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 LePage Delivers State of the State Address
On February 5, 2013, Governor LePage delivered his State of the State Address to a Joint Convention of the Legislature. This speech focused on what Mainer’s are earning, compared to the costs of living and working in the State. Governor LePage took the opportunity to highlight accomplishments over the last two years and to lay out his agenda for the coming year. The reaction to the Governor’s speech in the House chamber was a bit more subdued than his last State of the State Address, where he was joined by a majority of Republicans in the Legislature. The Governor focused on priority policy areas, including energy, education and domestic violence. Some of the policy proposals discussed by the Governor are not new, including lifting the 100 megawatt cap on renewable energy and supporting school choice. Other policy proposals were discussed for the first time in the Address, including fast tracking permitting for natural gas expansion and developing a grading system for Maine schools. Also discussed for the first time was a new state website that that details State spending called Maine Open Checkbook. The Administration will now pursue the Governor’s agenda through the legislative process.
Supplemental Spending Bill Nears Completion in Committee
While the biggest issue facing the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is the biennial budget that charts the State’s taxing and spending over the next two fiscal years, the Committee must first complete action on a supplemental spending bill to balance the budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013. The Committee has already held public hearings on the supplemental spending bill and received recommendations from committees of jurisdiction. Appropriators signaled this week that there was bipartisan agreement on most elements of the supplemental budget and that the Committee would soon complete its work on this bill. The Committee could finish its work on this proposal as soon as early next week.
Committees Beginning Their Work
The pace of the Legislature has picked up this week. Almost 350 bills have been printed and referred to committee. Committees are now scheduling hearings and work sessions and are beginning to transition away from informational briefings to addressing introduced legislation. Committees were also briefed this week on what to expect as the Maine Public Broadcasting Network begins covering their deliberations on camera. The network rolled out Maine Capitol Connection this week, a project to record and air committee meetings, press events and other proceedings in Augusta.
Snowstorm Causes Cancellation of Legislative Hearings
Due to a predicted snowstorm, legislative leaders decided to cancel all legislative hearings and to close legislative offices at noon on February 8, 2013. While this was not a major disruption to the legislative schedule, it will postpone a meeting of the newly formed Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. This Committee did meet earlier in the week in Bangor. The Bangor meeting involved the Committee visiting the University of Maine and Eastern Maine Community College as well as hearing from a panel representing economic development groups, higher education institutions and businesses. This Joint Select Committee plans to hold additional meetings in other parts of the State as it gathers information regarding workforce development and other issues it plans to tackle.
Governor Meets with Presiding Officers
On February 4, 2013, Governor LePage met with Senate President Justin Alfond and House Speaker Mark Eves in the Governor’s Cabinet Room. President Alfond and Speaker Eves had previously tried to meet with the Governor but the Governor objected, citing concerns about the Democratic Party using a “tracker” to film the Governor. This week, however, a meeting finally took place. While participants have acknowledged that the meeting has taken place, they do not plan to disclose the details of the meeting publically.