Municipal Impact Bills

(from Maine Townsman, December 2009)
By Kate Dufour, Legislative Advocate, MMA

Maine’s lawmakers asked their leadership for permission to introduce 372 bills to the Legislature in January. The Legislative Council allowed 159 bills to advance, representing 43% of the bills submitted.

Although it is widely acknowledged that most of the Legislature’s attention in the 2010 session will be on budget matters, some of the proposed non-budgetary legislation could impact municipalities in various ways. The precise degree of impact is not entirely known because the only information available at this stage in the process is the bill’s title and a narrative description of its contents. On the basis of that information, about 40% of the bills allowed into the session by legislative leadership will affect local government somehow. It is fair to say that from this vantage point the 60-plus bills of municipal interest do not propose earthshaking changes either to the advantage or disadvantage of local government.

What follows is a list and brief description of the most significant municipally-relevant bills, according to certain categories. At the end of this article, listed by title only, are all the other newly-admitted bills that appear to have some municipal relevance. A complete list of the bills that were allowed into the Second Regular Session of the 124th Legislation can be found at: http://www.maine.gov/legis/lio/2009Lists/accepted_2010.pdf

For the purpose of this listing, the bills are grouped in six categories: (1) administration, (2) labor, (3) taxation, (4) environment, (5) public safety, and (6) the citizen initiative process. As is the case every session, a number of community-specific bills, such as utility district charter changes, will be introduced. These bills are found in the list at the end of the article.

Administration

An Act To Further Regulate the Communications of Members of Public Bodies (Rep. Dostie of Sabattus). This bill would establish that group e-mail communications among members of a public body are improper public proceedings. The bill prohibits members from sending group e-mails if the group constitutes a majority of members. The bill also prohibits an individual who is a member of a public body and who has learned, through a series of one-on-one communications with other members of that public body, that a majority of the members are in agreement on a particular topic from using that information by conveying it to third-parties with an interest in the topic unless the agreement has been previously rendered or effected at a public proceeding.

An Act To Authorize Municipal Officers To Resolve Road Naming Disputes (Rep. Magnan of Stockton Springs). This bill would authorize municipal officers to make the final decision when there is a dispute in the naming of a town road, private way or private road for E-9-1-1 purposes.

An Act To Clarify the Informed Growth Act (Rep. Beaudette of Biddeford). This bill would amend the Informed Growth Act. It clarifies that a change of use permit is not considered a land use permit under the Act and that the Act applies only to new construction. In addition, the bill seeks to clarify how the municipal reviewing authority is to evaluate and consider the enumerated criteria in the comprehensive economic impact study.

An Act To Streamline Collections for Consumer-owned Consolidated Water and Wastewater Utilities (Rep. Fitts of Pittsfield). This bill would allow consumer-owned consolidated utilities to disconnect water service for nonpayment of sewer charges.

An Act To Allow Minor Capital School Improvement Projects To Be Permitted Costs under Essential Programs and Services (Rep. Rotundo of Lewiston). This bill would allow the cost of minor capital school improvement projects, such as the replacement of windows, a boiler or a roof, to be a permitted cost under the Essential Programs and Services school funding model.

An Act To Authorize Sanitary Districts To Waive an Automatic Sanitary District Lien Foreclosure (Rep. Chase of Wells). This bill would provide the option for sanitary districts to waive the automatic foreclosure of a sewer lien in the same way as municipalities may currently waive automatic foreclosure of a tax lien.

Resolve, To Repeal the Fee Increase for Copies of Vital Records (Sen. Raye of Washington Cty.). This resolve would repeal the 400% fee increase for copies of death and birth certificates and other documents kept by the Office of Vital Records within the Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Office of Health Data and Program Management.

An Act To Facilitate the Establishment of Watershed Districts (Rep. Eberle of South Portland). This bill would clarify that the watershed district law is one way of establishing a district and that alternatively one or more municipalities may create a watershed management district under municipal home rule authority or under interlocal cooperation authority.

Labor

According to 2008 Maine Department of Labor employment statistics, local governments, including schools, employ nearly 61,000 workers, representing 10% of the state’s workforce. As employers, bills seeking to amend labor laws often impact municipalities. This session, the Legislature will be debating the merits of four labor-related bills that could have an impact on municipalities.

