State of Maine: Too many commissions?

Somebody flipped the switch last weekend and the tourists arrived. Never mind the snow on Cadillac Mountain, the brisk winds battering the newborn leaves or the proliferation of wooly hats. People from away are here.

A brave little hummingbird buzzed through the daffodils, hoping for just a drop of nectar to keep those teensy wings moving at 70 flaps per second and fuel a heart rate of over 1,200 beats a minute. Put out your feeders. They need all the help they can get until more flowers are in bloom.

Augusta is not giving off the same sense of urgency. Though the end is nigh and the bills are many, the Legislature moves at a measured pace. Caucus, session, committees. Caucus, session, committees. It will be interesting to see whether leadership can bring the session to an end by the statutory adjournment date of June 19.

The previous Legislature adjourned in May of 2018, but knew full well it would be back in special session before closing out the 128th Legislature for good. It reconvened in June and limped along in fits and starts until Sept. 13. That was during the reign of Governor Paul LePage, an administration fraught with hot tempers, cold shoulders and a record number of gubernatorial vetoes — more vetoes than all governors combined since 1917.

Now order prevails and there is no excuse for anything other than a timely adjournment. Governor Janet Mills has vetoed just one bill so far; Democrats rushed to reverse their support of the gas additive proposal and spare her a defeat the first and only time she got out the big pen. Governor Mills has issued seven executive orders to date, the first one fulfilling a campaign promise to implement MaineCare expansion. In his first year in office, Governor LePage issued 26.

Maine’s governor has the authority to make “personal appointments” to a long list of boards and commissions. Unlike cabinet members, these appointees are not required to go through public hearings and win approval from the Legislature. Suggestions for candidates come from many sources, all eager to see a slate of appointees who will work toward the outcomes that constituents desire. Those rising to the top of the list of possibilities are carefully vetted before an appointment is made.

Governor Mills’ website lists 140 such boards, from the Advisory Board for Licensing of Taxidermists to the Atlantic Salmon Board, the Board of Underground Storage Tank Installers, the Capital Riverfront Improvement Board, the Creative Economy Council, the Maine State Pilotage Commission, the Newborn Hearing Screening Committee, the Submerged Lands Advisory Board and the Whitewater Rafting Safety Committee.

There are many other boards and commissions in addition to the “personal appointments” list. A new governor is faced with a staggering number of appointments to be made. There are criteria about who must weigh in on the appointments, and what experience a proposed board member must have. Most of them go forward with no controversy.

Many board members are compensated, most at a rate of $35 per day. A few receive a little more, such as the Board of Licensure in Medicine, whose members receive $1,250 per year. Maine Port Authority members receive $100 per meeting. Some, such as the commodities boards (Seed Potato Board, Wild Blueberry Commission), are reimbursed for expenses only.

The Secretary of State’s Office is charged with maintaining a list of state boards and commissions and the status of their membership. That list, and the “Section History” in Title 5, Section 12004 (“Classifications and definitions of boards”) makes for dreary reading.

All entities listed in this section of Title V are required to appoint a clerk. The clerk is required to submit an annual report to the secretary of state that must include the names and addresses of members, the dates of appointment and expiration of terms, the dates and locations of all meetings, attendance at and length of all meetings, member compensation, expenses and funding sources, vacancies and activities of the board.

That’s for hundreds of boards, every year. The secretary of state must also file notice with the appropriate legislative committee of any board that has not filed an annual report, and “shall submit suggested legislation” repealing boards that have been inactive or have not filed reports in the previous two-year period.

How successful is that automatic review mechanism? According to a Maine Wire report last month, when the Board of Licensing of Dietetic Practice met in September of 2018, the minutes of the previous meeting were from June 2014. The website shows no meetings scheduled in 2019. The statutory criteria for repeal (no meetings, no reports) were met. The Legislature killed the bill, not the board, and the Board of Licensing of Dietetic Practice lives on.

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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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