Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
Legislature Completes Last Full Week of Work for the Year
On April 18th at 1:05 a.m., the Legislature completed action on all pending bills and sent the bills enacted in this late night session to the Governor for his approval. While the Legislature wrapped up the work before it, the session is not officially over. The Legislature will convene again on May 1st to consider any vetoes issued by Governor LePage over the coming days.
At the beginning of this week, the fiscal year 2015 supplemental budget bill was sent to the Governor’s desk. Then the Legislature turned to its final end of session work. This mainly involved disposing of legislation either requiring funding or affecting revenues in some fashion. These measures included decisions on funding legislative studies, transportation matters and other spending bills that were pending on the Special Appropriations Table. Once these spending decisions were made by the respective committees, the surviving bills bounced back and forth between the House and Senate for final approval before being sent to the Governor.
Bond Proposals Assembled and Sent to the Governor’s Desk
Per customary practice, this week also involved negotiating and enacting bond proposals to be sent to the voters on a state-wide ballot. Negotiations over bonds this week were complex and, at times, contentious, but an agreement was reached on April 16th. Instead of one “package” that combines unrelated spending proposals into one question to be posed to the voters, legislators opted to enact six separate bills that would result in six separate ballot questions. In all, these six proposals would total $50 million in borrowing, broken down as follows:
$3 million for biotechnology workforce training at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory
$10 million for water-related projects
$7 million for capital investments to facilitate the growth of marine businesses to be administered by the Department of Economic and Community Development
$10 million to expand genetic and biometric research capabilities at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor
$12 million for loans to small businesses to be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine
$8 million to create an animal and plant disease and insect control facility at the University of Maine
The Legislature quickly worked to enact these six proposals. These bond bills now await the Governor’s signature, and should he veto any of them, the Legislature’s vote to override, before being sent to the voters on the November state-wide ballot.
Final Attempt at Medicaid Expansion Enacted but Likely Will Not Ultimately Succeed
On the afternoon of April 17th, the Speaker of the House attempted one last time to expand Maine’s Medicaid program. The Speaker proposed an amendment to LD 1578 patterned after expansion efforts in Arkansas and New Hampshire, where expansion relied on the use of private insurance. While the amended bill was passed to be enacted, it did not garner veto-proof support in either chamber. In fact, unlike other Medicaid expansion proposals, this bill received no Republican support in the Senate. Given the Governor has vetoed three other Medicaid expansion proposals over the past two years, a sustained veto of LD 1578 is anticipated.
Five Vetoes Sustained this Week
This week, the Legislature considered five bills that were vetoed by Governor LePage and voted to sustain the Governor’s veto of each of these bills. These bills include:
LD 1252, An Act to Improve Maine’s Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy, which proposed an assessment on electricity bills to fund solar rebates.
LD 1594, Resolve, to Review and Make Recommendations on Challenges, Gaps and Inefficiencies in Maine’s Emergency Crisis Hotline and “Warm Line” Services, which proposed a Departmental review of emergency hotlines.
LD 1619, An Act to Provide for a Quorum at the Public Utilities Commission, which proposed establishing alternative PUC Commissioners from a pool of prior Commissioners. Note, LD 1860, An Act to Provide for Temporary Commissioners at the Public Utilities Commission was passed which will allow alternative PUC Commissioner from a pool of retired judges, and is expected to be signed by the Governor.
LD 1631, An Act to Clarify What Constitutes a Contribution to a Candidate, which proposed clarifying campaign finance laws.
LD 1663, Resolve, to Require New Contract for MaineCare Non-Emergency Transportation, which proposed contracting requirements for non-emergency transportation brokers.
While the Governor’s veto of LD 1252 was overridden in the House, the Senate voted to sustain the Governor’s veto, killing this bill. The Governor’s vetoes of LD 1594 and LD 1619 were sustained in the House. The Senate voted to sustain the vetoes of LD 1631 and LD 1663.
Legislative Session Draws to a Close, Marking the Start of the Political Season
With the Legislature completing almost all of its work other than considering vetoes on May 1st, the focus in Augusta now shifts away from policy and onto politics. When the Legislature reconvenes in May, it should quickly wrap up all final work and adjourn for the year sine die. That will mark the point when sitting office holders, both legislators and the Governor, will again turn to political fundraising. Between now and June 10th the focus will be on primary elections. This includes some contested legislative primaries and what are, perhaps, the most interesting party primaries for spots on the ballot in the Second Congressional District race.