State House ducks getting in order



Out of 395 bills proposed for consideration this coming winter, 33 were accepted by the Legislative Council at the first screening. Another 54 were added after appeals by their sponsors. Another 27 were tabled and could eventually join the fray.

Twice as many bills were brought forward from last year, and there may be studies in progress that authorize the submission of legislation. That still leaves the legislature with a relatively modest load, at least in numbers, compared to last year.

The wild card is the governor’s opportunity to submit legislation at whatsoever time pleaseth him. This could be a way for legislators – Republicans, we’re looking at you – to get bills in that did not make it past the council, should the governor care to oblige.

It was difficult to discern the rationale behind what the council decided to admit on appeal. Establishing Nov. 1 as “Veterans in the Arts and Humanities Day” would not seem to qualify as an emergency; likewise, the “Act to Create Arts Engage ME.”

Legislators will be taking a look at an “Act to Facilitate Homegrown Education in Maine.” Is that education or counterculture agriculture? Never mind. There is often sound reason behind these decisions; it just is not readily apparent.

In the meantime, routine business has been underway at the State House, including the confirmation of gubernatorial appointments (those the governor made despite his threats to suspend all such activity) and miscellaneous board and committee meetings.

If you are a regular reader, insert here the customary rant about how difficult it is to find out just what business legislative committees will be conducting when they meet. Shouldn’t, oh couldn’t, the related calendar listing link to an agenda? We could put that to the Right to Know Advisory Committee, which at least listed their Dec. 1 meeting as “study related.”

The speaker’s office had a press conference in the Hall of Flags on Dec. 2. Wreaths Across America will be there on Dec. 7, and a Chanuka Celebration will take place there on Dec. 9. The last two weeks of this month are predictably open. Work begins in earnest in January, the main event being the reconvening of the 127th Legislature on Jan. 6.

The biggest shift in dome dynamics will stem from the rising of the 2016 election over the political horizon. A whole new legislature will be elected next fall, and the battle for control of the two chambers will be fierce. The legislative election will be seen as a prognosticator of 2018, when we will elect our next governor.

The antics of Governor Paul LePage, about which we have been obsessing for the past five years, will begin to impress us less as we think more about the future occupant of the Blaine House. He has overused the panic button to the point where our attention is drifting.

To be sure, he can still disrupt life as we thought we knew it by firmly planting his feet in cement on bonds, taxes, nominations or whatever else he thinks will give him traction. As ugly drug news continues to top the headlines, it seems a golden opportunity for across-the-board cooperation that delivers some progress on this societal scourge. Sadly, if the governor continues with his my-way-or-the-highway approach to policy making, the legislature will have to go on without him.

Republicans will have to decide whether they are going to distance themselves from the governor in order to succeed or double down on what has worked for the governor with his conservative base. There are potential candidates eddying about in both shallows.

For the Democrats, the line-up likely will include a lot of same old, same old. They need to enlarge the feeder team, bringing along some fresh blood that will spark interest rather than groans of “not him/her again.”

Republicans need to settle on a short list of people with broader appeal than those on the far right. Of course, the election success of LePage may encourage them to do the opposite, though the governor’s negatives are increasing.

In mid-October, LePage, who vowed to “run the most transparent government in history,” rescinded four existing executive orders because they were “issued earlier this year with limited publicity.” That’s one way to put it. He issued an executive order in April to initiate an investigation of the Maine Human Rights Commission, but said order only came to light in October.

This is a violation of the requirement that executive orders be filed with the secretary of state’s office. Failure to do so could render them invalid. Hence, the do-over. The governor’s long-suffering press secretary, Adrienne Bennett, took the rap for the failure to file.

The perpetual tumult in Augusta and the approaching election may mean that the state does little more than mark time for the next three years. We can’t afford that. Whatever else his detractors say, no one can accuse this governor of being insincere about his desire to move our state forward. He doesn’t seem to realize that his approach is making it well nigh impossible.

 

 

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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