Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 4-19-13

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.

Legislature Prepares to Enter Final Leg of Session

A quiet week in Augusta. The House and Senate did not meet and only five Committees met to work on legislation. When the Legislature returns next week, there will be less than two months to go until the statutory adjournment date of June 19th, and there is much work to be completed between now and adjournment.

Committees of jurisdiction are processing those portions of the biennial budget that fall under their purview, but the bulk of the negotiations at the Appropriations Committee have yet to take place. Substantive legislation continues to make its way through the Legislature’s various committees. Not all bills have been printed at this point. Some particularly controversial measures have languished and will not be addressed until the final weeks of session. Committees will eventually complete their work and then attention will fall to the House and Senate as they start to “move paper” in earnest. Right now, the House and Senate are meeting in session three days a week but that schedule will be adjusted and by the week of May 13th, both chambers will be meeting five days a week to process bills.

Unemployment System Under Scrutiny

Augusta’s latest political controversy, touching on Maine’s unemployment appeals process, emerged over the last week. Based on reports from a meeting Governor LePage had with a group of unemployment hearing officers in late March, the Maine Employment Lawyers Association requested that the U.S. Department of Labor investigate whether the Governor pressured hearing officers. It has been reported that officials from the U.S. Department of Labor have met with officials at the Maine Department of Labor, though it is unclear at this point if this is an official “investigation.” The Governor’s Office also announced this week that the Governor is creating a blue ribbon commission made up of representatives of employers and employees to examine the unemployment system. This matter is certain to develop further over the coming weeks.

Bills to Reform Efficiency Maine Trust Introduced

This week, the Governor’s proposal to reform the Efficiency Maine Trust, LD 1425, was printed. This bill, titled An Act to Create Affordable Heating Options for Maine Residents and Reduce Business Energy Costs, proposes a number of changes to how the Trust allocates its resources as well as proposes reform of the Trust’s Board. At its core, this proposal adds reducing energy costs to the Trust’s mission, as opposed to directing the Trust to remain exclusively focused on reducing energy use. The title of a competing measure, LD 1426, was released this week but the text of that bill, titled An Act to Improve Maine’s Economy and Lower Energy Costs through Energy Efficiency, is not yet available. This proposal appears to have been largely crafted and promoted by the Natural Resources Council of Maine and, among other things, seeks to increase funding for the Trust. These bills have yet to be scheduled for public hearing but some legislators have indicated that the committee of jurisdiction, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, may seek to blend these two proposals in a compromise bill.