Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Your next state legislature will begin work officially on January 4, so I wanted to offer a preliminary report and share my legislative agenda for the upcoming session.
From Education Committee to Appropriations
Last week Speaker Gideon appointed me to the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee which has oversight of the state budget, general fiscal policy, and bonding.
I will miss my colleagues on the Education Committee and intend to keep my hand in on a number of ongoing education initiatives. But I am truly excited about serving with some skilled legislators on Appropriations and making the most of the challenging opportunities immediately ahead for the state related to school funding.
As you know, I have had the privilege of advising Appropriations on education funding over the past four years and regularly stuck with the committee through all hours during end-of-session budget negotiations. So in some ways this will be familiar territory.
Certainly, given that the Governor has vetoed every state budget bill since he was elected, we can expect that the Governor’s next biennial budget proposal, due in the next few weeks, will stir controversy and difficult negotiations.
Proposed new state psychiatric facility
Immediately this week, Appropriations’ work will begin under some threat of controversy with the governor in reconciling the location of the necessary new mental health facility to treat violent non-criminal patients after the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center lost its federal certification in 2013.
As federal funds are at risk as well as compliance with a judicial consent decree, I expect that all parties will want to complete those negotiations about public oversight as directly as possible in the first weeks of session..
My policy area of school funding is likely to be central in Appropriations session as the legislature holds hearings on the governor’s budget proposal and also implements November’s Question 2 citizens’ initiative which adds an income tax surcharge to aid in the state’s flagging twelve-year effort to provide 55% of the established foundational costs of K-12 education.
While I was blocked from attending the initial meeting by the Governor’s staff, I have been wholly welcomed to subsequent meetings and effectively been given a seat at the Commission’s table. Despite the rocky start, I am hopeful that the process may prove productive.
Although its work is not yet gelled, the Commission hopes to make interim legislative recommendations to inform the upcoming session. For anyone interested in the details, I have framed the decisions before the commission in a policy outline.
This past summer, it took several months to tease some information from the Department of Education about $11M in unallocated school funding and some other incomplete statutory obligations. I intend to pursue these issues further in this next session on Appropriations.
Between the passage of referendum Question 2, the governor’s presumed budget initiatives, and the Blue Ribbon Commission’s potential recommendations, I believe that the state may have a real opportunity this session to make some comprehensive improvements to Maine’s school funding model.
So, folding in what I now take to be common interests around support for early education, economically disadvantaged students, and professional development for teachers, I have drafted a bill which comprehensively amends the statutes on funding and targets additional funding toward economically disadvantaged students. This bill also greatly increases transparency in state budgeting and educational spending.
Proficiency-based learning and school accountability
Earlier this month, I attended two conferences in Washington DC and met with staff from the offices of Senator King and Senator Collins to gain some national perspective on the new federal education regulations in this time of political flux.
Obviously, there is a great deal of national uncertainty about the policy implications of almost every aspect of the next presidency. So I conclude that, as a state, we should proceed with the opportunity that is currently offered to develop a state plan for education that meets Maine’s own established goals and which seeks to ensure equity of opportunity by our own measures.
It has been twenty years since Maine committed to a system of learning standards and, despite frequent policy distractions, our schools are now engaged in real transformational improvement. We owe it to our schools and hard-working teachers to represent learning achievement and school improvement on our own terms, not those designed narrowly in the service of federal compliance.
Last spring, over the governor’s veto, the legislature provided direction for a broader framework to measure and report on school success and to target support for school improvement.
So far, the Department of Education’s progress on implementing this legislation and reconciling the federally-required accountability plan has been halting and opaque, largely because of current limits of leadership and capacity. But I intend to continue to follow this effort closely.
In addition to committee work on appropriations and education, I am submitting several other bill requests for the upcoming session.
Parity of access to lobster fishing
Local option tax
In response to regularly expressed local interest in having a municipal ability to adopt a seasonal sales tax on tourist services in support of municipal infrastructure, I am submitting An Act To Allow a Local Option Tax on Meals and Lodging.
Municipal support for renewable energy
As you know, I was disappointed last session when the negotiated utility-supported compromise on a rate structure which would support increased distributed solar-electric generation narrowly failed to overcome the governor’s veto.
While the next effort is still apparently stalled in the Public Utilities Commission, I do expect a number of solar bills to come forward this session. To complement that effort and in response to interest from MDI’s A Climate To Thrive initiative on energy independence, I will introduce An Act To Allow Municipalities to Adopt Property Tax Exemptions for Renewable Energy Installations which seeks to allow municipalities to exempt renewable energy installations from additional property tax assessments.
Transportation and redevelopment
In support of local and regional efforts to manage transportation and potentially to acquire and locally manage the ferry terminal property, I am submitting a bill to establish a regional transportation, conservation, and economic redevelopment authority. I hope to support this with a parallel effort through MDOT to facilitate comprehensive regional transportation planning in partnership with Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor, and other regional stakeholders.
Death with dignity
Similar to last session’s An Act Regarding Patient-directed Care at the End of Life, I intend to cosponsor with Senator Katz another bill to empower those with terminal illnesses in their end of life decisions.
Firearm background checks
Following on November’s unsuccessful referendum on background checks for gun sales and transfers, I checked with some Republican colleagues about prospective legislation limiting the background check requirement specifically to firearm sales and simply establishing a strict civil liability for the transfer of firearms to a felon or domestic abuser, similar to the bill to this effect that I co-sponsored last session.
I was initially hopeful that this compromise could appropriately respond to the nominal concerns of those who opposed the referendum question on the grounds that it was inappropriately broad to regulate transfers as if they were sales.
But my Republican colleagues seem uniformly to have concluded that opposition to absolutely any kind of firearm regulation is now so widespread and so well-organized that any effort toward finding a policy middle ground will quickly fail.
Further, moderate members of my own caucus, understandably, really dislike the prospect of being politically targeted in the next election by firearms absolutists. So, with some regret, in such an unfavorable climate I will not be bringing this bill forward.
Support for independent living for adults with disabilities
In support of the arduous work of the Local Solutions housing project for local young adults with disabilities, I will be cosponsoring a bill with Representative Malaby and Senator Langley which seeks to gain this group some pilot funding.
If you are interested, as this next session starts up you can follow my daily public schedule on my web calendar.
It is a privilege to serve as your state representative. Please write to me with any concerns. My email address is Brian.Hubbell@legislature.maine.gov
With best wishes to you and your families for a prosperous and healthy new year.