Hundreds of Restaurant Owners and Servers Turn Out in Augusta for Hearings on Tip Credit and Minimum Wage

Hundreds of Maine restaurant servers and business owners appeared in Augusta on Wednesday, April 5 to testify before the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee on whether to amend the recent citizen-initiated referendum that eliminates the so-called “tip credit.” Under current law, the tip credit allows an employer to pay a lower minimum wage to an employee, as long as the employee collects the difference in tips. There are several bills before the legislature to reinstate the tip credit, and two very different sides of the issue were presented by servers and owners. Confusing the matter more, owners and servers fall on both sides of the issue. In addition to members of the public, legislators spent an inordinate amount of time speaking on the bills, and eventually the chairwoman cut them off to allow the public to testify. The marathon hearings started at 10:00 a.m. and continued until 10:30 p.m. The bills will now be considered in work sessions in the Committee before being reported out to the full House and Senate.

Legislative Leaders Call for Focus on Business at Hand

Maine lawmakers currently have their hands full with 1,400 bills (and another 400 on the way) that range from tax issues, to minimum wage, marijuana, and the state budget, along with more targeted bills related to energy, transportation, health care, labor and employment, campaign expenditures and many more. Friday, April 7 is the scheduled deadline for committees to have voted on at least 60% of the bills referred to them. This long to-do list, and the imminent deadline, prompted Senate President Mike Thibodeau and other leaders to call for cooperation and civility in the Legislature. Senator Thibodeau, citing personal attacks on Democrats by Republican activists, urged lawmakers to focus on the job of legislating, and to work in a bipartisan fashion to finish the important work before the legislature this session. Speaker Gideon has expressed her appreciation for Senator Thibodeau’s statements and agrees that the amount of work left to be done by the legislature looms large before the statutory adjournment date of June 21.

Slate for Maine’s 2018 U.S. Senate Election Begins to Take Shape

Senator Angus King is running for re-election in 2018 to a second term in the U.S. Senate. He is currently undefeated in political elections and has been a U.S. Senator since Olympia Snowe’s retirement in 2012. This week, Republican State Senator Eric Brakey of Auburn announced that he will be running for Senator King’s seat. Senator Brakey, in his second term in the Legislature, is 28 years old and a registered Republican but he is known as a strong libertarian. He currently serves as the Senate Chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. Senator Brakey could face a primary challenge from any number of opponents, including Governor Paul LePage who has occasionally expressed interest in running in 2018 for Senator King’s seat.

Lawmakers Seek to Fix Mainers’ Real ID Problem

Maine is currently out of compliance with the federal Real ID law that has been in place for several years. Cost and privacy issues are cited as cause for concern, which opponents regard as an “unfunded mandate” by the federal government. As it stands, Maine state-issued ID’s, including drivers’ licenses, are not valid for a number of purposes, including entry into federal buildings and military bases, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire. This affects veterans, truck drivers, contractors, carpenters, and more. Approximately 500 veterans received help at a health clinic at Pease Air National Guard until they were denied entry due to the Real ID regulations. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, who oversees the issuance of state ID’s and drivers’ licenses, has been opposed to compliance with the federal law for the reasons previously cited. Recently, the legislature enacted a bill that would have provided passport cards that comply with Real ID to these veterans who are low-income, but the legislation was vetoed by Governor LePage, who wants to see a more comprehensive bill that will take care of all Mainers. On Thursday April 6, the Senate voted in favor of a bill that would align Maine’s state ID’s and drivers' licenses with the federal Real ID standards. Compliance with this bill is anticipated to cost the state roughly $4 million to implement over the next few years. The bill is now on its way to the House of Representatives.

State Issues Grants to Improve School Efficiencies

The Maine Department of Education has announced that it will fund seven grants to achieve school consolidations and operational efficiencies. The grants, which total $2.7 million, are estimated to save $16.2 million over the next five years. From a total of 21 applications, grants were awarded to schools and education institutions involved in K-12 education in Wiscasset, Bangor, Houlton, Fort Kent, Presque-Isle, the Western Maine Regional Program for Children, and the University of Maine in Farmington. Governor LePage has requested an additional $5 million in his proposed budget for future efficiency and consolidation grants.