February 10, 2016
The Second Regular Session began on January 6th. The first action by the Legislature was to move quickly to pass a bill to address the rising opiate epidemic in the State. LD 1537 – An Act to Combat Drug Addiction though Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery. EMERGENCY
The bill was sponsored by a strong bipartisan panel of legislators led by the presiding officers, Senate President Thibodeau and Speaker of the House Mark Eves. This bipartisan effort underscores the severity of the drug crisis in Maine and the ability of legislators to work together to address a significant issue.
The new law provides ongoing funding for 10 investigative agents in the Department of Public Safety, Maine Drug Enforcement Agency; provides grants to local law enforcement agencies and county jails located in geographically diverse communities throughout the state to fund projects designed solely to facilitate pathways to community-based treatment, recovery and support services; provides grants to substance abuse treatment entities through an RFP process; and provides ongoing funding for annual grants to the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs for the funding to increase substance abuse residential treatment and substance abuse outpatient services for the uninsured. The view the law, please follow this link:
State of the State Submitted in Writing to the 127th Legislature
Governor Paul R. LePage delivered his State of the State in written form to all members of the 127th Legislature on Monday, February 8, 2016. In the eight-page State of the State, the Governor details his top priorities and urges the Legislature to work with him so they can move Maine much more quickly from poverty to prosperity. He also calls on lawmakers to focus on the heroin epidemic that is killing Mainers every week.
“As you know, I have chosen to forego the pomp and circumstance of a live speech so we can spend our time and energy on what truly matters: getting work done for the Maine people,” the Governor wrote to the Legislature. “I’ve talked to thousands of Maine people in the past five years. They want us to work to reduce their tax burden, reform welfare so it benefits the truly needy, lower electricity rates so employers can create jobs, find ways to keep our young people here and eradicate the drug crisis that is ravaging our state.”
Land For Maine’s Future – bonds
In late December, Governor Paul LePage agreed to release $5 million in land conservation bonds that were approved by Maine voters in 2012. Until then, the Governor had refused to issue the bonds until legislators approved his plan to increase timber harvesting on state lands and use the funds from the harvesting to pay for low income heating assistance. Legislators would not approve his plan, so the Governor agreed to release the $5 million in bonds that will go to the Land for Maine’s Future program. Another $6.5 million dollars in bonds approved by Maine voters in 2010 expired, but the Governor says he’ll issue those bonds if the Legislature acts to reauthorize them.
On February 3rd, LD 1454, Resolve, Reauthorizing the Balance of the 2009 Bond Issue for Land Conservation Projects, became law without the Governor’s signature. This resolve extends to 5 years the period for issuing the balance of bonds for land conservation purposes that were authorized by voters at a statewide election held in November 2010.
Governor Paul LePage Announces nominations to Judiciary, Turnpike Authority Board of Directors, and Department of Environmental Protection
Governor Paul LePage has announced three judicial nominees for the Maine District Court:
- Cynthia Montgomery, who has served as the Governor’s Chief Counsel since February 2015
- Charles F. Budd Jr. who is a partner at Rudman Winchell and focuses on criminal law and divorce/family law
- Thomas Nale Sr. of Nale & Nale Law Offices of Waterville who specializes in divorce, family matters and litigation
Governor LePage has nominated Michael Cianchette to the Maine Turnpike Board of Directors.
Governor LePage has named Paul E. Mercer as the nominee for Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection. Mr. Mercer currently serves as the Assistant to the President for Sustainability at Maine Maritime Academy.
Citizen Groups Submit Signatures for November Ballot Questions
There are likely to be several citizen initiated referenda on the November ballot this year. In addition to the ranked choice voting question that was certified earlier this year, supporters of a number of issues – marijuana legalization, the development of a casino in York County, a 3% tax on higher income wage earners to support education funding, background checks for certain gun purchases, and a minimum wage raise – all submitted signatures to the Secretary of State’s office by the February 2 deadline to advance the questions on a 2016 statewide ballot. The Secretary’s office will still need to validate the more than 61,000 signatures needed to qualify a question for the fall ballot. At the same time, the state GOP did not submit signatures collected for referendum questions seeking to reduce the state’s income tax rate and reform welfare. Apparently proponents of this petition did not garner enough signatures needed by February 2. The GOP may still advance these questions on a 2017 statewide ballot, using the signatures they’ve collected already combined with any new signatures they get before the 2017 deadline.
The Maine People’s Alliance’s proposed ballot question would raise Maine’s minimum wage from $7.50 per hour to $12 by 2020 and index it thereafter, but that’s too much for business groups that are looking for a way to mitigate the proposed increases.
A group of business interests are taking a look at what the other options are on the issue.
Once a citizen initiative’s signatures are certified by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, the Legislature can either enact the proposed law itself – which is rare – or send it to the ballot. But it also can put forward a “competing measure” on the same subject, putting both questions to voters.
One of the group’s options could be to press the Legislature to put a smaller increase on the ballot in that way, but he said nothing has been decided yet. But, a legislative solution has proven difficult to find: Democrats passed a smaller hike in 2013, but it was vetoed by LePage, and last year, Senate Republicans passed a bill to raise the minimum wage in exchange for loosening some of Maine’s child labor laws, but that alienated Democrats and didn’t go forward.
The Veterans and Legal Affairs committee has been very busy with industry issues.
LD 1466, An Act to Exempt Certain Liquor Sales Representatives from Licensing Requirements received a unanimous vote to amend the bill and define “sales representative” as an employee of a wholesale licensee whose primary duty is soliciting orders from or making sales to retail licensees.
LD 1461, An Act to Allow all Manufactures Licensed by the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations To Provide Samples of Products to Retail Licenses received a unanimous vote to amend the bill to authorize any person licensed as a manufacturer of malt liquor or wine by the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to give a retail licensee samples of malt liquor and wine.
LD 1462, An Act Regarding the Sale of Alcohol by a Manufacturer with an On-premises Retail License was a Majority Ought Not to Pass report. The bill will create an exception for brewery-owned bars to sell their beer to go from the on-premise location. This carve out is not permitted for other retail licensees and will allow beer to go with no quantity limits defined. The local bars and taverns should be very concerned about the unlevel playing field this bill creates. In addition, as there are not enough enforcement and field inspectors in BABLO to oversee the current liquor licensing functions, this will make their burden even greater. We will support the Majority ONTP REPORT.
LD 1511, An Act to Allow Retailers to Return Promotional Alcoholic Beverages to Wholesalers was killed in committee with a unanimous Ought Not to Pass vote. VLA will send a letter to BABLO requesting that they clarify the law going forward and ensure that the rule complies with the federal definitions for “seasonal” product and “overstocked and slow moving products.”
In other policy areas, the Joint Standing Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will hold a public hearing on February 17th for LD 1578, An Act To Update Maine’s Solid Waste Management Laws. The bill updates the State’s recycling goal. Current statute sets a goal of recycling or composting 50% of the municipal solid waste tonnage generated each year within the state by January 1, 2014. This bill extends that goal deadline to January 1, 2021.
It directs the Department of Environmental Protection to amend existing rules or adopt new rules regarding the returnable beverage container law to require a deposit and refund value on beverage containers containing Maine-produced apple cider and Maine-produced blueberry juice. Under the existing statutory and regulatory framework, both of these products are exempt from the returnable beverage container law.
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