Maine Legislative Session in Recess Until April 29
In late night sessions ending at 2:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 16, the 127th Maine Legislature wrapped up most of its work for the Second Regular Session. While the Legislature recessed four days before the statutory adjournment date, it will return on Friday, April 29 to address its unfinished business, including any bills that Governor LePage may have vetoed over the break.
Unfinished Business at the Maine Legislature
Among the unfinished business before the Legislature is a bill that would raise Maine's minimum wage to $10 an hour by 2020. There is a difference of opinion over whether this bill, if passed, would need to go on the ballot this fall as a competing measure to the citizen-initiated referendum that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, or become law. Additionally, the House and Senate could still take up a battery stewardship program that would require certain manufacturers and producers of products with batteries in them to be responsible for ensuring that those batteries are properly recycled. Both bills are currently on the table in the Senate awaiting further action.
Complex Bills Emerge as Laws at End of Session
The Legislature enacted a number of significant bills on complex matters in the last few days of the session including a prescription drug monitoring and dosage limits bill aimed at tackling Maine’s opioid addiction crisis; a new food recovery hierarchy and other amendments to the solid waste laws primarily focusing on recycling and composting; a bill to assist Maine’s struggling biomass industry; an expansion of the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit; and a couple of bond bills for transportation infrastructure and for research and technology that will next go before the voters on the November ballot.
Legislation Currently Awaiting Action by the Governor
Among the bills that have been passed by the Legislature, and that are currently awaiting action by the Governor, are two controversial bills that may give rise to veto battles late next week when the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene. One issue still in question is whether the Governor will sign a bill that would substantially expand the solar power industry in Maine by encouraging the growth of solar power through contract procurement by the PUC. If he vetoes the bill, House Republicans are rumored to be positioned to sustain the veto. The other controversial bill proposes to move $3 million from the general fund to the Maine Clean Election Fund. The amount to be allocated to this Fund was expanded by voters last fall, but the Fund has also been hit by some withdrawals for other purposes. The Governor’s ten days to take action on these and all other enacted bills will expire prior to Friday, April 29, so when the Legislature reconvenes, leadership will know what bills will need to be run through their calendars as vetoed bills.
Governor LePage Continues Town Hall Style Meetings Around the State
Even as the Legislature continued with its business, Governor LePage stepped out from under the dome to make the rounds to Maine cities and towns as part of his Town Hall series. In the last month, the Governor has hosted audiences in Mexico, Madison, Orono, and Biddeford. In addition to taking questions from area residents, the Governor has focused his remarks on reducing the income tax, reforming welfare, cutting energy costs, and tackling student loan debt.
Legislature Funds Wide Range of Key Programs Through Settlement Money
Recently, 19 states, including Maine, were involved in a $1.37 billion legal settlement against Standard & Poor’s over the credit rating agency’s alleged understated risks of the mortgage-backed security investments that triggered the 2008 financial crash. Maine’s share of the settlement was $21.5 million. In the final hours of the Legislature, the state put that settlement money toward funding a number of programs and tax changes including: the elimination of sales tax on fuels used in commercial agriculture, forestry, fishing, and aquaculture operations; a MaineCare cost-of-living adjustment for adult family care homes; appropriations for education funding; the establishment of three new peer centers for substance abuse treatment in Maine, and financial aid assistance programs. The bill also directs $10 million of the settlement to be transferred to the budget stabilization fund.