Legislative report: Performance pay for legislators, gambling, and non-ionizing radio frequencies

Monday, March 3:

The Legislature’s Select Committee on Workforce and Economic Future formally voted to recommend my bond bill which would benefit development projects at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Lab.

The Education Committee’s ongoing work to improve college affordability got urgently redirected into a letter to Appropriations opposing proposed cuts to higher education funding including:

  • diverting casino revenue statutorily dedicated to scholarships
  • “across the board” percentage decrease to Community College, University System, Maine Maritime, and Maine State Grants for scholarships administered by the Finance Authority of Maine
  • Eliminating the sales tax exemption on purchases made by private colleges

The Education Committee opposes because these measures work in opposition to our current efforts to improve college affordability for Maine students via the Senate President’s bill LD 1703 and my ‘Pay Forward, Pay Back’ college tuition bill, LD 1702.

Afternoon, I participated in a panel discussion about charter schools taped for The Maine Event with Hannah Pingree and Senator Roger Katz. The other panelists were Senator Brian Langley, Representative Karen Kusiak, and charter school advocate Cheryl Clukey. The program, Pingree & Katz The Maine Event, will broadcast on Time Warner cable on March 25th.

In the afternoon our Committee had hearings on two bills: LD 1768 An Act To Allow All Veterans To Be Eligible for In-state Tuition Rates and LD 1747 on the teacher evaluation rules.

The Marine Resources Committee voted unanimously in favor of LD 1602, the bill to study ocean acidification which I have co-sponsored.

The state Charter School Commission rejected two charter school application including one of the two virtual charter school applications operated by K12 Inc.  The Commission approved the other virtual charter application, the one operated by Connections Academy.

And here is the most recent research on learning at virtual charters which outlines many of my reservations::

Tuesday, March 4:

In the morning, Adjutant General James Campbell addressed a joint session of the Legislature to report on the state of Maine’s National Guard.

In the afternoon, the Education Committee worked on the portion of the school funding model that indexes local school funding on the basis of local labor markets.

This is one of the perennially contentious parts of the formula because it suggests that it’s appropriate to have lower teacher salaries in regions which pay their teachers less.  However, there is also an argument to be made that, because it’s a regional average, the same mechanism provides the poorest districts with proportionally more state subsidy than it does to their wealthier regional neighbors.

In the end, our committee concluded that the labor market indexes should be updated and maintained to reflect the most current salary data and to separate the matter of how better to ensure that adequate state resources are directed to schools with higher numbers of economically-disadvantaged students.

Wednesday, March 5:

In our morning session, the House debated LD 1541: An Act To Ensure That Legislators Share the Sacrifice with Civil Servants in the Event of a State Government Shutdown

As the title indicates, this was a bill freighted with more politics than reasoned policy and support divided along nothing like party lines.

Proponents argued that if legislators are unable to settle on a state budget and state government shuts down, then it’s only fair that legislators should have their compensation proportionally reduced.  Much of this sentiment was born out of resentment against the US Congress during the federal shut-down last fall.  And, as with many populist themes, a vote on this inspired fear among many legislators that a vote against this bill would be used against them in fall campaign mailers.

On the other hand, implementing the bill would have little practical effect because legislative pay period lasts only through the regularly schedule session.  So, if there is a personal financial incentive for legislators to complete the budget, it’s already in effect as no one is getting paid after the first week of June.

Moreover, as the State Constitution protects the Governor’s salary, making legislative pay contingent on a budget agreement would only put the Legislative branch at a greater tactical disadvantage in relation to the Executive branch in the event of a budget veto by the Governor.

Last, and most compelling to me, it seems wrong to suggest that better policy would result from linking it directly to lawmakers’ compensation.  Legislators should be making policy decisions on the basis of their consciences, their constituents, and the best interests of the state — not by how much money their votes put in their pockets.  It seems a short leap from this proposed policy to one that links legislative pay to how many (or, perhaps conversely, how few) bills get enacted in a session.  Ultimately, legislators should be answerable to their constituents, not the benefit to their bank accounts.

So I was in the minority that voted consistently against this bill.  The Senate felt less compunction than the House majority, however, and killed it outright.

Shortly afterward, I found myself again in the minority on a vote on LD 1521: Resolve, Directing the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry To Create a Pilot Program To Support the State’s Small Food Processors.

