It is not uncommon during the first regular session for legislative committees to vote to carry over bills into the second session. The carry over process provides the committees and interested parties with the time necessary to improve proposed legislation, create compromises, further study the issues addressed in the bill, or just kill the bill at a later date.
Of the 600-plus bills tracked by MMA this session, 47 were carried over into the 2008 Legislative session. Throughout the summer and falls months, legislative committees have met to work and take action on these carry over bills. Some were amended by the committees, some bills were voted “ought not to pass”, while action on a handful of carry over bills was postponed until January. Of the 32 carryover bills of municipal interest that are still alive, MMA will be monitoring the following nine bills most closely in 2008. Municipal officials are urged to talk to their legislators about these bills.
LD 276 - Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Require the Legislature To Freeze the Valuation of Maine Primary Residence Land. (Governor’s Bill) (Sponsored by Sen. Perry of Penobscot Cty.)
This resolution supported by Governor Baldacci would send to the voters a proposed amendment to the Constitution directing the Legislature to implement a system that freezes the valuation of primary residence land, adjusted by the rate of inflation. Presumably, the frozen valuation would rebound to market value at the time of sale, and the resolution calls for “certain transfers” of property to be subject to a withdrawal penalty parallel to the minimum ‘five-year-back-taxes’ penalty that applies to Tree Growth, Farmland and Open Space withdrawals. The resolution also requires the municipality’s state valuation to be unaffected by the frozen valuation system. The Taxation Committee had no substantive discussions about this bill during its work session this fall, except to say that elements of this proposal might fit into a comprehensive tax reform effort.
LD 1001 - An Act To Eliminate the Property Tax on Business Equipment Owned by Small Retailers. (Sponsored by Sen. Courtney of York Cty.)
State legislators find it remarkably easy to create a tax exemption for local government. This bill extends the property tax exemption for business personal property to all retail sales facilities in the state that do not exceed 20,000 square feet in size. Unlike almost every other state in the nation, and unlike the public policy rationale that supported providing a personal property tax exemption to manufacturing businesses, this bill would create a personal property tax exemption for gas stations, chain restaurants, convenience stores, retail chain stores, etc. During the 2007 session, both the Taxation Committee and the full Legislature voted to enact the bill, but because of a $1.5 million annual fiscal note, the bill was not funded on the Appropriations Table and carried over to the 2008 legislative session. On December 6th, the Taxation Committee voted along party lines that LD 1001 “ought not to pass,” with the Republicans (and Independent) on the Committee voting “ought to pass.”
LD 1298 - An Act To Amend the Definition of “Working Waterfront Land” To Include Land Used for Marine Trades. (Sponsored by Rep. Miramant of Camden.)
This bill expands the types of property eligible for the “working waterfront” property tax benefit currently available for land used to provide access to or support commercial fishing activities. This bill would expand eligibility to all commercial activities that are considered water-dependent. The Taxation Committee had no substantive discussions about this bill during its work session this fall.
Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry
LD 1684 - An Act To Create the Maine Agriculture Protection Act. (Sponsored by Sen. Sherman of Aroostook Cty.)
As originally printed, this bill provided a broad range of regulatory protections and tax benefits to certain agricultural operations. At its December 10th meeting, however, the Agriculture Committee reviewed an amended version of LD 1648. The amendment replaced the printed bill and in large part the bill now would essentially repeal and replace existing law regarding how farms can be exempt from nuisance suits and the impacts of municipal ordinances provided the farms are operating according to “best management practices”. Specifically, the bill moves that body of law from Title of Maine law regarding crimes to the Title of Maine law regarding agriculture and makes three municipality-relevant changes to existing law. The bill: 1) replaces the term “best management practices” with “generally accepted agricultural practices” (although it is not entirely clear why); 2) defines the term “agricultural support services” to mean aerial or surface application of seed, fertilizer, pesticide or soil amendments and custom harvesting, and includes those practices under the definition of “farm operation”; and 3) claries and somewhat restricts the definition of an “agricultural composting operation” by stating that it does not include municipal sludge, industrial solid waste or materials with a moderate or high risk of contamination from heavy metals. One potential area of concern is that under current law, the Department of Agriculture must establish the “best management practices” by rule, so there is an opportunity to make sure that the concept of “best management practices” really means something quantifiable and not governed by the subjectivity of Department employees. Under this bill, the Department of Agriculture is not expressly required to establish the “generally accepted agricultural practices” through rule making, and the actual definition of “generally accepted agricultural practices” in the bill is merely “those practices as defined by the department”. LD 1648 also directs the Department of Agriculture to develop policies to protect working farms from future development and to submit legislation to the 124th Legislature (2009) to implement those policies.
