Governor Vetoes Three Bills

This week, the Legislature was presented with three vetoed bills. On March 12th, the Senate voted along party lines to sustain the Governor’s veto of LD 168, An Act to Establish Reasonable Restrictions on the Use of Fireworks. This bill would have imposed restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks. That same day, the Senate also voted to sustain the Governor’s veto of LD 523, An Act to Require health Insurance Coverage for Hearing Aids for Adults. This bill would have imposed a mandate on insurance companies to extend coverage for hearing aids. The Governor also vetoed LD 1736, Resolve, to Create a State-Run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts. Among other things, this bill would impose a moratorium on the creation and operation of virtual public charter schools. Consideration of this veto is now pending in the Senate.

Medicaid Expansion Legislation Engrossed in Senate, Fate Uncertain

On March 12th, the Senate voted to give initial approval to LD 1487, An Act to Implement Managed Care in the MaineCare Program. This bill has married the issue of Medicaid expansion to the issue of implementing managed care in the MaineCare system in an attempt to secure more Republican support for the expansion of Medicaid. This bill will now be sent to the House for its initial consideration before it goes back through both chambers for final approval. While a sufficient number of Senators voted in support of the bill to enact this legislation, the vote was two members short of a veto-proof majority. Given that Governor LePage vetoed two previous attempts to expand Medicaid, a veto of LD 1487 is almost certain.

Appropriations Committee Meets Throughout the Week

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has met throughout the past week to begin to make decisions on the elements of the fiscal year 2014 supplemental budget. This bill is needed to fund State government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30th. The Committee spent most of this week in private caucuses but did meet publicly to officially vote on various budget initiatives. The Committee is working over the coming weeks to assemble two spending packages, one for the current fiscal year and one for the next fiscal year. Both bills together are expected to fill a roughly $100 million spending gap.

This week, Governor LePage inserted an additional issue into budget deliberations by introducing a bill, LD 1807, to restore $21 million to the State’s “rainy day” fund. The Governor has objected to the Legislature’s recent use of this fund to restore municipal revenue sharing and has stated he will not issue voter-authorized bonds until this fund is replenished. While the Administration was hoping that this issue would be considered on its own, it appears that the Appropriations Committee is prepared to fold the restoration of the “rainy day” fund into its deliberations on supplemental spending to balance the State’s budget for the remainder of the biennium.

March Snowstorm Shuts Down Legislature

Snow Wednesday into Thursday this week resulted in the Legislature shutting down on March 13th. Before the closure, both the House and Senate were scheduled to hold sessions on the morning of the 13th and legislative committees were scheduled to meet. The shut down has delayed committee work and forced the rescheduling of various work sessions and confirmation hearings. Committees were under orders to complete work on all bills by March 14th, but will likely get a reprieve due to the weather. As the session winds down, more time is being spent on the floors of the House and Senate, which will begin holding sessions four days a week beginning next week.