This bill had prompted some constituents to write to me expressing their support and I agreed that the bill’s concept which sought to assist small local food processing businesses with developing business plans.

The House also failed to find the supermajority of votes necessary to advance LD 156, a Constitutional amendment which would have streamlined early voting in municipalities which wish it.  Bar Harbor’s Town Council had officially endorsed this bill.

The House also advanced LD 1230, the bill to expand the services that dental hygienists may provide under the supervision of a dentist.

Afternoon, the Education Committee heard hearing testimony on LD 1780: An Act To Prohibit Providers of Cloud Computing Service to Elementary and Secondary Educational Institutions from Processing Student Data for Commercial Purposes.

Unusually for our committee, this bill drew lawyers from both Microsoft and Google and it quickly seemed evident that this was part of a larger battle between corporations whose concern about student privacy was secondary to their respective business visions.

Late afternoon, I joined in a video conference with staff from ILearnOhio, a public consortium that makes virtual learning available through Ohio public schools in a way that seems similar to what Senator Langley and I are proposing for Maine.  The content includes market rate virtual courses from charter school providers like K12 Inc and Connections Academy.  But it also includes simple individual lessons and units aligned to Ohio’s learning standards and available to all at no local cost.

For me the telling figure was that Ohio makes these lessons available to 1.8 million students at an annual operating expense of $1.5 million.  Compare this to Maine’s proposed virtual charter school which proposes to make similar content available only to several hundred Maine students at a cost of about $3 million.

Thursday, March 6:

Breakfast meeting with Women, Work, and Community an organization to which a surprising number of local constituents have attributed the success of their own home business.

I continue to have breakfast and lunch meetings with representatives of Maine School Management and the Maine Education Association to discuss concerns they have regarding the proposed teacher evaluation rules.

In our morning caucus, we were briefed on the Appropriations Committee’s process and expectations regarding adjustments to the FY14 and FY15 budgets.

The legislature has a slew of gambling bills before us including:

As a state, Maine has had a particularly haphazard approach to gambling and no comprehensive planning to ensure prudent public outcome. Instead, gambling facilities have been approved and disapproved sporadically by referendum.  Licenses that the state has subsequently issued have been resold at enormous private profit and many promises of public benefit remain unfulfilled.

Because of this, there is a strong argument that, rather than approving more individual gambling facilities as proposed in these bills, the state should first develop a comprehensive plan and vision that ensures consistent public benefit.

This essentially was the position of the majority of the oversight committee, a perspective which I largely share.

But there is a countervailing argument of economic fairness against the status quo in relation to the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet proposals in Washington and Aroostook Counties.

Had Maine not already licensed gambling facilities in Bangor and Oxford, I would have found it easy to vote against all of these individual gambling bills.  But given the present disproportionate regional assignment of these locally lucrative licenses and the economic hardship already faced in eastern Washington County and Southern Aroostook County, I ended up voting in support of LD 1520 and LD 1298.

Both these facilities will still be subject to local referendum and both will provide revenue to the state on the same terms as the Bangor and Oxford casinos.

As the other gambling proposals require no referenda and propose to return different amounts to the state, I oppose them.  Advocates for the two bills connected with harness racing framed the proposals as subsidizing local agriculture.  But harness racing already receives a share of the proceeds from the Oxford casino — approximately $10 million dollars per year — while the state’s General Fund receives only about $8 million from the same source.  The harness racing advocates with whom I spoke couldn’t explain how that subsidy is currently directed and used. So I am not inclined to support additional subsidy.

On Thursday, the Senate voted 24-11 on my bill LD 1736 Resolve To Provide Maine Students with Access to Online Learning through Their Existing School Districts.  Within an hour the Governor vetoed it.

Afternoon, our Committee continued to work on our committee school funding bill, reviewing the discussion on regional cost adjustments, grants for professional development, and increased subsidy for economically disadvantaged students.

In the afternoon a majority on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee endorsed LD 1744, An Act To Protect Maine Lakes and opposed the state’s proposed new mining rules proposed in LD 1772.  These are both bills in which many constituents have expressed interest.

Friday, March 7:

In the morning, I sat in on the Appropriations Committee’s hearing on ‘across the board’ cuts proposed by the ‘Rosen Report’.

In the afternoon, I attended Appropriations’ briefing by Sawin Millet and Commissioner Rier on the Governor’s new proposal to replenish the state’s budget stabilization account.

