by Jay Field
MPBN radio news story
Republicans in the state Legislature are putting off a plan to do away with the commission that oversees development in Maine’s north woods. Instead, GOP lawmakers are backing the creation of a panel of local and state officials to study abolishing the Land Use Regulation Commission, or LURC, and what would be required to implement such a large, complex change.
At the very least, Republicans and Democrats seem to agree that Senate President Kevin Raye’s proposal to get rid of the regulation commission was introduced too late in the legislative calender. Taking oversight of development in the unorganized territories away from LURC would mean handing most of that responsibility over to individual counties.
It would be a huge change, one that not all counties in the north woods would have the funding or administrative resources right now to support.
“As I promised yesterday, we’d be back on Wednesday with a proposal, which we have in front of us,” said Republican Sen. Roger Sherman, of Houlton, who chairs the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
Sherman echoed concerns of many Democrats on the panel when he said GOP lawmakers needed more time to study the matter too. So he asked Republican leaders to draft an amendment to temporarily take the place of the bill to abolish LURC.
“The gist of it is, there’s going to be a study group to recommend back to the committee a number of defined goals, if you will, recommendations,” Sherman said.
The panel will consist of 13 local and state leaders representing, among other intrerests, regional economic development, tourism, outdoor recreation and environmental and conservation practices. The governor, the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House will appoint virtually all the panel members, a fact that Democratic lawmakers seized on as unfair.
Here’s Senator Elizabeth Schneider of Orono sparing with Sherman
“I’m trying to get a sense of how often we’ve set it up where it could be all proponents on a particular issue coming from–I don’t have any knowledge of that,” said Sen. Elizabeth Schneider of Orono. “I’ve been told that study commissions have been set up this way.”
“I’ve been on them, you’ve been on them, type of stuff. I think–,” Sherman interjected.
“Well, but if you and I ahve been on them, then there are different viewpoints, and so…you’re saying this is normal and I don’t see this as being normal,” Schneider responded.
But Senate President Kevin Raye, the bill’s original sponsor, says he’s confident the panel will come back with solid recommendations about the best way to proceed.
“I respect the desire of those who wanted to have more time to vet, to understand,” Raye said. “I’m not threatened by that, I think it’s something I welcome. And I think that the proposal, to be honest with you, will withstand additional scrutiny.”
Raye says he expects the bill to pass in the next legislative session in 2012.