Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 2-21-14

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Augusta, ME

Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.

Governor Puts Hold on Bonds

On February 20th, State Treasurer Neria Douglass briefed the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on the status of roughly $100 million authorized but unissued bonds. According to Douglass, the Governor’s Office informed her this week that the Governor will not approve the issuance of these bonds until the State’s “Rainy Day” fund contains at least $60 million. Governor LePage has previously slowed the issuance of voter-authorized bonds, citing concerns regarding the State’s credit rating. Most recently, the Governor expressed concern that a legislatively-approved plan to restore municipal revenue sharing by reducing the “Rainy Day” fund – a plan that now awaits the Governor’s action – would negatively affect the State’s credit rating. Obviously, there will be further developments regarding the “Rainy Day” fund, bonds and municipal revenue sharing.

Focus of Session Begins to Shift Away from Committees

As the Legislature strives to complete its work by the statutory adjournment date of April 16th, attention is turning away from legislative committees and to the House and Senate chambers. A significant number of bills are being reported out of committee, keeping the House and Senate busy. Additionally, this week saw the debate of some contentious legislation, including a bill addressing religious freedom. In a nod to the fact that action is now moving to the floors of the House and Senate, the Legislature will begin holding sessions Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays next week, as opposed to just the current Tuesday and Thursday session days.

2014 Elections – Who is in and Who is Out

Both the Democratic and Republican Parties are working hard to field candidates in all 151 State House and 35 State Senate races. Party candidates have until March 17th to file paperwork with the Secretary of State to qualify for June’s primary ballot. In recent weeks there has been a number of announcements and plenty of gossip regarding who is seeking re-election, who has decided not to return to the Legislature and who is thinking of switching chambers. Within the next two weeks, there will be a firmer picture of what this fall’s elections for the Maine Legislature may look like.

Nominations and Confirmations Continue

This week saw both more nominations coming out of the Governor’s Office and a number of confirmations. Notification of seven legislatively confirmable nominations appeared on the Legislature’s calendar. This included the nomination of University of Maine Professor Scott Dunning, Downeast Energy Vice President Lenora Burke and former Representative and LePage energy advisor Kenneth Fletcher to the Board of the Efficiency Maine Trust. It was an even busier week in terms of confirmations, with the Senate voting to confirm 24 nominees over the course of the week. Those confirmed this week include Commissioner of the Department of Education James Rier, CEO of the Finance Authority of Maine Bruce Wagner and Finance Authority of Maine Board member and Pierce Atwood Partner Jonathan Block.

Chief Justice Saufley to Address Joint Session of the Maine Legislature

On February 26th, the House and Senate are scheduled to meet in a joint session. Both chambers will convene to hear Chief Justice Leigh Saufley’s annual State of the Judiciary address. This is an opportunity for the Judicial Branch to highlight its work and innovations in the delivery of justice. It is also an opportunity for the Chief Justice to speak directly to the entire Legislature regarding her Branch’s requests of the Legislature in terms of both budget and policy priorities.