This Week in Augusta – 01.04.2017 edition

Date: January 04, 2017

SESSION

Wednesday – Senate & House, 10 a.m.

Thursday – Senate & House, 10 a.m.

http://legislature.maine.gov/

 

COMMITTEE APPOINTMENTS

Co-chairs, ranking members (lead House Republican), and membership on the 16 joint policy committees were named just before Christmas. New faces are on all committees, and some committees also have new co-chairs and ranking members . January will be a month of meetings for committee members to be briefed on relevant state agencies, programs, and issues. 

Some of the key committees affecting small business matters include:

  • Appropriations & Financial Affairs
  • Criminal Justice & Public Safety
  • Education & Cultural Affairs
  • Energy, Utilities & Technology
  • Environment & Natural Resources
  • Insurance & Financial Affairs
  • Judiciary
  • Labor, Commerce, Research & Economic Development
  • State & Local Government
  • Taxation
  • Transportation

A full list of committees, members, and jurisdictions may be found on the legislative website.

http://legislature.maine.gov/house/jtcomlst.htm

 

GOVERNOR’S 2018-2019 BUDGET            

Governor LePage is due to release his budget for the next biennium this Friday. Few reliable details are available.  He is expected to take another try at significantly reducing the personal income tax but not by raising or expanding the sales tax. A big challenge is holding down pressure for spending increases, according to news reports. 

 

IDEAS FOR NEW LAWS

Legislators had to submit their ideas for new laws by December 30. A list of titles will be published later this month that gives an idea of what committees will be confronted with over the next several months. A typical odd-year session in recent years involves 1,500 to 1,700 legislative proposals that range from the substantial to the unimaginably obscure. More information will be forthcoming as it becomes available.

 

FLAWED CITIZEN INITIATIVE PROCESS

Legislators are likely to debate changes to the process of gathering signatures for citizen-initiated legislation. Apart from debating over the number of signatures required – 10% of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election – perhaps a more critical question will be whether signatures should somehow be geographically representative.  For example, should a certain percentage of signatures from each county be required. This approach would significantly blunt attempts to primarily gather signatures in the heavily populated Portland area and a couple of other large municipalities.

Less discussed but important is how citizen initiatives are handled by the legislature. The Maine Constitution prohibits legislators from tinkering with citizen initiatives; the proposals must be sent as is to voters unless enacted unchanged into law. Legislators may and sometimes do propose alternatives (competing measures) to be considered on the ballot alongside a citizen initiative.

Missing, however, is assurance of a process similar to what regulatory legislation normally goes through prior to being voted on by the full legislature. For example, none of the five initiatives on the November 2016 ballot received a public hearing in a legislative committee with jurisdiction over the subject matter. There was no pro or con testimony. No questions. No answers to questions. None of the initiatives were subject to a committee work session where legislators could discuss strengths, weaknesses, and technical flaws in the statutory wording of the initiatives. In other words, there was no public vetting process other than what might occur prior to an election principally based on what each side can finance through political action committee expenditures.

By analogy, imagine legislators being expected to vote on the merits of proposed laws based mostly on political advertisements, news reports, editorial page items, and social media postings – but not based on committee hearings and deliberations.  Whether citizen initiatives should go through a vetting process similar to that used for regular legislation is something legislators may consider along with other ideas for revisions in how these initiatives are handled.

Related Content: Small Business News | Economy | Maine

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