Inside Augusta

The good, the bad and the ugly bills that could be debated this session

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Just before the holidays, the legislature released a list of all legislator and department/agency bill requests submitted before cloture, the date by which all bill requests for an upcoming session of the legislature must be submitted to the Revisor’s Office. We’ve reviewed the 1,690 requests to give you a sense of the good, the bad and the ugly bills that could be debated this session.

It’s important to note that there is no guarantee these initial bill requests will all become official legislative documents that lawmakers will debate. Some sponsors could agree to combine efforts if their requests are similar, or choose to withdraw one altogether. In addition, only the working title of these proposed bills are currently available. The full text of these requests will not be available unless or until they’re officially released as legislation by the Revisor’s Office. So, take this assessment with a grain of salt because it is based entirely on these working titles; I’m not intimately familiar with the contents of all of the bill requests discussed below.

Among the good are at least 15 bills submitted by 10 different lawmakers to reform emergency executive power and the process by which the governor declares and renews a state of emergency. After nearly a year of one person unilaterally dictating public policy and exercising emergency executive authority in unprecedented ways, it seems irrational to deny an examination of the issue. Sen. Cathy Breen has submitted a bill to promote legislative oversight of federal COVID-19 relief funds, as the legislature does for regular spending by state government.

Rep. Jeff Hanley wants to return surplus money to Maine taxpayers and give school choice to families by enacting Education Savings Accounts. Rep. John Andrews wants to reform civil asset forfeiture and enhance online learning options during the pandemic. Sen. Matt Pouliot proposes eliminating the cap on charter schools while Rep. Laurel Libby wants to require the House and Senate to approve the state’s participation in any multi-state compact like the Transportation and Climate Initiative. Sen. Stacey Guerin submitted a similar request.

Reps. Justin Fecteau, David McCrea and and Amy Roeder have submitted bills to prohibit or reform the practice of no-knock warrants. Rep. Charlotte Warren and Sen. Trey Stewart want to end the Maine Information Analysis Center Program, which came under fire last year when a state trooper alleged he was demoted after raising concerns about the center’s surveillance activities.

Sens. Jeff Timberlake, Jim Dill and Joseph Baldacci, along with Reps. Andrews and Billy Bob Faulkingham, all submitted constitutional amendments to allow some or all of Maine’s constitutional officers to be chosen by popular election. Faulkingham also wants to stop municipalities from prohibiting short-term rentals for people who want to rent their properties to other individuals.

After Portland voters decided to enact an emergency minimum wage during the pandemic, Rep. Dick Bradstreet wants to cap the minimum wage municipalities can set at 115% of the statewide minimum wage. Despite the relief it would offer to struggling small businesses in Portland, I doubt the idea will receive the attention it deserves this session.

LRs 551 and 1708 would exempt paycheck protection program loans from being considered taxable income, bill requests submitted by Sens. Dill and Breen. A flurry of bills were also submitted to reform motor vehicle taxes and fees, as well as substantially reform or eliminate Maine’s vehicle inspection program.

Now for the bad. Per usual, lawmakers are proposing a general fund bond issue for everything under the sun, including a convention center in Portland and the “transition from a fossil fuel-based to an electrical energy economy.” I can only imagine how much bill sponsor Rep. Sophia Warren wants to borrow to fund the transition.

Rep. Genevieve McDonald wants to define intentional balloon releases as litter, Rep. Kristen Cloutier wants to restrict the sale, purchase and use of fireworks, and Rep. Michael Brennan wants to “promote accountability” in Maine’s charter schools – institutions that already, by law, are dissolved when they do not meet the standards to which they’re held accountable. Rep. Brennan is the same lawmaker responsible for limiting the virtual learning options available to Maine families during the last legislative session, just before the pandemic.

Sen. Chloe Maxmin wants solar energy projects “to coordinate with school construction projects” and Sen. Dave Miramant wants to enact a new requirement for the state to meet its mandatory 55% contribution to public education (despite this supposedly “mandatory” provision already being required by law). I suppose the calculation is that what Maine needs is a new requirement that requires the old requirement to be required.

The ugly is a different story. Rep. Benjamin Collings wants to amend the exclusion amount in Maine’s estate tax and nearly half a dozen bills were submitted to create a new top individual income tax rate, ensuring the “rich pay their fair share.” Some would only be “temporary” increases according to their titles while others would be permanent (though let’s be honest, the “temporary” ones would eventually be permanent, too).

Rep. Heidi Brooks wants large corporations to pay a corporate tax of 12.4% instead of 8.93% and Rep. Kyle Bailey wants to amend the Maine Constitution to prohibit the legislature from altering voter-approved ballot initiatives for at least two years after their passage. Rep. Bailey, an ardent supporter of ranked-choice voting, sees no issue with voters passing a law with provisions the state’s highest court deems unconstitutional. Finally, Sen. Louis Luchini and Rep. Michael Sylvester submitted bills to allow municipalities to enact a local tax on meals and lodging sales within their jurisdictions, despite the issue being defeated in numerous consecutive legislative sessions.

More of the good, the bad and the ugly will be examined as the legislature begins its work and these many bill requests (potentially) become law. According to the Bangor Daily News, the best estimate for when the legislature will really pick up its work this session is “by the end of the month” because the process by which bills are assigned to committee has changed. It remains unclear when exactly the full body will convene again in person.

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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