Guns, privacy, politics and school budget hits

Report to Maine House District 35 from the Legislature: week of February 19-22, 2013:

Guns, privacy, and politics

On Tuesday, as predicted, we acted with legislative alacrity to enact a temporary law that shields concealed weapons permit data from public view.

No matter where one stands on privacy, public safety, or government transparency, the action was nearly indefensible as good policy-making process.  But please understand that it’s naive to expect that policy-making can be safely firewalled from politics on a matter inflamed by such hysteria.

It’s clear to me that there are some interests out there whose political aim is singularly to create distraction through ideological smoke and noise, in the hopes that honest legislative deliberations are obstructed or derailed. If the volume of email in my inbox over last weekend was any indication, all sides were getting played like Wurlitzers on this issue and the legislature, predictably, reacted like a flock of starlings spooked by a truck backfire.

We are, after all, merely the twitchy nerve network of the public’s body politic.

The hasty temporary action wasn’t law-making at its best, certainly.  Nevertheless, I am convinced it was the prudent interim course, given the worse alternative of escalating shoulder-bumping about respective unproven harms and risking the displacement of the enormous amount of work that presses immediately in negotiating the next budget.

So, instead, may we please talk directly about improving prosperity, education, and community well-being?

‘Restraint and seclusion’

On Wednesday, our committee heard five hours of testimony regarding a bill, LD 243, sponsored by Senator Saviello that seeks to  amend some sections of the rules governing the classroom use of physical contact, adopted a year ago by consensus through a stakeholders’ group.   Much tension appears around the precise terms of the ‘physical escorting’ of a child who is disruptive or defiant in class.  While there was disagreement among those testifying about whether ‘shepherding,’ ‘guiding’, and perhaps ‘scooting’ are legally permitted, there seemed much less disagreement about whether these were reasonable and necessary practices.

There was some disagreement about whether the simple damaging of property justified physical intervention by a teacher or whether intervening was appropriate only in the event that a child’s destruction of property threatened to harm himself or other students.

There was also an interesting disagreement about whether it was appropriate for teachers to engage in more forcible intervention with the explicit permission of a child’s parents or whether such action would further confuse students about the appropriate consequences of disruptive behavior.

Proponents argued that current rules are unfair to the great majority of students whose learning is curtailed when schools allow disruption to continue without intervention.

The bill’s opponents argued that the rules are fine but that more training is needed to give teachers better strategies for dealing with disruption and that substantial parts of what the bill seeks to allow are in fact already permitted under the present rules.

Towards the end of the hearing, there seemed some hope that opposing stakeholders could find some common ground in agreeing to some modifications in the terms of ‘physical escot’ and some clarification about some greater latitude permitted under the current rule.

Early voting

On Wednesday, the Legal Affairs Committee heard three bills related to absentee and early voting.  Two bills, LD 53 and LD 54 seek to eliminate restrictions on absentee voting. Many town clerks say these bills would disrupt their pre-election set up and greatly complicate supervision on election day.  A third bill, LD 156 which would streamline direct early voting via a Constitutional amendment, appears to have much broader support.

Supplementary budget

While a few Democrats objected that the compromise struck by the Appropriations Committee shortchanged schools and health care and wished for a broader discussion about increasing state revenue, the $153M supplemental budget passed the legislature with enormous margins on Thursday.

This clears the way for this session’s substantial work, the $6.3B biennial budget.

Gun training mandate rejected

On Thursday, our committee voted to kill the bill which would have required secondary schools to offer gun handling classes.  This position was apparently endorsed by the Governor whose representative testified at the public hearing that a mandate for such classes is unwarranted.

Maine schools remain free to offer both gun handling classes and gun safety classes, should their boards choose.  But the state will not require that they offer these programs.

We also threaded the needle on the superintendent residency bill, declining to override the municipalities which require residency but granting municipal school boards the authority to waive such a requirement, if they wish.

Budget hits from Governor’s proposal to shift teacher retirement costs to local schools

On Friday, the Department of Education released the preliminary figures for state subsidy of schools for the coming fiscal year which begins in July.

This is our first look at the consequence of the Governor’s proposal in the biennial budget  to shed the state’s obligation to fund public school teachers’ retirement by shifting the liability to local school units.

The Governor proposes to temper this shift for the coming year by kicking in a $14M subsidy of roughly half the statewide cost of $28M.  Because the Governor proposes to run the subsidy through the regular school funding formula, this is no relief to MDI’s schools as we received virtually no state subsidy through the formula anyway.

So here, from the preliminary figures, is the immediate hit the Governor proposes for MDI schools whose budgets are already largely set for town meeting votes beginning in the next few weeks.

  • Bar Harbor: ($105,611.89)
  • Cranberry Isles: ($4,720.64)
  • Frenchboro: $2,381.79
  • Mount Desert: ($60,942.74)
  • Southwest: ($65,957.99)
  • Swan’s Island: ($15,916.60)
  • Tremont:($32,192.72)
  • Trenton: ($61,771.42)
  • MDI High School: ($187,444.41)
  • Total: ($532,176.62)

Source:

Our committee is scheduled to receive a briefing on this proposal on Monday morning at 10:30..

Contact

Please let me continue to hear your thoughts on these topics above and any other legislative concerns.

With gratitude,
Brian


Representative Brian Hubbell,
Maine House District 35
Bar Harbor, Southwest Harbor, Cranberry Isles, Mount Desert

RepBrian.Hubbell@legislature.maine.gov
http://www.mainehousedistrict35.com/
https://www.facebook.com/Hubbell.HD35
https://twitter.com/Brian_Hubbell
66 Park Street, Bar Harbor, ME 04609
(800) 423-2900 (Augusta)
288-3947 (home)