ABC enjoyed a good 1st Regular Session of the 128th Maine State Legislature. By keeping a strong presence at the Statehouse and encouraging members to engage in the issues, our relationships in the House, Senate and Administration continued to grow and our reputation as the go-to construction trade association expanded significantly with our work on the “Keep Maine Competitive” business coalition to repeal the impacts of ballot question 2. Needless to say, ABC Maine continues to have great standing in the legislative and political arena. Below is a recap of the session.
Just another 1st Regular Session of the Maine State Legislature; NOT!
When this session began early last January, all indications were that it would be routine, predictable. No doubt some fireworks to make it interesting, but, nothing too crazy. As usual a ton of bills were submitted, with titles and language covering the typical spectrum of topics. Sure, there were some more bizarre than you might normally see, but, all-in-all, everything seemed par for the course. A couple of major exceptions to this were the two previous fall ballot questions (minimum wage & tip credit and the tax on income over 200K) that were slated to face major controversy in the planned legislative challenges to overturn them. And, of course, the Solar issue was on the agenda “again”. As the session went on, nothing proved routine or predictable and by the closing days things started to get downright ugly in the halls of the Capitol. Probably the worst it has been in many years.
A sample of the Bills of Specific Interest to ABC Members:
LD 306, An Act to Require State Compliance with Federal REAL ID Guidelines- Public Law 2017, Chapter 27: This new law authorizes the Secretary of State to issue, at the request of the applicant, a driver’s license which is compliant with federal REAL ID guidelines, and which may make use of facial-recognition technology. The law further authorizes the Secretary of State to issue identification cards which are compliant with federal REAL ID guidelines for those individuals who do not possess a driver’s license. Finally, it makes certain modifications to the fee schedule for new licenses issued pursuant to the federal REAL ID guidelines. The law will bring Maine into compliance with federal REAL ID requirements, which the Department of Homeland Security will begin enforcing, in stages, in July 2017. Maine has sought a waiver from certain deadlines related to compliance with federal REAL ID guidelines as the implementation of the new licenses and identification cards is expected to take some time.
LD 37, An Act To Provide a Career and Technical Education Training Option for Plumbers-Public Law 2017, Chapter 4: This law allows the Plumbers’ Examining Board to issue a journeyman-in-training license to a person who provides the board with satisfactory evidence of completion of a plumbing course at a career and technical education program as a secondary student consisting of one year or two semesters.
LD 445, An Act To Encourage Maine Consumers To Comparison-shop for Certain Health Care Procedures and To Lower Health Care Costs-Public Law 2017, Chapter 232: This law requires all carriers that offer health plans in the state of Maine, to provide a shared savings incentive program for all health plans, beginning January 1, 2018. The exceptions to this are health plans offered through the federal Affordable Care Act. The shared savings incentive program is for health plan participants who choose to receive a comparable health care service that costs less than the average price paid for that service by a carrier.
Participants may use the shared savings incentive for a health care service in the following categories: physical and occupational therapy services; obstetrical and gynecological services; radiology and imaging services; laboratory services; infusion therapy services; inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures; and outpatient, nonsurgical diagnostic tests and procedures. If a participant shops for services, the law requires a carrier to pay that participant a payment of at least 50% of the difference between the average amount for that comparable health care service and the amount paid for any savings over $50. Carriers are to establish their own methodology for calculating the average price paid. The law also requires all carriers to provide information to the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation, Bureau of Insurance on an annual basis relating to the payments made to participants, the health care services for which payments are provided and the saved costs. The Superintendent of Insurance is required to report aggregate information from all carriers to the Legislature on an annual basis. This bill also requires providers to notify patients of their right to shop for certain health care services.
LD 1382, An Act To Require Responsible Contracting on Public Construction Projects-Died in Non-Concurrence: This bill, sponsored by Representative Benjamin Collings of Portland died in non-concurrence between the House and Senate. The Maine House of Representative passed the Minority Ought to Pass as Amended report and the Maine Senate passed the Ought Not to Pass report. Associated Builders of Maine, Associated General Contractors of Maine and the Maine Department of Administrative and Financial Services opposed this piece of legislation. The bill would have created a new process for certification of a responsible contractor which would require additional state resources and many of the certification conditions are already requirements of bidding. This bill would have changed the public bidding process eliminating the filed bid process. Under contract award and public review, it would also prevent a project from issuing a contract until 21 days after bid award assuming a challenge hasn’t been presented.
