Legislature Set to Convene for Special Session on October 23, 2017

Governor LePage has set October 23, 2017 as the date for the start of a Special Session of the Legislature this fall. The Legislature will convene to consider various items, including bills to implement recreational sales of marijuana, amend ranked-choice voting passed at a statewide ballot last fall, and a food sovereignty bill passed last session that is facing challenges from federal regulators. The Governor has also asked the Legislature to take up a funding issue related to the Maine Geographic Information System (MEGIS). MEGIS funding may have been inadvertently cut short in the budgeting process this past session. Finally, the Legislature is empowered to take up any matters at any time, meaning the agenda is always uncertain.

Government Oversight Committee Ranking Member Calls for Investigation into Citizen Referendum Process

Representative Jeff Pierce, the ranking House Republican on the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee (GOC), has written to Beth Ashcroft, Director of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA), asking for information on the citizen-initiated referendum process. In the letter, Representative Pierce argues that the process is “being taken advantage of” by special interest groups. In light of these concerns, Representative Pierce’s letter asks for information on the citizen-initiated referendum process, including the original intent of the law, how many referendum questions have made it on the ballot in the last ten years, and what steps OPEGA would recommend that the Maine Legislature take to ensure that the process is “fulfilling its original intent.” The GOC has already approved an OPEGA investigation into the process around the York County Casino referendum question appearing on the ballot this fall. The GOC will likely review Representative Pierce’s letter to OPEGA at its next meeting on October 18.

Maine People's Alliance Collecting Signatures for Ballot Initiative to Tax High Income Mainers for In-Home Care for Elderly, Disabled

The Maine People’s Alliance has announced that it is seeking to put a citizen-initiated referendum question on the November 2018 ballot. The referendum proposes to establish a “Universal Home Care Trust Fund” to pay for in-home care and living services for individuals over 65 and for disabled Mainers. The Trust would be funded by assessing a payroll tax, paid by employers and employees, of 1.9% of an employee’s salary for employees earning over $107,200 per year, and a 3.8% tax on non-wage income, including dividends and self-employment income, on incomes over the $107,200 per year threshold. Supporters must gather 61,123 valid signatures by January 29, 2018 for the referendum to be placed on the fall 2018 ballot.

Governor LePage Nominates Porteous, Hamilton to Head DAFS, DHHS

This week, Governor Paul LePage formally nominated two of his acting commissioners to serve in their roles permanently. The Governor nominated Alec Porteous to serve as the next Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS), and Ricker Hamilton to serve as the next Commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Mr. Porteous, who previously served as the Chief Financial Officer for the DHHS, has been acting as the head of DAFS since August 2017, following the June resignation of former DAFS Commissioner Richard Rosen. Mr. Hamilton has been serving as the Acting Commissioner of DHHS since earlier this year, when former Commissioner Mary Mayhew resigned to pursue the Governorship in the upcoming 2018 election. Mr. Porteous’ confirmation hearing has been set for October 13, 2017 and Mr. Hamilton’s for October 20, 2017, positioning both nominations to be considered for confirmation by the Senate at the special session convening on October 23, 2017.