Lawmakers extend session one day, Mills’ utility accountability bill revived with new amendment

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Lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and Senate met on April 20 and extended the second legislative session, statutorily set to end on the third Wednesday of the month, by one day. A proposal to extend the session by two days failed to earn the support of Senate Republicans on two occasions before lawmakers of both parties in both chambers agreed to extend session by one day.

The legislature will convene again on Monday, April 25 to dispense with remaining matters, including items currently on the special appropriations table that will receive funding through the supplemental budget.

The $1.2 billion supplemental budget approved by the legislature and signed into law on April 20 by Gov. Janet Mills includes $12 million in unallocated funding to be distributed between legislative caucuses. The Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs will meet on April 22 to prepare bills currently on the special appropriations table for enactment when the legislature returns to Augusta on April 25.

LD 1959

When the legislature returns on Monday, it is expected to finally dispense with LD 1959, a utility accountability measure brought forward by Mills. 

The bill had been tabled in the Senate, pending a motion by Sen. Trey Stewart (R-Aroostook) to recede and concur with the House’s motion to indefinitely postpone it.

It was taken up again by the Senate on April 20. Sen. Stacy Brenner (D-Cumberland) made a motion to recede and reconsider the Senate’s vote to pass to engross the bill as amended. Brenner then presented a floor amendment, which requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to assess the use of competitive procurement methods for purchases made by transmission and distribution utilities, adopt new rules related to their assessment, and submit a report on the subject to the legislature.

“The best disinfectant is sunshine. Accountability now,” Brenner said while speaking to her amendment.

The amendment was adopted under the hammer and the Senate sent the amended bill back to the House in non-concurrence. 

The House then voted to recede on the bill and indefinitely postponed Brenner’s amendment as well as an earlier amendment that was sponsored by Sen. Mark Lawrence (D-York) and adopted by the Senate on April 19.

Rep. Christopher Kessler (D-South Portland) then presented a new floor amendment containing the substance of Brenner’s and Lawrence’s amendments.

Lawrence’s amendment also limits the service standards the PUC is required to develop to utilities with more than 50,000 customers. The amendment also requires the PUC to use stakeholder input to identify priorities in developing a clean, affordable and reliable electric grid.

Kessler’s amendment changed slightly Brenner’s amendment by clarifying that the provision related to competitive procurement methods for purchase used by transmission and distribution utilities apply to services as well as goods.

Kessler said the state needs to look at competitive bidding and force the PUC to open its docket to look at goods and services in order to determine what’s in the best interest of ratepayers.

Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth) also rose to speak in favor of Kessler’s amendment.

“We need strong enforcement tools. I have been and will continue to advocate for more teeth. I will support this issue and continue this work to bring Maine ratepayers the fair treatment they deserve,” said Grohoski.

Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Penobscot) rose to request a roll call vote, noting the number of amendments that had been made to the bill since its introduction. Wadsworth also read the bill’s fiscal note, which he said has an ongoing $600,0000 appropriation and will increase rates on ratepayers.

Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) then rose to speak in favor of the amendment.

“We often hear that competition is the American way. Competition is badly needed by our utilities,” Berry said.

Rep. Melanie Sachs (D-Freeport) rose to speak to the bill’s new fiscal note, which she said reduces the number of personnel needed to implement the bill. Sachs said accountability and efficiency would have a maximum impact under the bill.

The House then voted 77 to 56 to adopt Kessler’s amendment and passed to engross the bill.

It was sent to the Senate, which voted under the hammer to recede and concur.

LD 1959 returned once more to the House, which voted under the hammer to enact the bill. It awaits final passage in the Senate, which will vote on the bill when the legislature returns on April 25.

Other Legislative Action

On April 19, the legislature finally passed LD 2010, a bill to provide electricity rate rebates to some commercial customers, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook). The bill had been tabled in the Senate on April 15 and was taken up again by the chamber on April 19.

Earlier in the day, the Senate voted under the hammer to adopt a floor amendment to the bill, which shifted the responsibility of distributing the rate relief fund from the PUC to the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).

It also adds a $500 appropriation for the rate relief fund in fiscal year 2022-2023. This money is in addition to the more than $8.5 million allocated by the committee amendment the Senate also adopted. The floor amendment further gives DECD the authority to determine the amount ratepayers should receive, based on the kilowatt hours used. The committee amendment had originally established set amounts for ratepayers to receive.

The bill was then sent to the House in non-concurrence, which voted under the hammer to recede and concur. Later the same day, the House and Senate voted for final passage of the bill. 

The Senate also voted to adopt an amendment to LD 1744, which had previously been enacted and subsequently recalled from Mills’ desk. Unlike the previously passed bill, the floor amendment the Senate voted to adopt under the hammer on April 19 does not raise the fee for registering to sell pet food products in the state.

The floor amendment clarifies that 100 percent of fees collected from registrations to sell pet food are no longer to be deposited in the Animal Welfare Fund. Instead, 20 percent of fees collected will be deposited in the General Fund and 80 percent will go to the Animal Welfare Fund.

The bill was then sent to the House, which voted 76 to 61 to recede and concur, and subsequently voted for enactment. It was placed on the special appropriations table in the Senate. 

The bill could receive funding through the supplemental budget and may be taken up and finally enacted when the legislature returns on April 25.

Both chambers also voted to advance LD 1693, a bill that creates an Office of Health Equity and an obesity advisory council in the Department of Health and Human Services. It had been tabled by the Senate on April 13 pending acceptance of the majority committee report.

The Senate voted to adopt a floor amendment offered by Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin), which removed the provisions in the bill that created the obesity advisory council and required the Department of Education to create rules related to obesity prevention standards in public schools.

The bill was then sent to the House in non-concurrence. The House previously voted to adopt a different floor amendment, introduced by Rep. Michel Meyer (D-Eliot), on April 13. On April 19, the House voted to recede and concur with the Senate floor amendment. 

It was finally passed by both chambers and placed on the special appropriations table in the Senate on April 20. 

A bill that would have put a question about amending the state constitution to prohibit sex-based discrimination to voters failed to garner enough support following a House vote. As a proposed constitutional amendment, LD 344 required a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers in order to advance. The House failed to meet this threshold on April 20, voting 77 to 59 to pass the bill. It was placed on the special appropriations table pending final passage in the Senate, though without a two-thirds vote in both chambers, it will not pass this session.

Photo: Royalbroil, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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