An Act To Prevent the Spread of H1 N1 (President Mitchell of Kennebec Cty.). This bill would require a large business employer to give 52 accrued paid sick hours per year to an employee and a small business employer to give 26 accrued paid sick hours per year to an employee. Earned paid sick time may be used by an employee during an absence from employment for illness of an employee or illness of an employee’s family member, for accessing necessary preventative health care or if the employee or the employee’s family member is a victim of stalking, domestic violence or sexual abuse.

An Act Regarding Accidental Death Benefits for Beneficiaries of Deceased Firefighters (Sen. Jackson of Aroostook Cty.). This bill would provide an accidental death benefit to the beneficiary of a firefighter who dies from cardiovascular or pulmonary disease as described in the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 39-A, section 328. This bill would apply only to municipal firefighters who are members of a Participating Local District retirement program administered by the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. This bill would provide an accidental death benefit and not a disability benefit to the beneficiary of a firefighter who dies in the line of duty.

An Act To Amend the Unemployment Compensation Laws Regarding Vacation Pay (Speaker Pingree of North Haven). Under current law, an individual is disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits for any week in which the individual receives, is entitled to receive, or has received remuneration in the form of vacation pay. This bill would remove that restriction.

An Act To Ensure Equity in Unemployment Compensation Claims (Rep. Beaulieu of Auburn). This bill would clarify the definition of “employer” for unemployment compensation purposes to address the situation of two part-time employers who both lay off the same employee within a few days or simultaneously. Both employers would be considered the claimant’s last employer for purposes of the laws governing unemployment compensation.

Taxation

An Act To Avoid Unnecessary Removal of Land from the Tree Growth Tax Law Program (Rep. Watson of Bath). This bill would give landowners who fail to meet the filing deadline for recertification for participation in the tree growth tax program one year to comply while keeping the land enrolled. The bill would establish the tax payment for a one year grace period according to fair market value and the landowner would pay the higher tax rate and a penalty for this grace period if the land is removed from the program.

An Act To Increase the Affordability of Renewable Energy for Homeowners and Small Businesses (Rep. Crockett of Augusta). This bill would permit municipal governments to offer long-term financing of solar and wind electric generation systems through a property tax lien financing program.

An Act To Improve Employment Opportunities for Maine Workers in the Forest Industry (Rep. Martin of Eagle Lake). This bill would define bonded laborers, curtail tree growth tax benefits for owners of land who allow bonded laborers to harvest on that land and further would impose on any such owner liability for full payment of the commercial forestry excise tax on any such land in excess of 500 acres.

An Act To Modify the Maine Tax Code To Support Renewable Energy (Rep. Piotti of Unity). This bill would adjust the method by which Maine communities assess taxes on new renewable energy projects in order to better benefit the region in which those projects are located.

Environment

An Act To Expand Eligibility of Certain Municipal Landfills To Participate in the State’s Remediation and Closure Program (Rep. Johnson of Greenville). This bill would allow a small number of additional open municipal landfills that were allowed by the Department of Environmental Protection to remain open after January 1, 2000 to become eligible for the State’s remediation and closure program.

An Act To Provide Leadership Regarding the Responsible Recycling of Consumer Products (Rep. Innes of Yarmouth). This bill would establish a stewardship program for consumer products that addresses the life cycle impacts of a product and oversees the collection, transportation and reuse, recycling or disposal of unwanted products.

An Act To Update and Modernize Maine’s Floodplain Mapping (Rep. Legg of Kennebunk). This bill would provide funding to attract federal grant funding to update and modernize the state’s floodplain maps. The bill would direct $250,000 per year for 3 years in state funds to support topographical floodplain mapping.

Public Safety

An Act Concerning Statewide Communications Interoperability (Rep. Crockett of Augusta).

This bill would require that the statewide radio network under construction be available to other units of government without the need for other units of government to purchase new radios, or that a portion of the proceeds of the bond issue paying for the statewide radio network be allocated to local units of government for the purchase of radio equipment necessary for them to communicate on the new network.

