Report from the Statehouse: SLG Work Session May 13

By Helen Hanlon

The session began with many motions, corrections, retractions of motions and confusion about what the Committee was being asked to decide today. It demonstrated to me – once again – the lack of preparation, communication and research in the development and drafting of some of these bills. So often it’s déjà vu all over again because many of these measures have been proposed and reworked for years. I get flashbacks of a comic strip from my youth called, “There Ought to Be a Law” and then envision a bunch of Mainers hard at work to make this a reality show.

After much debate about the process of today’s scheduled work, the Committee unanimously decided to form a 3-member subgroup to draft acceptable language that would allow the bills to pass rather than carrying them through into next session. I should note that Reps. Turner, Babbidge, and Evangelos seemed exceptionally thoughtful and practical throughout today’s work sessions.

 

LD857 (An Act To Prohibit Public Endorsement of Candidates for Office By County Employees and Elected Officials)

Debate continued into the bill discussion… with questions about the rationale for legislating an issue that is probably covered by existing rules and regulations in State, County and Departmental entities. The Committee was unsure how to proceed after Rep. Evangelos stated that he felt there was a conflict at issue since they had been asked to decide on the popular election of  an Attorney General (LD743) and to weigh in on LD857.

It was proposed that Committee vote ONTP with a letter asking the Secretary of State to review existing regulations for any conflicts or loopholes, but Rep. Evangelos made the sensible suggestion that the Chair and Co-chair simply send a letter seeking advice from the Sec. of State on how or if to proceed. Phew!

 

LD 1354 (An Act To Improve The Administrative Procedure Act)

This bill repeals a requirement that rules be approved for form and legality by the Attorney General and adds a requirement that rules be submitted to the Attorney General for advice as to form and legality. It changes a statutory provision regarding the taking of private property and notice requirements; allows for electronic submission of certain rule-making information; and enacts a provision that allows an agency to choose to incorporate by reference certain amendments to a code, standard, rule or regulation.

Rep. Martin forcefully maintained that there should be no change to the existing process and suggested the bill stemmed from the “Governor’s major heartburn with the Attorney General.”  Rep. Turner, however, felt that they “should not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” She urged the Committee to work on parts of the bill that made sense and keep provisions 3, 4, 5, 6.

On the ONTP motion, the vote was split 6-6 with one absent.

 

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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.

Report from the Statehouse: SLG Committee Work Session April 27

Terms of Service

By Polly Ward

This will be brief because the work session was fairly brief.  There were two bills in public hearings before the work session, and I learned a lot about ancient and family burial grounds – though maybe not as much as Helen has gleaned on bear baiting.

The three bills covered in this State and Local Government work session were:

LD 182 (An Act to Eliminate Term Limits for Legislators)

The original ONTP motion was withdrawn so that Rep. Babbidge could offer an amendment that would change the number of terms members of the Legislature can serve from four to six. This would enable legislators to have more time to gain experience before going into leadership, and perhaps reduce the number of leaders who are termed out after only one term in leadership. Following Rep. Babbidge’s presentation of his amendment, the motion was made ONTP.

Action: ONTP. The vote was 10 ONTP, 1 OTP/AM and 2 absent.

 

LD 106 (Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Increase the Length of Terms of Senators to 4 Years)

This bill would have had all senators run for 4 year terms beginning in 2016. The Secretary of State’s Office testified NFNA due to the potential that 4 year terms would not mesh well with the requirements of redistricting every 10 years.

Action: ONTP. The committee voted 11-0.

 

LD 1012 (Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Increase the Length of Terms of Senators)

This bill would create 4 year terms for Senators with half running in 2016 and the other half running in 2018. The sponsor offered an amendment that would have senators run for 4, 4, and 2 year terms to resolve the potential with conflicts with redistricting requirements.

Action: ONTP. The original motion was OTP as amended; this motion failed. The next motion was ONTP with 6 in favor, 5 opposed and 2 absent.

 

 

 

Report from the Statehouse: SLG & VLA Committees April 15

Busy day at the Big House with Bear, Beer and Ballot Initiatives

By Helen Hanlon and Polly Ward

 

Public Hearing, SLG Committee

LD 957  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

This measure has repeatedly been before the Legislature since the nineteenth century. This time, presented by Senator Cushing who said this was “an effort to bring Maine in line with most States,” rather than remaining a part of an aberrant few

Rep. Evangelos (Unenrolled, Friendship) started off with an aggressive list of questions:

  • Was this submitted by Gov. LePage?  Sen. Cushing answered: No.
  • Times require we change, you say. Why? Our system seems to be working ok…. what’s wrong with it? Sen. Cushing replied that our current method is not transparent enough.
  • Does this bill comes from a public disagreement between the Governor and the A.G.? Sen. Cushing said, “of course not – I love them both…”

Rep Evangelos went on to suggest that in passing this measure Maine might have to change its motto to “I follow.” His questions seemed to provide momentum for other Committee members to jump on the bandwagon to seemingly oppose LD 957. Comments were made that big money would pour into the State since this bill without the A.G. to oversee critical elections processes as they currently do and thereby bankrupting the Clean Election Fund.

