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April 27, 2015

Happy April!

It may be school vacation week for most, but the 127th Maine Legislature is in full work mode. There are almost 1,400 bills printed and policy committees are working their way through the public hearing process. For a listing of the bills under review, please follow this link: http://legislature.maine.gov/legis/bills/bills_127th/billtexts/

Fiscal Issues
Maine Governor Paul LePage proposed a major restructuring of Maine’s tax system as part of his FY 2016-2017 biennial budget. The plan has been called “bold” and necessary. The full text of the bill can be found here.

This proposal has divided legislators on how to address the policy goals; reduce the income tax and broaden and increase the sales tax. The Taxation Committee split on their recommendations back to the Appropriations Committee. Here is the link for reviewing the report: http://legislature.maine.gov/uploads/originals/tax-report-back-4-7-15-1.pdf

Now with two months left before the statutory adjournment date, Maine Democrats decided to get into the game. They announced their version of a tax reform plan called, “Better Deal for Maine.” The PDF is available here. We are waiting for a printed version of the specific details of the plan. In the interim, the Democrats are hitting the road.

Following the Governor’s lead in taking the issue direct to the voters, Democratic leaders are conducting town hall meetings around the state. Their press statements indicate that in addition to providing tax relief for low- and middle-income earners as opposed to the rich, their proposal is based on the belief that helping Mainers who are already here makes more sense than trying to attract people and businesses to Maine, such as incentives in LePage’s budget seek to do.

Not to let the Democrats steel his thunder on Income tax, earlier this week Governor LePage proposed a constitutional amendment to ensure his goals are achieved and the income tax elimination will be enshrined in the constitution. This bill will be printed soon and scheduled for public hearing. Any constitutional amendment requires a 2/3rds vote of the Legislature before being placed on the ballot for consideration.

LR 1983, “Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Eliminate the Income Tax

Workers Issues
The Minimum Wage issue is quietly working its way to the forefront. This week the Governor introduced LD 1361, An Act to Promote Minimum Wage Consistency. The bill prohibits a municipality or any other subdivision of the State from enacting an ordinance governing minimum wage that an employer must pay. The public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

In addition, there are several worker bill of rights pending before the Labor Research Economic Development & Commerce committee. These bills will amend the laws regarding employment practices at retail operations by restricting the scheduling and wage provisions of the employers. LD 1101 is targeted at retailers with 10 or more employees while LD 1217 is targeted to ANY business with 100 or more employees. Both bills are set for public hearing on April 27.

Beverage Issues
The Veterans and Legal Affairs (VLA) Committee has been very busy with industry issues. Here’s a brief recap:

LD 122, An Act to Standardize Pints of Beer Sold in Maine, is sponsored by Sen. Patrick. The bill requires that if an on-premises retail liquor licensee sells or offers for sale a pint of malt liquor, the container it comes in must have a capacity of at least 16 fluid ounces. The bill passed in the Legislature and was vetoed by the Governor.

LD 1176- An Act to Prohibit the Sale and Possession of Powered Alcohol in the State – Ought to Pass As Amended - unanimous

LD 1197, An Act to Allow (Liquor Licensees) to Donate Alcohol to Nonprofit Organizations – public hearing held on April 15. Final action still pending.

LD 1289, An Act to Allow Retail Liquor Licensees to Sell Alcohol for On-premise and Off-premise Consumption at One Location – Public Hearing held on April 15. Final action still pending.

In addition to VLA, there are several other policy committees that have issues of interest to the industry. These include:

LD 169, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Groundwater Rights. This bill creates an excise tax of 1¢ per gallon on the extraction of groundwater or surface water from springs or other underground sources in this State by a bottled water operator that extracted more than 1,000,000 gallons in the previous calendar year. These bills were killed by the committee vote Ought Not to Pass.

LD 325, An Act to Phase-out the Use of Single-use Plastic Shopping Bags. This bill was amended and now would impose a statewide BAN on plastic carry-out shopping bags at ALL hardware, clothing, candy, book, gift shops, agricultural, neighborhood general stores, pharmacy, electronics, craft shops, farm stands, general merchandise, specialty, grocery, farmers’ markets, convenience, and other stores – thousands of retail establishments and their customers would be impacted.

LD 594, An Act to Allow the Creation of a Local Option Sales Tax by Referendum. This bill allows a municipality to impose a local option sales tax, which may be seasonal, of no more than 1% by local referendum. The work session will be April 27th.

LD 1204, An Act to Increase Recycling and Composting by Creating the Maine Recycling Fund. This bill establishes a fund to assist entities with the processing of recycled materials with the goal to divert these materials from being disposed of in a landfill. The bill phases out beverage containers 32 ounces and larger from the bottle deposit system and requires the manufacturers of these containers to pay a fee in to the newly established fund.

Print the 04/27/15 Legislative Update (PDF)

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