Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House 3.7.14

Under the Dome: Inside the Maine State House provides a high-level overview of recent activity at the Maine State House. 

Two Proposals for Medicaid Expansion Voted Out of Health and Human Services Committee

This week, the Health and Human Services Committee voted on two separate bills to expand Medicaid. On March 3rd, the Committee voted on LD 1487, An Act to Implement Managed Care in the MaineCare Program. Introduced last session as a bill to implement managed care for the MaineCare system, this bill was amended in Committee to add Medicaid expansion language. Tying these two issues together was seen as a move to possibly secure more Republican support for both proposals. The Committee vote, however, was strictly along Party lines, with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans rejecting the bill.

On March 6th, the Committee voted on LD 1578, An Act to Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People. This bill, introduced by Speaker Eves, provides for Medicaid expansion. The Committee vote on this proposal was also strictly along Party lines. While both of these proposals are expected to have sufficient support to clear the Legislature, it is uncertain if either proposal has sufficient support to override an anticipated veto by Governor LePage, who vetoed two separate Medicaid expansion proposals during the last legislative session.

Appropriations Committee Hears from the Public Regarding Supplemental Budget Proposals

In recent weeks, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee began the process of closing the budget gap for the remainder of the biennium. The Committee has developed a laundry list of spending proposals, revenue raisers and savings initiatives to balance the State’s finances for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30th, and the next fiscal year. The budget gap currently stands at roughly $50 million for each of the two fiscal years. For four days this week, the Committee heard public testimony on these various proposals. From here, the Committee will deliberate on what are now two separate budget bills, with a goal of developing a spending bill for each fiscal year by the end of this month.

Legislature’s Focus Shifts to the Floors of the House and Senate

More and more, the Legislature’s focus is shifting away from committee work to the floors of the House and Senate. This week saw some longer sessions in the House and Senate, particularly in the House where there was some lengthy debate on some of the more controversial bills that are being considered. The Presiding Officers have set a deadline for all committees to report out all bills by next Friday, March 14th. While a few bills will likely remain in committee after this deadline, committees are working hard to comply with this directive. Beginning the week of March 17th, the House and Senate will start holding session Tuesday through Friday, as opposed to the current Tuesday through Thursday schedule. That week may also mark the beginning of multiple sessions each day, with the House and Senate potentially meeting morning and afternoon, as opposed to the current schedule of only morning sessions.

Nominations and Confirmations

This week, Governor LePage announced his nominations of various individuals to the Boards of Trustees of both the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System. These nominations are subject to legislative approval. Interestingly, the Governor nominated Shawn Moody for a position on each Board. Moody was an Independent candidate for Governor in 2010, running against Governor LePage during that election cycle.

The Legislature also confirmed a number of nominees this week, with the Senate voting to approve Bruce Fitzgerald as the Director of the Maine Emergency Management Association. Thomas Eastler’s re-appointment to the Board of Environmental Protection was approved as well as Thomas Dobbins’s appointment to the Board of Environmental Protection. Finally, the re-appointments of Judges Lawrence, Dow and Cantara to the District Court were also approved by the full Senate this week.