Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - September 11, 2103
This week I'll return to the discussion of significant committee bills with the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government. One of the bills that the House Chair, Representative Anne Graham of North Yarmouth, suggested was LD 27 - a bill that I sponsored and have already covered in this space. LD 27 was an important bill for House District 81, as it was "An Act To Enable the Town of Livermore Falls To Withdraw from Androscoggin County and Join Franklin County." This piece of legislation did pass and was signed by Governor LePage.
The second bill that Representative Graham suggested I discuss was LD 489, "Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Increase the Lengths of Terms of Members of the Legislature." Sponsored by Representative John Schneck of Bangor, the bill ultimately did not pass, but is an interesting proposition to discuss nonetheless.
Currently, both Representatives and Senators serve two-year terms. Under the proposal by Representative Schneck, the length of the terms would be doubled with an eye towards providing more time between campaign cycles. In his testimony introducing the legislation, Representative Schneck spoke of how times have changed and legislators spend more and more of their time on the campaign end of the work and that this may be reducing the time spent on actually legislating. He also noted that his proposal would cut the amount of money needed to fund the Maine Clean Elections program, as elections would be held every four years instead of two.
After the public hearing and several work sessions, LD 489 was voted out of committee on a 7-5 divided report. Seven members voted in favor of the Ought to Pass as Amended majority report, and five members voted in favor of the Ought Not to Pass minority report. The entire House and Senate also had differing opinions on the bill; the House insisted on accepting the Ought to Pass as Amended report, and the Senate insisted on the Ought Not to Pass report. Because the two bodies were in non-concurrence the legislation died.
This was not the first time such a proposal, or one similar, was brought up in the Maine Legislature, and it was not even the only proposal related to term lengths or term limits during this past session. LD 1158, "Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Increase the Length of Terms of Senators to 4 Years," was sponsored by Representative Amy Volk of Scarborough, and, as you can see from the title sought only to increase the terms of State Senators. If either of these bills had passed, they would have had to go to ballot for the approval of the voters as they seek to amend our state's constitution.
It would not surprise me to see such bills continue to come before the Legislature. Lawmakers have also considered bills addressing the size of the Legislature in recent years, though none of these have passed either. For the time being we will remain at two year terms, with a limit of four consecutive terms in one body of the Legislature, and with a membership of 35 Senators and 151 Representatives.
(Should you have comments or questions, please contact me at email@example.com or visit my website at www.lgaryknight.org. )
Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - October 2, 2013
This will be the last week of reporting the significant committee bills as reported by the chairs of the sixteen standing committees. It will also be my last column for a while as this is a pretty slow time for news from the Legislature as we are not in session this fall. I will prepare a column when I have the results of my constituent survey when that is completed. Of course, if something should come up I believe needs to be written about, I will do so. Or, I invite you to contact me should you wish me to do a column on a particular legislative issue.
The final committee I will discuss is the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. LD 1057, "An Act Related to Public Funding of Charter Schools," is the bill that Representative Bruce McDonald of Boothbay, the House Chair of the Education Committee designated as one of the most significant of the session. LD 1057 was sponsored by Representative Karen Kusiak of Fairfield.
In her testimony introducing the bill, Representative Kusiak discusses problems she believed to be present in the charter school bill that established the presence of charter schools in Maine. The main idea behind the bill, which was amended during the committee process, was that charter schools should be funded using state funds rather than local district funds. The bill also did not allow for state funding of virtual charter schools, with some exceptions. Proponents of the bill, including a superintendent who spoke, mentioned the loss of district funds - particularly for those districts near areas where charter schools are located - to fund those charter schools because of students who attend charter schools rather than the public schools.
Those speaking in opposition to the bill included Commissioner Bowen of the Department of Education, who stated that the components of the bill combined to undermine charter schools financially. The Commissioner, along with others who testified in opposition to the bill, also raised the concern that the way the bill was written would mean charter schools would be subject to de-appropriation or fluctuations in funding during every session of the Legislature as the state budget is debated.
