Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
This Week's Highlights
Additional Veto Considered This Week
On January 10th, the very first week of this legislative session, Governor LePage announced that he had vetoed five of sixteen bills that he held from the last legislative session. Of the five vetoes, two were sustained in the House last week, killing those two bills. This week, the Senate followed the House in over-riding one of the vetoes the Governor issued and LD 386, a bill relating to Medicaid funding for tobacco cessation treatment, will become law over the Governor’s objection. The two remaining vetoes are still pending before the Legislature. With these five most recent vetoes, the Governor has vetoed 87 bills during the 126th Legislature, with only six of those vetoes being over-ridden.
Many Committees Working Hard to Meet January Deadlines for Carry Over Bills
The Senate President and the Speaker of the House informed committee Chairs before the session began that they would have the month of January to complete committee consideration on the 200 plus bills carried over from last session. This included a mandate that all carry over bills be voted on by the committees by today, January 24th, and that all carry over bills be reported out of committee by next Friday, January 31st. While some committees did not have many carry over bills and are able to meet this schedule with ease, other committees are working overtime to complete work on carry over bills, making for some long days at the State House this week. This deadline should largely be met, though extensions on just a few bills will be granted.
Senator Mitchell to Address Joint Session of the Legislature
Next Tuesday, January 28th, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell will address a joint session of the Maine Legislature. In addition to addressing the Legislature, Senator Mitchell will be attending a portrait unveiling, as his portrait will be put on display in the State House’s Hall of Flags.
Governor LePage Makes A Number of Nominations
This week, nominations began trickling out of the Governor’s Office. Throughout the year, a number of high profile nominations are expected, as various terms at State boards and commissions are set to expire. This week’s nominations included an official nomination of Jim Rier as Commissioner of Education. This was not a surprise as he was already vetted by the State Board of Education pursuant to State statute. Rier has severed in various capacities within the Department of Education since 2003. This nomination must be confirmed by the Legislature.
Other nominations requiring legislative approval released this week include Bruce Wagner, who has worked at a number of Maine businesses including Barber Foods and Martin’s Point Health Care, as the new CEO of the Finance Authority of Maine and former state Senator Richard Nass as a reappointed member of the Maine Board of Tax Appeals. Additionally, six Finance Authority of Maine Board nominations were announced this week, including Jonathan Block, a partner in Pierce Atwood’s State and Local Tax practice group. These nominations will need to be confirmed by the Maine State Senate.
Medicaid Expansion Legislation Remains in Committee
On January 22nd, the Health and Human Services Committee held its first work session on LD 1578, An Act to Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People. This bill would expand the MaineCare program to an additional 60,000 to 70,000 people pursuant to language in the federal Affordable Care Act. Similar legislation was considered during the previous legislative session and vetoed twice by Governor LePage. The Committee began deliberations on this bill but the proposal was ultimately tabled and will be considered in Committee at a future date. This legislation is certain to be one of the most consequential and politically charged bills of the session.
Tax Expenditure Proposal Heard in Appropriations Committee
On January 22nd, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee held a public hearing on LR 2721, An Act Related to the Report of the Tax Expenditure Review Task Force Pursuant to PL 2013, c. 368, Part S. This proposal identifies $40 million in increased tax revenue in order to avoid a $40 million reduction to municipal revenue sharing that is required to keep the State’s budget in balance. The Committee heard from businesses that would be subject to these additional taxes, who argued that this proposal by and large singles out and attacks the large businesses that drive Maine’s economy. Many of these businesses last year were subjected to an increase in taxes to help balance the current biennium budget, and this proposal seeks more taxes from those same businesses. The Committee also heard from municipalities who spoke in support of these additional revenues, arguing that State assistance for municipalities has been reduced too much already. The Appropriations Committee must address this $40 million budget imbalance but it also faces other deficits. At this time, it is anticipated the legislature will address all the budget shortfalls in one comprehensive supplemental budget proposal. Governor LePage has declined to participate in helping to address the budget situation, claiming that he had vetoed the current budget and the problems it now suffers are at the hands of the Legislature, thus they need to fix the problems. The members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and members of Legislative leadership have begun meetings to wrestle with this financial challenge.