Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House

Pierce Atwood LLP

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

Senate Votes to Request Solemn Occasion for Constitutional Ruling on Ranked Choice Voting
At the polls in November, Mainers approved ranked choice voting, which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference in statewide elections. The Senate voted yesterday, 24-10, to request an advisory opinion from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (the Law Court) on the constitutionality of ranked choice voting. The Law Court may issue an advisory opinion on a law when it finds that there is a “solemn occasion.”  A solemn occasion may exist when, for example, “questions are of a serious and immediate nature, and the situation presents an unusual exigency.” Opinion of the Justices, 2004 ME 54, ¶ 3, 850 A.2d 1145. One such issue cited in the Senate debate is that Maine’s constitution provides that candidates must be elected by a “plurality of votes.” It will now be up to the Law Court to determine first whether a solemn occasion exists, and if so, whether ranked choice voting is legal under the Maine State Constitution.  
Changes in Solar Power Incentives
This week, the Maine Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved changes to Maine’s “net metering” rules for residential rooftop solar energy generators. As it currently stands, solar generators are allowed to sell their excess electricity back to the power company at retail rates rather than at the lower wholesale price utilities typically pay for electricity from larger generators. Under the rule, this rate policy will stay the same for the next 15 years for current solar generators and those who invest in solar energy before 2018. Those who become solar generators between 2018 and 2028 will still receive a credit, but it will slowly decrease over that time period. While this bill is being hailed as a “middle of the road” approach, those in support of renewable energy say this is a step in the wrong direction, and Governor LePage is faulting the decision for failing to cut the net metering program altogether to reduce electricity prices.   
Nomination Withdrawn
We reported two weeks ago on a number of nominations that Governor LePage made, including the nomination of Mike Timmons for the Land for Maine’s Future board. This nomination drew criticism from environmentalists who cited Timmons’ environmental voting record, including Timmons’ decision to sustain the Governor’s veto of a bill that would have funded several conservation projects. This week, the Governor withdrew Timmons from consideration but no explanation was given.  
Maine State Chamber Legislative Leadership Summit
Beginning last evening and continuing through today, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce Annual Leadership Summit has brought together many members of Maine’s legislative leadership, select legislative committee chairs and leads, and members of the Governor’s cabinet and policy advisors. Before dinner on Thursday evening, the Governor spoke about his priorities for the session. This summit provides an opportunity for in-depth discussions among business leaders, legislators and executive branch officials on issues before the Legislature, to discuss and identify potential solutions to some of the state’s most pressing and complex business challenges.

Spotted…Under the Dome!

Yellow Light Breen, President & CEO, Maine Development Foundation

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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