Senate Caucuses and Leadership Set

With all Senate election results confirmed, the Republican Party remains in control with 18 members. The Democrats gained two members bringing their total to 17. The parties have met to nominate their officers and the results for Republican leadership did not change from last year. For the Republicans, Michael Thibodeau of Winterport will continue to serve as Senate President, Garrett Mason of Lisbon as Majority Leader, and Andre Cushing of Hampden as Assistant Majority Leader. For the Democrats, Troy Jackson of Allagash will serve as the Minority Leader and Nate Libby of Lewiston will serve as the Assistant Minority Leader.

House Caucuses and Leadership Also Set

According to the Clerk of the House, the breakdown in the House of Representatives is: 77 Democrats, 72 Republicans and 2 Independents. One recount is still pending in House District 121, where the Democrat is the apparent winner. House Republican Leadership has been nominated and there is no change from last year. Ken Fredette of Newport will serve as Minority Leader and Ellie Espling of New Gloucester as Assistant Minority Leader. House Democrats elected Sara Gideon of Freeport as the new Speaker of the House, Erin Herbig of Belfast as the new Majority Leader, and Jared Golden of Lewiston as the new Assistant Majority Leader.

Cloture Deadline Set for 128th Legislature

The deadline for bills to be submitted for consideration in the 128th Legislature, known as cloture, has been set for December 16, 2016 at 4:00 p.m. Legislators may submit bills at any time up until that deadline, and any bills that are submitted after that date must be reviewed and approved by a majority of the Legislative Council for consideration.

Referendum Recount Requests Submitted

Referendum Question 1 (to legalize and tax marijuana), and Question 2 (to assess a three percent tax surcharge on incomes over $200,000 to fund education), passed by very slim margins. Opponents to these questions have submitted the necessary paperwork to initiate a recount process, which involved circulating petitions to collect a minimum of 100 signatures. As the margin of difference between votes is less than 1.5 percent for both questions, the state will be responsible for the costs associated with the recounts. In cases where the margin of difference is greater than 1.5 percent, the group requesting the recount is responsible for all costs. It is estimated that the recounts could take up to six weeks to complete and may cost the state nearly $500,000.

Governor LePage Hints at Legislative Agenda

The two-year budget proposal will be a top priority for Governor LePage during his last two years in office. We might expect a discussion to cut the income tax, which could be offset in part by another attempt to broaden and increase the sales tax. Possible inclusion in the budget will be a push for more consolidation of the administrations in public schools. The Governor is also likely to continue advocating for reforms of state-managed welfare programs, and policies that reduce Maine’s high energy costs. These two issues have been a priority for him since he took office.

Legislature’s Legislative Agenda/Bipartisan Approach Needed

The Legislature has a robust agenda in the upcoming session even before any legislation has been printed. With the apparent passage of several substantive ballot questions, some with tight margins, the Legislature will likely consider amendments to problematic parts of those soon-to-be-enacted laws. In addition to this effort, legislators will be tasked with reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget, which is expected by January 6, 2017. If past years are any indication, there will be much editing and debate. Given the slim Republican majority in the Senate and the slim Democratic majority in the House, a bipartisan approach to all work completed by the Legislature will likely be necessary.

Tribute to Speaker Mark Eves

Thursday evening, well over 100 well-wishers attended a tribute to Mark Eves, the first Speaker of the House to serve as Speaker for two consecutive terms since the 20-year reign of former Speaker John Martin. The tribute was appropriately tied to a fundraiser for senior housing, one of Speaker Eves’ signature issues. With his extended family in attendance, Speaker Eves was celebrated at the podium by former Speaker Hannah Pingree, Senate President Michael Thibodeau and Dana Totman, President and CEO of Avesta Housing.