AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative leaders on Friday released committee assignments for the incoming 128th Legislature, a development that sets the stage for lawmaking in Maine for the next two years.
With Republicans controlling the Senate by one vote (18-17) and Democrats with a 77-72 House majority (with two independents), the makeup and leadership of the 17 joint oversight committees gives an early indication of who might be key players in the committee trench work that guides state government’s policy and budget priorities.
Lawmakers indicate which committees they want to serve on but not everyone is granted their first choice.
In many cases, particularly in the Senate, veteran lawmakers have been returned to committees they have previously served. One notable exception is Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, who has been chosen by House Speaker Sara Gideon to co-chair the influential Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Gattine has been a member of the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee, including the last two years as its chairman, and has been his party’s point man on a range of health and human services issues.
He will share the Appropriations Committee gavel with Republican Sen. Jim Hamper of Oxford, who played a similar role in the previous Legislature. Gattine, who has clashed often with Republican Gov. Paul LePage over welfare and health care policy and who received an obscenity-laced voice message from the governor earlier this year, will be among the first in line to deal with the two-year budget proposal LePage unveils on Jan. 6.
After early-morning compromises by past Appropriations committees, the previous two legislatures made major changes to LePage’s proposed spending plans and passed compromise budgets despite vetoes.
As Appropriations spends months chewing through a budget, which must be in place by July 1, the Health and Human Services Committee is likely to occupy a spot near center stage, deliberating over what is likely to be a new set of welfare reform proposals from LePage, as well as dealing with an ideological shift that will sweep north from Washington after President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20.
Democratic Rep. Patricia Hymanson of York, a doctor who has served on the HHS Committee in recent years, will replace Gattine as its co-chairwoman, alongside returning Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn. Republican Rep. Deborah Sanderson of Chelsea will return to HHS as the ranking House Republican. Also on that committee will be incoming Rep. Dale Denno of Cumberland, a former director of the state’s Office of Family Independence, a role in which he oversaw many of the state’s social services programs.
Other leadership assignments of note include:
— Democratic Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, who was a member of House leadership before being term limited out of office in 2014, won a fifth term this year and has been named chairman of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee alongside Republican Sen. David Woodsome of North Waterboro.
— First-term Republican Sen. Lisa Keim of Dixfield will chair the Judiciary Committee.
— Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon will chair the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. Members of legislative leadership usually do not chair policy committees.
— Democratic Rep. Victoria Kornfield of Bangor and Republican Sen. Brian Langley of Ellsworth again will co-chair the Education Committee.
— Former Senate President Mark Lawrence of South Berwick will co-chair the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. Lawrence has been out of the Legislature for more than a decade, but his past legislative leadership experience apparently convinced Gideon that he merits a gavel.