LD 1403, An Act Regarding Drug Testing in the Transportation Sector-Dead: This bill, sponsored by Senator Troy Jackson of Aroostook County is dead. Both the Maine Senate and the Maine House of Representative passed the Majority Ought Not to Pass report. Associated Builders of Maine, Associated General Contractors of Maine, the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Department of Labor opposed this piece of legislation. This bill would require all flaggers, including those who are privately employed, at state funded or federally funded highway construction sites on public ways to have substance abuse testing, which may be based on probable cause or random. This bill singled out the construction industry over other crafts and trades, didn’t include pre-employment screening and would have required a large amount of funding from the State.
LD 1564, An Act To Conform State Law to Federal Law While Promoting Safe Working Environments for Minors-Public Law 2017, Chapter 286: This law amends current laws relating to minors 14 and 15 years of age to allow them to work in bowling alleys and movie theaters and to clarify their employment in bakeries and hotels. It moves the occupational restrictions for minors 16 and 17 years of age to the restrictions for minors 14 and 15 years of age. The law adds establishments that cultivate, produce or sell marijuana or products in which marijuana is an ingredient and recreational marijuana social clubs to the list of employment and occupations not suitable for minors. This law authorizes the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Standards to revoke a work permit. This law clarifies that graduates of vocational programs who are under 18 years of age can work in the occupations for which they were trained. This law was enacted as emergency legislation without the Governor’s signature and took effect on July 9, 2017.
The 2017-2018 Biennium Budget
LD 390, An Act Making Unified Appropriations and Allocations for the Expenditures of State Government, General Fund and Other Funds and Changing Certain Provisions of the Law Necessary to the Proper Operations of State Government for the Fiscal Years Ending June 30, 2018 and June 30, 2019 – Public Law 2017, Chapter 284:
Early in the morning on the Fourth of July, the Maine Legislature enacted a new biennial budget with the Governor’s signature to end a four-day-long shutdown, and with it repealed the contentious 3% tax on incomes over $200,000 that would have crippled Maine’s small business community as well as stand in the way of economic progress.
The shutdown began Friday, June 30th at midnight, when 60 House Republicans refused to support a compromise budget agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democrats in both chambers. For three days, House Republicans and Governor Paul LePage put forwarded a list of requests that the budget would need to incorporate for both to support.
Republicans and Democrats have both said that they don’t believe this budget is perfect, but agree that with divided government, they were never going to get a budget everyone loved, but a budget everyone could live with.
The final budget, a $7.1 billion compromise budget, allocates an additional $162 million to Maine’s K-12 public education system over the next two years, compared to the previous biennium. Fifty percent of this additional education funding must be dedicated to local property tax reduction.
Democrats and Republicans agreed to eliminate a 1.5 percent increase in the lodging tax and add $1.15 million in new Head Start funding, as well as budget language to prevent further cuts to support services for children and adults with severe and persistent mental illness. The budget also transfers an additional $3 million into the Maine Clean Elections Fund in 2018, guaranteeing that legislative and gubernatorial candidates will have access to public campaign financing.
The budget also includes back pay for all essential and non-essential State employees impacted by the state government shut down, and:
- Provides operational funding for the University of Maine, keeping tuition affordable and higher education accessible
- Funds the Maine Community College Systems Strategic Workforce Initiative at $10 million
- Rejects damaging cuts to Public Health Nurses and Maine Care
- Doubles the number of hours for Mainers who can receive services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities
- Education reforms to put more resources into the classroom, particularly in rural Maine
- Property tax relief measures, including the restoration of the Homestead Exemption for all home owners
- Additional resources to serve Maine residents with disabilities
Here’s a look at some of the most high-profile issues of session:
- The 3% Tax Surcharge is Repealed: Maine’s 3% tax surcharge on household incomes over $200,000 has been repealed in the final budget that was enacted by the House and Senate and signed into law by the Governor in the wee morning hours of July 4. The surcharge repeal is effective as of January 1, 2017. Thus, ends an 18 or more month saga that began when a petition was circulated for signatures on a citizen’s initiative proposing to impose the surcharge and designate that additional revenue to education funding. The petition was narrowly enacted by the voters at the ballot box last fall, and when the legislature convened in January, a legislative effort was launched to undo the surcharge. Many legislators and lobbyists engaged in the strategy design and lobbying efforts to voice the travesties of the surcharge. The defeat of the surcharge was a true team effort, and all efforts made were needed to accomplish the outcome.
