Legislative report: January 8 – 20, 2014

Wednesday, January 8

Your legislature’s second session opened today.  A large group including many local constituents rallied at the State House in favor of expanding access to health care for uninsured Mainers.by accepting federal funds for Medicaid.

Following on Picus Associates’ Independent Review of Maine’s Essential Programs and Services Funding Act, over the next two months our Committee will be dedicating two work sessions per week on a bill to improve Maine’s school funding model.

As we begin that work, I have outlined my own Priorities for improving Maine school funding

Related to one of the recommendations in the Picus report, I am also participating in a bipartisan subcommittee charged with formulating the Education Committee’s recommendation regarding income-based property tax relief to replace the ‘Circuit Breaker’ program which was gutted in last session’s budget negotiations.

Thursday, January 9

Our Committee had a working lunch presentation on early childhood education programs and funding.  This was followed by an afternoon work session at which we were briefed on a new report from MEPRI on the relationship between poverty and education.

Friday, January 10

Representative Kumiega and I offered our perspectives on this legislative session on Ron Beard’s public affairs program ‘Talk of the Towns’ on WERU.

Tuesday, January 14

Attended a Maine Development Foundation breakfast presentation updating legislators on the federal Affordable Care Act.

In our morning session, the House narrowly overrode the Governor’s veto of LD 1254 An Act To Increase Consumption of Maine Foods in All State Institutions but fell short in an effort to override the Governor’s veto of LD 963 An Act to Expand Access to Early Postsecondary Education.  The Governor has indicated that he supports the substance of this latter bill which received a unanimous report out of our committee and passed the legislature last session without controversy.  But his veto means that we will have to restart the process with a new round of hearings.

In the afternoon, our bipartisan education subcommittee met to flesh out a recommendation to use a concept bill, LD 369, to work jointly with the Taxation Committee to “improve the level of benefit to property taxpayers in the replacement ‘property tax fairness program’ at least equal to that of the ‘circuit breaker program’ a year ago.”

This parallels the intention of another bill, as yet unpublished, which I am cosponsoring with Speaker Eves.

Wednesday, January 15

In a morning work session, our committee amended LD 783, a bill I supported that proposed easing the voting requirements for municipalities to withdraw from recently reorganized school districts.  The amendment leaves in place the requirement of only a majority vote instead of a supermajority but retains a requirement for a minimum number of votes that must be cast in each community.  At the request of the bill’s sponsor, the committee also killed LD 1330 which sought another alternate pathway to teacher certification.  The committee tabled action on LD 1361 another teacher certification bill which seeks to require colleges to set proficiency standards in teaching programs and to require teachers to recertify competency in writing and mathematics.

After only the briefest discussion, our Committee unanimously approved LD 1579  a bill which makes it clear that service personnel, emergency workers, firemen, police, wardens, forest rangers, and the military are permitted to wear their respective uniforms when visiting schools.

Sawin Millett, the Governor’s finance chief, briefed the Appropriations Committee on what the Governor characterizes as a $119M shortfall in the budget.

Almost all of this figure is related to MaineCare but I was interested to follow up on the components of the $3M that was assigned to education.  It turns out that this figure represents goals for new spending that the Governor is re-proposing

  • $1.5M for industry certification of Career and Technical Education Centers
  • $1.0M for the second year of the high school to college Bridge Program
  • $450,000 for Jobs for Maine Graduates program for at-risk students

Thursday, January 16

Attended a legislative breakfast at which Maine’s Environmental Priorities Coalition outlined its priority bills for this session.  These include:

These last two bills I am cosponsoring.

During Thursday’s session, the House overwhelmingly overturned the Governor’s veto of LD 386, a bill expanding access to tobacco cessation programs, and then divided disappointingly along party lines and sustained the Governor’s veto of the ‘errors and omissions bill correcting what essentially are typographical errors in the budget.

In better news, the bill that I have been working on with Senator Langley, LD 1736 Resolve, To Create a State-run Virtual Academy Providing Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts was published and referred to our committee.  This promises a much more effective model for blending opportunities for virtual learning within Maine public schools rather than virtual charter schools operated by out-of-state private corporations.

After carrying it over for further consideration, on Thursday the Health and Human Services Committee reported out my bill, LD 535 ‘Ought Not To Pass.’  I proposed this bill to allow operators of full-care facilities like Bar Harbor’s Birch Bay Village to provide continuity of nursing services across different residential settings under a single license.  The HHS committee sympathized with my intention but had broader reservations about implications of quality assurance in facilities operated by larger corporate providers.

Also Thursday afternoon, as part of a statutory eight-year legislative review cycle, our Committee received a report from the Department of Education on their programs, organization, strategic goals and accomplishments.  This report is not yet online but the Committee has requested that the Department make this useful and informative document available.

We also received an update from the Department of Education on the implementation of the revised rules on restraint and seclusion that the committee approved last session.

Friday, January 17

With the Appropriations Committee, I attended a hearing on the so-called  Rosen Report from the administration’s Office of Policy and Management recommending budget reductions for the remainder of the current biennium.  We heard testimony from those opposed to cuts proposed to Maine Public Broadcasting and to Portland’s Welcome Center which assists refugees, many of whom arrive with valuable skills and advanced professional qualifications, with language training, networking, and professional referrals.  The Rosen Report also proposes cutting $9.5M from general purpose aid to education in the upcoming school budget cycle.

In the afternoon, I got a tour and had a brief meeting with administrators at the MDI Biological Laboratory to learn more about the Lab’s recent expansion and vision in becoming a leading education and research facility for regenerative biology and to discuss how the state might better partner with the organization in the future.

Monday, January 20

Senator Langley and I sat in with Linda Fuller’s ED117 Negotiating Education Policy class at College of the Atlantic and had an excellent round table discussion about our current work and trends in Maine education policy.  It was particularly interesting to hear from students from Belgium and the Czech Republic about what they admired about American education in comparison to their home country.

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Last, I have had conversations with several constituents who have run into difficulty with home heating suppliers, particularly related to LP gas.

For those of you who may be facing extraordinary financial hardship for heating, I recommend contacting 211.maine.org either on the web or by dialing 211.

For those who may be having difficulty with particular suppliers, I recommend contacting the Maine Energy Marketers Association at (207) 729-5298.