Thursday, March 6, 2014
By Alanna Durkin
The Associated Press
AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers whose bills were rejected last month will have one more shot this week to convince legislative leaders that their measures merit consideration when they meet again in January.
The Legislative Council, a bipartisan panel of House and Senate floor leaders and presiding officers that decides what bills are heard next session, approved about 100 out of 400 measures when it met last month. On Thursday, lawmakers whose bills were denied get to appeal that decision.
Among the roughly 100 measures to be appealed include several seeking to amend the $6.3 billion state budget. They range from bills that have already received much attention, such as one that would vacate prostitution sentences for human-trafficking victims, to under-the-radar measures, such as one designed to provide property tax relief for seniors.
Democratic Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston, co-chair of the state’s budget-writing committee, is backing a measure that would undo last session’s $75 million cut to revenue sharing. A similar bill, introduced last session by Assistant Senate Republican Leader Roger Katz of Augusta, could also be heard next year.
Republican Gov. Paul LePage initially proposed to suspended revenue sharing, or about $200 million, in the current budget. Democrats pushed to restore about 60 percent of it, but say cities and towns are still hurting from the cuts that have resulted in higher property taxes for homeowners.
“There’s still a chunk that hasn’t been restored,” Rotundo said Wednesday. “The restoration of this property tax help is critical to Maine families and it’s critical that it be brought forward.”
Funding details would be worked out in committee, she said. Bills are written after they’re given the go-ahead by the Legislative Council.
The short second session is typically reserved for emergency or time-sensitive matters, but that’s widely interpreted. Among the bills being considered Thursday is one that would prohibit the distribution of live animals as prizes.
The Democratic-controlled panel is expected to advance relatively few measures. But House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport said he hopes it gives fair consideration to Republican bills. About 80 percent of the bills approved last month were introduced by Democrats, he said.
“It seems to be disingenuous to the process to say that one party ... is ultimately the arbiter of whose good ideas are going to be heard,” he said.
Democrats have been widely criticized for throwing out Republican Rep. Amy Volk of Scarborough’s bill for human-trafficking victims. With political pressure mounting from the right, Democrats said they supported the bill’s merits and encouraged her to appeal the decision.
Fredette will appeal a number of bills, including a measure that would require some welfare recipients to prove they’ve applied for at least three jobs before getting benefits. Its acceptance is unlikely because Democrats oppose the bill, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make its way into a hearing next session.
Lawmakers have the option of getting the governor’s office to introduce a bill on their behalf. Fredette said he’s already talked to LePage about the welfare bill and can “almost guarantee” that it will be introduced as a governor’s bill.