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Gov. Mills opposes lawmaker additions to her emergency storm relief bill


Gov. Mills opposes lawmaker additions to her emergency storm relief bill

Apr 16, 2024 | 4:00 pm ET
By Emma Davis
Gov. Mills opposes lawmaker additions to her emergency storm relief bill
The Senate chamber in the Maine State House empties as lawmakers gather to caucus on remaining bills. (Emma Davis/ Maine Morning Star)

Gov. Janet Mills is opposed to her emergency storm relief bill being used as a vehicle to fund other initiatives. However, the majority of the Senate thinks it’s a good idea, leaving the House to decide whether to advance the proposition. 

“This is another 11th hour, multimillion-dollar amendment crafted outside of the budget process, behind closed doors, without public input, and without the consultation of me,” Mills wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “It entangles more than $100 million of unrelated, ongoing spending with my storm relief bill, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid when I introduced it as a standalone bill months ago.”

As previously reported by Maine Morning Star, Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) introduced a heavily amended version of the bill, LD 2225, on Friday night that maintains funding as proposed by Mills to rebuild infrastructure damaged by storms this winter but attaches funding for a multitude of other issues already being considered in separate bills this session, notably mental health and nursing homes. 

The budget passed by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee on Monday includes some funding for these issues, specifically $19.6 million for mental and public health and $26 million to support nursing homes. However, it leaves out some bills aimed to address these issues that advocates argue are critical to fill gaps and that have passed the House and Senate.  

The Senate voted 20-13 on Friday night in favor of the amended version. On Monday, Bennett amended the bill further, adjusting the section about education support staff to raise their minimum wage rates, though the rates are still slightly below those proposed in LD 974. After being reconsidered Monday, the proposal received slightly stronger support, with a vote of 23-11 in favor. 

“Disaster relief needs to be funded but we have crises in mental health and long-term care that are not adequately being tended to,” Bennett told Maine Morning Star on Tuesday. “I couldn’t disagree with the governor more strongly.” 

Mills wrote that funding the amendment would force lawmakers to cut programs next year, including the state’s ability to continue to share the total cost of funding public education from K-12 at 55%, which is included in the budget as passed by the Appropriations Committee. 

“We need to get serious,” Mills wrote. “Time is running out for the legislative session. The Legislature needs to pass a clean storm relief bill and pass the supplemental budget approved by the Appropriations Committee yesterday.”

Statutory adjournment is Wednesday. However, the Legislature has yet to pass a budget or cast votes on a number of other bills. 

Before the committee closed the budget Monday, it struck the emergency preamble, which allows the budget to pass with a simple majority rather than requiring the support of two-thirds of legislators.

This essentially means it won’t need Republican support to pass. The amended version of LD 2225 from Bennett, who is a part of the Republican minority on the budget committee, is also an attempt to get some of the minority’s plan funded. 

Bennett said he also introduced the amendment because of fear that some of these bills not included in the budget would languish on the appropriations table. 

After passing both chambers, bills with fiscal notes not accounted for in the budget can be sent to what is referred to as the appropriations table to be funded with the remaining unappropriated money. The Appropriations Committee has the discretion to pass a bill as is, amend it to change its cost or kill it outright. 

The text of the budget as passed by the Appropriations Committee is expected to be available Tuesday, but the amount left for the table was not clear by the time this article was published. 

On the Senate floor Monday night, Sen. Nicole Grohoski (D-Hancock) said the inconsistencies LD 2225 as amended has with the majority budget can be worked out and that she is proud to support the amendment because she thinks “it sends all the right messages to all the right people.”

“A bill has many reasons for being,” Grohoski said. “It may be that it becomes an enacted law in the end, or it may just be that it shines light on a problem. It may be that it’s an opportunity for the public to come and speak about an issue that they need to be heard about, or it may be that it’s sending a message to the other chamber, to the chief executive or to the people that we represent.”

In addition to Mills, Pat Keliher, commissioner of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, has urged the Legislature to not pass the amended version. 

“While the Senate is playing politics with the governor’s bill to rebuild Maine’s devastated coastal infrastructure, it is Maine fishermen, seafood dealers, aquaculturists, coastal towns, and dock owners who are paying the price and struggling to stay above water,” Keliher said on Tuesday. “The damage from this winter’s storms has put them at enormous economic risk and this amendment only adds last-minute, unrelated spending that should be addressed elsewhere.”

Mills said House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) was not consulted in crafting the amendment, but Bennett said he consulted with the Speaker personally. Talbot Ross did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

LD 2225 awaits consideration in the House, as of 4 p.m. Tuesday.