Legislative Update - March 11, 2011 THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET LEGISLATIVE DATABASE
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee continues to hold hearings on the Governor’s budget proposal. Last week was devoted to a review of the Health and Human Services portion of the budget. This included a review of the proposed redirection of Fund for a Healthy Maine spending. While there are a number of controversial proposals in this section of the budget, public participation at this week’s hearings was tame compared to those hearings reviewing proposals regarding state employee benefits. This week, a number of different budget areas will be reviewed, including education on Monday, the judiciary on Tuesday, corrections and public safety on Wednesday and agriculture on Thursday.
REGULATORY REFORM UPDATE
The Joint Select Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform is now meeting regularly to discuss reform proposals to include in LD 1, an omnibus regulatory reform bill. Some environmental components of the bill are beginning to take shape and LD 1 will likely include language regarding environmental audits, sound science, and beneficial reuse. A proposal that came from the Governor to change the standard of judicial review of agency decision-making appears to be “dead.” Reform of the Board of Environmental Protection is one issue to which members of the Committee are devoting a substantial amount of effort. The Committee is interested in reform in other areas and will soon turn away from environmental proposals and to reform in other regulatory contexts.
The Committee is scheduled to meet on March 14, 2011 to prioritize those issues that it wants to address. The Chairs of the Committee are working toward reporting LD 1 out of Committee by March 31, 2011, so there are a number of proposals that will likely not be included in the bill. The Committee, however, can always work on a second package of reforms and report out another omnibus bill at a later date. The tenor of the debate regarding regulatory reform has substantially changed since this Committee began its work. Initially, regulatory reform consisted of the Governor’s proposals, which included many controversial ideas. This Committee has referred out most of the controversial proposals to committees of jurisdiction. LD 1, as it is taking shape in Committee, is looking more and more like a consensus piece of legislation that addresses regulation in many contexts and not just in the environmental arena.
UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE OF LAW
On March 8, 2011, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on two bills related to the unauthorized practice of law: LD 325 (allowing “advocates” to represent parents and children in special education due process hearings before the Department of Education) and LD 551 (allowing members, managers and authorized employees to represent LLCs in FED actions). The Maine State Bar Association testified in opposition to both of these bills, as they both have the potential to adversely affect clients. Some Committee members were clearly sympathetic to both proposals. At the same time, attorneys on the Committee recognized the dangers of both proposals. Work sessions for these two bills have not been scheduled.
WARRANTY COVENANTS STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
On March 8, 2011, The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on LD 482, which would establish that an action for breach of warranty covenants has a 20-year statute of limitations. The Real Estate Section proposed this bill in reaction to a recent Law Court case that established different limitations periods for warranty covenants actions depending upon whether or not the warranty was made under seal. There was no opposition to this bill at the public hearing, though a friendly amendment was offered. The amendment would, effectively, make this bill apply retroactively.
THIRD-PARTY NOTIFICATION ON INSURANCE POLICIES
On March 9, 2011, the Insurance and Financial Services Committee held a work session on LD 313, which would allow a person 65 years of age or older to designate a third-party to receive notification of the cancelation of certain insurance policies. This is a bill of interest to the Elder Law Section. The Committee quickly tabled this bill and will consider it at a future work session.
ENHANCED PENALTIES TO PROTECT SENIOR INVESTORS
On March 9, 2011, the Insurance and Financial Services Committee held a work session on LD 401, a bill that would increase penalties under the Maine Uniform Securities Act for violations that affect citizens 65 years of age or older. This is a bill of interest to the Elder Law Section. LD 401 received considerable support at public hearing and was voted to be reported out of Committee as “Ought to Pass.”
MEDIATION IN DIVORCE
On March 10, 2011, the Judiciary Committee held a work session on LD 165, which addresses mediation in the context of divorce action. The bill’s sponsor wants to encourage mediation in divorce actions and has proposed language that would create penalties for parties that do not mediate in good faith. The sponsor feels that the judiciary and mediators need more leverage to force mediation in good faith. The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to consider this bill on March 10, 2011. The sponsor, however, was not available and the Committee voted to table this bill and will consider it at a later date.
MCILS BUDGET UPDATE
Steve Carey, Deputy Director of the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services (MCILS), has provided the following update:
Based on our projections, MCILS forecasts a budget shortfall of approximately $994, 616.29 by the end of this fiscal year even with the additional funds given to MCILS in the supplement budget. The practical effect of the shortfall is that the Commission will run out of money in this quarter (the 3rd quarter) and in the 4th quarter earlier than expected. The Commission receives money in quarterly allotments and once the amount allotted is expended, the Commission must wait until the next quarterly allotment to expend money. The early exhaustion of the 3rd and 4th quarter allotments means that our payment turn around will increase from our average of 14 days to somewhere around 30 to 36 days at the end of each quarter. John and I will do our best to get caught up on payments once new allotments are received.
Because the shortfall is an accumulating shortfall, we expect that our turnaround time will continue to increase unless we receive additional funding. If our budget allotments for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 remain as suggested in the Biennial Budget, the Commission projects a $1,811,280.29 deficient for fiscal year 2012, which we believe will increase our voucher payment turnaround time to up to 68 days, and a $2,527,944.29 deficient for fiscal year 2013, which we believe will increase our voucher payment turnaround time to more than 90 days.
MCILS will be addressing the Appropriations Committee and the Judiciary Committee at a joint public hearing on the Biennial Budget on March 15, 2011 starting at 1:00 p.m. in Room 228 of the State House. We are hoping that attorneys or organizations will appear to support our requests for additional funding.
Additionally the Judiciary Committee has scheduled a work session on the budget for March 16, 2011 at 1:00 p.m. in Room 438.
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Legislative Update - March 11, 2011
THE GOVERNOR’S BUDGET