AUGUSTA – The Democratic majority in the Maine House of Representatives late Tuesday prevented a vote on a compromise amendment on the last remaining welfare reform bill, LD 1822, which would prevent the use of welfare funds to buy certain prohibited items such as tobacco and alcohol. Rep. Sharri MacDonald (R-Old Orchard Beach) introduced the compromise amendment.
“This is a sad day for the taxpayers of Maine and for anybody who believes reaching a compromise should be a goal in government,” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport. “We Republicans tried our best to advance a reasonable welfare reform bill that a majority could agree upon.”
The bill will move back to the Senate in its original form and faces an uncertain future. Democrats voted to move the bill on to the Senate for a probable death even as Rep. MacDonald made clear she was waiting on her compromise amendment to arrive from the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of the Revisor of Statutes, which writes legislation.
A fiery floor debate ensued. Democratic Assistant Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan remarked at one point that welfare fraud and abuse is a “victimless crime.” That sparked backlash from Republicans who said that taxpayers and the truly needy have been victimized for years by Maine’s loose welfare system, which now ranks second in the nation for its size as a share of the state budget.
Republicans spoke out loudly in favor of letting Rep. MacDonald’s amendment be debated and voted on in the House.
Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) said, “I supported Medicaid expansion in a spirit of compromise. I don’t see that same spirit of compromise coming from the other side of the aisle on welfare reform.”
Rep. MacDonald’s amendment would impose a 15-day suspension of benefits for the first offense of purchasing tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, and posting bail with TANF funds. This is reduced from the one-year suspension originally envisioned in Rep. MacDonald’s bill, and up from the Senate Democrats’ amendment, which would not have penalized first-time offenders beyond sending a letter in the mail. It would also clean up language around prohibition of sales of prohibited items to TANF recipients.
“I’m extremely disappointed that my colleagues across the aisle wouldn’t support this compromise welfare reform,” said Rep. MacDonald. “Worse yet, they didn’t even want to talk about it. I have received an outpouring of support from my constituents and neighbors, however, and will continue to push for this commonsense welfare reform.”