- The Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee Hard at Work to Pave Road for Retail Sales: The Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation met twice the week of July 11th and is working hard to design an implementation plan for the retail sales of marijuana in Maine. The Committee, which was established in the wake of the Fall 2015 referendum question on marijuana, has been meeting throughout the legislative session, but is now meeting even more frequently to try to hammer out answers to lingering questions about marijuana legalization including how it will be taxed, how it will be tested, who will be able to sell it, and what products will be authorized by the state. Committee co-chair Senator Roger Katz said to Maine Public this week that Maine could have marijuana retail sales set up by next summer, but added that could be an ambitious timeline. The Committee hopes to have a bill to introduce to the Legislature in the Second Regular Session commencing in January, 2018, which would put the framework in place for retail sales. Currently, retail sales are prohibited until February 2018, but the Committee could extend that date.
- Mining Regulations: The passage of L.D. 820 ends a several-year battle over mining regulations that began when a Canadian company sought to loosen Maine’s overly restrictive rules to mine valuable minerals below Aroostook County’s Bald Mountain. It does many things, including banning so-called open-pit mining and other mining operations on public lands and prohibiting underwater storage of mine waste. It also requires mining companies to create a trust fund large enough to cover the costs of cleaning up or treating any environmental contamination on a site for at least 100 years after closure of the mine. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill but it was overridden.
- Gorham-Turnpike Connector: This bill set in motion the planning and permitting process to build a 5-mile toll road connecting Gorham to the Maine Turnpike in Scarborough as a way to reduce traffic congestion in those communities. Governor LePage vetoed the bill, L.D. 905, and later proposed abolishing the Maine Turnpike Authority, but his veto was overridden.
- Minimum Wage: Last November, voters approved a referendum to raise the state’s minimum wage gradually to $12 by 2020. Some critics, though, worried about the elimination of the tip credit, which exempted employers, mostly restaurants and bars, from paying tipped workers the minimum wage. This bill, L.D. 673, restores the tip credit and allows employers to pay tipped employees half the state’s minimum wage. It was seen as a compromise for Democrats, who supported the wage increase, and Republicans, who had concerns about what it might mean for certain businesses.
- Ranked-Choice Voting: Last November, Maine voters approved a referendum allowing ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. Several bills and amendments were drafted in the 128th to either undo that law or make changes advised by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which found the parts of the law that applied to races for the governor’s office and Legislature were unconstitutional. Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner. A House bill would have left ranked-choice voting in state primary elections and those for Maine’s congressional seats, but not for legislative and gubernatorial races unless the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to allow ranked-choice voting and voters ratified it. The Senate version, which had Republican and Democratic support, would have repealed the ballot law completely. Legislative Council met on Wednesday, July 19 and voted to make one final effort in the closing days of the legislative session to act on a citizen-backed ballot law that gives Maine a first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting system. The bill, sponsored by Representative Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth, would allow ranked-choice voting for party primaries and Maine’s congressional seats. But it would set aside the part of the law, which was supported by 51 percent of the voters in November, which calls for ranked-choice voting in general elections for the Legislature and the governor’s office.
- Commission votes to let sales of ‘nips’ continue: The State Liquor and Lottery Commission voted 4-1 on Tuesday to reject a proposal by the LePage administration to discontinue the sale of 50-milliliter liquor bottles commonly known as nips. The commissioners, all appointed by Gov. LePage, were considering the request to take the small bottles of hard alcohol off the shelves after the administration argued that the increasing number of nips found in roadside litter indicates that more people are drinking and driving. LePage was trying to follow through on his threat to delist the 50-milliliter bottles after the Legislature overrode his veto of a bill that aims to combat roadside litter by adding a 5-cent deposit on nips. On the line were an estimated 31 jobs at the Lewiston-based bottler Boston Brands, the division of the Sazerac Co. that produces nips in Maine. The commission voted against the recommendation by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations after hearing testimony from about a dozen witnesses Tuesday.
