Report from the Statehouse: SLG Work Session June 2

By Helen Hanlon

Commiserating with each other about the stalemates, partisanship and whatever else, the State and Local Government Committee held a rare and last minute Tuesday Work Session. All committee members were present and accounted for except for Reps. Evangelos and Libby who were working on other committee assignments. After discussion  of their favorite Capitol-area food (fisherman platter at Red Barn or chowder at the Liberal Cup) and fortified with “made from scratch” Milky Way brownies courtesy of Treasurer  Hayes, members were in a better mood and ready to polish off what was left on their legislative plates…

Almost no one in attendance – just me, a sprinkling of Representatives waiting for the bond bill and Ken Quinn (see our previous post) from Citizens For Self Governance, who was bedecked with a flag pin and lugging a huge briefcase — just in case he was called upon.

WARNING: This is a long one!

LD 1417 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Change the Selection Process for the Attorney General)

Several issues were raised with this bill, including the fact that it has no effective beginning date and no way to transition from the current Attorney General’s term of office.

Action: No discussion. ONTP (6), OTP as amended (5) (current AG allowed to complete current term), Absent (2)

 

LD 1418 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Provide for a Lieutenant Governor and Change the Line of Succession for Governor)

Similar problems plagued this bill: there is no effective start date, it contains confusing language and there is no transition plan. And most importantly, perhaps, there is a potential conflict of interest if the Lt. Governor is called upon to certify their own or the Governor’s election).

Rep. Dore of Augusta made a strong statement about her years working in the Sec. of State’s office with no hint of partisanship and her plan to vote NO.

Action: ONTP (6), OTP as amended (4) (amended to include transition language). Absent (3).
At this point it was really hard to keep track of who was where. It was like Grand Central Station with people coming and going. There were caucuses, people coming in and going out –grabbing the last of the brownies on their way (oohing and aaahing about how really good they were and “what was that recipe?”). Poor Rep. Tuell rolled in in a wheel chair, apparently with a  recent foot injury ( John Kerry , Maine style?) – but there were no brownies left for the poor guy. No one offered me one, either (So much for constituent services!)…

 

LD 1419 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Change the Selection Process for the Treasurer of State)

Transition issues as noted in previous bills.

Action: ONTP (6), OTP as amended (3) (amended to address transition issue), Absent (4)  (OD on chocolate?)

 

HP 804 (JOINT RESOLUTION MAKING APPLICATION TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES CALLING A CONVENTION OF THE STATES TO PROPOSE AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION TO IMPOSE FISCAL RESTRAINTS, LIMIT FEDERAL POWER AND IMPOSE TERM LIMITS)

Rep. Pickett moved to carry this bill over; motion failed.

Rep. Turner moved ONTP. 5 approved ONTP, 3 OTP as amended (amended  with Rep. Short’s language change – not Con/ Con but Convention of States). 5 Absent.

 

HP 956 (JOINT RESOLUTION MAKING APPLICATION TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES CALLING A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO PROPOSE AN AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION REGARDING THE STATUS OF CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE AND THE ROLE OF MONEY IN THE ELECTION PROCESS)

Sponsor Rep. Chapman, as a procedural matter, asked the committee to consider holding the bill over.

Action: ONTP Unan.

 

SP499 (JOINT RESOLUTION MAKING APPLICATION TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES CALLING A CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION TO PROPOSE AN AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION TO REQUIRE A BALANCED FEDERAL BUDGET AND FURTHER FISCAL RESTRAINTS)

Action: ONTP Unan.

 

LD 862 (Act To Clarify Who May Authorize Repairs in a Burying Ground) 

OTP (Unan). The committee gave major huzzahs over their efforts on these graveyard bills which have been hanging around for years and were finally “put to rest.” (Sorry.)

 

LD1378 (An Act to Amend the Laws Governing  The issuance of Bonds  To Support Maine’s Natural Resource based Economy)

This bond business has been in the news recently as our Governor has refused to sign off and has been accused of holding these citizen-initiated bonds hostage for a variety of reasons. It appears that, according to the Attorney General, the Governor’s role in this is basically magisterial and the Legislature can make the call about the process. I am unclear on this but, according to discussion, it seems that this is already addressed in legislation.

Action: ONTP – 5, OTP as amended – 5. Absent – 3

 

LD 66 (Resolve, Naming the Bridges That Span the Machias River in Machias the Jeremiah O’Brien Memorial Bridges)

Brought back for reconsideration. Action:  Motion to Carry Over was Unan.

 

At this point, a pile of papers awaiting final clean-up appeared. It was amendment reviews, but there was also action to get rid of some minority reports. The committee members were really moving in and out of the back room and corridors. Some of the bills we’ve been following were in this pile, so I stayed. There are still 15-16 bills waiting to hit the floor, according to Chair Whittemore. I was the only person left besides the Committee.

 

LD957 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Provide for the Popular Election of the Attorney General, Secretary of State and Treasurer of State)

Rep. Turner made a motion to reconsider. Action: ONTP – Unan.

 

LDL1012 (RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Increase the Length of Terms of Senators)

Motion to Reconsider:  ONTP – Unan.

 

LD1354 (An Act To Improve the Maine Administrative Procedure Act)

This was the Governor’s bill. Despite a short, intensive caucus, Rep, Bryant stated he had major heartburn about this bill and could not support it, necessitating the need for a minority report.

 

LD732, 909 & 999 were also briefly mentioned regarding fiscal notes.

