offenders. Another would discontinue the Clean Election campaign financing system for gubernatorial candidates. A third would address any recommendations for changes to the Land Use Regulation Commission, the future of which rests in the hands of a closely watched work group that must present a report to legislators by the end of the year.

In addition, there are roughly 25 bond bills that seek to borrow money to fund various initiatives, including transportation infrastructure, education and research and development.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain of Orono said a bond package is important for Democrats.

“When we look at the type of work that didn’t get done, it was primarily around investment in our infrastructure and our economy,” she said.

Gov. LePage was not subject to the Sept. 30 deadline and can submit bills at any time before the session starts. His spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor is certain to offer a supplemental budget bill but no other initiatives have been announced publicly.

The Legislature’s second regular session begins in early January and is expected to adjourn in mid-to-late April.

Cain admitted that some Democratic-sponsored bills try to address or overturn bills passed by the Republican majority last session. She said LD 1333, the health insurance reform bill, is the perfect example.

“When Republicans pushed through that bill, they said we’ll just fix it,” Cain said. “Hopefully, they’ll let us work with them this time.”

Plowman said the plan all along was to pass LD 1333 and adjust it as needed going forward.

“Nobody writes perfect legislation,” she said. “We’re not above admitting that this needs more work.”

Not all the proposed changes to LD 1333 are coming from Democrats, though. Senate Majority Leader Jonathan Courtney of Springvale has offered two bills that would alter the health insurance reform bill, including changing the effective dates for when individuals can purchase plans across state lines.

The fate of some bills could be shaped by the outcome of referendum questions in November. Two bills that seek to reinstate same-day voter registration would become unnecessary if supporters of Question 1 prevail.

Similarly, discussion of a bill sponsored by Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, that seeks to ensure equal taxation and regulation of casinos likely will be framed by whether Mainers support two initiatives to expand gambling in Maine.

The budget, though, likely will dominate the Legislature’s agenda.

Cain, who recently led the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, said a supplemental budget can often be technical in nature but she doesn’t expect that to be the case this time.

“The governor left us last session with the impression that he plans to introduce another significant budget package,” she said.

Among the areas LePage could target with a supplemental budget include welfare reform, something he has vowed to tackle again, and eliminating income taxes on pensions, a proposal he has floated publicly on several occasions.

As with any Legislative sessions, there will undoubtedly be some bills that have difficultly getting off the ground.

Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, has a bill to eliminate the state income tax.

Rep. Dean Cray, R-Palmyra, drafted legislation to eliminate, in its entirety, the Office of Information Technology.

Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn, has sponsored a bill titled An Act To Withhold Subsidies from Any Hospital That Pays Its Hospital Administrators Annual Salaries Greater than the Annual Salary of the Governor.

The governor’s salary, the lowest in the country, is capped, by law, at $70,000 per year.

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