(from Maine Townsman, July 1999)
By MMA State & Federal Relations Staff

It is not at all uncommon for a Legislature to call for the study of an issue before addressing the matter directly through the enactment of law.

Sometimes the call for a legislative study is done very formally. A law is passed establishing the membership of the study commission, its specific charge, and it reporting deadline. In other cases, the establishment of a working group is accomplished in less specific detail. In the least formal approach, an agreement is struck between a legislative committee and one or more parties of interest that a certain matter will be looked into and the committee will get some kind of report on the result of the informal effort when the committee reconvenes in January.

What follows is a list of the formal and not-so-formal working group efforts established by the 119th Legislature in its first session. Any municipal officials interested in participating in any of the efforts described below should contact Geoff Herman at MMA (1-800-452-8786) or the state agency with jurisdiction (if any), or the legislative sponsor of the initiative that created the study commission or task force.

LD 112 – Resolve, to Study Current Regulations Imposed on Small Businesses to Require Greater Efficiency (Sponsored by Rep. Ahearne of Madawaska). Emergency passed 6/17/99; Resolves 1999, c. 74.

This Resolve provides for immediate formation of a 9-member Task Force to study state and federal regulatory requirements imposed on small businesses (15 or fewer employees) to determine if the regulations serve their intended purposes without being duplicative or burdensome. The study must include an inventory of filings, permits, and licenses required to start and continue operation of a small business. The Task Force must submit its report and recommendations for legislation to the Business and Economic Development Committee by December 15, 1999.

LD 873 – An Act to Clarify Municipal Responsibility for the Maintenance of Veterans’ Gravesites (Sponsored by Sen. Lawrence of York County). Carry Over.

At the request of the chairs of the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee, MMA will be working with municipal officials and representatives of the American Legion to address the issues raised in LD 873.

As printed, the bill expands the current requirement that municipalities maintain the graves of wartime veterans so that municipalities would be required to maintain the graves of all veterans whether or not they served during a wartime period. The bill also increases the penalty on municipalities for failing to maintain the graves from $100 to $500 per cemetery. The informal working group will primarily focus on the veteran community’s apparent concern with current municipal maintenance practices; discuss expectations for maintenance standards; and determine how the fine revenue, when assessed, is utilized.

LD 1170 – An Act Concerning the Review of State Solid Waste Management Policies (Sponsored by Sen. Mitchell of Penobscot County). Emergency enacted 6/17/99; PL 1999, c. 527.

This Act codifies into statute a periodic convention of a solid waste policy task force to review the state’s solid waste management policy. The size and membership of the task force is left open to representatives of groups with an interest in solid waste policy. Instead of legislative membership on the task force, which would create a fiscal note, the task force is required to consult with the members of the Natural Resources Committee in the course of conducting its business. The Act lists a half dozen subjects for the task force to consider, including the proper role of municipal zoning and other forms of local control with respect to the siting of solid waste disposal facilities and the development of commercial solid waste facilities.

LD 1346 – An Act to Amend the Laws Regarding the School Administrative District Budget Approval Process (Sponsored by Rep. Brooks of Winterport). Carry Over.

This bill, along with LD 933, An Act to Permit the Submission of Citizens’ Initiatives and Citizens’ Vetoes to School Districts (Sponsored by Rep. Glynn of South Portland), was carried over into the second legislative session and at the same time referred over to the State Board of Education by the Legislature’s Education Committee, for further study between now and then.

LD 1346 would amend the law governing the SAD referendum process by not allowing the SAD to revert to an open budget meeting when a budget is not approved by the voters at referendum. In the case of a school budget that fails twice at referendum, the SAD directors would be prohibited from proposing a third or subsequent budget that demands more from the property tax base than the previous year’s budget, adjusted by the Cost of Living index. LD 933 would allow the registered voters of any school district administrative unit to petition their school board with proposed rules or school policy and, if not adopted by the school board, put the petitioned policy or rule up to a referendum vote. This bill would also create a "people’s veto" process for school policy adopted by the school boards.

The letter of reference to the State Board suggests that a subcommittee of the Board should use these two bills as focus points to explore a variety of friction points in municipal-school and school-voter relations. The actual letter to the State Board is appears on page 48 of this TOWNSMAN.

LD 1428 – Resolve, to Enhance Fire Protection Services throughout the State (Sponsored by Rep. McAlevey of Waterboro). Emergency passed 6/10/99; Resolves 1999, c. 65.

This Resolve creates a 6-member commission to study and make recommendations for strengthening the effectiveness of the State Fire Marshal’s Office; creating incentives for greater citizen participation in volunteer fire departments; enhancing firefighter safety and health; and strengthening firefighter training and education in municipalities. The commission consists of the presidents, or their designees, of the Maine Fire Chiefs Association, the Professional Firefighters of Maine and the Maine State Federation of Firefighters, as well as two members of the House of Representatives and one member of the Senate. The commission is required to submit a report including recommendations and legislation to the Criminal Justice Committee by January 14, 2000.

LD 1457 – An Act to Decrease Restrictions on the Sale of Land (Sponsored by Rep. Clough of Scarborough). Carry Over.

This is a carry over bill that, as printed, would amend the subdivision law to permit a landowner to divide a parcel of land into 3 lots within any 5-year period without creating a subdivision if the landowner has owned the lot for a period of 5 years before the first dividing occurs and both dividings create a lot no larger than 140% of the applicable minimum lot size according to local ordinance.

