Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 3-22-13

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.

Governor Does Not Act on Veto Threat

Governor LePage recently announced that he would veto all legislation sent to his desk until a plan to repay the State’s debt to Maine hospitals was enacted. This week, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee held two work sessions on the Governor’s plan to rebid the State’s liquor contract and use revenues from that enterprise to pay the hospital debt. The Committee also worked a competing Democratic proposal. While the plan has not yet been sent to the Governor’s desk, the Governor signed a bill related to the sale of alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day and allowed six additional bills to become law without his signature. The governor called this a “gesture of good faith.”

Appropriations Committee Continues Public Hearings on Biennial Budget

The Appropriations Committee has wrapped up its second week of public hearings on the biennial budget. The Committee has scheduled two additional weeks of public hearings, which are now anticipated to run until at least April 5th. This week, the Committee heard from the public on education funding issues. The Governor’s proposal to require municipalities to pay for all or some of their teacher’s retirement costs was particularly controversial and contributed to a long day for Committee members.

In an unusual move, the Appropriations Committee will meet in Brewer on March 25th to hear from the public regarding proposals that will affect municipalities. This includes proposed reforms to the popular Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement Program, Circuitbreaker, the Homestead Exemption, excise taxes, revenue sharing and aid to local schools. The remainder of the scheduled hearings will be held in Augusta.

Governor Explores Medicaid Expansion

Governor LePage also made news this week as the Administration appears to be exploring an expansion of Maine’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The Governor has been an opponent of the Affordable Care Act and did not initially appear to be interested in the Medicaid expansion provided for under this law. This week, however, the Administration sent a letter to Secretary Sebelius requesting the federal government pay for the entire expansion for a decade as well as proposing other conditions. The State now awaits the response of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Legislature Gets a Snow Day

All activity at the Legislature was canceled on the 19th due to a snow storm. The House and Senate were scheduled to be in session that day and a number of committees planned to meet that afternoon. This did not result in a major problem for the House and Senate but has disrupted committee calendars, as various public hearings and work sessions had to be rescheduled. Adding to the disruption, committee agendas are particularly full at this point in the session as committees work to process their bills.

Governor Proposes Transportation Bond

This week, Governor LePage introduced LD 1095, An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Improve Highways, Bridges and Multimodal Facilities. This bill would provide for a $100 million bond issue for transportation infrastructure construction and rehabilitation. Governor LePage has opposed bonding in the past and has refused to issue bonds that have already been authorized. The Governor has tied existing bonds to the issue of hospital debt and has said that he will issue those bonds when a plan to repay hospital debt has been enacted. This new bond proposal by the Governor further signals that his opposition to bonding may be softening.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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