The Legislative Council met on January 27 and considered after-deadline bill requests to be introduced during the Maine Legislature’s ongoing second session.
The council admitted 12 bills and tabled several more for future consideration.
The Maine Constitution limits legislation that can be considered in the second session to budgetary matters, direct initiatives, bills in the governor’s call, legislation from study committees working while the legislature was adjourned, and emergency legislation. To be introduced, bills must receive approval from a majority of the Legislative Council, a 10-person body comprised of legislative leadership.
The council approved a bill that would give electric school buses distinctly colored bumpers, wheels, and rub rails, which would warn first responders in the event of an emergency. They also approved a bill that would prevent discovery connected to protection from abuse actions.
Several of the bills the council admitted are related to the ballot initiative passed by voters in November that halted the construction of the Central Maine Power (CMP) corridor.
The ballot initiative requires that a majority of the legislature approve construction of high-impact transmission lines. It also requires the legislature to approve leases of public lands for utilities and rights-of-way. That requirement is retroactive to September 16, 2014.
As a result, the Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL) is not renewing existing licenses without legislative approval. The Legislative Council voted to approve a legislative request that would allow the BPL to renew an existing lease with Chrstian Camps and Conferences in Somerset County. The lease was entered into on June 1, 2016 and lasts for 25 years. According to Rep. Brad Farrin (R-Somerset), who sponsored the request, the bureau is not opposed to renewing the lease but will not do so without legislative approval because of the ballot question.
The Legislative Council also approved a request that would give legislative approval to the BPL to allow construction of an extension to a telecommunications tower on Bald Mountain in Rangeley.
The council also approved bill requests intended to ensure fairness of representation in insurance disputes, provide additional funding to the state’s low income home energy assistance program, exempt permanently disabled veterans from paying property taxes, amend the Gray Water District charter, improve testing requirements for adult use marijuana, allow Maine School Administrative District 6 to lease a former administrative building located in Buxton, and require suicide prevention barriers to be placed on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge.
In addition, the council voted against moving forward with consideration of a number of bills, including one that would have exempted COVID-19 home test kits from sales tax in an effort to increase participation in pandemic mitigation measures.
Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) sponsored two requests which the Legislative Council rejected.
Andrews sponsored an emergency request that would have made it easier for individuals with a valid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to become school bus drivers.
Under current regulations, an individual with an existing CDL has to get an endorsement to drive a school bus and restart the licensing process, Andrews said. His proposal would have only required an individual with a CDL to pass a written and road test to become a bus driver.
While members of the council agreed Maine’s school bus driver shortage is a problem, they ultimately voted not to move the bill forward and wait until changes to school bus driver regulations are approved at the federal level.
“This emergency bill would have provided an opportunity to work on fixing the school bus driver crisis in the state of Maine. It was voted down by the majority of the Legislative Council. They preferred to wait on the Federal government to fix this crisis rather than going to work on the state level while the legislature is in session. It was a missed opportunity to address a real issue in real time,” Andrews said after the meeting.
Andrews also sponsored a request for a resolution opposing recent changes to the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) reporting requirements for third-party payment apps, like PayPal and Venmo. The changes lower the income threshold which users must cross before they are reported to the IRS.
Andrews’ resolution opposed these changes, which he called an invasion of privacy, and would have been sent to Maine’s Congressional delegation.
“Though my Resolution to oppose the IRS snooping into Maine citizens’ bank accounts was voted down by the Legislative Council today, it was picked up in Arizona, Texas, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan and Pennsylvania. I call that a win for liberty with Maine sparking brushfires of freedom in state houses all across this country,” he said.
The council did not discuss the legislature’s current policy of holding remote committee meetings or a return to in-person meetings.
During the legislature’s January 26 session, Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) said during an exchange with Andrews that he and Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) would be meeting that afternoon to discuss the legislature’s remote meetings policy, passed by joint resolution when the legislature convened at the start of the second session.
Neither Fecteau or Jackson publicly discussed the policy or provided an update during Thursday’s Legislative Council meeting. Fecteau’s office did not return a request for comment about the policy.