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Op/Ed: Maine Republicans enacted Regulatory Reform

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By David Sorensen

Regulatory reform was the first priority of Maine’s GOP-controlled Legislature 0f 2011-2012, hence the number of the first bill featured below.  Many regulations were out of date or simply too burdensome.  Using decades of one-party rule to their advantage, Maine Democrats had built up an imposing regulatory apparatus that gave their friends in the environmental lobby virtually everything they wanted without balancing the need for private-sector job growth.

These are some of the bills that began to hack away at that regulatory jungle.  There are many more that could arguably be included here, but these represent some of the clearest examples of relief from red tape.

LD 1 – Regulatory Fairness and Reform

LD 1 is a comprehensive overhaul of Maine’s regulatory structure. A special committee of legislators toured the state to learn firsthand from entrepreneurs how state government can help their growth by eliminating red tape and bureaucracy. The ideas were sent to specific legislative committees of jurisdiction to be refined into one comprehensive bill.

The reform:

  • Made many rules of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) more in line with less stringent federal rules;
  • Called for state agencies to weigh both the costs and benefits of a rule under consideration, instead of just the “benefits”;
  • Created the Business Ombudsman Program to act as arbiter between businesses and state agencies;
  • Created the position of Small Business Advocate within the Secretary of State’s Office to help businesses navigate the state’s various regulatory and licensing frameworks and advocate for business before regulators and legislators;
  • Required agencies to cite information they rely upon in crafting a new regulation;
  • Eliminated confusion in the laws by explicitly stating that agency rules are not enforceable in court unless they were implemented correctly under the Administrative Procedure Act;
  • Limited the Board of Environmental Protection’s rulemaking authority and reduced its membership from 10 to 7; and
  • Allowed legislative committees to require agencies to review and change rules when requested, giving more control to the people’s elected representatives.

LD 1798 – LURC Reform

After years of public outcry from residents of northern Maine seeking balance, responsiveness and local control at the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), the agency that controls land use planning in Maine’s Unorganized Territories (UT), the Legislature responded. LD 1798 enacted the following changes:

  • Changed the name of LURC to the Land Use Planning Commission (LUPC) in order to give the agency a fresh start;
  • Moved meetings, staff and appeal hearings closer to the UT;
  • Increased board membership from seven to nine, including a nominee from each of the eight largest UT counties’ commissions and a gubernatorial appointee, in order to give more representation to the governed territories and less to Augusta;
  • Instituted staff training to improve customer service;
  • Eliminated the “demonstrated need” requirement for development, meaning that those wishing to build no longer need to prove that there is an economic or other kind of “need” for their development. Their desire to do so freely on their own property is now considered enough of a need;
  • Allowed counties to request that they be able to conduct permitting functions on their own;
  • Expanded permit-by-rule opportunities;
  • Transferred site location permitting duties to the DEP and forestry activities to the Bureau of Forestry, further limiting the power of LURC/LUPC; and
  • Required the LUPC Board to report to the Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee annually to answer to organizational efficiency and customer service.

LD 1314 – Independent Contractors Defined

One of the most aggravating problems for employers was trying to prevent and fix problems stemming from the gray area of whether certain employees are subject to workers’ compensation and unemployment laws or whether they are independent contractors, exempt from those laws. This bill standardizes the definition of “independent contractor,” reducing confusion about who qualifies for workers’ comp or unemployment benefits and who does not. The bill has been hailed by job creators as one of the best things to come out of the Labor and Commerce Committee during the 125th Legislature.

LD 311 – Harbor Dredging

Harbor towns routinely faced burdensome obstacles when trying to dredge their harbors to allow for safe passage of fishing and recreational boats. The town of Wells, for example, recently spent $180,000 and four years simply to obtain a dredging permit from the DEP. That is unacceptable. This bill allows for maintenance dredging, whereby towns may obtain an original permit for dredging and then dredge the same amount within 10 years again without obtaining another permit. That is common sense.

LD 862 – Increased Lifespan of Permits

Prior to the enactment of this bill, permits issued by the DEP required that development activities begin within two years of the date of issuance and be completed within five years. This put an arbitrary and undue burden on developers, who often require flexibility in construction timeframes. LD 862 provided regulatory relief by requiring the DEP to extend that timeframe by two years: four years to begin activity and seven years to complete it.

LD 281 – Statute of Limitations for DEP Violations

Existing law provided a 10-year statute of limitations after which the DEP could not initiate enforcement action against those violating DEP rules. LD 281 reduced that limitation to 6 years, providing more certainty and flexibility to developers and job creators.

LD 322 – Amend the Informed Growth Act

The Informed Growth Act (IGA) imposed onerous, state-mandated requirements for the procedure by which “big box” stores could move into a town. LD 322 restored local control, allowing local communities to have the ultimate say in whether and when a big box store may move into town.

This reform provides that:

  • The IGA does not apply to a municipality unless the municipality adopts it in an ordinance;
  • Municipalities that adopt the IGA receive the developer’s fee directly from the developer for the comprehensive economic impact study rather than through state government; and
  • The municipality may determine which factors are considered in the comprehensive economic impact study.

LD 1695 – Retail Permit and License Displays

This bill eliminates the unnecessary requirement of small business owners to publicly display all of their permits and licenses. This opens up wall space in stores and removes the clutter and unsightliness of multiple government documents. Instead, a business owner must simply make the license or permit available on demand at the premises.

LD 49 – Lobster Traps on Docks

LD 49 eliminated the notorious DEP rule that lobstermen could not store their lobster traps on docks. The reasoning behind this rule was that the shadow they cast may inhibit seaweed growth on the harbor floor. This Legislature believes that Maine lobstermen’s convenience and productivity is more important than a few square feet of seaweed.

David Sorensen is the communications director for the Maine Republican Party. For more information, see www.mainegop.com.   

 

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently the executive producer of the Kirk Minihane Show. Follow him on Twitter @BigSteve207.

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