by David Carkhuff
Portland Daily Sun news story
The end of a busy and often rancorous legislative session in Augusta prompted both applause and boos from observers as the dust settled.
On Wednesday, the Senate completed its work for the first session of the 126th Legislature, the Senate Democrats noted. Republicans in the Senate called it “the legislative session that never seems to end,” as Democrats held a majority and Republican Gov. Paul LePage issued 83 vetoes, most of them to be upheld by legislators.
Democrats said they fulfilled “commitments to strengthen Maine’s economy and public education system, pass a responsible, balanced budget, and stand up for Maine values.”
“This session, legislators have proven that we can put politics aside and work together for our state,” said Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland in a press release. “From paying back our hospitals to passing a responsible bipartisan budget, we have stood up for Maine values and Maine people.”
The National Federation of Independent Business on Wednesday reacted to the end of the 2013 legislation session “with a mix of disappointment and relief.”
“Our members are very disappointed that the Legislature finished this year without producing significant progress on economic growth,” said NFIB State Director David Clough in a press release. “On the other hand, some of the more aggressive anti-business measures didn’t survive the session. If we were to give them a grade, it would be ‘I’s for Incomplete.”
The Legislature “engaged in bruising fights with Governor LePage” over raising the minimum wage and the cost of workers compensation,” the federation reported, adding that both of these plans “would have hurt small businesses and hampered economic growth.”
“The Governor vetoed those measures, but it is still unsettling for small businesses to see legislators fighting that hard to punish employers when they should be fighting hard for the economy and jobs,” said Clough.
Maine’s economy has lagged the country and it competes with Rhode Island for worst in the region, the federation reported. Very little of what the Legislature did this year will improve the situation, said Clough.
“We have high unemployment, high poverty rates and high numbers of people collecting government assistance,” said Clough. “Those problems aren’t improved by higher taxes and more burdens on businesses, but that was the Legislature’s focus this year.”
The Natural Resources Council of Maine, however, listed several highlights in an assessment of the impact of this session on Maine’s environment.
“Highlights include passage of bills to increase energy efficiency investments, open the St. Croix River for alewives, and create a new paint recycling program,” the group reported in a press release. “Disappointments include the failure to pass bills to protect the environment from mineral mining, extend the state’s energy building code, and to override a veto by the governor of a bill to address the impacts of climate change.”
The Legislature unanimously approved new rules in LD 902 that will phase out toxic bisphenol-A, or BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging. These rules were initiated through a petition signed by 800 Maine moms and citizens concerned about the effects of BPA, the council stated. The governor allowed the rules to go into effect without his signature.
Governor LePage vetoed a bill (LD 825) aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change on communities and economy, the council reported. The bill would have restarted a climate adaptation planning process that was stopped by the LePage Administration two years ago, but the House failed to override the veto by one vote, the council reported.
“The Legislature rescinded $300,000 in public funds authorized last year to conduct a financial feasibility study for a possible 220-mile East-West highway and energy corridor across the middle of Maine, including through important wildlife habitat and conservation lands,” the council added.
“Another big win for Maine’s environment came with passage of the omnibus energy bill (LD 1559), despite the governor’s veto. The House (121-11) and Senate (35-0) overrode the veto, although the governor did extract an additional concession regarding offshore wind power,” the council stated.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, calling itself the “leading national nonprofit organization committed to advancing the public charter school movement,” cheered “a failed attempt by the Maine legislature to override vetoes on a package of bills aimed at weakening one of the nation’s best charter school laws.”
“The package of four bills included legislation that would make charter schools an easy target for future funding cuts and that would require charter schools to comply with more red tape. These bills were aimed at stopping Maine’s fledgling charter school community and all were vetoed by Governor Paul LePage,” the group reported. The Legislature attempted to override his vetoes, but was ultimately unsuccessful. Maine passed a law allowing charter schools to be created in that state in 2011.
Democrats said they fulfilled their commitment to strengthen Maine’s public schools “by rejecting the governor’s proposals to siphon taxpayer dollars to fund private, for-profit, and religious schools, restoring funding to Head Start to improve early childhood education, and creating a path for the state to fund 55 percent of K-12 education per the will of the voters.”
The second session of the 126th Legislature will begin in January.