Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - March 12, 2014
The Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development Committee, as its name suggests, deals with matters related to Maine's business and economic sectors. One bill that they have been tasked with working on this session is LD 1458, "An Act To Enact the Maine Small Business Investment Protection Act," which is sponsored by Representative Erin Herbig of Belfast, the House Chair of that committee. The issue is the rights of franchisees such as Dunkin Donuts, Meineki, Coldwell Bankers, etc with their franchisors that sell them the business model.
The bill was carried over from the first legislative session, and has had four separate work sessions this year. Two different amended versions of the bill were voted on by the committee.
The majority report is supported by a bipartisan group of seven lawmakers. The minority report is supported by a group of five Democratic lawmakers, and is also supported by the Maine Franchise Owners Association (MFOA). That group distributed materials outlining their stance to the members of the Maine House of Representatives last week. The information they provided described that the amended version they support is significantly different from the initial bill proposed by Rep. Herbig.
The minority report version offers what the Maine Franchise Owners Association refers to as five safeguards for: transfer/survivorship, reasonableness and good faith, cancellation/termination, non-renewal unless for good cause, and Maine jurisdiction.
One member of the committee, Representative James Campbell, who is an Independent, chose not to support either amended version and voted 'Ought Not to Pass' on the legislation.
The Maine Franchise Owners Association supports the amendment of the minority report, but another group, the International Franchise Association (IFA) opposes the legislation. The difference, it appears, is that the MFOA is a group run by franchisees, while the IFA is run by franchisors.
Seventeen states currently have some kind of franchisee rights laws, and Maine is one of three states currently considering legislation on such laws, with New Hampshire and Pennsylvania being the other two. The IFA has said that what is included in the proposed legislation for Maine, though, goes well beyond what other states have in place.
In his testimony in front of the committee on the original legislation, the legislative liaison for Maine's Department of Economic and Community Development reiterated that the legislation would make Maine an outlier, and then went on to say two major questions to consider about the legislation are: "Does this bill make Maine more competitive for sustained job growth, improved wages and new revenue? Is it the business of the State of Maine to interfere with the contract of two private entities?" I found those to be interesting guiding questions on how to approach the legislation.
I am unsure when this bill is expected to come to the floor for consideration by all lawmakers, and before voting I plan to do research and speak with my colleagues on the committee to learn more about how the two amendments would affect Maine businesses. And, of course, if you have input on the matter, please be in touch.
(Should you wish to comment on this issue, or any other matter, please contact me at 287-1470 in Augusta or at 897-2489 in Livermore Falls. My e-mail in Augusta is firstname.lastname@example.org and at home it is email@example.com. )
Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - March 5, 2014
Medicaid (MaineCare) expansion continues to be a hotly debated issue at the State House. As we debate the issue, I have found interesting that many of those who would be eligible for MaineCare are currently eligible for private health plans under the federal exchanges which have been set up in each state.
While I do not support the Affordable Care Act (frequently referred to as Obamacare), I do believe it is important to let people know what options are now available through the federal exchanges. The exchanges are currently in place, and by purchasing plans through the exchange, people will not be subject to the whims of state budget debates and budget shortfalls that result in changes to MaineCare coverage. It also important to note that on the federal exchange private plans, unlike MaineCare, consumers are responsible for certain costs, but they are kept very low. I think this is an important distinction as we try to move away from the welfare mentality and get more people back to work.
Someone earning the poverty rate of $11,500/year can purchase coverage for $1.57/month for a plan with a $200 deductible and a $5 copay for primary care visits. A colleague of mine heard from a constituent who earns about $16,000 annually and was able to get a plan for $5/month.
If we can cover folks through the federal exchanges, Maine taxpayers would not be on the hook for an expanded Mainecare system. Maine's Department of Health and Human Services estimated months ago that expansion would cost state government $75 million per year long-term, when the federal matching rate drops to 90 percent in 2020. The legislature's nonpartisan budget office, OFPR, has produced estimates showing that Medicaid expansion would cost over $40 million per year by 2020.
