Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
Legislature Approaching End of Session
The statutory adjournment date for the Legislature is now fewer than three weeks away and the Legislature is working feverishly to complete its work for the year. This week, the House and Senate met every day, and both chambers are scheduled to be in session five days next week. Very few committees have work left and committees that met this week did so to consider bills that were just introduced. Signaling their intention to wrap up the session soon, legislative leaders met this week and rejected all pending requests for the introduction of new legislation. The coming weeks are sure to be filled with lengthy floor debates on some of the most contentious bills of the session.
Tale of Two Vetoes
This week, Governor LePage vetoed two bills. The first, a veto of LD 1449, An Act to Amend the Composition and Duties of the Maine Children’s Growth Council, was sustained in the Senate when a 2/3rds majority could not be mustered to override the Governor’s action. The second, a veto of LD 1589, An Act to Improve the Maine Sex Offender Registry, however, was overridden. In fact, the Governor’s veto was unanimously overridden in both the House and the Senate without one member of the Legislature voting in support of the Governor’s veto.
Governor’s Bills Face Scrutiny in Committee
In recent weeks, Governor LePage has introduced over a dozen bills highlighting some of his policy priorities. The Governor had an early success with one of his proposals that was designed to restore the State’s “rainy day” fund. This week, however, did not result in similar successes:
A package of proposals put forth by the Governor to reform the TANF program and EBT card use did not receive majority support in Committee.
The Governor’s proposal to tackle drug crimes by creating positions to investigate and prosecute these crimes was pared down in Committee and funding for the scaled back proposal has not yet been identified.
The Governor’s proposal to use funds from additional timber harvests on State lands to fund a program to reduce heating costs was supported in a modified form in Committee by just three legislators.
The Governor’s proposal to charge the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Elections Practices with determining the veracity of campaign statements was questioned on First Amendment grounds in Committee.
The Governor’s proposal to increase income tax deductions for pension income also failed to garner majority support in Committee.
While many of these proposals received rocky reception in Committee, most will still proceed to the floors of the House and Senate, where they will be further debated. These initiatives will very likely be discussed throughout the year and be used to highlight the policy differences between the Governor and his opponents during this year’s election cycle.
Acting Department of Corrections Commissioner Named
Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, Joseph Ponte, recently announced that he is taking a position in New York City overseeing the City’s jail system. This week, Governor LePage appointed Associate Commissioner Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick as Acting Commissioner for the Department. Dr. Fitzpatrick has worked for the Department for 20 years, serving most recently as the Department’s Clinical Director.
Appropriations Committee Considers Various Bills
This week, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee took a rare break from working on budget legislation to hold hearings on other bills that fall under this Committee’s jurisdiction. Perhaps, most interesting was Thursday’s public hearings on four separate bond proposals pending before the Committee. At this point in time, it is difficult to predict what the Legislature may decide to do regarding sending any bonding proposals to the voters. Historically, bond packages are assembled in the last few days of a legislative session and are carefully negotiated between both political parties in the Legislature and the Governor’s Office.
Supplemental Budget Bill Still on Governor’s Desk
Before heading home for the weekend last week, the Legislature sent LD 1843, the fiscal year 2014 supplemental budget bill to the Governor’s desk. This bill closes the budget gap for the current State fiscal year, which ends June 30th. This bill received near-unanimous support in both chambers and is now pending the Governor’s signature. The Governor has ten days, excluding Sundays, in order to sign or veto this supplemental budget or the bill will become law without the Governor’s signature.