Swearing-In Day Summary
Presiding Officers, Parliamentarians, and Constitutional Officers
The first day of the 131st Legislature was relatively uneventful, and what was most notable is what didn’t happen – the Governor’s emergency energy relief bill. The results of the elections for the various leadership, administrative and Constitutional offices were as we expected and outlined in our update last week.
The House has chosen Rep. Rachel Talbot-Ross, D-Portland, as Speaker of the House, the Hon. Rob Hunt to continue as Clerk of the House, and term-limited House Majority Leader, Michelle Dunphy, as Assistant Clerk.
The Senate re-elected President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook. Darek Grant will continue as Secretary of the Senate, and Jared Roy is the new Assistant Secretary.
The three current constitutional officers, State Treasurer Henry Beck, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, and Attorney General Aaron Frey were all re-elected.
In all the above elections, Republicans supported the candidates nominated by the Democrats with a single, unanimous ballot cast for the candidates in all cases.
Action on Energy and Housing Crises
While the first day of session started a little after 10 am in both chambers, both chambers did not adjourn until about 7:30 pm. Both bodies passed Joint Resolutions recognizing Pearl Harbor Day and condemning the businesses who are refusing to sell Maine lobster. They also unanimously supported the creation of a new Joint Select Committee on Housing and referred LD 2, “An Act to Address Maine’s Housing Crisis” to the committee.
The rules passed yesterday will allow the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate to do most bill referrals without going through the formal voting process in the House and Senate. This makes much better use of the legislators’ time and allows the committees to get to work on bills more quickly. The rules will also continue to allow both in-person and remote participation by the public in Public Hearings and Work Sessions. Legislators will be allowed to participate remotely as well, with the permission of the presiding officers. If they are visible to other committee members and the public, they can ask questions and vote on reports, however, they cannot make motions, and will not count for making a quorum. Further, no meeting can be “chaired” remotely. Chairs are expected to be physically present for all meetings unless they need to be completely absent.
Senator Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, also proposed 3 amendments to the rules. Only the first two of these were brought before the body. Both were referred to the Rules Committee. The most interesting of these is the effort to disallow “concept drafts”, other than budget proposals, to be released from the Revisor’s Office. It is rare that concept drafts become actual legislation, but instead often slow the legislative committees down in attempts to create policy with very limited time to do so. Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, also failed in her attempt to allow legislators to record each other in the chamber during debates and other proceedings.
The most anticipated issue of the day was Governor Mills’ proposal to allocate almost half a billion dollars for energy subsidies and housing with LD 1, “An Act to Provide Funding for Winter Emergency Energy Relief and to Finalize the COVID Pandemic Relief Payment Program”. As an emergency measure, which allows legislation to take effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature, the bill required support from two-thirds of each chamber in order to pass. Republicans in both chambers had publicly expressed, and continued to express on the floor of the House and Senate, concern over a lack of public input due to the bill being voted on without having been referred to a committee and going through the committee process. The Governor, House and Senate Democrats, and the vast majority of House Republicans argued that the need to deliver help to Maine families, in danger of not being able to afford housing or heat as winter approaches was too dire to slow down the process.
With Republican leadership, including long serving and deeply respected Appropriations Committee member Sawin Millett, R-Waterford, pleading to his fellow house members to recognize the circumstances that require quick action, it passed easily. Only 16 Republican house members voted against the bill, which ultimately was enacted in the House 125-16.
However, with same arguments about process as were made in the House, and led by Senator Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, and Senator Eric Brakey, R-Androscoggin, the Senate Republicans refused to support the measure without it going through the committee process. With one Democrat and five Republicans absent for the vote, it failed to receive two-thirds support with a vote of 21-8. All Democrats present voted in favor and all Republicans present voted against. Passage required a vote of at least 23 in support.
There are a couple options to move the bill or a new proposal forward. Both the House and Senate adjourned until January 4th. They can call themselves back earlier if a majority of all 4 caucuses agree to come back, or the Governor can call them back.
Whether the bill comes back to the House in non-concurrence on January 4th or earlier, the House can insist in hopes that at least two Republicans will join the Democrats in passing the bill, or they can back the bill up and refer it to the Appropriations Committee in hopes that the committee can very quickly schedule hearings and pass the bill out of committee. Assuming the bill remains an “emergency”, as stated above, it would go into effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature. Thus, the lack of agreement on Wednesday does not prevent these resources from ultimately getting to families in need if not as soon as originally planned.
Cloture and Session
As stated in the previous update Cloture will be 4 pm on December 30th. Any legislation you would like us to draft, secure sponsors for, and deliver to the Revisor’s Office must be in a finished form by that time. Minor changes can be made in consultation with the sponsor within 5 days of her/him receiving the first draft back from the Revisor’s Office. If you have not already informed us of your legislative intentions please do so ASAP.
Also, as mentioned previously the Legislature is scheduled to reconvene on Wednesday, January 4th, at 10 am. We will share the Legislative Calendar for the month of January when we receive it but will expect committees to begin meeting in January even if they don’t have much legislative work yet to do. We will also be monitoring all the bill titles as they come out and sharing bills of interest with you. Actual language will not necessarily be available to the public right away, but we will reach out for language for any bills of interest.
As always, do not hesitate to reach out with any questions or concerns.