Stagnant Session Slips by Summer With Much Undecided

By Ruth Leubecker

 

After Maine’s 128th Legislature failed to correct a typo, ignored a tax overhaul and  never reconvened to settle other pressing matters but failed to adjourn, many remain uncertain about what happens next.

“We aren’t sure if or when we will go back to finish up the two or three items that we have unfinished,” says Rep. Will Tuell. “I hope we do, but I’m not holding out hope that leadership will come to an agreement to fix the Clean Election error and pass a tax overhaul bill -- both of which I feel are needed.”

This legislative session has been the butt of many jokes and the subject of much ridicule, having taken so long at the helm of big-issue decision making but leaving so much undecided as they decided to call it a day and leave town last April.  

Hundreds of bills left behind included a housing-based treatment for young mothers and a bill to ensure a child protection program. Due to the unwarranted actions of Gov. Paul LePage, this backlog also includes legislation to address laws still unenforced, such as the five-times-vetoed Medicaid expansion.

The future of the Downeast Correctional Facility remains mired in the reality of strong support but stagnant funding. “The biggest thing on my agenda right now is DCF,” says Tuell. “I hear about it -- still -- whenever I am in public, and even more so when people stop and want to talk. My position is, and will be going forward, that we need to make sure we either reopen the existing facility, or make sure that a $10 million bond for a correctional facility in Washington County actually happens when we have a new administration and legislature.”

In the meantime, as summer slips to its natural seasonal end, the 128th legislative session remains on hold. “If we’re going to close the session we have to do it,” says Rep. Anne Perry, headed to the blueberry festival this past Saturday. “If the Clean Election resolution goes through the court we’re going to have to do something. That typo was only one of the errors to correct, so we have to pass the errors bill and then the tax overhaul. That would truly be my fervent hope.”

The lack of communication between the legislature and the governor’s office has been increasingly detrimental to moving forward. “There’s no overseer of Corrections,” said Sen. Joyce Maker at the height of the DCF controversy. “There’s a commissioner, but he’s not allowed to talk with us.”

Tuell remains optimistic about the future, however. “I’m banking on people wanting to turn over a new leaf and take a fresh look at this,” he says, “and many other issues, including the Medicaid expansion, which Washington County supported. I am hopeful that in the coming year we can fund that and move forward.”

 

Meanwhile, closing the 128th session before the next one convenes continues as a paramount objective.