Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House is a weekly update that provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House. If you would like more specific information regarding an item in this newsletter or related to government relations, please contact a member of our Government Relations Practice Group: John Delahanty, Andrea C. Maker or Avery Day.
This Week's Highlights:
Legislature Hitting Its Stride
This week, the Legislature started to hit its stride. Committees are now meeting and regularly processing bills. At the close of this week, more than 500 bills have been printed. This is probably a little less than one third of the bills that will be printed during this year’s session. If this session is like sessions in the past, the Legislature will process a large number of non-controversial bills in the early months of the session, leaving the more controversial proposals for later in the session.
Supplemental Budget Passes Appropriations Committee
On February 13th, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee unanimously voted to approve a $153 million supplemental budget bill designed to balance the State’s budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, 2013. The supplemental spending bill largely reflects what was initially proposed by Governor LePage, though the Committee did make some significant changes. The Governor’s initiatives that were rejected include a proposed elimination of the Drugs for the Elderly Program, a cap on General Assistance payments to municipalities, and a number of proposed health and human services cuts. Funding for the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services was reduced as proposed but language was added to the supplemental budget in Committee that would authorize the Governor to transfer up to $2 million to the Commission from unexpended State funds remaining at the end of the fiscal year.
The supplemental budget bill will now be considered by the full Legislature on the floors of both the House and the Senate. The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will soon turn its attention to the biennial budget, a much more complex roadmap of State taxing and spending for the next two fiscal years.
Joint Select Committee Continues to Gather Information
The Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future continued to gather information this week. The Committee met at the State House on February 11th and was scheduled to hear from Chancellor of the University System, James Page, President of the Maine Community College System, John Fitzsimmons, President of Thomas College, Laurie Lachance, and Executive Director of the Maine Adult Education Association, Cathy Newell. The Committee met again on February 15th to hear from employers and Tanna Clews from Educate Maine, a business-sponsored organization focused on workforce development.
Administration Discusses Energy Proposal
On February 12th, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee heard from members of the Governor’s Administration regarding a new energy proposal that is still being drafted. The Administration will soon submit legislation that will implement a multistate agreement to reduce the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon dioxide cap. Reducing the cap is expected to generate additional funding that the Administration will propose be used for energy efficiency and to assist homeowners with conversions to different home heating technologies, like natural gas or wood pellets. Additionally, this proposal will include language to exempt businesses from the system benefit charge currently placed on electricity consumption. This complex proposal will affect energy users throughout the state, whether they are industrial, commercial or residential customers, and should be a matter of some debate before the Legislature.
Bill to Ban Handheld Cell Phones While Driving Heard in Committee
On February 13th, the Transportation Committee held a public hearing on LD 68, An Act to Prohibit the Use of Handheld Mobile Telephone while Operating a Motor Vehicle. This legislation would make driving while using a handheld cell phone a traffic infraction, subject to certain exceptions. This bill did not receive significant opposition at the hearing, though a number of those who testified suggested language changes, including changes to those who would be exempt from this legislation. This bill will be considered in work session on February 19th.