Legislative deja vu all over again



Bill titles are finally beginning to appear on the state legislature’s website. The text for many of those bills is also available, but even just from the titles, it is clear that we will be working with the full complement of frequent fliers, non-starters and just plain time-wasters.

There were 200 titles listed as of last weekend, out of an anticipated 1,500 or so for the session. They range from the impish (eliminating retirement benefits and paid health insurance for legislators) to the DOA (banning United Nations Agenda 21) to the quixotic (banning synthetic plastic microbeads in products meant to be “rubbed, poured, sprinkled or sprayed” on one’s person).

Legislators are keen on naming things, including two bridges, an I-95 rest area and a section of I-295. Telling departments what to do is quite common. So far, legislators would direct the Department of Transportation to remove one route option, apparently publicly unpopular, from consideration for the I-395-to-Route 9 connector. They also would direct the Department of Education to train school personnel to implement dyslexia awareness and student accommodation policies.

The University of Maine is on the docket with Senator Justin Alfond’s proposal to send $2 million to the University of Southern Maine to “develop a recruitment and marketing program to stabilize enrollment.” There is also a proposal giving the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability a year to perform an audit of the University of Maine System’s “finances and governance practices.”

There are six bond proposals, including borrowing for purchase of the currently unused Bar Harbor ferry terminal for a multimodal transportation facility, development of broadband infrastructure, small business support, riverfront community development, bicycle and pedestrian projects, and workforce training and job creation.

Two constitutional amendments are proposed. Not for the first time comes a proposal to lengthen state Senate terms to four years, with a two-term full stop, preserving the overall eight-year term limit. LD 182 would go one better and eliminate term limits altogether. Senator Eric Brakey, at 26, the youngest sitting member of the Senate, would lower the age requirement from 21 to 18 for the House of Representatives and from 25 to 21 for the Senate.

Just as Governor Paul LePage is attempting to revive the oft-killed proposal to expand the sales tax base, some legislators are still pressing for more exemptions. The sale of flags would be one, and “nonprofit collaboratives of libraries” is another.

The Great Undoing continues. Schools have rebelled against regionalization and are un-regionalizing themselves. Jails are in a world of hurt and asking to go back to the old, local system with a bill that proposes “eliminating the State Board of Corrections and all of its duties,” preserving state funding at the 2014-15 level.

Another bill proposes a review of the merger of the Department of Agriculture and Conservation to determine the level of service provided by the merged department and whether anticipated efficiencies have been realized.

There are perennial favorites, such as requiring photo ID at the polls, abortion restrictions, a local option real estate transfer tax and perhaps the all-time bill that won’t die, an act to reimburse Philip Wolley for legal expenses when he was fired, and then reinstated, by the state of Maine.

Bills on Wolley’s behalf have been submitted in the 118th Legislature, the 120th, 121st, 122nd, 123rd, 124th, 125th, 126th and now in the 127th. A representative speaking in opposition to the bill in 2003 (the 123rd Legislature) said the bill had been introduced and failed nine times. That was 12 years ago. It has been the judgment of every legislature that the bill should not pass. Is it time to say Wolley has had a fair hearing?

Then comes the ever-growing list of official stuff. In addition to the official animal, berry, beverage, bird, cat, dessert, fish, flag, flower, fossil, gemstone, herb, insect, motto, nickname, seal, soil, song, treat, tree and vessel, we will now debate an official state dog, maritime symbol and state sweetener.

For state dog, sponsor Senator David Dutremble of York nominates the Labrador retriever, the relentlessly cheerful symbol of suburban yuppiedom, as opposed to an edgier and less well-bred dog – kind of like the majority of us.

Representative Chuck Kruger of Thomaston nominates the Friendship sloop as the official maritime symbol (we can’t call it a vessel because we already have one of those), whereas anyone with salt in his veins would know it should be the Red Baron.

As for the official state sweetener, seriously, what is up with that? Maple syrup is the proposed honoree, but as it happens, we already have one of those too. It’s First Lady Ann LePage, a ray of sunshine in our otherwise benighted capitol.

Here’s a suggestion for saving time. The legislature should hold a Festival of Bad Bills, at which every policy committee could lump all the non-starters into one hearing, bring ‘em up and vote ‘em down. Sure, “not going to happen” is in the eye of the beholder, but sometimes you just know.

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Retired nurse and former independent Maine State Senator.

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