Report from the Statehouse: SLG Committee May 4

By Polly Ward

On Monday, there were 2 bills scheduled for public hearing at 1:00 pm to be followed by a work session at 1:30.

 

LD 857 (An Act to Prohibit Public Endorsement of Candidates for Office by County Employees and Elected Officials)

The bill as drafted was apparently much broader than the sponsor intended – and the result would prohibit all elected county officers, officials and employees from engaging in political activity. The sponsor’s initial concern was about the potential for partiality by elected county sheriffs when enforcing laws in situations with a person who supported a different candidate. No one other than the sponsor spoke in support of the bill, representatives from the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine County Commissioners Association spoke against. The sponsor will rework the bill to call for a Code of Conduct for elected county officials and bring an amended version back to work session at a later date.

LD 1354 (An Act to Improve the Administrative Procedures Act)

This is the Governor’s bill to change the role of the Attorney General in the rule-making process, along with other changes. In support of the bill were:

  • the Maine Association of Realtors backing the change in the “taking provision” of the APA. (Taking refers to the taking of private property. Currently the APA requires the Attorney General to sign off on any rule that can be reasonably expected to result in the taking of private property. The change in the bill would remove the Attorney General from the process and leave it to the agency issuing the rule to determine if the rule might result in the taking of private property);
  • the Governor’s Chief Legal Counsel supporting the changes to the Attorney General’s role in the rule-making process;
  • Commissioner Aho of DEP on the ability to transmit substantive rules to the Legislature electronically rather than by paper copy and a change that would remove the requirement for rule-making when there is a change in a code, rule or law that is incorporated by reference in the state agency rule. (An example would be the plumbing code)
  • The Chief Counsel for DHHS spoke in support of the sections that Commissioner Aho mentioned.

There were a number of agencies and organizations that spoke in opposition to LD 1354, most of the opposition centered on the change in the role of the Attorney General. Those in opposition included:

  • A member of the Committee who stepped off the dais to read an editorial from the Ellsworth American;
  • a representative from the Attorney General’s Office;
  • a retired former Assistant Attorney General;
  • Maine Equal Justice Partners;
  • the Secretary of State’s Office;
  • the ACLU:
  • Natural Resources Council of Maine;
  • Maine Audubon;
  • Maine Municipal Association.

The Secretary of State’s Office also raised concerns about the elimination of the requirement of rule-making when incorporated material referenced in rules changes.[i] The proposed legislation contains no provision for public notification about how they can obtain copies of the incorporated referenced material and at what cost.

 

Now for the real reason for my presence on Monday – the Work Session:

LD 1103 (Resolve, To Study Understaffing in State Agencies) 

An amendment added language to the bill that would enable the State and Local Government Committee to report out a bill based on the results of the study.

Action: The motion was Ought To Pass as Amended. The vote, with 3 members absent was 5 in favor of the motion and 5 opposed.

 

Thus ended my visit to the State and Local Government Committee on Monday.

[i] Incorporated material refers to when an agency promulgates a rule and it may refer to a rule, code or guideline issued by an outside organization. An example might be a rule that sets a specific income level for qualifying for certain benefits, such as free or reduced lunch in a public school. The agency making the rule might say something along the lines of “Students are eligible for free lunch if their family income is no more than X% above the federal poverty level as defined in U. S. Department of Agriculture Regulation …. In this case, the entire federal rule would not be incorporated in the state agency rule, rather it’s just the reference. Currently, a new rule-making hearing is held when the referenced material changes. The proposed statute would remove the need for a rule-making hearing when the information in the referenced material changes.
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