They’re at it again. On September 27th, lawmakers were required to submit all of their legislative requests to the Revisor’s Office to ensure they would be considered by the Legislative Council, a 10-person body made up of all the elected members of legislative leadership in the State House.
For a legislative request to be considered in the Second Session, it must receive the affirmative vote of six members of the legislative council. This year, nearly 400 requests were submitted for the council’s consideration. When the Legislative Council convenes, they can approve or deny those legislative requests before they are assigned a legislative document (LD) number and considered by a committee, and eventually the full legislature.
Late last week, the list of preliminary bill titles was released for public consumption.
Here are some of the proposals that appear to benefit Mainers:
LR: 2642 — An Act To Exempt Citizen Initiatives and People’s Vetoes from Presidential Primary Elections
LR 2642 would prevent citizen’s initiatives and people’s vetoes from appearing on a presidential primary ballot in Maine. Traditionally, the State of Maine has conducted statewide elections in June or November. However, the passage of the presidential primary bill last session (LD 1626) adds another election in March that is conducted statewide. The sole purpose of the March election is to choose the presidential nominees in each political party.
Because of this, voters that belong to a political party would have the most incentive to vote, particularly over independent voters, because they have more at stake in the March election. In addition, November general elections typically realize higher turnout than elections conducted at other times of the year. Therefore, excluding citizen’s initiatives and people’s vetoes from the March ballot would be the most responsible means of ensuring the “will of the people” is heard at the ballot box in Maine.
LR: 2709 — An Act To Prohibit the Collection of Campaign Contributions within a Voting Place
This proposal would prevent any candidate from fundraising within 250 feet of a polling place. Currently, candidates are not allowed to influence or attempt to influence individuals’ votes within 250 feet of a polling place. If passed, LR 2709 would help to further the goal of isolating polling places from political influence by candidates and campaigns.
Candidates would still be allowed to introduce themselves by name to voters as they walk into a polling place.
LR: 2828 — An Act To Conform State Labor Law with Federal Labor Law
LR 2828 would align state statute with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME. Based on the high court’s decision, public-sector workers cannot be required to subsidize their union without providing affirmative consenting to having funds deducted from their paychecks. Previously, workers were required to pay “fair share” fees, though the court determined these payments violate workers’ First Amendment rights.
Despite this decision, state law continues to allow unions to require public employees to pay agency fees that represent the “pro rata share of those expenditures that are germane to the organization’s representational activities.” LR 2828 would simply remove this language from statute to ensure state law conforms with the Janus decision.
LR: 2859 — An Act To Amend the Motor Vehicle Laws To Authorize Registration and Issuance of Certificates of Title for Tiny Mobile Houses
In June, the Secretary of State sent a letter to municipal clerks to prohibit them from registering, assigning VIN numbers to and titling tiny homes. Instead, individuals who want to move their tiny homes will need to contact the Secretary of State to obtain a one-time use permit to move it from point A to point B.
One of the most devastating effects of this change is that banks will no longer finance the cost of a tiny home, thereby preventing individuals, particularly those of low and medium incomes, from buying one.
LR 2859 seeks to give mobile tiny homes their own classification in state law and expressly directs the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to title and register mobile tiny homes. This will give banks the assurance they need to issue a loan and give owners the freedom to move their tiny homes from point to point without delay.
LR: 2864 — An Act To Recognize Occupational Licenses from Other States To Attract New Residents and Business to Maine; and LR: 2802 — An Act To Establish the Universal Occupational and Professional License Reciprocity and Recognition Act
This proposal will attract new residents to Maine by mandating that occupational licensing boards administer licenses to individuals who practiced in a licensed profession in another state and were in good standing with their state’s licensing board. In other words, this proposal would remove some of the education and time barriers that licensed professionals face when they move to Maine from other states or work here temporarily.
Governor Doug Ducey recently signed universal recognition legislation into law in Arizona. According to professionals in Arizona, universal recognition makes it easier to obtain a license because all they have to do is apply, pay the fee and obtain the same license they held in another state.
In addition, research shows that low income individuals and women are disproportionately affected by states’ lack of licensing reciprocity. Women are more likely to hold certification or licensure than employed men, and low income individuals have less disposable income to pursue additional and oftentimes expensive licensing requirements.
LR: 2865 — An Act To Meet the Needs of Maine Students on Public Charter School Waiting Lists
LR 2865 would increase the permanent cap on the number of public charter schools allowed to operate in Maine. Currently, all of the available spots are filled by existing public charter schools. This proposal would increase the cap from 10 to 12 public charter schools — a move that would allow for greater school choice in Maine and give students more opportunity to obtain a quality education that meets their needs.
In addition, increasing the number of public charters allowed to operate in Maine may eventually reduce the number of students currently on wait lists to attend a public charter school.
Here is a condensed list of potentially harmful proposals:
LR: 2708 — An Act To Ban Single-use Plastic Straws, Splash Sticks and Beverage Lid Plugs
In the First Session, lawmakers banned polystyrene containers and single-use plastic bags. Now they’re considering a ban on plastic straws, splash sticks and lids. This proposal will serve as another prohibition on small businesses in Maine and will ultimately mandate they find alternative (potentially more expensive) products as replacements.
