Winding Down or Gearing up?


Photo credit: GollyGForceBoth could be said for the State Legislature right now. Committees are finishing up their work last week and this, so most bills will move to the floors of both chambers for debate and then on to the Appropriations table or the Governor’s desk, if they aren’t left for dead. Oh, the imagery of Augusta!  Here’s what we’ve been working on:

The most significant bill in the past few weeks is the solar energy bill, LD 1649, An Act To Modernize Maine’s Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development.. GrowSmart Maine will testify in support of this bill at the public hearing Wednesday, March 16th.  The work session is scheduled for the very next day, so if this issue is important to you, now is the time to reach out to members of the committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology to ask them to support the bill. Find their contact info here: http://legislature.maine.gov/house/jt_com/eut.htm

The solar coalition is hoping to draw 100 members of the public to the Capitol, wearing bright yellow t-shirts with the logos of coalition members – including ours! We are focusing in particular on the land use issue of placement of solar farms on lands not suitable for other uses, including farming and development.  In addition, we will make clear that the bill proposes an appropriate way to transition from the current system of payment for small-scale solar producers, net metering, which is not sustainable, to a system that more appropriately balances the value of local renewable energy production with the overall costs of production, transmission and distribution.

TAXATION:

LD 1519, An Act To Amend the Tax Laws To Strengthen Charitable Institutions, Encourage Home Ownership and Manage Medical Expenses. This bill died with a unanimous ought-not-to-pass vote out of committee following partisan caucuses.  Our sense is that last year’s changes to the tax code seemed to address most of the broad-based concern on these issues.  We did not engage on this bill for that reason.

LD 1579, An Act Regarding the Maine Clean Election Fund has been the subject of several work sessions with a final committee vote pending. Though the referendum language which passed last November calls for the Clean Elections program to be funded through a reduction in low-performing business incentives, the final outcome of the bill is not clear.

ENERGY and UTILITIES:

LD 826, An Act To Promote Maine’s Economic Development and Critical Communications for Rural Family Farms, Businesses and Residences by Strategic Public Investments in High-speed Internet, which would add $1M to the ConnectME fund for investments in planning and implementation related to broadband infrastructure, has made its way quietly through the House and Senate.  Now that it has been passed in both bodies, it will sit on the Appropriations Table until the end of the session awaiting possible funding.

LD 1398, An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses.  After several work sessions and bill reviews, the committee vote resulted in a divided report, each pulling money away from RGGI funding for energy investments to increase rebates to business electric ratepayers.  Both bills increase the current percentage of rate discount from the current rate of 15% to either 18% in the Democrat version or 40% in the Republican version.  GSM testified against this bill, believing that the intent of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is best fulfilled in the current formula focused on investing in energy efficiency.  We will continue to engage on this issue as the bill works its way through the full Legislature.

As always, our Legislature functions best when our elected leaders hear from you, their constituents. Here is the link where you can find contact information for all elected officials:
http://www.maine.gov/portal/government/edemocracy/lookup_voter_info.php

Statutory Adjournment is scheduled for Wednesday, April 20th.  There is a lot to do between now and then.  We’ll keep you updated here on our blog, our mailing list and on Facebook and Twitter.