Redistricting plan approval highlights a busy session in Augusta

The Maine Legislature has spoken and we have been redistricted. It was a workmanlike effort on the part of the Apportionment Commission, by whom we were stirred but not shaken. Augusta had to walk the plank, shifting from Congressional District 1 to CD2, but the results were approved by the Legislature and blessed by Governor Janet Mills and that, as they say, is that.

Sen. Louie Luchini’s district picks up some newbies: Isle au Haut, Castine, Penobscot and Orland, according to the Legislature’s maps. But with the county’s overall population growth, Luchini’s district also casts off many small towns, especially to the east and north of Ellsworth.

Along Frenchman Bay, Franklin, Sullivan, Sorrento and Hancock all shift east to Senate District 10. Amherst, Aurora, Eastbrook, Mariaville, Osborn, Otis and Waltham also hit the road, some to District 10 and some to District 6.

Ellsworth Rep. Nicole Grohoski opposed the plan, objecting to Trenton and Ellsworth being torn asunder. It does leave Trenton a skip and a jump from the rest of its new district, and it is a stretch to consider it part of the Blue Hill Peninsula, but in all, just 10 House members voted against the proposal.

The new districts will be operational in the 131st Legislature, to be elected in November of 2022. Between now and then, legislators who choose to seek another term will be getting to know new constituents in the towns they picked up.

Redistricting may have gotten all the ink for the Wednesday session, but it was far from the only work done. During the first year of the two-year session the Legislature created a number of working groups, and the Senate calendar for Sept. 29 included communications from the speaker of the House and Senate president announcing who has been appointed to do that work.

There is a Working Group to Review the Process for Ongoing Review of Tax Expenditures. There is a Permanent Commission on the Status of Women. There is a Commission to Create a Plan to Incorporate the Probate Courts into the Judicial Branch. There is a task force to study services for young adults with disabilities. A registration plate working group. A commission to study college affordability and completion. A Marijuana Advisory Commission. A Committee to Study the Feasibility of Creating Basic Income Security. A Commission to Develop a Paid Family and Medical Leave Benefits Program. A Criminal Records Review Committee.

That’s a whole lot of work. It will all require staffing, meetings, travel. There will be reports, and probably legislation recommended. It is just another part of the workload that goes on in Augusta in addition to the standing committees.

Among the agenda items overshadowed by redistricting was the reappointing of seven Republican House members by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau to their previous policy committees. The seven were removed from their committee seats after entering the State House without masks, against orders, last May. They replaced the seven Democrats who had been appointed to fill those seats following the Republicans’ rules transgression.

The timing was such that it is unlikely the four-month member switcheroo had much impact on the business of the committees. It gave the seven Democrats a passing glance at the work of those committees, never a bad thing, but they would have attended just a few committee meetings and still had their regular committee assignments to tend to.

What the time-out did do is give fair warning to all representatives that the speaker was not about to “tolerate attempts to devolve our institution into showmanship and political theater.” Point taken.

At the tail end of the Sept. 29 Senate calendar was the usual listing of bills sitting on the special appropriations table. These are bills that have gone through the process right up to enactment but, because they will cost the state money that is not included in the budget, will have to have funding provided if they are to be finally enacted.

It is the length of the list that is notable. There are 151 bills awaiting their fate, 151 bills with fiscal notes attached. They must be funded in full, or in part, or by legislative magic that makes the funding requirement disappear. If not, they will die right where they are, on the special appropriations table.

The special session adjourned sine die, so absent some sort of emergency we should expect to see the Legislature convene again in the new year — the first Wednesday after the first Tuesday in January, to be exact. Committees will meet between now and then, and all those working groups, task forces, committees and commissions will be delving into their assignments.

Let’s hope we will have reversed Maine’s slide into COVID territory and 2022 will see the Legislature back in its usual haunts.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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