Public Hearings in VLA and SLG, April 13, 2015

By Helen Hanlon and Ann Luther

Hop-scotching through the State House, Ann Luther, Polly Ward and Helen Hanlon played tag covering bills in hearings in both the SLG and VLA Committees on Monday.

VLA heard five bills that we are following:

  • LD 1192 An Act Regarding Campaign Finance Reform: Seeks to address how money is moved back and forth between PACS. It would require naming the top donor, paying a tax  to the Maine Clean Election Fund , voluntarily signing of pledge form, detailed disclosures by unions to their members with a $500 fine for non-compliance.  Despite the concern that some of the provisions are likely unconstitutional and others probably ineffective, it seemed that many of the committee members felt that some reform is needed to address PAC-to-PAC transfers. Rep. Turner felt that this transfer of money without disclosure was “nothing more than money laundering.”

Opposed by MSEA as specifically targeting unions  who already have numerous reporting requirements  and other federal limitations, also citing some constitutional issues and “onerous burden” considerations.

NFNA: Maine Clean Elections concurred with the unequal treatment of unions vs corporations, calling for any “pledge” to apply to all, not just MCEA races ( Specifically Sec. 4 and 7), as well as raising “competing measure” issues.

NFNA: Commission On Government Ethics: Submitted an outline of what is currently available for disclosure on their website and felt the Attorney General’s office should review the proposal on  the issue of fees/fines and the pledge.

  • LD 1138 An Act Regarding Municipal Reporting of State Elections:  This Bill attempts to correct the problem of some towns chronically failing to report election info to the Secretary of State, currently a 20 day window after an election. LD 1138 has a “shaming “provision, requiring posting the Town Clerk’s delinquency in a newspaper and town report, along with a $50/day fine (levied on the Clerk).  The role of Town supervision of clerks was discussed. Many clerks are elected.

Opposed by Maine Municipal Assoc.  Another mandate? Plus punishing a clerk in such a humiliating way was viewed as not the way to go.

NFNA : Maine Clerk’s Association:  “How about a $50 incentive vs a fine?”

NFNA:  Deputy Secretary of State:  Much testimony about requirements/ compliance efforts, frustration with some Town’s that repeatedly fail to report, plus accuracy issues and impact on an accurate voter data base. Supports increasing time for reporting from 20 business days to 35 or 40 days.

NFNA: Ann Luther testified about the need for accurate and efficient reporting system .  Read her testimony here.

  • LD 1067 An Act To Protect The Clean Election Fund.   Rep. Davitt introduced this constituent bill, and Rep. Dillingham read testimony from the constituent, discussing how the Maine Clean Election Fund was marginalized  by PACs  and proposing a 10% fee to maintain the  Clean Election Fund. Despite broad sympathy from many on the committee, it seemed tacitly understood that such a fee may be deemed a tax on speech and, as such, unconstitutional.

Committee recessed until 1:30 pm: Ann Luther covered the remainder of the day in VLA while Polly Ward and Helen Hanlon were at the State and Local Government Committee.

In VLA, the committee heard a couple of bills on veterans’ affairs before turning to:

  • LD 1127 An Act Regarding the Authority of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General To Conduct Investigations of Vote Recounts. This bill was introduced in reaction to the issues that arose from the Senate District 25 recount last fall. Sen. Cathy Breen, who ultimately prevailed in that race, offered testimony is support. Julie Flynn offered comprehensive testimony about what happened in that race. The League testified NFNA but supporting the idea that there are other stakeholders than the candidates and the parties, and that the recount supervisor should have the authority to take measures to protect those interests regardless of what the candidate/party representatives might want. Read the League’s testimony here.

Meanwhile, over in SLG they were hearing:

  • LD 1103 Resolve, To Study Understaffing in State Agencies. Chronic under-staffing and salary suppression were underscored throughout the hearing. Apparently there was a report commissioned in 2005 outlining serious pay deficits in comparison to private sector  pay bases  that  was marked “Confidential”  until discovered by FOIA in 2009 (ranging from 7.5%- 21.6%  less than private sector).

All who testified were in support of a survey but some indicated that another study without action will be another blow to morale and recruitment and retention. Age of current State workers, workload, as well as a living wage was discussed. Ferry captains and foresters discussed chronic staffing shortages. Ferry operators have at times been working 12 hour days for up to 25 days, using some unqualified or barely qualified staff to fill the ranks. Polly Ward testified in support of LD 1103 for the League, well received by State employees. Read the League’s testimony here.

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