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End of Legislative Session ... Maybe?

by Jennifer Gray

We anticipated that the final legislative session under the LePage Administration would be unique, but no one could have predicted the bizarre manner in which it ended. Facing the inability to get the 2/3 support needed in the House to extend the session and complete its work, the 128th Legislature adjourned sine die on Wednesday, May 2. Before they adjourned, they voted to carry over all remaining business to a special session, should it occur. While we all wait to see whether this happens, here’s a summary of where the issues that we’ve been watching stand.

Transparency

The spending of federal block grants is not required to be transparent creating challenges for the agencies receiving the funding, their partners and their clients. 

  • LD 1435, An Act to Ensure the Transparency in the Distribution of Federal Block Grants (sponsored by Rep. Erik Jorgensen) (MANP supported).
    • As amended, would have required the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to provide an annual report to the Health and Human Services Committee on the federal block grants for which it was the lead agency.
    • The responsibility for oversight of federal block grant spending is shared between the administrative and legislative branches in other states. These grants are public tax dollars and warrant appropriate scrutiny as with the allocation of other tax funds in the budget.
    • Nonprofits partner with state government in many ways, including caring for and supporting Maine’s vulnerable citizens. This relationship is greatly hindered when spending plans are unclear.
    • The federal government is increasing its reliance on “block granting” and will likely expand it to include Medicaid, housing, health care, and training programs which would make transparency even more important.
    • The amended bill received a committee vote of 11-2 from the committee and was enacted by the House and Senate but the House failed to override the Governor’s veto so the bill died.

Reimbursement Increase

After a long drought, direct service providers received a rate increase in last year’s two-year budget, but this was only for the first year. Given the challenging work and the low pay, it’s been very difficult to maintain appropriate staffing levels and some facilities have had to close. This is one of the key issues left undone in the session. As a result, there will likely be layoffs and some facilities may need to close.

  • LD 967, An Act to Ensure Access to Community Services for Persons with Intellectual Disabilities or Autism (sponsored by Rep. Erin Herbig) (MANP supports).
    • Increases reimbursement rates for direct services provided to MaineCare adults with intellectual disabilities or autistic disorder.
    • The Health and Human Services Committee voted OTPA in 2017.
    • The bill was enacted in the House and put on the Special Appropriations Table in the Senate in 2017, but, in the meantime, $11.25 million was put in the budget to fund it for one year (2017-2018).
    • This bill remains on the Appropriations Table pending funding despite continuing to have strong bipartisan support.

Liability

  • LD 1714, An Act To Clarify Liability Pertaining to the Collection of Debts of MaineCare Providers by the Department of Health and Human Services (sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine) (MANP supports).
    • Ensures that board members are not held personally liable for the debt of the organizations on whose board they serve. Uncertainty around this issue can create a chilling effect on the willingness of people to volunteer their time and talent by serving on a board. Boards are essential to the functioning of their organizations.
    • The Health and Human Services Committee voted OTPA.
    • The House and Senate approved the bill without debate and it was sent to the Appropriations Table where it remains.

Property Taxes

This was the issue that was much anticipated and never materialized. Despite the Governor’s repeated threats to try again to repeal the nonprofit property tax exemption, a bill never appeared. A study that was inserted into the budget bill at the end of last year’s session concluded that land trusts have much to offer and earn their exemption. 

  • Part TT of the budget (LD 390) (MANP neutral)(2017).
    • Created a benign study of Conservation Lands Owned by Nonprofit Conservation Organizations to be conducted by the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.
    • The final report can be found here.
  • Despite the report’s favorable conclusions, the Governor remains focused on targeting nonprofits, particularly land trusts, during the short second session. He distributed this memo to all legislators February 14, 2018. We responded with this letter with an attached legislative history of recent attacks on the property tax exemption. For talking points and additional resources, go here

Raffles

Last year, the Legislature overhauled and simplified the state’s regulatory regime governing raffles.

  • LD 1837, An Act To Allow Cash Prizes for Certain Raffles Conducted by Charitable Organizations (sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz)(MANP supported).
    • The changes made to the raffle law in 2017 created unintended barriers for organizations that rely on raffles to raise funds which they then award to nonprofits.
    • The Legal and Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously in support of the bill to fix this issue.
    • The bill received strong support in both the House and Senate and became law without the Governor’s signature.
Key
OTP = Ought to Pass
ONTP = Ought Not to Pass
OTPA = Ought to Pass as Amended

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