After that, I met with Commissioner Rier to discuss ideas for state funding of state-approved charter schools and my proposed amendments to the teacher evaluation rules.

I also discussed my teacher evaluation amendments with Maine School Management.

Monday, March 10:

Morning, Committee work sessions on our Government Evaluation Act Review of the Department of Education and the State Board of Education.

Work sessions followed on LD 1774: Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 115: Certification, Authorization and Approval of Education Personnel, a Late-filed Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Education and LD 1768: An Act To Allow All Veterans To Be Eligible for In-state Tuition Rates

Afternoon, brief work session on our Committee bill to recommend ways to improve higher ed affordability followed by a hearing on LD 1638: An Act To Improve Educational Outcomes for Students in Poverty in Maine’s Public Schools, a bill promoted by the Maine Education Association.

Tuesday, March 11:

My bill clarifying the terms of non-resident student transfers, LD 1591, became law without the Governor’s signature.

Morning, represented the Education Committee at the morning meeting of Committee chairs.

In our morning session, the House Voted 95-47 in favor of LD 1252: Act To Improve Maine’s Economy and Energy Security with Solar and Wind Energy, a bill which had interested many constituents.

The House also spent much time debating LD 1013: An Act To Create the Children’s Wireless Protection Act which seeks to require warning labels on cell phones about potential danger from radio frequencies.

This was another bill for which support cut across party lines.  Essentially, proponents favor labeling cell phones as potentially hazardous on the basis of the ‘precautionary principle’ even though evidence of such dangers have not been established.

Opponents argue that requiring such labeling will almost certainly make the state liable for significant court costs from likely judicial injunction against the bill on Constitutional grounds of interfering with the First Amendment and the Commerce Clause.

I voted against the bill because of its basis in bad science.  At 68-71, the House vote was close and I was in the minority.  The bill now goes to the Senate.

Afternoon, we had a final work session on the Education Committee’s funding bill.  We also discussed my proposal for state charter school funding.  The Committee will take further recommendation on this from Commissioner Rier and expects to put forward a separate bill on the topic.

Wednesday, March 12:

The Maine School Boards Association voted in support of my proposed amendment to the teacher evaluation rules.. I asked our Committee’s analyst to re-draft my amendment to reflect a composition of local stakeholders’ group that assures both teachers and school districts with effective voice.

In the morning session, the Senate held a long debate on LD 1487: An Act To Implement Managed Care in the MaineCare Program, the MaineCare expansion bill.  The bill passed but the vote total was short of the two-thirds required to override the Governor’s expected veto.

The House will debate and vote on this bill on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 13:

Snow day…

Friday, March 14:

Morning, I attended the Government Oversight Committee’s quasi-judicial hearing with Maine Center for Disease Control officials about allegations of document shredding in relation to last year’s grant awarding process for Healthy Maine Partnerships.

As the Committee narrowed in on questions about who directed both the rescoring of the award-granting methodology and the subsequent destruction of supporting documents, answers increasingly trailed off into the passive voice: “…There was concern” “…There was no expectation.” “…There was a belief.” “…Attention was brought.”

Some staffers described the destruction of documents as merely “version control” a term that’s new to me and which rings more of NewSpeak than DocumentHygiene.

Afternoon, I attended the Appropriations work session at which the majority voted to amend the the Governor’s recent bill  LD 1807: An Act To Restore Funding in the Maine Budget Stabilization Fund through Alternative Sources.

The amendment accepts the Governor’s proposal whole and also restores some of the funding cuts proposed in the ‘Rosen Report,’ including the cuts to public college scholarship grants and cuts to General Purpose Aid to education.  The amendment accomplishes this in part by using casino revenue initially directed to supplement education in order to eliminate the GPA cut proposed by the Governor’s report.

One thought on “Legislative report: Performance pay for legislators, gambling, and non-ionizing radio frequencies

  1. Kusiak

    1. What do the MSMA and MEA say about teacher evaluation when you meet with them for breakfast and lunch? What is your amendment to the teacher evaluation rules?

    2. I’m confused about why a Commission is being established. It seemed to me that the Ed Committee was working on the funding formula. Or was the Ed Committee merely discussing the parts of the funding formula that they wanted an expert panel to review?

    3. Re: Resolve, To Establish a Commission to Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula
    How were the 10 groups A. through J. selected for representation on the Commission?

    Other: I notice you cite a Forbes article in relation to LD 1013.

    See you tomorrow.

    Reply

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