Representative Justin Chenette of Saco, a co-sponsor, spoke passionately in support of the bill. He addressed the concerns raised by members of the Committee about the influence of outside money, indicating that this was a matter of campaign finance reform and not something that should keep the changes in the bill from going forward.  There was discussion about making the terms of the constitutional officers congruent with the Governor’s term.  This prompted a question about the influence of the Governor on the Attorney General if they were voted in together.  There was a question about whether these positions should be covered under the Clean Election Act. Concerns were expressed about the impact of this change on the Clean Election funds and the possibility that more funds than currently available might be needed.

Just one citizen offered testimony in support of the bill.

Polly Ward offered testified for the LWVME NFNA.
LD 972 An Act To Provide for the Nonpartisan Election of County Officials.

This bill proposes to change election procedures so that county officials would appear on the ballot without a party designation beside their names. The testimony was a mixed bag with without consensus even among county officials: some county officials testified for the bill and others against. A member of the Committee suggested that “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”
VLA Committee – Public Hearings

The morning session served up potatoes, craft distilleries and topped it all off with a few shots of vodka (it’s amazing what you can learn at these hearings: I never knew you could make vodka from corn or that Maine farmers harvest almost 2 million pounds of cull potatoes each year to ferment). The finale was a bill allowing underage veterans (not for war but for drinking) to hang out at VFW/VSO facilities — BUT these clubs had no idea this bill was being proposed and were none too pleased about it. (Ooops! Tsk, tsk, Rep. Nadeau – it’s good idea to poll your constituents before proposing a bill)

As fascinating as all that was, our interests were on other bills…

LD 1228 : An Act To Amend the Ballot Initiative Process To Ensure Support in Maine’s Congressional Districts

(Dixie revisited except with a bear theme). At issue here is the current ability of those collecting signatures for a referendum focus on more populated areas filled with people totally clueless about an issue (say bear hunting, for example) that will influence the livelihood of more rural parts of the State. Is this fair? Proportionality and limiting referendum to specific areas of the State impacted by this issue were discussed. Of interest here is the action in states with citizen initiatives to move toward requiring that signatures collected on an initiative reflect the population of a particular part of a state believed to be affected by the issue.

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine (SAM) president actually thanked the Humane Society for pointing this out and spurring action because of all their alleged shenanigans. (Somehow his sincerity seemed questionable to me….)

There seemed to be support for LD 1228 among members of the VLA and Sec. or State (NFNA).

VLA Committee – Work Session

To give you the flavor of the afternoon: One Committee member said the VLA should be renamed the “ONTP Committee.”

 

LD 990: An Act To Limit Agency Expenditures To Influence Elections

Action: ONTP (unanimous). Discussion that this may lead to court challenges; the line between agency responsibility and guidance to the public is a fine one and very difficult to determine.

LD 742: RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Require That 5 Percent of Signatures on a Direct Initiative of Legislation Come from Each County.

Action: Tabled until 4/24. Discussion highlighted potential problems: constitutional issues, equal protection clause, violation of 14th Amendment (Utah case cited).

This bill was coupled with

LD 1228 An Act To Amend the Ballot Initiative Process To Ensure Support in Maine’s Congressional Districts

Action: ONTP (unanimous).
LD 1084 RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Exclude Wildlife Issues from Citizen Initiatives

And

LD 754 RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Ensure That Laws Governing Hunting and Fishing Are Not Subject to the Citizen Petition Process

These are similar bills restricting referendum applicable to hunting and wildlife issues. Currently there are no restrictions on citizen initiative topics. Other bills (LDs 703, 753) are similar, as well, and currently before  other committees. They will likely be combined into one bill to move forward.

Action: LD 1084 – Tabled and LD 754 – ONTP.

 

 

 

Report from the Statehouse: SLG Committee Public Hearings April 6

By Ann Luther

 

LD1012 (Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Increase the Lenth of Terms of Senators)

Polly Ward and I attended the SLG public hearing on LD1012. This bill would proposes to amend the Maine Constitution to extend terms for State Senate from two years to four years.

The lead sponsor, Senator Volk, presented testimony that 30 other states have four-year terms for state senators. She cited less-frequent leadership turnover, savings in Maine Clean Election Act (MCEA) funds, and less campaigning as benefits of the change. She is OK with leaving terms in the House at two years since the represent smaller districts.

She suggested an amendment that would alternate and stagger the terms in a 2:4:4 or 4:4:2 pattern so that the same districts did not always come up for election in presidential election years or in mid-term elections, which may give an advantage to one party or another, respectively.

