AUGUSTA – Top Democrats may nix a Republican-backed welfare reform before the next legislative session even begins by invoking the same rule they are prepared to flout for their own Medicaid expansion legislation.
On Friday, State House staffers received the “screening book” from the Revisor’s Office. The report gives the Legislature’s Legislative Council an overview of legislation to be considered and includes notations about individual bills.
According to David Sorensen, communications director for the House Republicans, the Revisor has tagged a GOP welfare reform bill with the following notation: “JR 217: LD 256”.
J.R. 217 is a Joint Rule which prohibits a bill that has already been killed from being reintroduced in the same session. The notation refers to a concept draft Rep. Paulette G. Beaudoin (D-Biddeford) introduced that would have required welfare recipients to work with municipal officials to seek employment.
The welfare reform bill House Minority Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) has introduced does not affect municipalities. Fredette’s bill would modify the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to require a front-end work-search requirement, meaning welfare applicants would have to demonstrate that they have looked for a job before turning to the public for assistance.
Suzanne M. Gresser, the Legislature’s revisor of statutes, said the screening book flags potential concerns for the Legislative Council.
“We cast a very wide net,” said Gresser.
“Sometimes [flagged bills] are approaching the same issue or touching the same area of law,” she said. “The goal of this flagging is to draw attention to other bills [the Legislative Council] may want to compare and contrast.”
Gresser said Democratic lawmakers did not ask for the JR 217 notation.
“I certainly hope that Democratic leadership didn’t strong-arm the Revisor’s Office into adding this notation,” said Fredette.
“Democrats have admitted that they’re going to break the rules to expand welfare, and now it appears they’re going to bend them to avoid reforming welfare,” he said. “My bill enacts a principle that most Mainers would agree upon: people who are able to work should try to get a job before trying to get welfare.
Fredette said Democratic politicians are fundamentally opposed to welfare reform.
“They’re completely out of touch in their stubborn defense of the status quo,” he said.
The notation is not the final verdict, but it does provide a hint as to how the officers of the Legislative Council may rule on the welfare reform bill. The council is comprised of ten elected officials: the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Majority and Minority floor leaders ad the Majority and Minority Assistant Floor Leaders for both the Senate and the House.
Speaker of the House Mark W. Eves (D-North Berwick), who currently chairs the council, did not respond to a request for comment.
If Democrats decide to prevent Fredette’s welfare reform from coming before the Legislature, it will be extraordinary: even as they flout JR 217 to attempt another expansion of Medicaid, they will be using it as grounds for preemptively defeating welfare reform.
Maine Wire Reporter