Under The Dome: Inside The Maine State House 8-2-13

Augusta, ME

Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House is a regular 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 Week's Highlights

Bond Package on November Ballot Unlikely

Throughout the year, various predictions have been made regarding the potential for a new bond package to be sent to Maine voters. Initially, there was some indication that the Legislature would approve a bond package during the First Regular Session. As the session began to wind down, there was a sense that the Appropriations Committee would meet over the summer and early fall to assemble a bond package and that package would be approved during a special legislative session this year. Now, the conversation has changed again. It appears that there is not sufficient support for a special legislative session this fall, meaning a bond package cannot be approved and sent to the voters until June of 2014 at the earliest.

Just as the timing of a bond package is a bit uncertain, so too are the contents of a bond package. During initial discussions regarding a bond proposal, the Governor and both sides of the aisle in the Legislature seemed to agree on bonding for transportation projects. The devil, however, is always in the details, as there is some disagreement as to the size of the package, the type of projects that should be funded, and whether or not borrowing should be used to fund projects that are not transportation-related. More details are likely to emerge this month, as the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is scheduled to meet on August 13th.

Early Cloture Date Set Going into Second Regular Session of 126th Legislature

On July 25th, the ten members of legislative leadership met to, among other things, determine the deadline for submitting requests for new legislation to be considered during the 126th Legislature’s Second Regular Session, which will convene on January 8, 2014. This deadline for the submission of legislation is called “cloture.” Legislative leaders established a very early cloture date this year – Friday, September 27, 2013 at 4:00 PM.

Those interested in having legislation submitted on their behalf for consideration during next year’s legislative session have a short window to get their proposals in order. Before this deadline, a legislator must be identified to sponsor the proposed legislation and sufficient information that enables the Revisor of Statutes to draft the bill must be submitted to the Revisor’s Office. Given 2014 is a “short session,” a proposal submitted before cloture must then be approved by six of the ten members of legislative leadership before the bill can be introduced next year. Bills approved through this process, along with carry over legislation, agency bills and Governor’s bills, will constitute the Legislature’s work for next year’s session.

Governor’s Office of Policy and Management Begins the Process of Trimming State Spending

Part F of the State’s biennial budget grants the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management a great degree of power in order to find over $33 million in savings during the current biennium and to identify up to 100 State positions for possible elimination. Under Part F, this Office is charged with finding $11.25 million in savings during the current fiscal year to be achieved administratively (that is, through powers already granted to the Executive Branch and not through changes in law). Additionally, the Office is charged with finding $22.5 million in savings during the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014. This second round of savings can be the result of changes in State law. The Office is tasked with reporting its savings recommendations and the list of position eliminations to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee by the end of September 2013. From there, the Legislature must either act to adopt equivalent savings or the Governor is given the authority to achieve these savings through his curtailment powers. Some in the media have called this Maine’s own version of “sequestration.” In any event, this process is moving quickly, as the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management has fewer than two months to produce its report.

Candidates for Senate Special Election Selected

Upon adjournment of the First Regular Session, Senator Seth Goodall (Democrat) resigned his Senate seat due to his appointment as Regional Administrator of the Small Business Administration. A special election will be held on August 27th to fill the vacant Senate District 19 seat (Sagadahoc County and the Town of Dresden in Lincoln County). Since the Secretary of State announced the election date, parties have caucused to select their candidate for this seat. Those on the ballot are Democrat Eloise Vitelli, Republican Paula Benoit and Green-Independent Daniel Stromgren.

Both Democrats and Republicans view this as an important election and hope to use a victory in this election as an indicator that momentum favors them heading into the 2014 election year. Regardless of the outcome of this race, Democrats will still hold a majority in the Senate. If party control of this seat changes hands, however, Democrats will maintain the Senate majority by one vote.

Maine Republican Party Elects New Leadership

On July 20th, former President of the Maine Senate Rick Bennett was elected as Chair of the Maine Republican Party and former state Representative Susan Morissette was elected Vice-Chair of the Party. They were selected to fill vacancies in Party leadership following the resignation of the former Chair and Vice-Chair. Many in the media have opined that the first task for the newly elected Party leaders is to unify the various factions within the Maine Republican Party that have been at odds with each other since the 2012 Maine Republican Convention.

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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