At roughly the halfway mark in the legislative session, more than 1,000 bills have cleared the Revisor’s Office and are making their way through the system. From the broadly ambitious to the specific and narrow, from the likely to the hopeless, each is sent on its tottering way by legislative sponsors who may be heavily invested in their bill’s success or which have sponsors who don’t give a fig whether their bill succeeds or not.
Committees are in full gear, wrestling with bills that address the arcane (An Act to Increase the Class of Crime for Viewing Animal Fighting) or go after subjects about which multiple bills have been submitted (marijuana, guns, taxes). In the former case, legislators will get an education on a subject they may have never previously considered. In the latter, they will be wrestling with the hot topics of the session, attempting to roll many bills on the same subject into one comprehensive document.
With the House remaining in the hands of Democrats and the Senate and the Blaine House held by Republicans, the stars are not aligned for easy passage of ideological bills from either side. Fur will fly as efforts are made to bring the biennial budget together by June.
Gov. Paul LePage awaits the results of legislative deliberations, veto pen at the ready. Heck, he even refused to sign one of his own proposals. The recently passed supplemental budget took effect without his signature. The governor cited an energy provision as his reason for declining to sign, a provision he himself had introduced to the budget.
On one important subject, there may be universal agreement. After three years without an official commissioner of education, LePage has nominated Acting Commissioner Robert Hasson to the post. The state Board of Education weighed in quickly in the affirmative, and legislative confirmation is expected without difficulty.
So far, the governor has been less of a presence than usual in the daily affairs of the State House. Instead, he has been on the road. The presidential inauguration, a Republican governors meeting and the conservative talk show circuit all have kept him away from Augusta. To what end? Only time will tell. The governor’s term-limit horizon is drawing nigh (2018), and he is surely giving thought to his future, but for the time being, those thoughts are closely held.
Hancock County legislators are hard at work. Sen. Brian Langley (R-Ellsworth) has nine bills in print. Six of them focus on education, the policy committee on which he serves. He is Senate chair of the committee and has served on it for all four of his terms.
Sen. Kim Rosen (R-Bucksport) is the minimalist, with just four bills in print. One of hers concerns domestic violence, a subject on which she has taken a lead during her years in the legislature. Another of her bills would provide emergency funding for the restoration of the schooner Bowdoin.
Reps. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) and Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) each have five bills in print. Three of Hubbell’s are fishing industry related, while two are on education policy, the committee on which he served until he joined the Appropriations Committee this year. Kumiega’s bills have to do mostly with Maine fisheries (he is House chair of the Marine Resources Committee), while one would protect firefighters from chemical combustibles in upholstered furniture.
Rep. Louis Luchini (D-Ellsworth) has 10 bills in print on a variety of subjects. Flashing headlights for school buses, a prohibition on personal watercraft on Third Pond in Blue Hill, a delay in implementation of certain portions of the marijuana referendum bill, cribbage tournaments and beano at campgrounds are among them.
Reps. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) and Richard Malaby (R-Hancock) each has 11 bills in print. Chapman’s include training of school board members, farming, mining, kinship care and limitations on state agency expenditures to influence elections. Eight of Malaby’s bills focus on health care, his policy assignment for his four terms of service. Also on his agenda are clean election ads, the education tax surcharge and uniform property transfers upon death.
Only Hubbell and Rosen will be eligible to serve beyond the 2018 election. All the others will have reached their term limits. There is a huge amount of energy in Hancock County to be involved in public action. Now is the time to identify candidates that activists of all stripes are prepared to support.
The parties will be deciding who to back. But if ever there was an election where the voters could play the main role in deciding who will be on the next ballot, 2018 will be it. Let’s not settle for candidates selected by party hierarchies. Who is your dream candidate? Find someone your fellow citizens can get excited about and offer them your support to run. Harness the political energy in your town and put it to use to create the legislature you want to see.