The Legislature convened in special session this past Monday. Two bills were the official reason for the session. One addressed a conflict between state and federal law regarding local “food systems.” The other restored funding to the state Geographic Information Systems office. Both were expected to be addressed with dispatch.
Easy peasy? Not so fast. The House Advance Calendar for Monday ran on and on. In addition to the governor’s call for the special session regarding the two aforementioned items, there were dozens of others. Mind you, you readers will know a lot more about the outcome of the special session than is known by this column’s deadline. But it is nevertheless instructive to browse the topics on the docket.
A special election to fill a vacant House seat was set for Nov. 7. There were dozens of gubernatorial appointments to “committees, commissions, groups and task forces.” A communication from the governor’s office gave notice that a LePage nomination to the State Board of Education was being withdrawn.
The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability filed a report on Pine Tree Development Zones. The Washington County Development Authority filed a report on its work to redevelop the former Cutler Navy Base.
There were gubernatorial nominations to the Maine Superior Court, District Court, the Public Utilities Commission, the Efficiency Maine Trust Board, the Governmental Facilities Authority, the Liquor and Lottery Commission, the Board of Tax Appeals, the Harness Racing Commission, the Milk Commission, the Board of Pesticides Control, the Finance Authority of Maine, the Labor Relations Board, the Housing Authority, the Board of Education, the Board of the Baxter School for the Deaf, the Board of Trustees of Maine Maritime, the University of Maine System and the Community College System, the Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation and the Unemployment Insurance Commission. All those needed to be confirmed by the Senate.
The Senate calendar for Monday reports the votes of the policy committees on the nominations above. All nominations were confirmed, all but two were unanimous. The Senate calendar listed roughly a gazillion notices of appointments to this and that.
There were two nominations for new Cabinet members, Ricker Hamilton for commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services and Alexander Porteous for commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Those also needed Senate confirmation. Might as well do all that while they’re in.
There was a list of representatives being excused from previous session days “for personal reasons.” There were two bills that had been carried over from the previous regular session, one for a bond that would fund student debt cancellation and refinancing, and the other for a bond to “assist in the commercialization of Maine products and services.”
All this notwithstanding, the two matters expected to bring on the thunder and lightning had to do with referenda passed by voters last November. One was the legislation to legalize marijuana, the other was ranked-choice voting (RCV).
The only hope of success for a single-day session is if the skids have been greased and there is consensus on the disposition of the items before the opening bell rings. There is simply not enough time to caucus, debate and pass legislation without prior agreement. Though that consensus may be close for the two matters in the governor’s call, it is a far cry from reality in the case of marijuana and RCV.
There are bills that will give the chambers a starting point and titles under which to work. Other than that, it’s a hot mess. The 13 members of the policy committee issued four separate reports on how to proceed with RCV. The marijuana bill has three reports. A second marijuana proposal comes from the governor to delay the implementation of marijuana legalization to allow time for further wrangling.
Proponents of both of these citizen initiatives are anxious for their implementation. Legislators have their own ideas. In an unusual display of disregard for a public vote, many legislators seemed ready to squash the referendum results because of their personal opinions about the two initiatives. So much for urging us to get out and vote. Why bother if legislators can blow off the results?
Also of note this week is the Oct. 26 meeting of the Legislative Council, the 10 members of leadership who will decide which of the 272 bills submitted will be let in for consideration in the coming winter session. In this second year of a legislative session, bills are meant to be of an emergency nature, but the definition of “emergency” can be on the fast and loose side.
If all this government stuff makes you weepy, let’s end with a day-brightener. Last weekend, Alan Baker, owner and publisher of The Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander, was inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame. A Maine native, Baker’s impressive life story and his history with our local weekly newspapers demonstrate a commitment to journalism that is consistently fair, accurate and informative. In addition, Baker is a person of great personal integrity and enormous dedication. Well done, Alan, and well-deserved.