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Back to School

by Jennifer Gray

I don’t know about you but sometimes I think of the Maine Legislature a little bit like I think about my children’s school vacation. I’m anxious for it to start and then very ready for it to be over.

It’s hard to tell whether the session will continue running fairly smoothly or whether there will be some roadblocks. Tomorrow (Tuesday), the Legislative Council votes on whether to allow some additional bills in to address school shootings. There’s also speculation that House Minority Leader Representative Ken Fredette will pull out of the governor’s race. If that were to happen, no House members would be running for governor which would change the Legislature’s dynamics.

On that note, here’s the latest issue update from Augusta and DC:

Tax Conformity

There’s still no bill from the Governor proposing how Maine should conform its income tax code with the recent federal changes. It’s possible that we’ll see something late this week after the revenue forecast update. I’m hearing from some legislators that one possible option is to not pass a conformity bill this year but instead wait until next year’s long session when there’s more time.

Taxing Nonprofits

We’ve drafted a response to the Governor’s memo (read more about it here) and will be distributing it to legislators potentially at the end of this week. We’re waiting for the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee’s land trust study report to be made public before we release it. Look for the memo and an updated webpage on protecting nonprofit property tax exemption on or around March 5. Here’s the handout that the land trust community distributed to the full legislature yesterday.

Transparency

Last week, the Health and Human Services Committee voted in support of Rep. Eric Jorgensen’s LD 1435 that would increase the transparency around the spending of federal block grants. Rep. Jorgensen offered an amendment pushing the implementation date to 2019 and clarifying exactly what the Department of Health and Human Services would need to include in the report. However, the voted was divided along party lines with the Democrats supporting the amended bill and the Republicans opposing it. There’s a chance that Republican Sen. Eric Brakey will vote for it on the floor but, without House Republican support, the bill faces an uphill battle.

Federal

Last week, the 12 appropriations subcommittees received their spending targets for finishing the FY 2018 bills. This means the individual subcommittees can start House-Senate negotiations. Their time frame is short – they’ve been directed to report by March 1 to their respective House and Senate full committees regarding any issues for which they have been unable to reach agreement. At that point, negotiations on those remaining issues (typically these are the most politically difficult issues) will be taken over by Appropriations Committee Chairs, Ranking Minority Members, and their staffs.

March 14 is informally the target date for the Appropriations Committees to complete their negotiations and release a final omnibus appropriations bill. That date is likely to slip a few days, but Congress needs to pass the bill by March 23 to avoid another continuing resolution. If the date slips too much, a possible scenario is to pass another continuing resolution to provide more time for Congress to finish and pass the omnibus. Another government shutdown is very unlikely.

The Johnson Amendment issue in the Financial Services bill is among the issues to be negotiated. It’s one of hundreds of differences that need to be resolved. We’ll be reaching out to our delegation on this issue.

At the same time they are finishing FY 2018, the Appropriations Committees will be starting hearings on the FY 2019 budget. No hearings are planned for this week, but expect them to have hearings in March.

If you want to make a request to the delegation relating to FY 2019 appropriations bills, note that some offices will set deadlines. Rep. Pingree’s deadline is March 9. It’s unclear what Poliquin’s deadline is. Senators’ deadlines are a little further behind since the Senate Appropriations Committee hasn’t yet released its deadlines (although the Committee’s deadlines will likely be in early April).

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