An Act To Amend the Law Pertaining to Smoke Detectors and Carbon Monoxide Detectors (Sen. Diamond of Cumberland Cty.). This bill would clarify when and where smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors must be used.

An Act To Establish Emergency Zones (Sen. Trahan of Lincoln Cty.). This bill would designate an area where emergency personnel are assisting an injured person as an emergency zone and would add that area to the list of mandatory reduced speed zones, such as construction zones.

Citizen Initiative Process.

Maine is unmistakably trending toward increased “government by referendum”. During the first half of the 20th Century, there was one citizen initiative in Maine each decade, on average. The average over the last decade is two citizen initiatives per year, and no less than four citizen initiatives were decided by the voters on November 3, 2009. There could be as many as five citizen initiatives on the ballot in 2010. Perhaps as a result of the rapid growth in utilization, procedural issues regarding the initiative process will be debated by the Legislature in 2010.

An Act To Prevent Predatory Signature Gathering and To Strengthen the Citizen Initiative and Peoples’ Veto Process (Rep. Berry of Bowdoinham). This bill would allow a person to have the person’s own signature removed from a citizens’ initiative or peoples’ veto petition, if the request is made in writing to the Secretary of State, indicating that the person was given incorrect information.

An Act To Strengthen the Ballot Initiative Process (Sen. Nutting of Androscoggin Cty.). This bill would add a $1,000 fine if a person is proven to have violated the state law governing the gathering of signatures for a citizens’ initiative. The bill would also make it illegal for circulators who have been convicted of fraud or forgery to circulate petitions. The bill would require petition circulating companies to register with the state.

RESOLUTION, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Amend the Requirements Governing Direct Initiatives Process (Rep. Cain of Orono). This constitutional resolution would propose that the Constitution of Maine be amended to require that citizen initiatives be subject to the general legislative rules applied to other legislation, including fiscal notes.

Agency Bills. In addition to the bills approved by the Legislative Council, lawmakers will also be addressing the 75 bills submitted by 16 state agencies. Although bills submitted by legislators in a second session are subject to a review by the Legislative Council, agency bills are not. The submission of a state agency bill is at the discretion of the Governor.

If it is difficult to determine the significance of a bill submitted by a legislator on the basis of its title and brief description, then it is just short of impossible to determine the impacts of a bill title submitted by a state agency. As a general rule, second-session state agency bills are “housekeeping” bills in nature, which attempt to correct minor or technical problems associated with existing programs or recently enacted laws. It is not beyond the realm of possibility, however, to find major policy changes embedded within second session state agency bills. At this stage in the process, it cannot be determined with certainty whether the following state agency bills will have an impact on municipal government. More will be known when the printed bills are released to the general public.

A complete list of the state agency bills can be found at: h http://www.maine.gov/legis/lio/2009Lists/agencybillsbysubject2010.pdf

Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry

• An Act To Amend the Animal Welfare Laws.

• An Act Concerning Litigation Brought by the Attorney General To Enforce Provisions of the Forest Practices Laws.

Education and Cultural Affairs

• An Act To Fully Implement School Administrative Unit Reorganization.

• An Act To Amend Provisions of the Essential Programs and Services Funding Act.

Judiciary

• An Act To Amend the Laws Relating to Government Records.

Legal and Veterans Affairs

• An Act To Improve Access to Data in the Central Voter Registration System.

• An Act To Amend the Election Laws and Other Related Laws.

• An Act to Facilitate Voting by Uniformed Service and Overseas Voters.

Taxation

• An Act Concerning Technical Changes to the Tax Laws.

• An Act To Amend the Tax Laws.

Utilities and Energy

• An Act To Resolve the Conflicts in the Laws Governing Surcharge for the E-911 System.

Finally, here are the other municipally relevant bills admitted to the second session, described by their title only:

• An Act To Amend the Laws That Provide an Exemption for Agricultural Guard Dogs from Municipal Ordinances Governing Barking Dogs (Rep. Strang Burgess of Cumberland).

• An Act To Streamline the Renewal Process for a Permit To Carry a Firearm (Rep. Pratt of Eddington).

• An Act To Increase Maine’s High School Graduations Rate (Sen. Alfond of Cumberland Cty.).

• An Act To Establish a Silver Alert Program (Rep. Roundo of Lewiston).