Between now and next session, MMA was asked by the Natural Resources Committee to work with the State Planning Office and other interested parties to look at issues related to the subdivision laws and make recommendations with regard to the following goals: to enable a landowner to sell off small parcels of land to generate income without creating a subdivision; to discourage the sale of land to developers who will create subdivisions; and to prevent sprawl.

LD 1550 – Resolve, to Establish a Task Force to Study the Improvement of Public Water Supply Protection (Sponsored by Rep. Cowger of Hallowell). Emergency passed 6/17/99; Resolves 1999, c. 80.

This Resolve establishes a 17-member task force made up of four legislators, four representatives of state agencies (DEP, Conservation, IF&W, and DOT), and eight public members for the purpose of reviewing the systems of protection for Maine public water supplies and make recommendations to improve the level of protection. The specific threats to public water supplies for the task force to work on are septic systems, petroleum or hazardous material storage facilities, pesticide handling facilities, sludge spreading, and other surface water uses. The eight public members of the task force appointed by the Governor shall be representatives of water utilities, the petroleum industry, business owners, the real estate industry, and municipalities. The task force report is to be provided to the National Resources Committee by mid-January, 2000.

LD 1638 – Resolve, to Review Traffic Congestion Including Truck Traffic along the Route 1 York Corridor and Route 236 Corridor (Sponsored by Sen. Lawrence of York County). Emergency passed 6/10/99; Resolves 1999, c. 64.

This Resolve creates an 11-member commission to study the problem of traffic congestion along the U.S. Route 1 corridor and the Route 236 corridor between Kittery and Berwick. Membership on the commission includes two members of the Senate, two members of the House of Representatives, a designee of the towns of Berwick, Eliot, Kittery, Ogunquit, South Berwick, Wells, and York. The commission is responsible for conducting a comprehensive review of past, current and projected traffic flows; vehicular accident rates; traffic noise and dust pollution; traffic weigh station activities; existing local roadway signage and traffic signals; the traffic patterns of nonlocal traffic; and state and local law enforcement coverage along the two traffic corridors. The commission is required to submit a report including recommendations and legislation to the Transportation Committee and the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation by November 15, 1999.

LD 1849 – An Act to Amend the Laws Governing Public Easements and the Discontinuance of Town Ways (Sponsored by Rep. McKee of Wayne). Carry Over.

At the request of the State and Local Government Committee, MMA will be working with the bill sponsor, municipal officials, representatives of the utilities and forestry industries, and private citizens to determine what aspects of the public easement abandonment and discontinuation process should be addressed, if any. As has been common practice for several years, many pieces of legislation seeking to address the discontinuation/abandonment process were submitted this session. The State and Local Government Committee decided to carry LD 1849, with its broad and generic title, over into the second session in order to determine if and how current public easement laws should be changed. The study group will provide the Committee with information as to what the different interest groups believe is — and is not — working with respect to the existing laws governing public and private easements.

LD 1851, An Act to Amend the Laws Pertaining to Taxation of Recreational Vehicles (Sponsored by Rep. Nass of Acton). Ought Not to Pass.

This bill was actually killed in Committee with a unanimous "ought not to pass" report. The Taxation Committee asked MMA to look further into the problem and report back to the Committee with any findings or recommendations.

As printed, LD 1851 would include camper trailers along with motor vehicles with respect to the choice available to the owners to either pay an excise tax on the camper trailer by April 1 or be subject to a personal property tax. The bill would also subject both motor vehicles and camper trailers owned by non-residents to either an excise tax or personal property tax if those vehicles or trailers are domiciled in Maine for six months or more in any year.

What appears to be at issue is the efficiency and equity with respect to the taxation of camper trailers at parks where they are set up for extended durations from spring to late fall.

LD 1869 – An Act to Establish the Emergency Management Preparedness and Assistance Trust Fund (Sponsored by Rep. Bill Norbert of Portland). Ought Not to Pass.

Although the Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee voted that LD 1869 "ought not to pass," the Committee requested that the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management form a working group of interested parties to examine the concept brought forward in the bill.

As proposed, LD 1869 would have created an Emergency Management Trust Fund which would be capitalized by a surcharge on residential and commercial property insurance premiums of $2 and $4, respectively. The Trust Fund would have been used to support emergency management training and education programs and grants to state, regional and local disaster management agencies when there are local events that are not federally-declared disasters. Although many members of the Committee found merit in the concept of the Trust Fund, there was a general concern with the way the Fund would be financed through surcharges on insurance premiums. The Department of Defense has been charged with bringing together a working group, including municipal representatives, to examine the concept in more detail and report any findings to the Committee by December 31, 1999.

LD 1887 – An Act to Provide Access to Information Services in All Communities of the State (Sponsored by Sen. Kontos of Cumberland County). Enacted; PL 1999, c. 428.

This Act creates the Maine Governmental Information Network. The 7-member board includes the Secretary of State, the Director of the Bureau of Information Services, two members of the public appointed by the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House, two municipal representatives and one person with technical expertise in electronic communications. The Board is charged with overseeing the construction and operation of a statewide computer network connecting state, local and regional governments, and providing grants and technical assistance to municipalities and counties to develop the computer system to join the network. The Act also establishes the Maine Governmental Information Network Fund to carry out the functions of the Network Board. The Fund is a repository for contributions, fees and grants obtained for these purposes. The Act provides $1,000 over the biennium as seed money to keep the Network Board afloat.