-Nancy E Smith, Executive Director
A busy and diverse week in the legislature, as GrowSmart Maine weighed in on several bills while tracking the progress of others. Our Board Chair, Daniel Hildreth, testified before the Legislative Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation on Wednesday as they dealt with significant changes being proposed, perhaps even the elimination of the Land Use Regulatory Commission (LURC); and I monitored the work sessions on these bills Thursday and Friday. This is one of the most significant issues the committee will deal with this session, and members are obviously taking it seriously. GrowSmart Maine supports making changes to the current process in order for those living in the Unorganized Territories to truly feel their needs are being met.
Most of the committee's focus has been on LD 1534, an amended version of which was presented at the public hearing. Having sat through about five hours of work session discussions, I still cannot clearly describe the proposal, except to say that it seems to direct the eight most directly impacted counties to set up their own “mini-LURC” board, or to allow planning and permitting decisions to be made by an Appeals Board made up of one commissioner from each of the eight counties.
Funding this process is also unclear, as one County Commissioner stated that he believes his county could manage the entire process with no more than its current allocation to LURC. Work will continue on Monday and perhaps Tuesday.
At this point, GrowSmart Maine hopes the committee will support an effort to send the issue to a broad stakeholder group over the summer and fall, to report back to the committee next January.
And just down the hall from the ACF committee, I testified this afternoon in favor of LD 1569, “An Act to Restore the White-tailed Deer Population and Improve Maine's Wildlife Economy and Heritage”, sponsored by Senate President Kevin Raye. As is so often the case in the legislative process, GrowSmart Maine stood in support of this bill with a few of the same folks with whom we disagree on the LURC issues. “Whether for hunting or visual enjoyment, deer are a part of Maine. And make no mistake, they are an important part of the Maine economy as well, particularly in northern and eastern Maine. As with most issues, this is not about choosing between Maine's economy and our environment; our culture and heritage charge us with enhancing both.”
Although we did not weigh in on LD 1540: An Act To Encourage Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education, I was pleased to hear from the sponsor, Sen. Elizabeth Schneider, that the bill received unanimous support from the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research, and Economic Development. This same committee also reconsidered a bill that would have repealed the Maine Uniform Building and Energy Code (MUBEC) so that one member could join his vote with the others, making for a unanimous “ought not to pass” vote. Our thanks to Rep Mel Newendyke (my own State Representative) for his willingness to do so. Two additional MUBEC bills will proceed to the House and Senate, but more on that next week.
With all this going on within the committee process, I was able to watch the Historic Preservation Tax Credit legislation move forward in both the House and Senate; early in the week sitting at my desk watching over the internet, and yesterday sitting in the House Gallery, watching in person. As you may recall, two bills were introduced; LD 260 and LD 742. GrowSmart Maine is part of a diverse and active coalition including Maine Preservation, Maine Downtown Center, and downtown developers and “preservation professionals”. As anticipated, LD 742 has moved forward incorporating the intent of all Taxation Committee members to extend the sunset of this important downtown revitalization and economic development tool by ten years. The bill was amended in the Senate by bill sponsor Sen Chris Rector, to reflect concerns over the funding source by advancing the timing of an evaluation of alternative funding by a few years. Our thanks to the entire Taxation Committee and bill sponsors Rep Erin Herbig and Sen Chris Rector, as we wait for final passage of this important legislation.