Maine lawmakers again consider a cap on the number of bills they can submit

Good morning from Augusta, where the stage is set for a debate this morning about limiting the number of bills a single senator or representative can submit.

Rep. Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, has proposed an amendment to the House and Senate’s joint rules that would limit senators to submitting 10 bills for the first year of a legislative session and representatives to five.  Those limits wouldn’t count bills proposed on behalf of the governor or a state agency, committee bills or other specific circumstances.

[Correction: An earlier version of this post flip-flopped the proposed limits on the number of bills representatives and senators would be able to submit.]

Maine’s legislative process — particularly at the front end — has been a subject of debate for years but there have been few attempts to change it. Part of the reason it’s controversial is that there are no limits on how many bills can be submitted in an incoming Legislature, which makes for a clogged process later in the year. Under the current system, virtually every bill proposal requires the bill to be written and fully considered at least at the committee level. That often results in numerous proposals on the same topic being considered concurrently and for freshman lawmakers to attempt things that have been turned away in a string multiple previous years.

Proponents of unlimited bill submission say lawmakers should be free to propose what they want, but others say that leads to a colossal waste of time. How states handle the flow of bills varies significantly, with many states having legislative leaders cull the list early in the session and others having bills arise from issues debates at the committee level. There are no limits in Maine until the second year of a session, when bills are supposed to be of an emergency or budgetary nature. Those who oppose a limit on the number of bills each lawmaker can submit also argue that a limit would stifle constituent service because lawmakers routinely submit bills on behalf of people they represent.

Relatively few bills make it to enactment in Maine. In the past 20 years, the high-water mark on that front was 48 percent in the 119th Legislature in 1999-2000, but it’s usually much lower. Fewer than 25 percent of bills made it to enactment in the 117th, 118th, 120th and 122nd legislatures. This session, lawmakers have submitted nearly 1,800 bills and that total balloons by hundreds more when you count agency and governor’s bills. Two senators, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, and Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, each sponsored more than 40 bills on their own.

There have been a lot of calls to do something like this in the past. Former state senator and Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett and former Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Saxl tried to rein in the amount of proposed legislation, according to a 2017 analysis of the issue by the BDN. The problem is that timeline for electing new legislative leaders collides with the rush to implement joint House and Senate rules and as Bennett told us, no one campaigns on a promise as weedy as changing legislative rules.

This is unlikely to go anywhere. Lawmakers have proven time and again over the years that they are loathe to impose limits upon themselves. Furthermore, it’s unclear what effect Stetkis’ proposal would have, considering it doesn’t apply to this year and that the 129th Legislature will implement its own rules when it convenes in December 2018.

“I’ve seen the frustration in the halls [of the State House],” Stetkis said during a radio interview earlier this month. “There’s just far too many bills for a part-time citizen’s Legislature.”

Gubernatorial hopefuls face crucial deadline on Tuesday

We’ll get the first look at candidates’ finances since the field to replace Gov. Paul LePage was effectively set. All candidates for state offices have to file final fundraising numbers for 2017 with the Maine Ethics Commission by Tuesday’s end. It’s the first update in the wide-open gubernatorial race since July and with a field of 25 candidates, bad showings in this fundraising period could increase pressure on lower-tier candidates to drop out.

There have only been small teases so far, but two candidates seem to have done well. Democratic hopeful Betsy Sweet has said she raised nearly $89,000 in “seed money.” That’s an impressive haul, since it can only be raised in increments of $100 or less by candidates who plan to qualify for Maine’s Clean Election program. That would be more than 2010 Democratic nominee Libby Mitchell raised by 2009’s end. Republican Shawn Moody has also said he raised roughly $150,000 in less than six weeks and matched those contributions with his own money. We’ll soon see how they stack up against the rest of the field.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate return to action today around 10 a.m. There could be a debate in the House over a resolution in today’s calendar to call for term limits on U.S. senators and representatives, which is part of a multistate effort to amend the U.S. Constitution. Otherwise, the calendars are light in the House and Senate, which is typical for this early in the session.

But legislative committees will be humming. The heavy schedule includes consideration of a marijuana regulatory bill and the Health and Human Services Committee’s public hearing on a bill from Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, that would restore an ombudsman position in the MaineCare program that advocates have long fought for.

Reading list

  • Maine’s top marine resources official opposes a requirement that all lobstermen file stricter catch reporting data. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is considering requiring Maine lobstermen to file daily catch summaries, including where their gear was set, but the state doesn’t like it. Currently, a random sample of about 10 percent report that level of information. Among the arguments against the proposal by Maine Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher is that the information is proprietary.
  • Fifty U.S. senators are now behind a bill to reverse the FCC decision to end net neutrality and deregulate the internet. A resolution to reverse the FCC’s decision wouldn’t come up for a vote for months, but it already has the support of 48 Democratic senators, independent Angus King of Maine and Republican Sen. Susan Collins. Even if the bill survived the Senate, it would still face significant challenges in the House and with President Donald Trump.
  • FairPoint’s new owners are promising faster internet for Maine. Consolidated Communications, which bought FairPoint last summer, will have a “challenging” first year, Maine Public Advocate Barry Hobbins told the Associated Press, but it plans faster internet at the same prices nonetheless.

Save Richard

WGME had this sad and jarring item yesterday about a Bridgton pony named Richard, who has cancer in his penis. A shelter is looking to raise $3,000 for surgery that would take off the affected area and, as one shelter official said, “basically create a new little Richard for him.”

We at the Daily Brief wish Richard the best. Here’s his soundtrack. — Michael Shepherd

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.