Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - April 24, 2104
REPORT FROM THE LEGISLATURE - Representative Gary Knight
Last week the Legislature wrapped up its work for the 126th Legislature, with the exception of what is expected to be one day at the beginning of May to deal primarily with any vetoes issued between now and then. Per usual, the work was wrapped up late, or should I say early, at about 1:00 AM on Friday, April 18th.
During the day and evening we worked on several issues, though there was little debate. Primarily we dealt with the remaining bills and bonds. Those can take up quite a bit of time even without debate, as roll calls are taken and members are coming and going from the chamber. Another reason late nights happen at the State House is that within the legislative process we have to wait for certain documents to go back and forth between the House and Senate. Earlier in the year it is often possible to stagger legislation so that what the Senate does one day, the House deals with the next, but as we get to the end of the session certain things just need to get done, so lawmakers stick around and wait for paper to move so that we can vote.
One of the few bills to have any debate during last week's marathon day was yet another Medicaid Expansion bill - this one sponsored by the Speaker of the House, Mark Eves. As I have already offered my explanation on where I stand in regards to the issue in this space, I will not rehash it, but will tell you I again voted in opposition to expansion. It is simply a bad idea for our state which already faces constant shortfalls at the Department of Health and Human Services. The bill passed the House and Senate, 94-51 and 19-14, respectively. It is expected that this bill will be vetoed as happened with the previous Medicaid expansion bills lawmakers have considered. It will probably be one of the items on our agenda in May. The Governor has ten days from the enactment of a bill to veto that bill, otherwise it goes into law without his signature.
There were also six bond bills we voted on during the long day last week. One, LD 1827, puts forth $12 million in bonds to fund small business initiatives. Another, LD 1886, puts forth $8 million for funding for the UMaine Cooperative Extension and its agricultural facilities and programs. LD 1756 proposes $10 million for a biometric research facility, LD 1709 proposes $7 million for marine economy investment, and LD 1223 proposes $3 million for a Mount Desert Island Lab. Finally, LD 1455 was the 'water bond' which put forth about $10 million combined for a variety of water-related issues such as culverts, irrigation, drinking water, and wetland restoration funds.
Because the vote on the bonds is to send them to statewide ballot, they require a 2/3 majority vote in favor to pass. All of the bonds did pass both bodies of the Legislature with the necessary 2/3 majority and will now go to the Governor. With his approval, the six bonds will be on the ballot in November for voters to consider.
I do not know what bills the Governor is expected to veto in the coming days, but as we approach our next (and likely final) meeting of the 126th Legislature I will keep you updated.
(Now that the Legislature is adjourned you can reach me at home by calling 897-2489 or by e-mailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your comments or questions on the above or on any matter of interest or importance to you. )
Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - April 16, 2014
Lawmakers are beginning to wrap up their work for the second session of the 126th Maine State Legislature. As of this writing there are still a few major issues out there to be dealt with including a supplemental budget and remaining votes on Medicaid expansion. However, many issues have been dispensed with, whether by passage into law or by rejection.
One piece of legislation that was rejected this session is LD 511, "An Act To Implement the National Popular Vote for President." The bill was sponsored by Senator Richard Woodbury, an unenrolled member of the Senate representing communities of Cumberland County. The legislation would adopt the interstate compact that is the agreement among the states to elect the President of the United States by national popular vote. Under the compact and the bill, the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will win the presidency. Under this bill, all of the state's electoral votes would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Maine currently has four electoral votes - the same number as we have people in our federal congressional delegation.
If it had been passed, the bill would not have gone into effect until the same was enacted by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes, that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President, which is 270 of 538. At this point, 12 states and the District of Columbia have enacted it, totaling 132 electoral votes of the 270 needed.
At the public hearing, no one testified in opposition to the bill, however as far as I can tell only 5 people (including the sponsor) testified in favor of it. The Committee voted it out on a divided report, with a bipartisan majority voting it as 'Ought Not to Pass.'
Supporters of the bill argued that instituting the national popular vote will mean that we will no longer have swing states, and that each person's vote will count equally, as the President will simply be the person with the most votes.
Opponents argued that this bill would make Maine less palatable to campaigning candidates, as simply visiting states with large population centers - New York, California, Texas, etc. could earn them the votes to triumph in a popular vote situation. The way Maine has its electoral votes currently allotted, 1 could go to the winner of a specific congressional district, meaning that in a close race, there is a reason for candidates to visit more rural areas that they may not otherwise have to. Additionally, the argument was made that the United States Constitution sets up the Electoral College system, and to change that, the Constitution should be amended.
I voted in opposition to the bill, which died on a 17-17 vote in the Senate and a 60-85 vote in the House of Representatives. The Founding Fathers established the Electoral College as a way to balance the interests of larger and smaller states. An end run around the Constitution, that I believe would ultimately hurt Maine, is not something the Maine State Legislature should pass into law.
(I can be reached at 287-1470 in Augusta or at 897-2489 in Livermore Falls. My e-mails respectively are email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. I welcome your questions or comments. )
Report From the House - Representative Gary Knight - April 9, 2014
One of the hot topics around the State House is welfare reform. Four bills were introduced in front of the Health and Human Services recently. Each was a Governor's bill and each was introduced by a different member of the House of Representatives. During the second session, the Governor can introduce bills at any time, but a member of the legislature must actually sponsor it. The welfare reform bills brought forward by the Governor are:
LD 1820, "An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers", was sponsored by Rep. Allan Nadeau (R-Fort Kent). This bill would prohibit the use of cash welfare benefits out of state.
LD 1822, "An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures", was sponsored by Rep. Sharri MacDonald (R-Old Orchard Beach). This bill would make it illegal to purchase tobacco, alcohol, lottery tickets, or post bail with welfare cash.
LD 1842, "An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program", was sponsored by Rep. James Gillway (R-Searsport). This bill would eliminate exceptions to the TANF work search requirement.
LD 1815, "An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program," was sponsored by Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport)
The bills were all voted down or changed significantly during the Health and Human Services work sessions, and the votes to do so were along party lines. When the House of Representatives debated the measures last week, the debate was long and heated, with members of both parties introducing amendments. One amendment, introduced by Rep. Ken Fredette, sought to bridge the gap between the two parties, by incorporating an idea from Democratic Rep. Matthew Peterson to add smoke shops to the list of vendors prohibited from accepting welfare funds and also by maintaining funding for the Parents as Scholars program, which would have been eliminated by the original bill to reduce TANF work search exceptions. This compromise amendment came within just six votes of passing.
The four bills listed above were ultimately all rejected along party lines after about 3 hours of debate on the floor, but will have further votes in the House and the Senate.
I voted in favor of the four bills, as I do believe Maine is not only on an unsustainable path with welfare spending, but also because it is simply not right for hard-earned taxpayer dollars to be used for leisure purchases such as alcohol and tobacco when there are vulnerable folks in this state who truly need the help. Mainers work hard for their money, and Mainers are extremely generous, but in talking to constituents it seems to me that many folks feel taken advantage of.
We need reform, and I for one, am hoping that on this, and other issues, partisan rancor does not get in the way of necessary change and good policy.
(I can be reached at 287-1470 in Augusta or by e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are in triple sessions the balance of this year so you will not reach me at home. )