June 27, 2011

New laws passed by Legislature

By Tom Bell tbell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

and Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Regulatory reform

A keystone measure for this session was L.D. 1, sponsored by House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland, and Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry. The wide-ranging bill was the product of a Republican campaign promise to make Maine more business-friendly.

After some proposals by Gov. Paul LePage drew public opposition, a bipartisan group of lawmakers crafted a package of reforms that passed unanimously in the Senate and with just three dissenting votes in the House. The bill was signed into law by LePage on June 13.

Among other things, it will provide more support for small businesses that must negotiate state regulations, loosen environmental rules to allow beneficial reuse of hazardous materials, and offer incentives for companies to self-report environmental violations.

It also will create an advocate to assist small-business people who feel they have been treated inappropriately by any state agency.

Turnpike authority overhaul 

Lawmakers approved measures to restructure the quasi-governmental Maine Turnpike Authority.

In January, the Legislature’s accountability office issued a report on the turnpike authority that uncovered lavish spending for travel and nearly $200,000 for gift cards that couldn’t be documented.

The findings led to the resignation the turnpike authority’s longtime director, Paul Violette, in March.

The changes:

• Make the turnpike authority’s executive director subject to confirmation by the Senate.

• Allow members of the board of directors to be removed for gross misconduct. Board members’ terms were reduced from seven years to six.

• Require the authority to submit detailed budgets of all spending.    

• Require the authority to transfer 5 percent of its annual operating revenue to the Maine Department of Transportation for projects of mutual benefit, such as interchanges and bridges near the turnpike.

• Require the authority to maintain a system for internal financial and compliance audits.

• Require that most contracts and services be awarded through competitive bidding.

Gambling bills bound for polls

It appears that voters will have the final word in November on two proposals to expand gambling in Maine.

Lawmakers considered two bills that were initiated by petition drives, one to allow a casino in Lewiston and the other to allow slot machines at harness racetracks in Biddeford and in Washington County.

Under the Constitution, the Legislature had to adopt the proposals as written or send them to voters.

Lawmakers have already decided to put the Lewiston proposal on the ballot.

Although the House and Senate have given initial approval to the bill to allow racinos in Biddeford and Washington County, LePage has said he will veto it because he believes voters should decide the issue.

The Legislature is expected to take final action this week.

Future of LURC

A Republican-backed effort to abolish the state commission that regulates development in Maine’s unorganized territories lacked enough support to win passage, but the political battle will resume next year.

The Legislature established a group to study the Land Use Regulation Commission and report back to lawmakers in January.

Republicans say that LURC has become an obstacle to economic development, and that land use planning should be done at the county level to give residents more input.

Democrats say they want to reform LURC, but they opposed the bill that established the study group, arguing that it is packed with people who are determined to abolish LURC.

Informed Growth Act

Passed four years ago to protect Maine’s downtown business districts, the Informed Growth Act allows communities to examine the hidden costs of big-box retail development. The Legislature didn’t eliminate the law, but made it effective only in communities that vote to use it.

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