While banning plastics might help eliminate the most visible source of pollution, it could encourage the use of other pollutants, such as carbon emissions. Alternatives to plastic products often require more resources to produce, which have a less visible impact on the environment.
LR: 2757 — An Act To Protect Workers in the Modern Gig Economy; and LR: 2779 — An Act To Classify Certain Persons as Employees Rather Than Independent Contractors
While the title of these proposals appear to help workers on the surface, they could be detrimental to the sharing economy. California recently passed a bill that is aimed at “protecting” workers in the gig economy by mandating that companies classify their workforce as employees instead of independent contractors. This was primarily an attack on the sharing economy that has produced companies like Uber, Lyft and DoorDash.
Companies are not required to provide independent contractors with sick days, a minimum wage or other benefits that regular employees receive. While this might seem archaic, these workers enjoy perks to which most employees are not privy. For example, they can start and stop work whenever they want and are in charge of their own schedules. In other words, the sharing economy might come with trade-offs, but it has also given workers more control over their own destiny in the workplace.
LR: 2763 — An Act To Prohibit the Sale of Vaping Devices and Similar Electronic Smoking Devices; and LR: 2765 — An Act To Enact Restrictions on Electronic Smoking Devices
LR 2763 appears to prohibit the sale of vaping devices and e-cigarettes in Maine. LR 2765 will likely put significant restrictions on the industry. For example, it could be a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. The trend to ban vaping products has come in the wake of vaping-related injuries across the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been approximately 1,080 injuries related to vaping products in the United States. Of these cases, less than 10 injuries have occurred in Maine. This is hardly a reason to put a prohibition on the sale of vaping devices.
In addition, vape and e-cigarette products are often used as smoking cessation tools. According to a Public Health England literature review that examined hundreds of studies, e-cigarettes are found to be 95 percent less harmful than smoking cigarettes. According to the CDC, smoking cigarettes causes more than 480,000 deaths annually in the United States. In comparison, vaping has resulted in eighteen deaths across the country. Vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes and banning them may have negative health consequences for former smokers who use them as cessation tools, or individuals who never smoked cigarettes but would turn to these products when the safer alternative is eliminated.
Instead of acting on emotion and impulse, lawmakers should consider allowing adults to make their own choices about their lifestyles. While it might be unhealthy to smoke e-cigarettes, individuals should have the freedom to make that choice. If the government banned everything that is harmful to human beings, there would be little left to consume.
LR: 2777 — An Act To Set a Minimum Wage for School Support Staff
In the First Session of the 129th Legislature, lawmakers passed new minimum salary requirements for teachers. Now, this proposal suggests lawmakers consider requiring municipalities to pay a minimum wage for school support staff. Depending on whether it is the state or school districts that will front the cost, this proposal could increase property taxes at the municipal level or expenditures and tax collections at the state level.
LR: 2780 — An Act To Increase the Minimum Wage
Further increases to the minimum wage would be harmful to Maine businesses and low-skill workers, who are always the first casualty when the government artificially raises wages. What’s humorous is that some lawmakers want to raise the minimum wage before our last minimum wage increase from the 2016 ballot initiative is fully implemented.
LR: 2804 — An Act To Require the Installation of Solar Panels on or Adjacent to State-owned Buildings
LR 2804 would require solar panels to be installed on or near state-owned buildings. While this approach may reduce carbon emissions in Maine, it could be more costly than other alternatives. It would be irresponsible to cater to a single industry when using taxpayer dollars. Instead, the State of Maine should be trying to identify the cheapest and cleanest option to reduce carbon emissions and save money for taxpayers.
LR: 2809 — An Act To Provide Revenue Sharing for Counties
LR 2809 would likely extend the revenue sharing program to Maine’s 16 counties. Currently, the State of Maine allocates state revenue to municipalities based on their state valuation, tax assessments and municipal populations. The goal of the revenue sharing program is to reduce the property tax burden on Maine taxpayers. However, a 2015 report from The Maine Heritage Policy Center shows increases to revenue sharing do not reflect decreases to property taxes.
LR: 2844 — An Act To Extend to Other Public Sector Employees the Same Protections Provided to State Employees upon the Expiration of Contracts
This proposal would likely be an extension of LD 1546, passed in the First Session, which ensures state employees remain eligible for and receive merit pay increases when their contracts expire. LR 2844 would likely extend this benefit to all public employees.
This proposal is unnecessary because collective bargaining agents can already negotiate with public employers to ensure employees remain eligible and receive merit increases to their pay when a contract expires. In addition, LR 2844 gives collective bargaining agents an upper-hand in negotiations because it is one less item they would need to negotiate with the employer.
LR: 2941 — An Act To Provide for Fairer Taxation for Middle-income and Lower-income Earners
LR 2941 alludes to creating a more progressive tax system in Maine. The best avenue to provide for fairer taxation of middle- and lower-income earners is to eliminate the income tax altogether.
“Tax the rich” schemes serve to make Maine less competitive with other states and divide people by income, neither of which is productive for Maine’s economy.
There is no question that some of these bills are necessary, but lawmakers should ask themselves if these proposals truly rise to the level of an emergency as outlined in the Maine Constitution.
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