LD 1057 came out of committee on a divided report, 9-5, in favor of the majority 'ought to pass as amended' report. This bill did not become law, though it passed the House and Senate initially. The Governor vetoed LD 1057 and that veto was then sustained by the House of Representatives on an 89-54 vote. I was not present for the veto vote, but did vote against the bill when it came before the House of Representatives initially.
It also may be of interest to you that this was not the only bill related to charter schools that the Education Committee considered this year - not by a long shot. A brief search of bills shows me that at least a dozen bills addressing the subject came before the Legislature during the first session of the 126th. It would not surprise me to see more come before lawmakers in the second session.
One last note before I sign off for the autumn - you might have noticed I did not cover the Energy, Utilities, and Technology Committee in my significant bills discussions. This is because the bill recommended to me was the so-called 'omnibus energy bill' which I had written of earlier this year.
I hope you all have a great autumn and enjoy the holidays! January will be here before we know it, and as soon as the Legislature gets back to work I'll be back at it writing these columns to help keep you informed.
(Should you have questions or comments or would like to reach me this fall please call my home at 897-2489 or e-mail be at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also invite you to visit my website at www.lgaryknight.org. )
Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - September 25, 2013
Before I continue with my discussion of committee bills, I wanted to be sure to mention the fact that last week Maine's hospitals were paid back the debt owed them by the state of Maine. Thirty-nine hospitals from Aroostook County to York received on Wednesday a total of $490,200,000 for MaineCare services dating back to 2009.These payments were the culmination of months of work and negotiations at the State House that ultimately resulted in the passage of LD 1555, "An Act To Strengthen Maine's Hospitals and To Provide for a New Spirits Contract."
Now, on to this week's discussion of significant committee bills from the perspective of the House Chair. Representative Mark Dion of Portland is the House Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety. He suggested several bills to me as the most significant ones from that committee during the past session, though I'll only go into detail about one - LD 1260 "An Act To Allow Ignition Interlock Devices on Vehicles Operated by First-time Offenders of Operating Under the Influence," sponsored by Representative Bob Nutting of Oakland.
This legislation changes Maine's OUI laws to allow a first-time offender to drive again after a 30-day license suspension if they have an ignition interlock device installed in their car. An ignition interlock device is wired into the car and drivers blow into it to measure their blood alcohol level. If the driver's blood alcohol level is above the legal limit of .08, the car will not start. Certain fees and charges are associated with the installation of the device, to be paid by the offender, and some adjustments are made for income levels. The law, which also increases the length of license suspension for drivers who choose not to use ignition interlock devices, goes into effect on December 1, 2013.
The provisions noted above are different from those included in the initial bill, as the legislation that appeared before the House and Senate included a committee amendment. LD 1260 was voted out of committee unanimously on an 'Ought to Pass as Amended' report, and then passed both the House and Senate unanimously before being signed by Governor LePage.
In his testimony introducing the legislation Representative Nutting spoke of how the increased presence of ignition interlock devices serves as a deterrent to people who may otherwise drive drunk, thus reducing the level of recidivism and increasing the safety of our roads. Others who testified at the hearing made reference to how these devices are a good idea for people whose jobs would be compromised by a lengthy license suspension - an issue that is of particular concern in a state like Maine where many folks must drive long distances to get to their jobs. These devices allow folks to drive legally, as their license would not be suspended, to do so safely, as they must use the device to drive, and to avoid further penalties while still being able to drive to their jobs. In his note to me about the significant bills of his committee Representative Dion noted that he believed this is a "very good" bill, and I am inclined to agree.
That comment is why I chose to describe LD 1260 in depth, but Representative Dion did take the time to mention other bills considered by his committee, including one that banned the sale or possession of synthetic marijuana, another that sustained the law allowing concealed carry permittees to bring their guns to work, and a bill that was vetoed that proposed allowing a prosecutor to excuse an addict who called for help for another person's overdose.
(I can be reached at email@example.com should you have questions or comments. I also invite you to visit my website at www.lgaryknight.org. )