Energy Policy

Just another day wading through the swamp

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On Thursday, Jan. 11 the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology met for a public hearing on yet another solar bill – one that was nearly identical to a bill we just killed a few months ago in the first session.

Now I suspected this public hearing could get contentious, however never in my wildest imagination did I think it could rise above the level of the D.C. swamp.

It started off suspiciously when we learned that the Senate President and House Speaker granted permission for this hearing to take place even though there would be no Senator available to chair the meeting. Instead, this gathering in room 206 was run (and I use that word loosely) by Representative Seth Berry, the democrat house chair who has been a champion for anything solar.

This particular solar bill is one that I and many others ascertain is improperly before our body. It passed out of legislative council with the help of all 5 democrat members (who all supported the same bill that was killed in the first session) and Senate President Mike Thibodeau. These six members of the Legislative Council voted to allow this bill into what is constitutionally defined as an “emergency” session.

Maine State Constitution, Article IV, Part Third, Section 1 states:

the business of the second regular session of the Legislature shall be limited to budgetary matters; legislation in the Governor’s call; legislation of an emergency nature admitted by the Legislature”

Maine State Constitution Article IV, Part Third, Section 16:

“an emergency bill shall include only such measures as are immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety;

Section 1 clearly states that the legislature shall limit bills of an “emergency nature” in the second regular session, and section 16 unambiguously defines an emergency bill as “only such measures as are immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety”.

The legislation, LD 1686 “An Act To Amend the Laws Regarding Distributed Energy Generation and To Eliminate Gross Metering,”submitted by Senator Saviello, is very similar and looks for the same outcomes that LD 1504 “An Act Regarding Solar Power for Farms and Businesses,” sought in the first session. Sen. Saviello also sponsored that legislation. To the layman, this may not seem as egregious as it does to me, however, the bill is also in violation of another one our rules.

Measures Rejected at a Prior Session. Rule 217
A bill, resolve, constitutional resolution, resolution, memorial or order that has been introduced and finally rejected in a regular or special session may not be introduced in a subsequent regular or special session of the same Legislature except by vote of 2/3 of both chambers. 

The legislature has never voted to accept LD 1686, therefore never received the needed 2/3 vote by both chambers required to be before this body.

Now if this is not bad enough, it gets worse. As testified by Representative Richard Malaby a few months ago, there is another Constitutional problem that applies to both LDs 1504 and 1686.

The bill proposes to raise revenues from one group of electric ratepayers and redistribute those funds to another class of ratepayer. This fee would be mandated, as the bill provides no way for those impacted to opt-out of paying it, which by definition makes it a tax. According to the Maine Constitution, bills that raise revenues must originate in the House of Representatives, meaning this bill that proposes to raise revenues originated in the Senate, which is clearly at odds with the Maine Constitution.

Article IV.
Part Third.
Legislative Power.
Section 9.  Either House may originate bills; revenue bills.   Bills, orders or resolutions, may originate in either House, and may be altered, amended or rejected in the other; but all bills for raising a revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose amendments as in other cases; provided, that they shall not, under color of amendment, introduce any new matter, which does not relate to raising a revenue.

Now, many of the sitting legislators would infer that it is up to the power vested in the 10 members of the legislative council to determine if a bill is properly before the body and would assume that precedence has been set. I argue that they are incorrect, that our rules are there for a reason, and that the Constitution, which we all swore to uphold, remains important despite precedence, of which I view more as a usurpation of power leading to the arbitrary rule of a handful of men and women in powerful positions.

I had a sneaking suspicion that the five other brave legislators and I who decided to challenge the will of those in power would be treated with disdain, and indeed we were.

It began when I was questioning Sen. Saviello and Rep. Berry turned off my microphone because he either did not like what I had to say or perhaps feared what I had to say. Think about that — a lawmaker attempting to shut down a fellow committee member and her ability to publicly ask questions about the legality of a bill at a legislative hearing. Then Berry went on to effectively silence the voices of 5 more sitting legislators. Reps. Malaby, Sirocki, Sutton, Lyford and Lockman were all silenced because they had salient points that questioned our rules and the constitutionality of this bill.

Rep. Berry said he would gavel down anyone else who raised these concerns. This sent me spinning into a new dimension of anger that I have never been in before, thus setting the tone for even more contention.

At one point, Berry brought up the same “emergency” concerns we had with one of the proponents of the bill. When I asked why he could do the very same things he prohibited others from doing, he lamely referred to the “emergency preamble.” I told him bluntly that his explanation was not acceptable, was disingenuous at best and reminded him that he squelched the voices of six sitting legislators.

He then went on to badger the witness from Central Maine Power, and none of what he was saying was germane to the legislation before us. I raised a point of order for him to cease and desist, which after trying to explain why it was relevant, he stopped the badgering.

Then Mr. James LaBreque of the Governor’s energy office was speaking to the issues of the bill when Rep. Berry decided his time was up, assuming the clock must be broken. Mr. Labreque was gracious and reminded Rep. Berry that he was speaking for the Office of the Chief Executive. Again, my little hand shot up. I calmly informed Berry that no, the clock was not broken. As had been done in every meeting, and as agreed upon by all EUT committee members, the Public Utilities Commission, the public advocate, all sitting legislators and all of the staff of the Chief Executive are given unlimited time.  Rep. Berry said he had forgotten.

After these four hours of horror, I understand completely why more and more people hate politics and loathe politicians.

What good is being governed by laws if those in the positions of power ignore them?

About Beth O'Connor

Representative O'Connor represents House District 5 including the towns of Berwick and North Berwick (part). She can be reached at (207) 289-9047.

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