 

Members gladly celebrated nearing end to the session and planned a Friday outing at the Chair’s home (mercifully, I was not invited). So after a long, long afternoon, I followed the trail of chocolate crumbs and went home. I’m glad I am not on that committee, I’d be even fatter – boy, they eat a lot!

 

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Report from the Statehouse: SLG Committee Public Hearing May 27

By Helen Hanlon

Demonstrators crowded the entrance to the State House for a press conference in anticipation of the Public Hearing on HP 956 (A Joint Resolution Calling For a Constitutional Convention Regarding The Status of Corporations As People and the Role Of Money In the Election Process). Dressed in a variety of garb sure to draw attention – especially in the 90 degree heat –their passion was obvious.

With a full afternoon of hearings ahead, we all streamed into the SLG Hearing room. There was an overflow crowd to hear proposals for changes to the selection process of State constitutional officers (Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Treasurer). The full SLG Committee was in attendance, though some needed to leave during the long afternoon for work on other Committees. To my surprise, Senate Chair Whittemore said that each proposal for each office would be heard separately.

LD 1417 (Resolution, Proposing an Amendment  to The Constitution Of Maine  To Change The Selection Process for The Attorney General)

LD1418 (Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Provide For A Lieutenant Governor and Change The Line of Succession For Governor)

LD 1419 (Resolution, Proposing An Amendment To The Constitution Of Maine To Change the Selection Process for The Treasurer of State)

First-term Legislator, Rep. Stetkis, presented each proposal while acknowledging that these were the Governor’s bills. Despite that, he faced very tough grilling, primarily from Reps. Evangelos and Co-Chair Martin with a few more polite jabs from Rep. Babbidge. Rep. Stetkis, took it in good humor, admitting he’d had no part in writing any of these proposals and hadn’t spoken to the Governor about why we needed these changes. This was all in the spirit of getting away from partisan politics, he said. After the guffaws subsided, the very public issues between the Attorney General and the Governor were rehashed and the consolidation of power was mentioned. Hank Fenton, Deputy Counsel to the Governor, spoke on behalf of the Governor, saying that a more efficient, cohesive team would be better for Maine. No one seemed to buy that argument.

Next we moved on to items of interest to the League: HP 804 and SP499

HP 804 (Joint Resolution Making Application To the Congress of The United States Calling a Convention of the States to Propose Amendments to the United States Constitution To Impose fiscal restraints, Limit Federal Power and Impose Term Limits)

A long list of people signed up to testify and there was a 6-1 ratio in favor of the Resolution. Note: We were surprised to find so much well-organized support for these measures. To learn more about the supporters see the links below.[i]

SP 499 (Joint Resolution Making Application To The Congress of The United States Calling A Constitutional Convention To Propose an Amendment to the United States Constitution to Require a Balanced Federal Budget and Further Fiscal Restraints)

Rep. Short and Rep. Crafts introduced the resolution and spoke about the need to fix the Federal Government, saying that we shouldn’t be afraid to do this. Since there was a packed house, the Committee Chair, stated that there would be a strict 3-minute rule for testimony. Despite that, Ken Quinn of Grassroots Citizens for Self Government (whom Rep. Crafts and Rep. Short called an expert on the topic) was given an hour and a half to speak. Mr. Quinn is apparently leading the charge throughout the land for a “meeting of states” – not a constitutional convention. He stated that whoever wrote the bill did it incorrectly and the wording would need to be amended. His extended testimony turned into a lecture on constitutional convention, Federalist Papers, Hamilton, Madison and state vs. federal powers. At one point, Rep. Evangelos interjected that he was hearing from all sorts of “arm-chair constitutional scholars” via email on this issue and so facts were thrown back and forth in a match between government history wonks.

Once Ken Quinn brought his testimony to a close, others could speak (it was after 4:30 by then) and the pro/con testifiers alternated with 5-4 ratio in favor. Those supporting the measure railed against our unfair federal government, and one woman even held up a torn $10 bill stating this was all the money she had left and hadn’t been able to pay this year’s or last year’s taxes. She demanded that the government has to get off her back. Meanwhile, her cell phone kept ringing – adding to the cacophony in the room.

Those in opposition included a district rep from the John Birch Society, an Attorney from Connecticut and the League, along with a citizen from Camden who spoke spontaneously (the “League of Voters got it right!” regarding what happens when cutbacks occur in times of crises). I was asked one question after testifying: Rep. Pickett questioned the statement in our testimony about deficit spending being admissible, in our opinion, in times of crises. “What about our $19 trillion deficit?”

The Attorney from Connecticut, Deborah Stevenson, testified testified because she was asked by friends – that is, she was not being paid. Her testimony was precise, interesting and focused, citing specifics of why we should proceed very cautiously when considering a Constitutional Convention. She noted that states have unlimited powers to rectify situations when we don’t want to deal with the Federal Government: we can tell them to take their $ and leave. She and the windy Ken Quinn agreed to return for a work session. Some members of the gallery were restless and objecting during her presentation (because she’s from away). It was enough of an interruption that Rep. Dore ask them to be polite and quiet. Questions from the Committee were xenophobic in nature – who was she & why did she come up from Connecticut for this?  Yipes, someone from away!

Meanwhile the pack of people there for HP956 were getting hungry because it was after 6pm. I headed home, waving “nite-nite” to Danielle Foxx, Legal Analyst extraordinaire from VLA Committee. At least I’ve made some friends this session – but I miss the bear bills & the good ol’ days of February and March!

 

 

[i] http://www.conventionofstates.com/; https://selfgovern.com/ & http://www.themainewire.com/2015/05/quinn-maine-joins-convention-states-movement/

 

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.