Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House 1-11-13

by Pierce Atwood LLP
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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.

In this week’s issue:

 

Legislature Completes Its First Week

The Legislature has completed its first week of the session. With a couple of exceptions, this was a fairly quiet week in Augusta. At this point, only four bills have been printed, giving committees little substantive work to do. The Legislature met twice this week and some committees held an initial meeting. Most of the activities at the State House, however, have been geared toward new member orientation. Many legislators took part in the Maine Development Foundation’s Policy Leaders Academy, which involves a bus tour for legislators to different regions of Maine to help educate them on Maine’s economy and the impact policy decisions have on the economy. This tour, connecting legislators with businesses, educational institutions and research facilities, began on Wednesday, January 9th, and runs for three days, meaning little was scheduled for the second half of the week.

There are, of course, exceptions to the quiet at the State House. On January 9th, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, along with the other Democratic members of the Legislature, held a press conference in the Hall of Flags to announce the majority party’s legislative agenda. Further, the January 11th due date for the Governor to release both of his supplemental budget and biennial proposals arrived this week. At the time of writing, these budget bills have not been released but analysis of both of these proposals will be forthcoming.

Majority Party Discusses Its Legislative Agenda

On January 9, 2013, members of the House and Senate Democratic caucuses, led by Senate President Alfond and Speaker of the House Eves, held a press conference in the Hall of Flags to announce their legislative agenda. While this event was short on details, Democrats did indicate those areas that will be a priority at the State House. They include:

  • Workforce development (including the formation of a Joint Select Committee to examine this issue)
  • Early childhood education
  • Reduced energy costs (including support for energy efficiency and alternative energy)
  • Reduced healthcare costs (including revisiting an overhaul of Maine’s health insurance market that was enacted by the last legislature and examining care management for MaineCare members)
  • Investments in the State (including bonds for infrastructure and research and development)

New Constitutional Officers Sworn into Office

On January 7, 2013, Governor LePage swore Maine’s three new Constitutional Officers into office. Maine is unusual in that our Constitutional Officers (i.e., Secretary of State, Attorney General and State Treasurer) are elected by all of the members of the Legislature in a joint convention. Last month, the new Democratic majority elected Matt Dunlap as the new Secretary of State, Janet Mills as the new Attorney General and Neria Douglass as the new State Treasurer. Upon being sworn into office, State Treasurer Neria Douglass called upon Governor LePage to issue over $60 million is general obligation bonds that have been approved by Maine voters, an issue that has been simmering for sometime in Augusta. Shortly after Janet Mills assumed office, the LePage Administration announced that outgoing Attorney General William Schneider is joining the Administration’s newly created Office of Policy and Management as that office’s Deputy Director.

Federal Decision Issued Regarding MaineCare Enrollment

During the last legislative session, the Legislature enacted budget language affecting MaineCare enrollment that was projected to reduce access to MaineCare for over 30,000 people. The LePage Administration began the process of implementing this legislative change in the summer of 2012, which involved requesting a State Plan Amendment from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Because the State’s budget assumed that these reductions would be made in the fall of 2012, the implementation date of these changes played a factor in keeping the State’s budget in balance. Due to both the policy and politics of these changes, a response to the State’s request was significantly delayed. Just this week, the State was notified that two of the four proposed initiatives to reduce enrollment would not be permitted, leading some to call this decision a “draw.” Because of the delay in implementation of those measures that can proceed and the rejection of half of the proposed measures, the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal must make up for unanticipated spending. This, however, is just one component of the Supplemental budget, which will seek to fill an even larger budget hole at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Charter School Commission Rejects Four of Five Applications

On January 8, 2013, the Maine Charter School Commission voted to reject four out of five applications for new charter schools. Under a recently enacted charter school law, only 10 charter schools are authorized for the first ten years of the law. Four schools have already been approved by the Maine Charter School Commission and those interested in creating new schools are now competing for diminishing slots. The Commission met this week to consider five applications and, ultimately, rejected four of these applications. The Commission’s decision was soon criticized by Governor LePage, who spoke to the press about the Commission’s decision the day after it was made. The Governor’s strong criticism of the Commission’s decision and Commission members has now become a news story in itself.

Pierce Atwood Hosts Members of the LePage Administration

On Monday, January 7, 2013 the Government Relations Group at Pierce Atwood connected its clients and friends with Kathleen Newman, Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Governor LePage and Michael Cianchette, Chief Legal Counsel, Office of the Governor for a lively discussion about Maine’s fiscal and policy landscape. The event, part of our Inside Policy Series, attracted nearly 50 individuals from various industries including business, healthcare, education, real estate and development, banking, technology and professional services. Topics covered included proposed curtailments, the supplemental and biennial budgets, debt owed to hospitals and education. The Government Relations Group will continue the conversation on Maine’s fiscal and policy landscape on January 16 when the firm hosts members of the legislative leadership for its next Inside Policy Series event.

 

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