OUI tests for marijuana, right to work and welfare reform among bills proposed by state agencies

The State House in Augusta stands lighted against the night sky. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

The State House in Augusta stands lighted against the night sky. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

If the past is any indication, lawmakers in the incoming 127th Legislature will face a barrage of at least 1,700 bill proposals, and perhaps well more than 2,000.

The deadline for lawmakers themselves to submit bills, known as cloture, is Jan. 2, and it will be days after that before the titles are published and weeks or months before the bills are written. They’ll range from the momentous to the ridiculous. Lawmaker bills proposed after cloture will be subject to pre-approval by the 10-member Legislative Council and Gov. Paul LePage can submit bills whenever he pleases.

I know you just can’t wait but you’re gonna have to.

As an appetizer, the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor of Statutes (that’s the place where every one those 2,000 bills will be written by a staff of unsung heroes who are mostly overshadowed by the elected folks) has released a list of bill titles proposed by state departments and agencies. You can view the list for yourself by clicking here, but I’ve highlighted some that I found interesting.

It should be noted that the bills associated with the titles published this week have not yet been written and that in general, their content is kept confidential until the revisor’s office is finished with them. Many of the bills — and their titles — are fluid and will rely on weeks of work and deliberations by legislative committees. That means any assumptions made from the titles themselves should be done with caution.

Here we go.

The Department of Administrative and Financial Services has proposed An Act to Amend Tax Laws, which could contain almost anything related to the state’s tax code. However, it could be where LePage will propose to send municipal revenue sharing funds, which currently go to towns and cities, directly to property tax payers. LePage tried to eliminate municipal revenue sharing altogether during his first term but after being thwarted by the Legislature, has said recently that he’ll propose sending checks directly to Maine citizens.

The Office of the Attorney General will be focused on curbing elder abuse and cracking down on the trafficking of methamphetamine, but also has this interesting title: A Resolve to Ensure the Authority and Independence of the Office of the Attorney General. Could this be in response to LePage’s call to curtail the attorney general’s “veto power” in the departmental rule-making process or to have the position subject to a state-wide election?

Appropriately, the Department of Economic and Community Development has proposed An Act to Expand Opportunities for Economic Development in Maine. Joking aside, there could be a lot of time spent on this bill this session.

The Department of Education will propose amendments to Maine’s charter school laws, which in the past two years have been the focus of failed bids to change charter schools’ funding mechanism to lifting the current 10-charter-school cap. There is also an intriguing bill coming that relates to the collection of students’ body mass index data.

The Department of Environmental Protection will propose a way to reduce carbon emissions from residential heating system — which could be relevant to a wide swath of Mainers — as well as something to do with amending permitting standards in Maine. Streamlining, and from some perspectives, weakening environmental permitting processes in Maine has been a key aspect of LePage’s efforts to spur economic development.

The Department of Health and Human Services appears poised to propose changes to child protective services laws as well as crack down on deadbeat parents, including with a noble-sounding bill titled An Act to Affirm the Obligation to Support One’s Children. There are also a couple of bill titles related to child care providers, including one that would establish a web-based background check center for workers. Included in DHHS’s list is An Act to Reform Maine’s Welfare Programs. LePage has said often and loudly, including throughout his gubernatorial campaign, that welfare reform will continue to be a political priority.

The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will propose restructuring the permitting process for wildlife and exotic species in captivity, which is likely related to a highly publicized and ongoing dispute raised by a Harpswell woman over the collection of animals she keeps at her home, some of which have been seized by state officials. 

The Department of Labor seeks to strengthen employee severance pay protections when jobs are cut in mass layoffs, which is an issue facing current and soon-to-be former workers of the Verso paper mill in Bucksport, which has announced closure plans. The DOL is also proposing two bills that will attempt to make Maine a “Right to Work” state, which means workers would not be required to pay labor union dues as a condition of employment. LePage has said this is one of his foremost goals as governor but has faced withering opposition on this front in the Legislature and across the state.

News flash: If you collect spat, the Department of Marine Resources wants you to have a license for it. Other than being the past participle of spit and a fancy word for argument, I’ve learned very recently that spat are baby oysters. DMR is also working to place Atlantic Sturgeon and Atlantic Salmon on the state’s endangered and threatened marine species list.

The Department of Public Safety is looking to establish a chemical test that will determine whether drivers are operating under the influence of marijuana. The department is also cracking down on child abuse and exploitation and will come forward with new rules regarding the use of cell phones and other devices while driving.

And finally, here’s one that seems like it wouldn’t need a bill: The Public Utilities Commission is proposing An Act to Clarify that the Number 9-1-1 is the Primary Number Advertised or Promoted for Emergency Response Services.

Even a kindergartener knows that. Right?

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.