Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House.
Ethics Commission Disburses Funds to Clean Elections Candidates despite Biennial Budget Typo
In July, the Maine Superior Court issued a decision that allowed the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices (Ethics Commission) to issue payments of Clean Elections funds that remained from the last election cycle, despite the lack of a Governor’s financial order to do so. The Superior Court found that the specific nature of the Clean Election fund allows for the disbursement of funds without the completion of certain administrative or ministerial functions. Meanwhile, as of July 1, the Ethics Commission’s ability to issue Clean Election funds allocated in the current biennial budget was prevented by a typo in the budget document. That typo and the ability to block release of those funds had become a political hot potato during the Legislature’s Second Special Session. But, based on the rationale in the Superior Court decision, in mid-August the Ethics Commission authorized disbursements of the current biennial budget Clean Election fund allocation to qualified candidates. The decision resolved the immediate Clean Election funding issue that had significantly hampered lawmakers’ ability to complete their work in the Second Special Session.
Legislature Convened to Continue Work of Special Session
The Legislature, which had not met since July 9, convened on Thursday, August 30 to continue the work of the Second Special Session. The Legislature passed a bill to conform portions of Maine’s tax code to the recently-enacted federal tax law reform. The passage of this legislation represents a victory for bipartisan cooperation as lawmakers worked across the aisle to strike the right policy balance while ensuring that Maine is not isolated by failing to conform generally to the federal tax code. Also, in addition to passing four recently-submitted Governor’s bills on the child protective system, lawmakers passed bills to: encourage the hiring of veterans in the health care field; install a memorial on the Capitol grounds to Maine’s Gold Star families (families who have lost loved ones in military service); allocate additional funding to accommodate ranked choice voting in the federal elections on the ballot this fall; and correct errors and inconsistencies in existing laws. If necessary, the Legislature plans to return in September to consider any vetoes from the Governor and then, hopefully the 128th Maine Legislature will finally adjourn its months-long Second Regular Session.
Legislature Passes Child Protection System Reform Bills
On Thursday, August 30, the Legislature enacted four of the five bills that Governor LePage had submitted in an attempt to overhaul the child protection system in Maine following the deaths of two young girls, both of whom died as a result of abuse. The bills make many changes to the child protection system, including the addition of up to 40 new positions in the Department of Health and Human Services, an increase in pay for child protection caseworkers, and a requirement that the state retain all records for child abuse cases, even unsubstantiated allegations. The most contentious of the bills, which the House spent nearly two hours debating before finally enacting, shifts the focus away from family reunification to the best interests of the child. The Legislature did not pass the Governor’s bill that would have criminalized failure to report suspected abuse or neglect by mandated reporters. The four enacted bills have now gone to Governor LePage. With respect to each enacted bill, the Governor must either sign it into law, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it.
Maine Supreme Judicial Court Orders LePage Administration to File Medicaid Expansion Plan to the Federal Government, Sends Constitutional Questions to Lower Court
On Thursday, August 23, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (Law Court) ordered the LePage administration to submit a Medicaid expansion plan to the federal government, while sending constitutional questions related to Medicaid implementation back to Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy. The Law Court affirmed Justice Murphy’s prior ruling that the administration must file a state plan amendment with federal Medicaid regulators—a ruling that had been put on hold during the Law Court’s deliberations. However, the Law Court did not resolve the larger constitutional questions related to funding the expansion. The LePage administration has stated that it is reviewing the Law Court’s decision, and has not yet determined how it will proceed.
Ballot Questions Set for November: One Citizen’s Initiative, Four Bond Questions
The November 6, 2018 ballot will include one citizen’s initiative and four bond questions. While the citizen’s initiative had already been set as the first ballot question, on August 2, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap drew the order of the bond questions. The wording and order of all five ballot questions is as follows:
Question 1: “Do you want to create the Universal Home Care Program to provide home-based assistance to people with disabilities and senior citizens, regardless of income, funded by a new 3.8% tax on individuals and families with Maine wage and adjusted gross income above the amount subject to Social Security taxes, which is $128,400 in 2018?"
Question 2: “Do you favor a $30,000,000 bond issue to improve water quality, support the planning and construction of wastewater treatment facilities and assist homeowners whose homes are served by substandard or malfunctioning wastewater treatment systems?”
Question 3: “Do you favor a $106,000,000 bond issue, including $101,000,000 for construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of highways and bridges and for facilities and equipment related to ports, piers, harbors, marine transportation, freight and passenger railroads, aviation, transit and bicycle and pedestrian trails, to be used to match an estimated $137,000,000 in federal and other funds, and $5,000,000 for the upgrade of municipal culverts at stream crossings?”
Question 4: “Do you favor a $49,000,000 bond issue to be matched by at least $49,000,000 in private and public funds to modernize and improve the facilities and infrastructure of Maine's public universities in order to expand workforce development capacity and to attract and retain students to strengthen Maine's economy and future workforce?”
Question 5: “Do you favor a $15,000,000 bond issue to improve educational programs by upgrading facilities at all 7 of Maine's community colleges in order to provide Maine people with access to high-skill, low-cost technical and career education?”