If Maine's historical experience with Medicaid has taught us anything, it's that expansion always costs more than we expect it to. In 2001when we expanded Medicaid coverage, childless adult enrollment was more than double the estimates and had to be capped at 25,000.
That said, Mainers who need coverage should look into the federal exchanges.
If you, or someone you know, is looking for coverage, you can go to http://www.enroll207.com . At this website you will find the Maine Marketplace which, an online insurance store where policies offered by different companies can be offered side by side. You can also call for assistance at: 1-800-965-7476, or contact our local Marketplace "navigators" or "certified application counselors". They provide free in-person assistance to help you review health plan options and sign up for health insurance. In our area they are located in Leeds and Livermore Falls:
HealthReach Community Health Centers Western Maine Family Health
80 Main Street
Livermore Falls, ME 04254
DFD Russell Medical Center Leeds
180 Church Hill Road
Leeds, ME 04263
Estimates from the federal government say that 4,500 Mainers who would be eligible for Medicaid expansion have already signed up for private plans on the exchange. Estimates from Maine's Department of Health and Human Services say that roughly 40,000 of an estimated 70,000 Mainers eligible for expanded Medicaid are already eligible for subsidies on the exchange.
If you think you might be eligible, it is definitely worth looking into. And, please, let your friends and family know, too. There is a viable option to Medicaid expansion in Maine.
(I can be reached at 287-1470 in Augusta or by calling 897-2489 in Livermore Falls. My legislative e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my home address is email@example.com. I welcome your questions or comments. )
Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - February 26, 2014
Charter schools have been an issue debated in the Legislature for much of my time serving in the House. With changes in technology a new aspect of the debate has arisen - that of virtual charter schools. LD 1736, "Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts," came before the Senate last week, but as of this writing the House has not had the opportunity to vote on it. The Senate did not hold a roll call vote in its initial consideration.
Sponsored by Senator Brian Langley of Ellsworth, the legislation proposes, as its title indicates, to create a state-run virtual academy, and would also impose a moratorium on the creation of virtual charter schools. The latter aspect of the bill is what has caused much of the hesitation on the bill in the Legislature. In fact, the chairwoman of the Maine Charter School Commission said she supported the concept of the bill, just not the moratorium. Interestingly, supporters and opponents of the bill within the Legislature cross party lines.
LD 1736 came out of the Education Committee with two different reports - an Ought to Pass as Amended Report onto which twelve members signed, and a second Ought to Pass as Amended Report onto which two members signed.
Supporters of the bill, including a representative from the Maine Education Association, argued that the creation of a state-run virtual academy would provide access for students who need classes that they can't physically attend at their current schools, and would be particularly helpful to Mainers in rural areas. This argument in favor of the study and creation of a state-run virtual academy was also noted positively by some opponents of the bill. It is interesting to see a bill where so many support the concept - expanding the opportunity for virtual charter schools - but oppose another facet of the bill - the moratorium.
The opponents, as I noted before, primarily objected to the moratorium, arguing that the Maine Charter School Commission has already spent two years developing guidelines regarding the creation of virtual charter schools in Maine. Others mentioned that the potential costs of a state-run academy are of concern when private programs are already applying to come into the state, and would be well-vetted by the Maine Charter School Commission to ensure they are up to par for our students.
On the other side of the cost coin, the head of the Maine School Superintendents Association argued that having a state-run school and a moratorium on others would keep any money spent on virtual courses in the state. The possibility of a partnership with New Hampshire's Virtual Learning Academy was also raised by supporters as both a potential cost-saver and a way to quickly implement a program in Maine.
There will likely be a debate on this bill when it comes to the floor of House, which could happen before you read this article. I personally support the charter concept as an alternative to traditional learning but am struggling with the idea of on-line learning without assuring that there would be adequate human interaction between student and teacher. This is an interesting bill to say the least.
(I can be reached at 287-1470 in Augusta or at 897-2489 here in Livermore Falls. My e-mail at the Capitol is firstname.lastname@example.org and my home address is email@example.com. I welcome your questions and comments. )