• An Act To Prevent the Spread of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (Rep. Piotti of Unity).

• An Act To Allow Deer Hunting with Shotguns Only in Owls Head During Firearms Season (Rep. Mazurek of Rockland).

• An Act To Prohibit the Use of Personal Watercraft on Wilson Pond (Rep. Johnson of Greenville).

• An Act To Amend the Standards by Which Game Wardens May Stop All-terrain Vehicles when Operating on Privately Owned Lands (Rep. Sarty of Denmark).

• An Act To Ensure That Search and Rescue Dogs Are Afforded the Same Protections and Accommodations as Service Animals (Sen. Gerzofsky of Cumberland Cty.).

• An Act To Create Jobs and Stimulate Economic Development by Making Captive Insurers Eligible for Pine Tree Development Zone Benefits for 10 Years (Sen. Alfond of Cumberland Cty.).

• Resolve, To Protect Information Maintained by Registries (Rep. Treat of Hallowell).

• An Act To Provide Continued Protection Benefits for Retirees of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System (President Mitchell of Kennebec Cty.).

• An Act To Authorize the Issuance of “Stop Work” Orders if a Construction Contractor or Subcontractor Has Knowingly Misrepresented the Classification of Employees (Rep. Martin of Eagle Lake).

• An Act Regarding Maine Public Employees Retirement System Life Insurance (Sen. Hobbins of York Cty.).

• An Act Regarding the Sale of Malt Liquor from a Mobile Service Bar on a Golf Course (Sen. Perry of Penobscot Cty.).

• Resolve, To Transfer the Ownership of the Bath Armory to the City of Bath (Sen. Goodall of Sagadahoc Cty.).

• An Act To Protect the Environment and Natural Resources of the State by Regulating the Discharge of Certain Substances into the Environment (Rep. Flaherty of Scarborough).

• An Act Concerning Fees for Documents at the County Registry of Deeds (Rep. Crockett of Augusta).

• An Act To Amend the Somerset County Budget Procedure (Rep. Curtis of Madison).

• Resolve, To Promote Efficiency and To Streamline Access to the Maine Residents Property Tax Program for Seniors, People with Disabilities and Working Families with Low Incomes (Rep. Crockett of Augusta).

• An Act To Encourage Extended Stays in Maine Waters (Rep. Cushing of Hampden).

• Resolve, To Name a Bridge in North Berwick the North Berwick Veterans Memorial Bridge (Rep. Eves of North Berwick).

• Resolve, To Name the New Bridge over Gilman Stream in New Portland the Joshua Bernard Memorial Bridge (Rep. Pinkham of Lexington Township).

• An Act To Dedicate Surplus Transportation Funds to Highway Maintenance and Paving (Sen. Courtney of York Cty.).

• An Act To Reduce Road Noise within Posted Areas (Rep. Strang Burges of Cumberland).

• An Act To Regulate the Use of Traffic Surveillance Cameras (Sen. Damon of Hancock Cty.).

• An Act To Designate Funds from the Highway Fund to the Highway and Bridge Light Capital Program (Rep. Browne of Vassalboro).

• An Act To Raise the Indebtedness Limit of the Eagle Lake Water and Sewer District (Rep. Martin of Eagle Lake).

• An Act To Establish a Broadband Policy for Maine (Rep. Flaherty of Scarborough).

• An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Noise Limitations on Wind Turbines (Speaker Pingree of North Haven).

• An Act To Amend the Charter of the Dexter Utility District (Rep. Thomas of Ripley).

• An Act To Create the Lincolnville Sewer District (Sen. Weston of Waldo Cty.).

• An Act To Amend the Charter of the Buckfield Village Corporation (Rep. Hayes of Buckfield).

• An Act To Amend the Charter of the Corinna Water District (Rep. Tardy of Newport).

• Resolve, Directing the Public Utilities Commission To Adopt Rules To Improve the Safety of Multiunit Rental Dwellings (Rep. Adams of Portland).

• An Act To Amend the Charter of the Caribou Water District (Rep. Edgecomb of Caribou).

• An Act To Strengthen the Community-based Renewable Energy Pilot Program (Rep. Adams of Portland).

LPC