April 24, 2024 Article

131st Legislature Second Regular Session Update

Adjournment and Veto Day

After a marathon last day of session, members of the Preti Legislative Practice Group were at the State House on April 18th to witness the Maine State Legislature head home at 6 am. Legislators will return for a Veto Day within the next two weeks, at which time lawmakers will adjourn sine die (without day). Republican lawmakers expressed for weeks that they would not provide the two-thirds votes needed to extend the legislative session beyond last week’s statutory adjournment date. Governor Mills also made clear in writing to legislative leadership that she would not call them back in for a special session.

The end result means anything not finally enacted and sent forthwith to the Governor upon adjournment Thursday morning is presumably dead, unless a special session is called prior to the start of the 132nd Legislature in December (joint orders were passed to carry over any unfinished legislation to any special session of the 131st Legislature). Under the current political environment, it will take an unprecedented emergency if a special session becomes necessary in either the Governor’s or Republican members’ points of view.

Additionally, an opinion from then Attorney General Joe Brennan from 1977 was brought to the attention of legislative leadership on Wednesday making clear that no other legislative business is to be considered on Veto Day, as no Special Session has been called, nor has an extension of the Second Regular Session been approved by two-thirds of each body. However, another joint order was passed, stating that the Legislature may take up on Veto Day the Governor’s vetoes and “other business,” and so there are ongoing discussions among legislative leadership about what will be taken up on Veto Day.

Supplemental Budget

Before adjourning Thursday morning, the majority report of the supplemental budget (LD 2214) was enacted in both chambers. Two amendments were added to the budget prior to being sent to the governor for her signature, both being offered by the House majority leader.

The first amendment corrected a couple drafting errors related to wage increases for educational technicians and other school support staff and levels of assistance for applicants for housing in a lodging place.

The second amendment added transfers of $50 million from the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund (the “Rainy Day Fund”) for municipal, state or regionally significant infrastructure adaptation, repair and improvements that support public safety, protection of essential community assets, regional economic needs and long-term infrastructure resiliency. Project types may include working waterfront infrastructure, culverts, storm water systems, water system upgrades and other interventions that support reducing or eliminating climate impacts, especially coastal and inland flooding. The amendment also created the Business Recovery and Resilience Fund program and transfers $10 million from the Rainy-Day Fund for economic recovery and resilience grants for businesses and nonprofit organizations affected by the December and January storms.

The latter amendment was controversial in that Republicans felt funding should come from the unappropriated surplus instead of the Rainy-Day Fund. The Governor requested the Legislature to leave approximately $100 million in the unappropriated surplus for the next legislature to allocate as needed. She preferred using the Rainy-Day Fund because revenue forecasting suggests that that fund will be greater than the maximum allowed when revenue projections go down in the near future. Maine law allows the Budget Stabilization Fund to reach a maximum of 18 percent of the fiscal year’s general fund actual revenue from the most recently closed fiscal year. The maximum amount is recalculated annually.

Some Democratic legislators wanted to see more funding in the budget allocated to mental health, nursing homes, and ed techs, as well as stronger recruitment and retention language for state employees. To that end, Democrat Senator Nicole Grohoski offered an amendment that was passionately supported by Senate President Troy Jackson and Republican Senator Rick Bennett. In a 17-16 vote, consisting of mixed party support, the Senate adopted the budget amendment.

However, when it came time for the Senate to engross the amended version of the budget, Senator Bennett joined all the Republicans in voting against it. Five Democrats who were upset that the budget had been amended also refused to support it. This led to confusion and Senate President Jackson imploring his fellow Democrats to not kill the budget entirely. It was ultimately sent to the House as amended with only Democratic votes, but two Democrats still refused to support it.

In the House, the Grohoski amendment described above was stripped from the bill, but the House Majority leader amendments were left intact. The Senate ultimately receded and concurred in an almost partisan vote with only Senator Grohoski joining the Republicans in opposition.

Special Appropriations Table

Earlier in the day on Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee met to act on items on the Special Appropriations Table (the “Table”). They voted a couple dozen bills off the Table, mostly stripping the fiscal notes, pushing back implementation dates, or changing funding sources entirely to Other Special Revenue, which makes bills exempt from the Table.

Only one bill related to resource centers for substance abuse services was funded with General Fund dollars. This is also the only bill among those moved off the Table that Republicans allowed and supported to be enacted on Thursday morning. Senate Republicans blocked reconsideration motions of all other bills off the Table, which required a two-thirds vote.  

The Appropriations Committee clearly intended to meet and consider other bills to move off the Table, but with all the uncertainties related to the budget and available funding, it made it nearly impossible for the Committee to proceed with its work. The Preti team and our clients were successful on many fronts including having important client priorities included in the budget. Unfortunately, a few items we felt confident would get off the Special Appropriations Table with unanimous support were curtailed due to the uncertainty described above.

Significant Policy Issues and State House Elections

Other issues receiving lots of attention this session included bills considering energy generation and transmission, numerous health care bills and mandated benefits proposals, proposals to significantly change elements of Maine employment law, gun safety measures, changes to tax policy, privacy protections, reproductive rights, Children’s Developmental Services reform, child safety, possible fixes to the right to repair referendums, cannabis policy, gambling policy, restrictions and taxation of tobacco products, indigent legal services, and affordable housing.

The Preti team worked on your behalf on many of these issues and had a positive impact on the bills that passed and assured that most bills that will have negative impacts or unforeseen consequences failed to pass, were vetoed by the Governor, or are likely to be vetoes by her.

We continue to monitor the progress of the legislation awaiting action by the Governor and will be present on Veto Day to positively impact the results of those votes.