August 20, 2019
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Maine lawmakers have let more than 650 bills pile up as adjournment looms

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, are pushing legislators to use their time wisely as hundreds of bills pile up near the end of the 2019 session.

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Legislators have a little more than a month to work through several hundred bills.

Pushing through all drafted bills during a regular legislative session in Maine is always a sprint at the end of a marathon, but especially so this session. The volume of bills is a bit higher. After staff cleared up some redundancy, the 129th Legislature began with about 1,850 bills — roughly 200 more than the 128th. The pace, however, is on par. This time two years ago, lawmakers had a little more than 500 bills awaiting passage.

As of Friday morning, more than 670 bills remained in the queue, awaiting a committee designation, or in line for their requisite public hearings in legislative committees and their “ought to pass” or “ought not to pass” fates. If all goes according to plan with today’s schedule, committees could vote out another 45 bills by the day’s end.

Once bills are vetted in committee, they’re then volleyed between chambers until votes have been collected, and if passed, sent to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills to be signed. So far, Mills has signed 123 bills into law.

As legislative calendars grow clogged near the end of a session, the House and Senate began meeting more frequently, as they did this week. Understanding the quantity of work ahead, both House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, advised lawmakers to be more judicious with their time in order to work through the bills that are “piling up,” Jackson said.

After about three hours of sometimes redundant debate in the House on Wednesday before members voted to pass a bill broadly banning the use of conversion therapy on minors, Gideon told members to hustle up with the floor discussions because “committees are hours behind in their work.”

“I say this not to quelch debate,” she said, but instead suggested caucuses and members of the same party “who are saying the same thing to maybe think about how they can be said succinctly by a smaller group of people.”

On Thursday in the Senate, Jackson — who has proposed about 100 bills of his own — urged committees to meet longer and more frequently.

“I know that all of you, on both sides .. have been working extremely hard on these bills, and unfortunately a large number of them are mine, and I understand that,” he said, adding that committees need to “make every attempt to push those bills out.”

With a little more than five weeks to go until statutory adjournment, bills requiring significant amendment or those expected to eat up a lot of committee and floor time will start being punted. In the event that bills don’t meet the session deadline, lawmakers can request from the presiding officers that one or more bills to be carried over to the next session, which begins in January 2020. Bills approved for carryover are then voted on as joint orders in both chambers, and the bill is kept alive until next session.

Statutes call for this year’s session to end on June 19, which means the deadline for reporting all bills out of committee is in two weeks, on May 24.

One matter that can’t be delayed is passage of a two-year budget that must be in place by July 1. The Legislature’s budget-writing committee has just started delving into some of the more potentially contentious aspects of Mills’ roughly $8 billion proposal. Democrats who control both chambers will need to win over enough Republicans to pass a budget with two-thirds majorities in each chamber. Members of the minority party continue to look for signs from leadership about where opportunities for bipartisan compromise could be found.

As committees accelerate the flow of bills to each chamber for floor votes, we can expect the House and Senate to start meeting two or three times per day before the end of this month. In addition to hashing out a budget and disposing of unfinished business on hundreds of pieces of proposed legislation, lawmakers also will have to dig into the weedy but essential business of deciding which previously passed bills that have been placed on the Special Appropriations Table will be granted funding and saved from the legislative limbo of being passed but not funded. So we can soon expect overtired lawmakers to be casting their most important votes of the session, possibly long after the sun has set.


Today in A-town

Maine’s ousted 2nd District congressman spoke at a rally ahead of public hearings on gun control bills. Former U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin helped rally dozens of conservatives ahead of what’s expected to be a long 9 a.m. public hearing in the Legislature’s criminal justice committee on 11 gun-related bills. All but one of them come from Democrats who lead the Legislature and the slate includes proposals to require background checks for all private gun sales except between family members, prohibit the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and mandate a three-day waiting period before a gun sale. Rep. John Andrews, R-South Paris, is proposing a “stand-your-ground” law like those in at least 25 other states.

Speaking alongside fellow Republicans including former state Sen. Eric Brakey, Poliquin, who represented the 2nd District for four years and was ousted in 2018 by Democrat Jared Golden, said Maine has “a 200-year history of lawfully owning firearms and safely using them.”

In other committee work, Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew will address the Legislature’s oversight committee on changes in the state’s child welfare system. Other committees will work on proposals to re-establish a presidential primary, keep commercial facilities from shutting down without making a fair-market offer to sell and adjust medical marijuana laws. See the full schedule here.


Reading list

— The Senate bucked Mills by easily passing a bill she opposes that would study the emissions impact of the proposed Central Maine Power corridor. In a bipartisan rebuke of the Democratic governor, the upper chamber voted 30-4 to back a bill from Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, to study the net carbon emissions impact of the utility’s proposed 145-mile corridor to bring Quebec hydropower to the New England grid in Lewiston via Somerset and Franklin counties. Mills has opposed the bill and supports the politically unpopular corridor project. The bill now goes to the House, where it needs two-thirds approval to take effect immediately upon passage. On the same day, Mills signed several bills into law including two aimed at improving utility billing practices amid a state investigation into CMP.

— House Democrats reversed themselves to narrowly uphold the governor’s first veto of a bill to ban a high-ethanol fuel mix. The House of Representatives sustained Mills’ first veto on Thursday, spiking a bill from Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, that was aimed at preemptively banning a high-ethanol blend of gasoline approved for vehicles with a model year of 2001 or newer. The proposal passed the Legislature without a roll-call vote, but 50 Democrats voted to back the veto and kept the bill four votes shy of clearing a two-thirds threshold for survival after O’Connor called ethanol a “boondoggle” on the House floor. Here’s your soundtrack.

— The midcoast district attorney won’t prosecute 25 people who were arrested while protesting a Bath Iron Works christening ceremony. Sagadahoc County District Attorney Natasha Irving said on Thursday she won’t prosecute 25 people who protested at the shipyard during an April christening ceremony for the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson as part of a small, loyal and long campaign to push Bath Iron Works toward finding solutions to climate change. The protesters had been charged with misdemeanor charges of obstructing a public way that Irving said “would necessitate a significant designation of resources and time” to prosecute. She said that would “give more undue publicity to those 25 individuals.”

— A York school committee member helped bring to light emails showing her opponent has been accused of ‘aggressive’ behavior at schools in the district. “Aggressive,” “rude,” “threatening,” and “insulting” are words that school officials have used to describe Cheryl Neiverth, according to documents obtained by The York Weekly dating back to 2015. In a plot twist that only a local election can provide, documents were first sent to the newspaper by an anonymous source who turned out to be Meredith Schmid, the incumbent on the school board being challenged by Neiverth. The challenger said she was simply sticking up for children with special needs, including her son.


Fields of scholarship

Despite being wrapped in deep, warm layers of hometown pride, high school sports in Maine really is supposed to be more about learning than tournament seeding. I experienced a great example of that Thursday while umpiring a junior varsity baseball game.

The game wasn’t close, as the visiting team had scored 11 runs in the top of the first inning. But a play at first base in the second inning was pretty close. I called the runner out on a bang-bang play.

As the recently put out batter-runner made his way to his position for the bottom of the second, the following exchange occurred:

Player: Was I really out?

Me: Yes, by a step.

Player: One less cheeseburger and I would have been safe.

Me: One fewer cheeseburger.

Player: I just should have had a salad for lunch.

How’s that for a teachable moment? Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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