Rep. Evangelos asked whether the MCEA provided candidates with enough funds. Sen. Volk answered that there was $70,000 total spending on her candidacy and over $300,000 spent on her opponent, so she though there was plenty of money. Rep. Evangelos noted that this included independent expenditures and was not all MCEA money.

Rep. Babbidge asked about less-than-effective legislators getting entrenched for a too-long term, where now they can be quickly dispatched. Sen. Volk responded that people can always resign early if they don’t like or can’t do the work, and they can be forced to resign under extreme circumstances.

No cosponsors spoke, despite the fact that the bill has a long list of cosponsors. There was no testimony For or Against.

Julie Flynn testified NFNA on behalf of the Secretary of State’s office. She pointed out that the bill as drafted, with staggered terms — so they’re not all elected at the same time — poses a problem for reapportionment and could leave some towns with two senators and others with none.

Polly Ward presented our testimony NFNA very effectively, and some of the House members of the committee were seen nodding when it was noted that this bill would strengthen the power and effectiveness of the Senate vis a vis the House.

We did not sense much momentum in the room.

 

We Want to Know: What is Going on with all the Closed-Door Discussions During “Public” Work Sessions?

By Helen Hanlon

We’ve seen several calls for caucus in public hearings before legislative committees this session. What’s the point of a public hearing if the discussion happens behind closed doors? Technically, a caucus is a group of legislators in the same chamber, same party: House Republicans, House Democrats, Senate Republicans, Senate Democrats. A cause meeting is where those groups get together to plan strategy and line up members to particular votes. Informally, in the context of legislative committees, legislators sometimes say, “let’s caucus” to mean, “let’s get together with others in our party to coordinate what we’re going to do next.”

Polly Ward, long time LWVME advocate, was surprised when not once but twice, a caucus was called during a hearing of the SLG Committee. She couldn’t recall ever seeing this before and, Polly being Polly, wanted an answer about this occurrence.

What’s up with these calls for caucus during State and Local Government Committee hearings? All the committees have been known to do this – it has become common practice. How does this practice square with Maine’s open meetings laws? We’d like to know, and no one seems too anxious to tell us. We’re still waiting for answers. Ann Luther, Chair of the LWVME Advocacy Comittee, got on the ball with calls and e-mails to the appropriate officials: no response (oh, they sent an apology for the delay in returning communication but NO information provided about the calls for committee caucus)!

However, some maybe not-so-subtle changes in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee were observed last week. During a hearing, one Representative said, “Let’s CAW… I mean talk among ourselves, I mean let’s go get a bottle of water next door.” Perhaps, just perhaps, the word may be out that Ann and Polly are on to something.

Then, last week, State House Legend Extraordinaire from Eagle Lake, Rep. John Martin extolled the benefits of institutional knowledge during his presentation of Term Limits Repeal legislation (LD182). He cited several outlandish instances where newbie legislators were downright dummkopfs totally unaware of the basic art of legislating. I betcha John Martin would know the answer about this caucus business.

Stay tuned…

 

Report from the Statehouse, SLG Public Hearing March 16

LD 182 (An Act to Eliminate Term Limits for Legislators)

By Regina Coppens

A hearing on LD 182 was held before the State and Local Government Committee (SLG) on March 16. Rep. John Martin from Eagle Lake is the sponsor and was the first person to testify in favor of the bill. “Two-thirds of the legislators have been in office two years or less,” he said. He added that there are a lot of ‘rethreads’ in office, meaning there are many legislators who have been term-limited out only to run again for a seat in the other chamber. He added that the downside to this turnover is a lack of experienced legislators.

Polly Ward from the LWVME Advocacy Committee delivered the League’s testimony in favor of the bill. Here are a few points she made:

  • term limits dilute the effective performance of the Legislature and weaken the Legislature’s role in crafting sound policy solutions to complex problems.
  • policy expertise formerly reposed in Legislative Committees has been ceded to Executive Branch department heads and partisan professional staff.
  • House elections have become less competitive
  • the Senate has become more influential.

Here is the link to her testimony

Former legislator John Lund from Hallowell also testified in support of eliminating term limits. He said that term limits and the lack of experienced legislators have crippled the ability of the legislature to carry out their duties. He added that it has also altered the balance between the executive branch and the Legislature.

Richard Bennett from Oxford was the only person who spoke in opposition to the bill. He said that term limits have strengthened the Legislature by having representatives with real world experience. (Others attribute the diversity of our legislature, not to term limits, but to the implementation of Clean Elections.) He also said that overturning term limits should be done by a referendum vote, as it was when term limits was passed.

The Committee asked questions and made comments in regard to the fact that the bill establishing term limits was passed by a referendum. They also voiced concerns about the loss of institutional memory with term limits. There was discussion about the idea of limiting the term of leadership positions in the legislature instead of eliminating term limits.

You can bet there will be plenty of news coverage on this controversial bill. Here is MPBN’s radio piece on it from March 16.