Ditching tinted glass ban, keeping voters’ hands off wildlife laws among new Legislature’s first items of business

The State House begins its busy season today with the return of the 128th Legislature and its front-loaded agenda.

Typically, it takes weeks stretching into months for the Legislature to reach full speed on its task of processing the 1,500 to 2,000 bills that are proposed in a typical two-year session. That will be true again this year, after lawmakers deal with some pressing issues such as adjustments to the citizen-initiated referendums that passed in November and debating a site for a mental health forensic unit — even though Gov. Paul LePage has already chosen Bangor.

Committee hearings on that latter issue are scheduled for Thursday. And on Friday, we’ll all be scrambling to understand LePage’s biennial state budget proposal and how it would affect Maine if enacted in its entirety.

Any hopes you harbored that you’d be able to ease back into your routine after the holidays are dashed. On the other hand, it’s nice to have action at the State House again after its months of hibernation.

So what’s on the docket today?

Let’s take a look at the House and Senate calendars. Most of it is routine committee appointments and annual reports but there are a few interesting nuggets.

Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester has submitted a constituent bill that would lift regulations around tinted and reflective glass on automobiles, which reminds me of a classic Run-DMC song (tinted windows don’t mean nothin’, they know who’s inside).

Fourth-term Rep. Stephen Wood, R-Greene, is out of the gate with a proposal to amend the Maine Constitution so that wildlife laws cannot be altered by citizen initiative.

On the sentiment calendar is an announcement about the retirement of a well-known face in Maine political circles. Mark Sullivan of Hallowell is retiring after 33 years of service to the state, which ranged from the Department of Conservation to the Maine Center for Economic Policy. Congratulations, Mark!

Today’s House calendar concludes with a helpful reminder that statutory adjournment for the first session of the 128th Legislature is June 21. Any bets on whether they’ll go longer?

There’s not much to report from the Senate calendar, though the sentiments are always fun to read through. Today, the Senate honors (among others) Mildred Marston of Fort Kent, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Dec. 30. She and her late husband of 65 years, Robert, raised four children and according to the calendar, she has filled her life with volunteerism. That’s pretty notable in my book.

Until tomorrow. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • LePage again asks lawmakers to let him impose tougher work mandates for welfare recipients. In a Dec. 28, 2016, letter to the Legislative Council, LePage said he will submit legislation this year to eliminate state exceptions to the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families work participation requirement. Maine and many other states are far from meeting the federal requirement, which causes the federal government to threaten to withhold millions of dollars in grant funding and impose fines ($29 million, according to LePage’s letter). The feds have never actually withheld the money or demanded payment of the penalties, and according to experts, probably won’t. However, LePage, who has led several efforts to reform TANF and the related ASPIRE program, sees it as too much of a financial risk. This will brew another impassioned debate at the State House, for sure.
  • A legislative Democrat will submit a bill on behalf of a group seeking a U.S. constitutional convention in 2017. Rep. Stephen Stanley, D-Medway, wants Maine to join the Convention of States Project, a conservative group that has passed resolutions in eight states calling for the first convention since 1787 to limit federal power, place term limits on members of Congress and limit spending. Stanley, a conservative Democrat who opposed the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, teamed with LePage on a symbolic bill last year that said the Legislature must approve national monument designations. On Tuesday, he said the convention effort had nothing to do with that, but “making the federal government more accountable to the people.” To get a convention, 34 states must approve resolutions asking for one.
  • Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson will call Wednesday on Maine’s congressional delegation to vote against repealing the federal Affordable Care Act without a replacement. Repealing the health care law enshrined by President Barack Obama is a key goal of President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. Jackson, a Democrat from Allagash has scheduled a news conference at the State House, where he’ll ask the Maine delegation not to allow that without a replacement, said spokesman Mario Moretto. — Michael Shepherd and Christopher Cousins

Reading list

I am making safer decisions in my old(er) age

I’m usually not the kind of guy that lets a little bad weather cancel my travel plans but as the rain poured down on Tuesday I surprised myself. I told the Boy Scouts we wouldn’t make it.

There was probably some grumbling on the other end — it was just rain, after all — but I live on a private, dead-end road that’s a treacherous sheet of ice. I’ve slid down the hill by my house one too many times.

Still, it’s always icy in winter and I was feeling sort of guilty about missing scouts. Then my neighbor went sideways directly in front of my house and despite our efforts was marooned there until a sanding truck could come to the rescue. The sanding truck had to sand in reverse up the hill of my road.

The scout leaders weren’t there to see, so in their eyes I’ll probably be a bit of a wimp from this day forth. Oh well. Here’s my soundtrack. I’ve slid down my road backwards one too many times, and hopefully for the last time. — Christopher Cousins


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.