AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine legislative leaders say they won’t let too many bills into the 2016 session, supposed to be reserved for “emergency” measures.
But predictably, members of the Legislative Council may not always agree on the definition of “emergency” when they meet Thursday to winnow down 400 bills from legislators, who can appeal rejections next month.
The bar will be high: In 2013, leaders initially advanced about 100 out of 400 bills, but Democrats had an edge on the council then, and they split it evenly with Republicans now.
Gov. Paul LePage’s veto power looms, and House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said lawmakers “certainly don’t want to waste taxpayers’ money and members’ time spinning wheels getting to the same conclusion.”
“We’re going to take a hard look at each and every one of these bills to see if they’re of an emergency nature, and if they’re not, I think it will be difficult to get them in,” said Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport.
The council may agree that bills dealing with unsettled issues at Maine mills and jails are emergencies.
In September, owners of an Old Town pulp mill announced that it would close by year’s end. That was a day after a Lincoln mill company filed for bankruptcy and a month after 300 layoffs were announced at a Jay mill.
A bill from Sen. James Dill, D-Old Town, would address a decrease in property tax valuation at his city’s mill. Bills from Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, address workforce training.
Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond, D-Portland, called those “issues that can’t wait” and Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, said “we need to really look at what precipitated” mill problems, including energy costs.
Legislators could change Maine’s county jail system, reformed last year in a law that moved jail funding administration from a state board to the Maine corrections commissioner. That was seen by many as a short-term fix. Sen. Kimberley Rosen, R-Bucksport, wants to amend it, and Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, wants to increase funding.
“It’s an unsettled issue,” Thibodeau said.
But more political bills dealing with LePage’s bonding power and abortion may have a tougher road.
Democrats have said they will block bills aimed at Planned Parenthood, which has been criticized by anti-abortion advocates over the use of aborted fetuses for medical research, with Gideon calling that effort “a witch hunt.”
Espling, who sponsored one of those bills, said it’s “quite amazing, the lengths that they will go” to defend Planned Parenthood, but she’s “not surprised.”
Other bills from House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, target the Republican governor’s power to hold back voter-approved bonds, which narrowly failed to pass earlier this year. Alfond called that an important issue.
“People are frustrated,” he said. “They’re angry that this chief executive is using every tactic he can to not work with Legislature, but instead throw hurdles and make the Legislature ineffective.”