Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 2-22-13

Augusta, ME

Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House is a weekly update that provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House. If you would like more specific information regarding an item in this newsletter or related to government relations, please contact a member of our Government Relations Practice Group: John Delahanty, Andrea C. Maker or Avery Day.

This Week’s Highlights

Supplemental Budget Clears the Legislature

On February 21st, the Legislature completed action on a $153 million supplemental budget bill designed to balance the State’s budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013. The supplemental spending bill largely reflects what was initially proposed by Governor LePage, though the Committee did make some significant changes. The Governor’s initiatives that were rejected include a proposed elimination of the Drugs for the Elderly Program, a cap on General Assistance payments to municipalities, and a number of proposed health and human services cuts. Funding for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services was reduced as proposed but language was added to the supplemental budget in Committee that would authorize the Governor to transfer up to $2 million to the Commission from unexpended State funds remaining at the end of the fiscal year.

The supplemental budget bill will now be presented to Governor LePage for his approval. The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will soon turn its attention to the biennial budget, a much more complex roadmap of State taxing and spending for the next two fiscal years.

Legislature Enacts Emergency Legislation Regarding Concealed Weapons Permit Data

In an unusual move this week, the Legislature enacted an emergency resolve on the same day the bill was introduced to the Legislature, bypassing the committee public hearing process completely. This bill is in response to the Bangor Daily News filing a Freedom of Access Act request last week for information pertaining to all concealed weapons permit holders in the State. In reaction to this request, the Legislature acted swiftly and in a bipartisan manner to enact a Governor’s bill to temporarily shield this data from Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. This is only a temporary measure and this issue will be revisited this year through separate legislation.

Effort to Legalize Marijuana Kicks Off at State House

This week, proponents of a legislative effort to legalize marijuana in Maine held a press conference to discuss their proposal. The effort, led by Representative Diane Russell of Portland, would involve legislative action that, if successful, would precipitate a referendum question on a state-wide ballot. Despite having bipartisan support, some legislators have said publicly that they think the chances of this proposal moving forward are slim.

Chief Justice Saufley Delivers State of the Judiciary Address

On February 21st, Chief Justice Saufley delivered her State of the Judiciary Address to a Joint Convention of the Legislature. The Chief Justice used this address to inform the Legislature of the work the Judiciary has accomplished over the recent past and to discuss some of the new initiatives the Judicial Branch has undertaken. Of course, the Chief Justice did not let this opportunity to address the full Legislature pass by without some comments regarding increased funding for the Judicial Branch. The Chief Justice was joined in the House Chamber by a number of other judges and members of the Judicial Branch as well as by Governor LePage.

Hands Free Cell Phone Requirement While Driving Voted on in Committee

On February 19th, the Transportation Committee held a work session on a number of traffic safety measures. Included in these bills was LD 68, a proposal that would prohibit the use of handheld cell phones while driving. The Committee voted to reject this bill by an overwhelming majority. This lopsided committee report will likely result in this bill’s defeat on the floors of both the House and the Senate.