Herbig bills on rural redevelopment, autism services become law

Four other approved measures await funding
By Jordan Bailey | Jul 19, 2017

House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, has seen several of her bills pass the House and Senate this session, three of which have been signed into law. The rest have been placed on the Special Appropriations table without funding.

A panel of legislators will be meeting this week to determine whether funding sources can be found for these bills. The Senate is expected to take final action Thursday, July 20, and the bills will then be sent to the governor for a signature or veto.

One bill that did become law creates the Rural Manufacturing and Industrial Site Redevelopment Program to provide grants and other assistance for the redevelopment of abandoned industrial sites in rural areas of the state. The new program will be created within the Rural Development Authority and will be funded with existing RDA funds. A previous report misstated the amount of funding the program would receive.

“The goal is to make sure rural communities can take control of their future and rebuild in the wake of a changing economy,” Herbig said in a press release.

From 2009 to 2016, the closure of six pulp, paper and paperboard mills, four of which were on the Penobscot River, resulted in the loss of 2,554 jobs in the state, according to the Center for Workforce Research and Information.

Another of Herbig’s bills, LD 761, expands eligibility for hearing aid reimbursement under the MaineCare program. It passed the House and Senate without roll calls and became law without the governor's signature.

The third bill to become law is awaiting Special Appropriations but received partial funding during the final days of budget negotiations. LD 967 improves services for adults with autism and intellectual disabilities by increasing reimbursement rates to direct care providers. Its full cost is $90 million per year over the next two fiscal years.

Lindsay Crete, communications director for the House Majority Office, said, “Due to its strong bipartisan support, it was partially funded at $11.25 million, which is the first time rates were increased since 2007.”

Of 63 people testifying at the bill’s hearing, only one, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, opposed it. Crete said the department’s concerns were addressed in an amendment that narrowed the services the department is directed to reimburse. Most of the people testifying in support spoke about the need to increase pay for direct care workers.

The bill passed out of committee with unanimous support and was passed in the House and Senate without roll-call votes.

Passed but not yet funded

LD 173, An act to reduce food insecurity, would provide $5 million over the next two years to Good Shepherd Food Bank, which distributes food to food banks across the state. The bill passed the House with a vote of 84-58 with Reps. Herbig, Stanley Paige Ziegler, D-Montville, and MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, in favor and Reps. James Gillway, R-Searsport, and Karl Ward, R-Winterport, against it. The bill passed the Senate without a roll-call vote.

LD 781 An act to support the trades through a tax credit for apprenticeship programs passed unanimously out of committee and passed the House and Senate without roll-call votes. It creates a tax credit worth $2,500 for employers for each apprentice employed, and an amendment allowed employers who employ apprentices for partial years to receive partial credit. The bill needs $33,000 to add a line to the income tax form, and $300,000 over the biennium to fund two new positions in the Department of Labor and cover other costs related to the credit.

Its passage would also reduce general fund revenue by $2,450,000 in fiscal year 2018-2019 and reduce local government fund revenue by $50,000 in fiscal year 2018-2019, according to the fiscal note.

LD 1317, An act to encourage family-friendly businesses through a tax credit for child care, revives the tax credit for employer-assisted day care that expired in 2015. In this version, for employers who provide day care services for children of employees or make payments to another DHHS-approved provider, the credit is the lesser of 50 percent of income tax liability or 75 percent of the costs incurred in providing or paying for day care.

In its hearing before the taxation committee, Maine Chamber of Commerce and Maine Children’s Alliance testified in favor of the bill, and no one testified against it.

The committee supported it 12-1. The passed the House with a vote of 122 to 16 with Ward, Zeigler, Kinney, Herbig and Gillway all supporting it. It passed the Senate without a roll-call vote and was placed on the Appropriations table.

According to its fiscal note, the bill would result in a reduction in general fund revenue of $98,000 in fiscal year 2017-2018 and $294,000 in fiscal year 2018-2019 and a reduction in local government fund revenue of $2,000 in fiscal year 2017-2018 and $6,000 in fiscal year 2018-2019.

LD 563, An act to protect earned pay narrowly passed the House and Senate. It would prevent unemployment benefits from being withheld any week a laid-off worker receives remuneration for unused holiday or vacation pay. Prior to this bill’s passage, a laid-off worker who received more than four weeks of vacation pay would be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits that week.

Proponents argued that vacation pay is income earned before the worker was laid off and that withholding benefits for workers who did not use that time, but not for those that did, is unfair. Opponents argued that the bill would increase the unemployment tax rates paid by employers and remuneration for unused vacation time is part of an employee’s benefits package that should be used to offset their unemployment benefit.

Employers fund the full cost of all state unemployment benefits paid, and the bill would increase the total unemployment benefits by 0.14 percent to 0.63 percent, according to an estimate by the Department of Labor's Center for Workforce Research and Information.

Vetoed

LD 1306, An act to create the small communities tourism fund, passed the House and Senate but was vetoed by the governor.

The bill would have created a program to issue matching grants to small communities for promoting tourism and events. The $10,000 annual funding for this program would have come from the Tourism Marketing Promotion Fund, into which 5 percent of all meals and lodging taxes collected by the state is deposited.

The Maine Tourism Association opposed the bill because the Maine Office of Tourism already has many grant programs that can assist small communities' tourism marketing efforts.

The fiscal note stated that the minor cost increase for the Office of Tourism could have been absorbed within existing budgeted resources.

It passed out of committee 9-4, and passed the House 81-63, with Gillway, Ward and Kinney voting against it and Herbig and Ziegler voting for it. It passed the Senate with a vote of 19-16, with Thibodeau voting against it.

Gov. Paul LePage opposed the bill because it “micromanages” the work of the Maine Office of Tourism by creating a “carve-out” for how funds are dispersed from its Tourism Enterprise Grant Fund.

“Let’s leave marketing to the experts,” he wrote in his veto letter.

The override, which needed 99 votes, failed in the house 85-63.

Died between houses

Two of Herbig’s bills passed the House but failed in the Senate. LD 947, An act to support employees with significant commutes, would have provided an income tax credit of $0.25 per mile plus tolls for commuters with a round-trip commute of at least 50 miles. There was no opposition in committee testimony, and it was narrowly supported by the committee with a divided report of 7-6. It passed the House with the same margin: 72-71 along party lines. Gillway, Kinney and Ward voted against it, while Herbig and Zeigler voted for it. It failed in the Senate with a vote of 30-5, with Senate President Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, voting against it.

LD 1144, an act to support Maine families by increasing the dependent care credit would have increased the dependent care tax credit to 50 percent of the federal tax credit allowable for child and dependent care expenses. The credit is currently 25 percent of the federal credit. It also would have increased the refundable amount to $750 from $500. It passed out of the Taxation Committee 10-3, and passed the House without a roll call. In the Senate, it failed 15-20, with Thibodeau voting against it.

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Jordan M Bailey
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Jordan Bailey has been working for The Republican Journal since 2013. She studied philosophy at Boston College and has experience in marine science education and journalism. She lives in Belfast.

 

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