New ‘Emergency’ Bills

(from Maine Townsman, December 2005)
By Jeff Austin, Legislative Advocate, MMA

As was mentioned in the article that provides an overview of the upcoming Second Regular Session, one of the five categories of legislative proposals that may be taken up in 2006 is “emergency” legislation. The process to determine whether a new bill will qualify as an emergency is governed by the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council members are the leaders of the Maine legislature — President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, the Majority and Minority Floor Leaders and the Majority and Minority Assistant Floor Leaders for both the Senate and House of Representatives.

Legislators had until October 7th to submit their ideas for Second Session bills to the Council; a total of 493 were filed. The Legislative Council initially approved 174 of these bills. Of the 319 that were rejected, approximately 90 were appealed. The appeal process allows the bill sponsor a chance to argue to the Council why the bill should be included in the Second Session. On November 28 th the Council had its appeal hearing and allowed each legislator two minutes to advocate for their bill. The focus of the advocacy was on why the bill qualifies as an emergency. That is, why can’t the bill wait until next year. The Council allowed in an additional 33 bills following appeal, bringing the total number of “emergency” bills to approximately 207.

State agencies filed an additional 64 bills for the second session. These bills can be found at the following link: http://janus.state.me.us/legis/lio/dept_LR_2005.

MMA staff had initially identified (based upon the title only) approximately 90 of the initial 493 bills as having a municipal interest. Following the screening processes, the number of bills that appear to have a municipal interest is down to approximately 46.

An example of one of those “emergency bills” that will have an impact on municipalities is An Act to Enhance Competition and Consumer Choice in the Telecommunications Industry, sponsored by Sen. Beth Edmonds of Cumberland Cty. This bill is likely an example of legislation the telephone industry is advancing nationwide in an effort to ease their ability to begin offering cable television service. Telephone companies are deciding where to begin offering cable services, in a bundle along with the telephone and internet services they currently provide.

Telephone companies are required to have a franchise agreement with the municipality, just like the cable companies, before they begin offering television services. However, the telephone companies object to the current municipal franchising process. It is not clear if their objection is rooted in the contents of the franchise agreements or the need to negotiate the agreements with each municipality. Thus, under the guise of “leveling the playing field” the telephone companies are seeking to have the state negotiate the cable franchise. The contents of the bill are still unknown. Interestingly, these same telephone companies are promoting legislation at the federal level that would have the federal government negotiate the franchise. Furthermore, the Federal Communications Commission is looking at the issue of franchising for telephone companies.

Judging solely on the basis of their titles, a short list of other important municipally-related bills coming up in 2006 under the “emergency bill” category includes the following Legislative Requests (LR):

LR 2459 - An Act to Clarify Laws Governing Eminent Domain. (Sponsored by Rep. Pelletier-Simpson of Auburn)

LR 2635 - An Act to Ensure Long-term Capacity of Municipal Landfills. (Sponsored by Sen. Cowger of Kennebec County)

LR 2925 - An Act to Consolidate the Management of Solid Waste. (Sponsored by Sen. Cowger of Kennebec County)

LR 2742 - An Act to Improve Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Services (Sponsored by Rep. Millett of Waterford)

LR 2672 - An Act to Allow Law Enforcement Agencies to Maintain Public Sex Offender Registry Websites. (Sponsored by Rep. Curley of Scarborough)

LR 2653 - An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Assessment of Property Taxes in the Event of a Change of Ownership of the Property. (Sponsored by Rep. Craven of Lewiston)

LR 2905 - An Act to Make Minor Technical Changes to Maine's ("LD 1") Spending Growth Benchmarks. (Sponsored by Rep. Woodbury of Yarmouth)

LR 2965 - An Act to Amend the Laws Governing the Excise Tax on New Automobiles. (Sponsored by Rep. Schatz of Blue Hill)

LR 2967 - An Act to Streamline Criteria for Municipal General Assistance for Heating and Utility Assistance. (Sponsored by Rep. Schatz of Blue Hill)