‘Not-so-Friendly’ Legislation

(from Maine Townsman, July 2007)
By Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA

Of the nearly 2,000 bills submitted by the members of the 123 rd Legislature, several did not resonate well with the municipal community and were opposed by the Association. In some cases, the proposed bills sought to restrict home rule authority and the rights of the local legislative body. In other cases, the bills proposed to shift additional costs and responsibilities onto municipalities and property taxpayers. Perhaps the most frustrating bills were those seeking a statewide solution to a single person’s or entity’s concern.

What follows is a description of the bills addressed by the Legislature this session that were generally opposed by Maine’s municipal leaders. These bills are organized into three categories. The first category describes the newly enacted mandates. These mandates range in scope from a benign requirement to provide more information on the property tax bill (LD 1144) to a much more serious impingement of home rule authority through the enactment of the Informed Growth Act (LD 1810). While it is fair to say that the municipal community generally opposes state imposed mandates, there are exceptions to the rule. For more information, please refer to the “Friendly Mandates” sidebar to this article.

The second category describes enacted bills that place new training requirements on municipal officials. Although municipal leaders support the provision of training and education opportunities for local government employees, they often oppose legislation that mandates one-size-fits-all training programs and fixes the education and related personnel costs of those training programs onto the local property taxpayers.

The third category describes some of the troubling bills that failed enactment. A description of these bills is included to provide a more complete picture of some legislative sentiment toward municipal government. Fortunately, in these cases the full Legislature did not support the proposed initiatives.

A more detailed description of the enacted mandates and training requirements, are found in the “New Laws” article published in this edition of the Maine Townsman. More detailed information on the defeated bills and all municipally-related legislation submitted this year is available in MMA’s LD List 2007, which is posted on the website at: http://www.memun.org/public/MMA/svc/SFR/LD/LD_fr.htm.

Newly Enacted Mandates

Consolidation of Schools. The most significant mandate calls for the consolidation of Maine’s school administrative units (SAUs). Enacted as part of the biennial budget, the law creates a framework and establishes a timeline to be used by reorganization planning committees, made up of school, municipal and public representatives, to meet the state’s K-12 education cost reduction goal. (For a detailed description of this new law, please refer to LD 499, under the Appropriations Committee in the New Laws article in this edition of the Townsman.)

Commercial Solid Waste. LD 1431, An Act to Provide for the Protection of Communities That Host a Solid Waste Disposal Facility or Incineration Facility, sponsored by Rep. Linda Valentino of Saco, amends the laws governing the “host community” benefits that are provided to those municipalities that host commercial solid waste disposal facilities. Specifically, this Act: (1) expands the definition of “host community” to include not only the municipality where the solid waste disposal facility is located but also any immediately contiguous municipality if the neighboring municipality can demonstrate that it incurs a direct financial impact related to its infrastructure or services as result of the location of the solid waste disposal facility; (2) expands the potential obligation to provide host community benefits to all solid waste disposal facilities including municipal and quasi-municipal solid waste disposal facilities, but excluding existing state-owned solid waste disposal facilities; (3) prohibits the Department from issuing a license to a solid waste disposal facility unless the host community agreement is in place; and (4) establishes a system of mediation and arbitration if the parties subject to a host community agreement cannot agree on its terms.

Informed Growth. The most frustrating mandate of the session is found in LD 1810, An Act to Enact the Informed Growth Act, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Barstow of Gorham. As enacted, the law prohibits municipalities from issuing land-use permits for retail developments of over 75,000 square feet if the projects cause an “undue adverse economic or community impact.” The community-impact element of the mandatory study focuses on the impact the proposed development will have on municipal services, such as traffic, public safety, sewer infrastructure, etc. The economic-impact element of the study focuses on such issues as supply and demand of the proposed development in the regional marketplace, the number of jobs created and lost, the salaries and fringe benefits of those jobs, etc. Although prior to the enactment of this law municipalities could adopt local ordinances regulating large-scale retail developments, the Legislature deemed it necessary to mandate that all communities undertake this specific process. The law provides an exemption from the Informed Growth Act to municipalities that have enacted a similar measure locally, although what type of local ordinance actually meets that standard is unclear.

School Crisis Planning. In a post 9/11, Hurricane Katrina world, many legislators are focusing attention on emergency preparedness at all levels of government. In response to the preparedness need, the Legislature enacted LD 222, An Act to Ensure the Integrity of School Crisis Response Plans. As sponsored by Rep. Deborah Simpson of Auburn, the law requires every school board to annually approve a comprehensive emergency management plan developed by the school’s administration in consultation with local, regional and state public safety and emergency management officials.

