Final 2009 MSBA Legislative Update
FIRST REGULAR SESSION
OVERVIEW OF LEGISLATIVE SESSION
The 124th Legislature convened on December 3, 2008 to swear in 35 Senators, 151 Representatives and to officially elect new leadership. History was made when both the House and Senate chose women as their presiding officers: Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree and President of the Senate Elizabeth Mitchell. The Legislature then adjourned until January 7, 2009. In the interim, the joint standing committees were appointed and the committee chairs named. Legislators were given until mid-January to submit proposals for new legislation.
The First Regular Session of the 124th Legislature processed 1,496 bills. Eighty eight of those bills have been carried over to the Second Regular Session, which will convene in January 2010. The severe economic recession cast a grim reality over the actions of the 124th when Governor Baldacci submitted a supplemental budget in the first month of the session to close a $180 million gap in the FY 09 budget due to revenue shortfalls. The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee held long days of public hearings on the Governorís proposal and within three weeks unanimously agreed to a supplemental budget that was balanced and enacted in to law with super majorities in both the House and Senate.
The Governorís biennial budget for FY 10 and FY 11 followed with a $500 million decrease from the prior biennium reflecting reduced revenue projections as the economy continued to spiral downward and unemployment approached double digit figures. Stimulus funds from the Federal Government helped to avoid an even larger reduction in the biennial budget. However, there are serious concerns for FY 12 when the stimulus monies have been expended and a large hole created in the budget, especially if the economy does not improve.
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee worked in a bipartisan manner to address the serious cuts proposed in the Governorís biennial budget. Major reductions were agreed to in human services, education (K-12 and Higher Ed), municipal revenue sharing and state employee wages and benefits. Once again the budget was voted out of committee unanimously and passed the House and Senate with overwhelming majorities.
Although the First Regular Session of the 124th Legislature was dominated by fiscal concerns the Legislature did deal with several important, difficult and sometime controversial issues before adjourning sine die on June 13.
KEY ISSUES ADDRESSED BY 124th LEGISLATURE
INDIGENT LEGAL SERVICES
Following the recommendations of the Indigent Legal Services Commission established by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, the Legislature overwhelmingly supported the establishment of the Indigent Legal Services Commission as an independent agency to manage the legal services provided to indigent persons and to those entitled to legal counsel provided at state expense. Maine was one of eight states that did not have an independent agency overseeing the services, but had managed the services by approximately 60 judges located in 40 court locations throughout the state. The new law, which became effective June 17 (PL 2009 Chapter 419), establishes the new Commission whose purpose is to provide efficient, high-quality representation and to ensure the delivery of indigent legal services by qualified and competent counsel. The Commission will consist of five members appointed by the Governor, who are expected to be named shortly.
The definition of marriage was changed by legislative action to include unions between members of the same sex. Maine became the fifth state to pass a same-sex marriage law. It is expected that the opponents of same sex marriage will secure the necessary signatures to ask the voters, possibly on this Novemberís ballot, if they wish to veto the Legislatureís action allowing same sex marriages.
The state-subsidized Dirigo Health insurance program will now be funded by taxing paid health insurance claims. Dirigo Health was initially funded by savings offset payments, which were controversial and unpredictable. A beverage tax, enacted last session to provide a more stable revenue source for the program, was defeated by a peopleís veto in November 2008.
A bill proposing a single-payer health care system was carried over and will be discussed further in the second regular session of the 124th Legislature.
CONSUMER AND FINANCIAL INSTITUTION ISSUES
Not surprisingly, issues related to leases, tenancies, mortgages, foreclosures, and condominium fees were squarely before the legislators during 2009. Of significant interest and work by the Consumer and Financial Institution Law, Real Estate, and Business Law sections were a number of bills related to these topics, especially LD 1418, a bill that as originally drafted sought to require mandatory mediation involving mortgage foreclosures, and sought to make a number of significant changes to real estate and landlord/tenant laws. As amended, the bill presents a more workable mediation process, and provides additional notifications and information to consumers during a foreclosure process.
These are but a few of the highlights of the various new laws that were enacted during 2009. For a complete listing of legislation by section, the status of the legislation, the new laws and resolves, please refer to the final Legislative Database, which is sorted by bills of interest to specific sections.
WHAT DIDNíT HAPPEN
The size of the Legislature was not reduced although debated in the House for days.
Structural changes to the operation of state government were defeated.
Charter schools were again denied.
Gas tax was not increased.
Over the summer and fall there will be a number of studies, task forces, work groups, and committee discussions on issues relating to climate change, energy corridors, litter control, and teacher compensation. All of these various discussions will result in recommendations for the Legislature to review during its 2010 session. The 88 carry-over bills will also be debated by the Legislature during 2010.
On the November 3, 2009 ballot, we have proposals relating to the taxpayer bill of rights, excise tax reductions, establishing the Maine Medical Marijuana Act, and repealing the school district consolidation laws.
Additionally, there may be attempts for ďpeoplesí vetoesĒ pertaining to same-sex marriage, and the recently enacted tax restructuring law.
Finally, during the latter part of September and early October, legislators will start to formulate legislative proposals for introduction during 2010.
A Final Legislative Report Legislative Database, FINAL Legislative Report and Bills carried over are linked to this Weekly Report for your information.
Click here for the final Legislative Database.
Click here for a text document of this report.
Click hereCarried Over bills 124th Legislature 1st Reg Session
We have linked an updated Regulatory Database.
Click here for a copy of the updated Regulatory Database.
Click here for a text copy of the updated Regulatory Database.
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