The Committee voted to postpone final action on the amended version of the bill until January.
State and Local Government
LD 1878 - An Act To Generate Savings by Changing Public Notice Requirements. (Sponsored by Rep. Hayes of Buckfield.)
This bill phases out the obligation of state agencies to publish public notices in newspapers in favor of posting such notices on the Internet. This bill also allows municipalities to publish legal notices in a newspaper medium distributed as 3rd class mail (e.g., shopping advertisers) if the municipal officers adopt a publication policy. The policy must contain 5 requirements: (1) the newspaper of general circulation must have a subscription rate of less than 30% of the residents in the municipality; (2) all households in the municipality must receive the alternative newspaper; (3) the alternative newspaper must cost less than the newspaper of general circulation; (4) the municipality must retain a record of all notices published in the alternative newspaper; and (5) the publisher of the alternative newspaper must have a system of archiving past editions.
The State and Local Government Committee will be taking a final vote on LD 1878 when it reconvenes in January 2008.
Natural Resources Committee
LD 810 - An Act To Improve Solid Waste Management. (Sponsored by Rep. Duchesne of Hudson.)
This “concept draft” bill proposes to amend the laws governing the duties and responsibilities for managing solid waste by revising the respective duties of the Department of Environmental Protection and the State Planning Office in order to eliminate redundancy as well as gaps in oversight.
The Committee has met several times to discuss this bill. At its work session on December 13th, the committee voted to amend the bill to require solid waste disposal and solid waste processing facilities to demonstrate a 50% recycling rate in order to continue operating.
Business Research and Economic Development
LD 1038 - An Act To License Home Building and Improvement Contractors. (Sponsored by Rep. Hinck of Portland.)
This bill creates the Maine Home Contractor Licensing Act, which establishes a 9-member licensing board and licensing standards for residential construction contractors. The licensing board includes two public members, four home contractors, one municipal code enforcement officer, one engineer or architect, and one representative of the Maine Fire Service. The bill restricts the residential building codes that municipalities may adopt to the International Residential Building Code, either as modified and adopted by the licensing board as the “Maine Model Residential Building Code” or as tailored to the municipality’s needs. According to the bill, the licensing requirements of the Act become effective one year after at least 56 of 83 specifically listed municipalities have adopted the International Residential Building Code, and the population covered by those 56-or-more municipalities represents at least 75% of the aggregate population of those 83 listed municipalities.
The BRED Committee met in October to discuss this issue including a new approach drafted by the Acting Superintendent of the Bureau of Consumer Protection.
LD 1454 - An Act To Care for Working Families. (Sponsored by Rep. Norton of Bangor.)
This bill requires all employers with more than 25 employees to provide at least one paid sick day for every 30 hours worked by the employee.
The Labor Committee met in November and issued a divided report on the bill (ought to pass – 6; ought not to pass – 5).
LD 1881 - An Act To Improve Transparency and Accountability in Government. (Sponsored by Sen. Weston of Waldo Cty.)
This bill makes a number of amendments to Maine’s Freedom of Information Act, or “Right to Know” law. Those amendments include: (1) creating a right for people to request public records by telephone and receive mailed photocopies in response; (2) requiring all municipalities to appoint a “public information officer” to handle all requests for public records; (3) prohibiting any employee or appointee of a municipality from inquiring of anyone why they are requesting a public record; (4) requiring municipalities to provide public records for inspection in a place and manner that provides “reasonable comfort and facility” to the person requesting the inspection; and (5) requiring municipalities to “certify” the temporary unavailability of any public record that is being requested for inspection.
The Right to Know Advisory Committee met several times to discuss this bill. The Committee appears to be focusing on requiring custodians of public records to issue “acknowledgement” letters in response to written requests for government records.