The 128th Legislature First Regular Session Has One Legislative Day Left
The Legislature reconvened on Thursday, July 20 to take up unfinished business, to address the bills just voted off the Special Appropriations Table, bond bills approved by the Appropriations and Financial. The Legislature did not complete their work on the 20th and it’s anticipated that the Governor may veto some of the bills that the Legislature voted on the 20th. In order to have an opportunity to override those vetoes, the Legislature will meet again for so-called veto day at least ten days after the 20th. There is only one legislative day left for all business to be concluded, on the so-called “veto day” the Legislature will adjourn sine die, the final motion to adjourn the First Regular Session of the 128th Legislature.
On Monday, July 17, the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee held public hearings on 12 of the 37 pending bond bills. Bond bills are those bills that would send a question to the voters in in a statewide election asking if they support a state-issued bond to pay for certain initiatives. The Appropriations Committee moved on three of the 37 bond bills, and voted to carry the rest over, regardless of whether they received a public hearing. The carry-over of the rest of the bills was approved 7-4 with the House Republicans opposed. Senator Hamper and Representative Jorgensen were not present.
The bonds that were approved are:
- LD 1552-An Act to Authorize Multiple General Fund Bond Issues to Improve Highways, Bridges, and Multimodal Facilities. The bond would be in the amount of $100 million, providing money for a variety of transportation and infrastructure projects. This includes a $20 million provision to support the three-year plan that the Department of Transportation has for multimodal projects, including the project at the International Marine Terminal and other ports along the coast. The bond money would also match federal and other funds amounting to a total of $137 million. This bill was passed to be enacted by the Legislature on July 20, 2017 and will now go to the Governor for his signature.
- LD 1613- An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Assist in the Commercialization of Maine’s Products and Services. The bond would be in the amount of $55 million and would be used to accelerate growth and capital investment in businesses in the State. $5 million would be earmarked for biomedical research. This bond was passed to be engrossed in the Senate and tabled in the House on July 20, 2017. The House of Representatives will vote on enactment of LD 1613 when they return for “Veto Day.”
- LD 1163- An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue to Provide Funding for a Program of Student Debt Cancellation and Refinancing. The bond would be in the amount of $40 million and would be used to fund student debt cancellation and refinancing. This bond was passed to be engrossed in the Senate and tabled in the House on July 20, 2017. The House of Representatives will vote on enactment of LD 1613 when they return for “Veto Day.”
And finally the Race is on:
As the Legislature winds down its business, the race for the Governor’s office is heating up. Attorney General Janet Mills announced her candidacy in early July. Mills has been an outspoken opponent of Governor LePage’s policies. Additionally, on Thursday, July 14, former Speaker of the House Mark Eves declared his candidacy. Most recently, former Democratic State Senator Jim Boyle announced his candidacy for Governor. They join the race for the Democratic nomination with businessman and veteran Adam Cote, liberal activist Betsy Sweet, and military retiree Patrick Eisenhart, who have already declared their candidacies. On the Republican side, former Commissioner of Health and Human Services Mary Mayhew has announced she will be running, along with Deril Stubenrod, who was the first to declare in February. Additionally, Libertarian Richard Light has entered the field as an independent candidate. Late last week, former Senate President Justin Alfond announced that he would not seek the office at this time. Even as the field shapes up, all eyes continue to be on Senator Susan Collins, who has expressed interest in a possible run for Governor. We also hear rumors that Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is exploring the possibility as well. Clearly, voters will have no shortage of choices in this race.
A huge thank you to ABC’s Government Affairs Committee for their tireless efforts during the 1st session.
Brad Stout, Coutts Bros.
Bruce Metrick, CIANBRO
Chris Rugullies, Camden National Bank
James McBrady, James A. McBrady, Inc
Joel Cummings, Auburn Concrete
John Gendron, Gendron & Gendron
Larry Grondin, R.J. Grondin & Sons
Mike O’Brien, The Rowley Agency
Stacey Morrison, Ganneston Construction Corp
Tawny Brown, Concentra
Tim Walton, Walton External Affairs
Tony Payne, Clark Insurance
Tony Reny, DeBlois Electric