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.

 

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: VLA Work Session April 10, Elections

by Ann Luther

Last day before the 60% deadline. The Committee continues to work efficiently and in a bipartisan fashion. They did four liquor bills first, then turned to the election bills of interest to us.

  • LD 858 An Act To Better Inform the Public of Election Results.
    Action: OTP-Amended to stipulate “where feasible.”
  • LD 744 An Act To Permit Unenrolled Voters To Cast Ballots in Primary Elections. No specific objections, vague concerns about cost. No visible support. Read the League’s testimony on this and other bills this session here.
    Action: Ought Not To Pass (Unanimous)
  • LD 720 An Act To Establish an Open Primary System in the State. Pending citizen action on ranked choice voting cited. No visible support.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous) Read the League’s testimony on this and other bills this session here.
  • LD 770 An Act To Permit Maine Residents To Register To Vote Online. No visible support. Read the League’s testimony on this and other bills this session here.
    Action: ONTP (Unanimous)
  • LD 677 An Act To Amend the Election Laws Concerning Candidates and Nominees. This bill had to do with banning the practice in both parties of running “paper candidates” and then replacing them at the last minute. There was some support in the committee for this, but in the end, it fell to the deadline and the practical considerations of changing it.
    Action : ONTP (Unanimous)

At the end of the afternoon, they had made their 60% deadline! Congratulations all around.

But then, just before they adjourned, Rep. Monaghan moved reconsideration of LD 174. This had to do with banning leadership PACs for both privately and publicly funded candidates, instead of just for publicly funded candidates. You will recall from Wednesday’s blog post that some committee members were supportive of this approach, believing it to be more fair to candidates on both sides, and had intended on Wednesday to sign onto a minority report. But the vote on LD 174 (banning leadership PACs only for Clean Elections candidates) was taken before they realized what they had to do procedurally to get a minority report. So the question was revisited at the end of the session on Friday. After a little parliamentary snafu, the committee voted unanimously to allow reconsideration. Rep Luchini made his same motion to amend, banning only Clean Elections candidates from having leadership PACs. Rep. Chenette was invited to the table to make his pitch for a both-sides ban. Then Sen. Collins promptly called for a “caucus,” the secretive practice whereby committee members huddle by political party behind closed doors to say off-mike what they don’t want to say on the record and choreograph their public votes along party lines. So they caucused. When they came, they took a vote and, lo and behold, it was unanimous OTP as Amended. No minority report.

Everyone, including me, headed out with well-wishes for a good weekend.

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…

 

LD 6 and a long day at the Statehouse

NOTE: LWVME follows several bills through the Maine Legislature each session. Members attend public hearings, work sessions and occasionally offer testimony.

 

By Polly Ward

Helen Hanlon and I attended the work session for the Committee on State & Local Government (SLG) on February 11. We were primarily interested in LD 6, Resolve, To Implement Recommendations of the Government Oversight Committee To Strengthen the Ethics Practices and Procedures for Executive Branch Employees.

The process today was particularly interesting and somewhat unusual. We sat through a long public hearing on naming the State dog and a couple of other bills before the work session convened. Members immediately went into caucus, R’s and D’s separately. When they returned, they moved the first bill on the work session calendar (LD 6) to last. Following the other 3 bills on the work session agenda, they finally addressed LD 6. Beth Ashcroft was there from the Government Oversight Committee. SLG members asked a few questions and then went into caucus again. When they came back, an Ought to Pass (OTP) motion was made. There were 7 votes for the motion, 4 against and 2 members were absent. With one exception and one independent voting for the OTP motion, the votes were strictly along party lines. They are awaiting a fiscal note and have reserved the right to bring the bill back if they have concerns about the fiscal note.

An interesting day but frustrating, too, because who knows what discussions happen behind closed doors. We attend these public hearings and work sessions so we can monitor the process and be involved in legislative decision-making. Closed door caucuses separate legislators from the public and deter parties from working together — inhibiting public dialog and transparent decision-making. But we will continue to attend public hearings and work sessions to shine a light on the process and advocate for issues that fall under our mission.

Public Hearings and Work Sessions are held at the Statehouse in Augusta and are open to the public. Look for anyone wearing a League of Women Voters button and be sure to say hello.