Inside Augusta

Lawmakers approve more fake emergencies for consideration in upcoming session

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Maine’s Legislative Council convened last Friday to consider appeals made by lawmakers regarding so-called “emergency” bills for the second session. Unlike the first regular session of the legislature where lawmakers can submit any bill they want for consideration by a legislative committee, bills are screened by the Legislative Council in the second session. The body acts as a gatekeeper, voting up or down on each bill based on its meeting the emergency criteria spelled out in the Maine Constitution.

The meeting on December 6 was held to allow lawmakers to appeal decisions made by the council on October 23 regarding lawmakers’ second session bill requests. Unfortunately, as we’ve noted before, not every bill submitted by lawmakers is an emergency, and neither are many of the bills that get the green light from our gatekeepers.

Emergency legislation, as defined in the Maine Constitution, Article IV, Part Third, Section 16, is described as: “An emergency bill shall include only such measures as are immediately necessary for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety; and shall not include (1) an infringement on the right of home rule for municipalities, (2) a franchise or a license to a corporation or an individual to extend longer than one year, or (3) provision for the sale or purchase or renting for more than 5 years of real estate.

The council accepted 21 additional bills into the Second Session on Friday, December 6 after approving 134 at the body’s October 23 meeting. It also tabled eight bills last week after tabling 29 in October. In addition, more than 400 pieces of legislation were carried over from the first session into the second session.

Here are some of the bill requests approved by lawmakers last Friday where the emergency standard is questionable, to say the least:

-LR 2951: “An Act To Create Incentives for Employers to Allow Employees to Work Remotely in Rural Maine”
-LR 2711: “An Act Regarding Games of Chance at Fairs Conducted by Groups Affiliated with Fraternal Organizations”
-LR 2649: “An Act To Allow Members of the Maine-Canadian Legislative Advisory Commission To Receive Reimbursement for Travel Expenses”
-LR 2897: “An Act Prohibiting Certain Confinement of Egg-laying Hens and the Sale of Their Eggs”

Should employers in Maine hire more remote workers? Sure. But is creating new tax incentives for them to do so really an emergency? It is certainly hard to see how adjusting the rules governing games of chance at fairs is necessary “for the preservation of the public peace, health or safety” of Maine citizens. Even more mind-boggling is how the confinement of egg-laying hens poses such legitimate risk to the public that it must be debated in the coming session.

Meanwhile, a number of bill requests were denied by the council despite having a real emergency case. While we’ve already mentioned the rejection of LRs 2828 and 2864, concerning professional credentialing and labor law conformity, respectively, other legitimate bill requests failed to secure the approval of the council. Some of these bills are:

-LR 2878 “An Act To Expand Protections for the Privacy of Online Consumer Information”
-LR 2642 “An Act To Exempt Citizen Initiatives and People’s Vetoes from Presidential Primary Elections”
-LR 2843 “An Act To Establish a Lifetime Substitute Teacher Certification for Successful and Established Maine Teachers”
-LR 2857 “An Act To Waive Certain Standardized Assessment Requirements for Teacher Certification for Individuals Who Successfully Complete Bachelor’s Degree Programs, Teacher Preparation Programs or Teacher Probationary Mentoring Programs”
-LR 2802 “An Act To Establish the Universal Occupational and Professional License Reciprocity and Recognition Act”

LR 2878 would have cleaned up a mess the legislature made last session when it passed a bill to promote online privacy that excluded content providers like Amazon, Facebook and Google, allowing them to continue selling and sharing customer data.

LR 2642 would have prevented the upcoming People’s Veto vote on LD 798, and all future initiatives and veto questions, from being held during presidential primary elections. This is important considering voters of one party typically turnout to participates in presidential primary elections while the others stay home, unless a president is termed out of office. Moving forward on this bill would have prevented policy issues from being decided in elections where only a small portion of eligible voters are likely to participate.

LRs 2843, 2857 and 2802 all tackle workforce development issues that are plaguing our schools and businesses. If Maine does not soon act on streamlining its professional licensing and credentialing regimes, it will become even more difficult for employers to find workers to fill key positions, and our businesses and economy will continue to suffer the consequences.

While the council denied a number of worthwhile bill requests, it also killed a few troublesome pieces of legislation that would have added insult to injury as it relates to the council’s handling of “emergency” legislation.

The notable bill requests killed by the council last Friday include:

-LR 2708 “An Act To Ban Single-use Plastic Straws, Splash Sticks and Beverage Lid Plugs”
-LR 2887 “An Act To Amend the Statute Regarding Endangering the Welfare of a Child To Include Allowing Children Access to Loaded Firearms without Permission”
-LR 2670 “An Act To Require Operators of Motorized Scooters To Wear Helmets”

In addition, the council tabled LR 2944, “An Act To Minimize Potentially Objective License Plates,” which will be considered at a future meeting of the council.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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