Both chambers of the Maine Legislature met on April 25 for the final regular meeting of the 130th Legislature. Lawmakers were supposed to adjourn on Wednesday, April 20, but voted to extend session one extra day to address $12 million in funding of items on the special appropriations table as part of the supplemental budget deal.
Following work done by the Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs last Friday, the Senate moved a number of bills to receive funding off of the special appropriations table and voted for final passage.
Though the supplemental budget contained only $12 million in unallocated funding, the legislature voted to approve over $40 million in funding on Monday. The funds needed to spend in excess of the agreed upon $12 million were raided from a number of other existing government funds, including those related to liquor, marijuana, Medicare, and the Office of the Attorney General.
In total, the Senate removed around 90 bills from the special appropriations table. It removed and finally enacted 30 pieces of legislation, including a bill that allows federally recognized Indian tribes in the state to conduct mobile sports betting.
The Senate removed approximately 60 additional bills from the special appropriations table for amendment, many of which contained appropriations providing roughly $27 million in funding from sources other than the General Fund.
The unexpected appropriations included the raiding of approximately $11.9 million from the Liquor Operations Revenue Fund, $12 million from the MaineCare Stabilization Fund, $500,000 from other special revenue funds, about $1.4 million from the Office of the Attorney General, just over $664,000 from the Medical Use Marijuana Fund, $75,000 from the Reserve for Tax Relief Fund for Maine Residents, and $380,000 from lobster license surcharges.
Among the bills removed from the special appropriations table and finally passed were LD 2003, a bill intended to promote the development of affordable housing units, and LD 1673, a bill that originally created a state-level appeals board for affordable housing project permits denied at the local level. The final version of the bill strikes the appeals board and instead defines service center communities as municipalities that meet criteria for levels of retail sales, jobs-to-workers ratios, service sector job volume, and federally assisted housing amounts. It also creates a growth management plan for these communities to ensure at least 10% of the housing stock is considered affordable.
All bills taken off the special appropriations table during the final day of the session were finally passed by the Senate and will be sent to Gov. Janet Mills for signature or veto.
Sen. Trey Stewart (R-Aroostook) also inquired about LD 1406, a bill he sponsored that was reported out of the Committee on Taxation with the recommendation that it earn passage. Stewart asked Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) if the body was in possession of the bill. Jackson replied that it was not.
Stewart alleged the bill, which attempts to incentivize individuals to move to rural areas in the state by offering people who relocate to either Aroostook, Piscataquis, Somerset or Washington counties a $1,000 grant to offset the costs of obtaining broadband service, had been “placed in a drawer” and denied the opportunity to go before the appropriations committee.
“The bill inexplicably disappeared after its 11-2 favorable vote in committee. Upon further investigation, the Senate chair of the Taxation Committee (Sen. Ben Chipman) had ordered the Legislative Information Office to ‘put it in a desk drawer’ where it remained until I called out the chair on the floor of the Senate and demanded a response for what happened to the bill,” Stewart told The Maine Wire.
The bill appeared on a supplement that was introduced later in Monday’s session. Sen. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec) rose to speak in favor of the bill. Sen. Nathan Libby (D-Lewiston) made a motion to table the bill.
“It’s remarkable what happens when you shine a little sunshine on a problem around here and things magically appear,” Stewart said as he rose to speak in favor of his bill.
Stewart said the bill was originally intended to be a tax credit but became a grant program overseen by the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Stewart noted the 2020 census showed populations in rural Maine have declined and sold the bill as a way to help make moving to certain areas in the state, including his district in Aroostook County, more affordable.
Libby rose to speak against the bill, saying he wasn’t supportive of directing DECD to “create a program that doesn’t have a lot of evidence backing its efficacy.” Libby said the bill would have a marginal impact at best and at worst was “an incredibly poor use of one million dollars.”
Sen. Chipman (D-Cumberland) also rose to speak in opposition to the bill and echoed Libby’s statement that the bill was “not ready for prime time.”
The motion to kill the bill failed by a vote of 7 to 22. It was subsequently passed to be engrossed under the hammer. After being passed by the House, it was placed by the Senate on the special appropriations table.
The appropriations committee met on Monday evening to consider whether LD 1406 should receive funding. The committee voted 8 to 5 to remove the bill from the appropriations table and send it to the Senate.
The bill has an ongoing General Fund appropriation of $100,000 per year beginning in fiscal year 2022-2023.
A motion to finally pass the bill in the Senate failed by a vote of 15 to 15.
By a vote of 19 to 10, the Senate also voted to finally enact LD 1959, an energy utility accountability bill that creates report cards for utilities on minimum service standards and creates a path to a consumer-owned utility for utilities that consistently fail to meet them, which was brought forward by Gov. Mills.
Both chambers also voted to recall from the governor’s desk LD 965, a bill that prohibits employers from requiring employees to sign a nondisclosure agreement or enter into a settlement that limits their right to testify or discuss discrimination, retaliation or harrassment in the workplace. Both chambers adjourned Monday evening before taking any further action on the bill.
The legislature is scheduled to return to Augusta on Monday, May 9 to address any bills that Mills may veto.