Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 5-24-13

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’s Veto Count Continues to Climb

The Governor’s veto count for the legislative session climbed to nine bills this week. On May 20th, the Governor vetoed LD 387, Resolve, to Direct the Department of Health and Human Services to Study the Ongoing Need for Rental Subsidies to Provider Agencies. This bill would have authorized a study related to rental subsidies for Medicaid recipients. On May 22nd, the House voted to sustain the Governor’s action in a party-line vote. Because the House did not muster the required 2/3rds vote to override the Governor’s veto, this bill is now dead.

The Governor has also vetoed LD 319, An Act to Provide Tax Fairness to Small Businesses in the State, and LD 468, An Act to Protect Public Health at Public Institutions of Higher Education. LD 319 relates to Maine’s conformity with the multi-state agreement on sales and use tax collection. LD 468 would prohibit smoking at University of Maine system campuses. Both of these vetoed bills have been tabled in the House and a vote has not yet occurred to determine if the House will override these vetoes.

On May 23rd, the Governor issued a dramatic, “instant” veto of another bill at a press conference. On Thursday morning, just minutes after LD 1546 was finally enacted in both chambers, Governor LePage publically vetoed this bill. LD 1546 is based on a melding of the Governor’s original proposal to pay the State’s hospital debt through revenues generated by renewing the State’s wholesale liquor contract and a bill submitted by Senator Goodall on the liquor distribution contract award process. As this proposal made its way through the process, Democrats in the Legislature added an expansion of Maine’s Medicaid system to the bill – a move opposed by both the Governor and Republicans in the Legislature. This bill quickly progressed through the legislative process and was vetoed with equal speed. The Governor has submitted another bill to the Legislature designed to pay the State’s hospital debt without including an expansion of the Medicaid system.

Tension Growing as the End of the Legislative Session Draws Near

As mentioned above, a partisan battle was fought this week regarding the addition of language to expand Maine’s Medicaid system to a bill designed to pay the State’s hospital debt. This effort was opposed at nearly every procedural step by Republicans in the Legislature, including over 8 hours of debate in the House and Senate and culminating with a gubernatorial veto. The Governor’s veto will now be considered first in the Senate, where that chamber will vote on whether or not to override the Governor’s veto. Given initial votes on this bill, it appears that an override is unlikely to occur.

In addition to this policy disagreement, tensions between the Governor’s Office and Democratic legislative leaders appeared to grow this week. On May 19th, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee held a work session to address Department of Health and Human Services funding issues. Governor LePage attended that meeting and sought and was denied permission to address the Committee, an action that the Governor later characterized as “censorship.”

On May 23rd, a disagreement between Governor and Democratic legislative leaders added to tensions at the State House. This week, the Governor’s Office installed a video monitor outside of the Governor’s Office displaying the days since the Governor has proposed a budget and asking “What’s the hold up?” The Governor’s Office was informed that this was against rules related to displays in the State House. In reaction to this disagreement, the Governor stated that he would begin working out of the Blaine House as opposed to his office at the State House. It is unclear how this issue will be resolved.

Omnibus Energy Bill Closely Examined in Committee

Early last week, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee unveiled a 30-page omnibus energy bill that combined elements of nine separate bills before that Committee. This wide-ranging bill touches on reforms of the Efficiency Maine Trust, a proposal to reduce energy costs by contracting for natural gas pipeline capacity, non-transmission alternatives, reform of Maine’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative laws, interconnection of natural gas pipelines, and municipal acquisition of street lights. The Committee then proceeded to work on this bill each day it met last week and has continued to carefully debate this bill throughout this week. This close examination of this bill has delayed consideration of other bills pending before the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee, meaning the Committee will be meeting over the weekend to wrap up its work for the session.

Tax Reform Overhaul Remains in Committee

The Taxation Committee continues to work on LD 1496, An Act to Modernize and Simplify the Tax Code. This is the major tax reform effort that has been formulated by the bi-partisan “Gang of 11.” The proposal has been modified since it was originally put forth to provide for staged implementation of reform. Under this new approach, elements of tax reform would be implemented in three stages, with the final stage being implemented January 1, 2015.

On May 21st, the Taxation Committee, again, held a work session on this bill and received legislative language from the “Gang of 11.” The Taxation Committee has asked Maine Revenue Services to analyze this legislative language and determine the budget implications of this proposal. The Committee will take up this bill and receive Maine Revenue Services’ analysis on May 30th at 1:00 p.m.

LD1496 NEW STATUTORY DRAFT 5-21-13

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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