Tax Bills. LD 1144, An Act to Provide Information to Property Tax Payers, sponsored by Rep. Mark Samson of Auburn, adds to the information that must be included on the property tax bill the percentage of property taxes distributed to education, local, county and state government, as well as the municipality’s outstanding bonded indebtedness.

School Absenteeism. Finally, in the micro-manage category, LD 468, An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Compulsory School Attendance (sponsored by Sen. Peter Bowman of York Cty.), adds to the duties of public school attendance coordinators the task of serving as the liaison between the school and local law enforcement agencies in matters pertaining to school absenteeism.

Training Requirements

Animal Control Officers. Under current law, certification is granted to an animal control officer upon the completion of single 8-hour training session. That training requirement is changed in LD 1615, An Act to Amend the Animal Welfare Laws, sponsored by Rep. Wendy Pieh of Bremen. Under LD 1615, certified animal control officers are now required to receive a minimum of 8-hours of training per year.

Code Enforcement Officers. LD 1824, An to Declare a Moratorium on the Sale and Installation of High-emissions Outdoor Wood Boilers, directs the Department of Environmental Protection to promulgate emergency, “major substantive” rules to implement outdoor wood boiler emissions standards, including a provision for special wood boiler training for code enforcement officers. LD 1824 was sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry of Bowdoinham.

Local Health Officers. An element of LD 676, An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force to Study Maine’s Homeland Security Needs, directs the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt “major substantive” rules establishing qualifications for all local health officers.

Municipal Officers. LD 1822, An Act to Implement the Recommendations of the Right to Know Advisory Committee, requires all elected state, county, school and municipal officials to complete a training course on the Right to Know law within 120 days of taking the oath of office. Municpal officials already elected to office will have until November 1, 2008 to take the training course.

Defeated Proposals

Collective Bargaining. LD 814, An Act To Incorporate Binding Arbitration for Monetary Issues in Collective Bargaining for All State, County and Municipal Employees, sponsored by Sen. Ethan Strimling (Cumberland Cty.), was this year’s attempt at requiring binding arbitration over issues involving salaries, pensions and insurance benefits during the collective bargaining process between public sector employees and municipal employers.

County Government. LD 214, An Act to Initiate the Intergovernmental Advisory Commission’s Blueprint for Government (sponsored by Rep. Christopher Barstow of Gorham), would have stripped decision making authority from all county budget advisory committees and have mandated county-wide referenda to increase the number of county commissioner from three to either five of seven. (Note: a version of LD 214 was ultimately passed. As enacted, the law merely directs the Department of Audit to post on its website a model chart of accounts to be voluntarily used by municipalities and counties.)

On-call Employees. LD 729, An Act to Compensate Employees Required to be “On-call” by Their Employers, sponsored by Rep. Christian Greeley of Levant, would have prohibited employers, including municipalities, from requiring an employee to be “on call” unless that requirement was agreed to by the employee at the time of hire. The bill would have also required all employers to pay the employee for all on-call hours unless both employer and employee had agreed in writing that such payments were not necessary.

LD 1 Limits. Sen. Jonathan Courtney (York Cty.) and Sen. Richard Rosen (Hancock Cty.) submitted legislation seeking to amend the existing procedures used by municipalities, counties and schools to exceed the LD 1 property tax revenue limits. Both LD 1618, An Act to Seek Direct Voter Approval to Exceed Government Spending Limits (Sen. Rosen) and LD 1776, An Act to Strengthen Budget Caps for Counties, Municipalities and School Districts (Sen. Courtney) would have required a county, school or municipal decision to exceed the LD 1 limit to be ratified through a referendum vote. Absent from both bills were more restrictive override procedures for the state.

Public Shade Trees. Rep. Richard Wagner of Lewiston submitted LD 1264, An Act to Resolve Differences in the Laws Regarding Public Shade Trees, in an effort to ensure that public shade trees would be protected from the aggressive maintenance efforts of utility companies. To meet that goal, the bill proposed to mandate the municipal enforcement of a state adopted public shade tree ordinance.

Road Repairs. Rep. John McDonough of Scarborough introduced LD 963, An Act to Prohibit Construction Companies from Using Certain Heavy Equipment in Residential Neighborhoods. In an apparent response to a constituent complaint, the bill would have prohibited the use of equipment essential to road reconstruction projects, such as pavement reclaimers and vibratory rollers, on projects occurring in residential areas.

Tax Collector/Treasurer. In an apparent response to a single community’s request, Sen. Peter Mills (Somerset Cty.) introduced LD 1122, An Act to Prohibit a Person from Serving as Both Municipal Tax Collector and Treasurer. The bill would have prevented one municipal appointee from serving as both the tax collector and treasurer.