Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 6-21-13

by Pierce Atwood LLP
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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.

This Weeks Highlights

Legislature Almost Done with First Regular Session of the 126th

In the early hours of June 20th, the Legislature adjourned . . . until next Wednesday, June 26. Despite the statutory adjournment date of June 19th, the Legislature remains in session for what may be a few more legislative days. By the June 20th adjournment, the House and Senate had completed almost all of its work on pending bills. They will come back into session next week to address vetoes, including an anticipated veto of the biennial budget by the Governor. Should the biennial budget be resolved on June 26th, the Legislature can then turn to other bills requiring funding. It is possible that all legislation could be enacted on the 26th. If that is the case, it is likely that the Legislature will return for one last day in early July to deal with any final vetoes issued by the Governor.

Governor LePage Reacts to Maine Today Media Series on Department of Environmental Protection

This week, Maine Today Media ran a series of articles critical of Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho. Among other things, this series attempted to link some of Commissioner Aho’s policy decisions to her previous representation of business clients before the Legislature. The article mentions her former employers, including Pierce Atwood, and clients for whom she was a registered lobbyist. As one would expect, reactions vary according to readers' policy preferences and perspectives, perceptions of the current Administration, and interests in particular events cited in the article to name a few variables. Some noted it was well known by legislators that she was a long-time registered lobbyist for various entities when she received the unanimous vote of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee in support of her confirmation as Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. The Governor’s Office has stated that they will no longer comment on Maine Today Media stories – a decision that has also been the subject of public debate.

Gubernatorial Vetoes Sustained, More Issued

This week, there was a significant uptick in the number of vetoes issued by the Governor and sustained by the Legislature. On June 17th, the Legislature sustained the Governor’s vetoes of five bills, killing these pieces of legislation. Throughout the week, the Governor issued additional vetoes; some of which have been sustained and others have not yet been addressed by the Legislature. At this time, no veto has been overridden to become law.

Interestingly, most of the Governor’s vetoes this session have not been of major policy initiatives. Some themes, however, have emerged as the Governor has opposed bills increasing fees on Mainers, bills that authorize studies using Executive Branch resources and bills addressing education and health care policies with which the Governor disagrees. There are, of course, exceptions to vetoes not touching on major policy initiatives. Earlier in the session, the Governor vetoed a bill that tied paying Maine’s hospital debt to the expansion of Medicaid, LD 1546. This week, the Governor vetoed a standalone bill addressing Medicaid expansion, LD 1066, and the omnibus energy bill, LD 1559, both major pieces of legislation. The Governor’s veto of Medicaid expansion was sustained in the House, killing this bill, while final legislative action on the omnibus energy bill is still pending in the Senate after the House voted to override the Governor’s veto of this bill.

Medicaid Expansion Proposal Dies after Gubernatorial Veto

A major policy decision this legislative session was whether or not to expand Maine’s Medicaid program, known as MaineCare. This proposal would have taken advantage of federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to more individuals in Maine. Governor LePage and Republicans in the Legislature have opposed the expansion and Democrats in the Legislature have supported the expansion (though positions on this proposal have not broken down strictly along party lines). Medicaid expansion was first advanced as an amendment to a separate bill designed to pay the State’s hospital debt. After that attempt was rejected via a veto, this proposal was advanced as standalone legislation. The issue was resolved this week when Governor LePage vetoed the standalone bill, LD 1066. The veto was considered in the House, where supporters of Medicaid expansion fell three votes short of the two-thirds support needed to override the veto, killing this bill.

Omnibus Energy Bill in Limbo after Governor Vetoes this Legislation

This week, the status of the omnibus energy bill, LD 1559, was put into question after the Governor vetoed this bill. This is a wide-ranging proposal combining elements of a number of bills before the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee that relate to, among other things, reforms of the Efficiency Maine Trust and a proposal to reduce energy cost by contracting for natural gas pipeline capacity. This bill was enacted in the Legislature by large majorities in both the House and the Senate. The Governor, however, decided to veto this bill this week because it does not address a number of energy issues that are priorities of the Governor. The House voted to overturn the Governor’s veto by a vote of 121 – 11. This veto must now be considered in the Senate to determine whether or not this bill becomes law over the Governor’s objections.

Local Option Sales Tax Bill Dies Between Houses

This week, a proposal to allow municipalities to levy a 1 percent local option sales tax died between houses. This bill, LD 427, was adopted in the House by a vote of 101 to 48. Despite strong support in the House, this bill was met with strong resistance in the Senate. Ultimately, the Senate voted 31 – 4 to kill this proposal. Neither the House nor the Senate conceded on its position, and consequently, this bill died between houses.

Bond Package Delayed Until Next Year

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has received over 30 different bond bills this legislative session that propose funding for a number of different initiatives, including providing funding for educational facilities, transportation upgrades and other infrastructure improvements. There was some speculation that the Committee would assemble a bond package before the end of the session to be sent to the voters this year. This conversation, however, has changed and the Committee is now not expected to report out a bond package this year. Rather, the Committee will take more time to create a spending package.

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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