Tuesday morning, legislative leaders and more than 100 guests joined the Maine State Chamber for its inaugural Legislative Strictly Social Virtual Coffee Hour. For an hour, Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc), Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin), Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), and Rep. Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle) responded to questions posed by chamber members and staff. A recording of the event can be found online HERE.
Legislators were invited to talk about successful legislation they worked on during the 129th Legislature, followed by questions ranging from legislative priorities to coronavirus concerns. Citing a restored trust and increased collaboration leading up to the abrupt mid-March adjournment caused by COVID-19, legislators expressed the need for economic relief and stabilizing efforts going forward, attention to repairing and restoring Maine’s transportation infrastructure, and increasing the housing stock across the state.
On Monday, Governor Janet Mills announced that the Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission (CEFC) and the Revenue Forecasting Committee (RFC) would be meeting this summer to examine the economic ramifications of COVID-19 on state government’s revenues. The CEFC and RFC are responsible for projecting revenues that the Administration and Legislature then use to determine the State’s budget. Citing the importance of the forecasting committees’ reports to inform their decisions, legislators are fully prepared to be called back to Augusta for a special legislative session to review the Coronavirus’ impact on the state budget and to assist in Maine’s reopening and rebuilding.
Legislators also recognize the rising priority that broadband and education will play going forward. Additionally, legislators plan to examine ways to support entrepreneurs and agriculture as important contributors to the state’s economy. A few raised concerns about resisting the urge to start stripping the economic support programs, and hope the special session is focused. It will be very challenging to run the legislation that was put on hold at the March 13 adjournment; it was suggested that the legislature examine the remaining bills for relevance and add only what is needed to address the impact of the pandemic.
While there is no crystal ball for the path forward, there is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic will be profound. COVID-19 has changed the landscape on many fronts – public health, education, economic viability, to name a few. Legislative leaders believe they have an obligation as leaders to address these issues, and they are up to the challenge.
When asked about their vision for guidelines to reopening businesses, safety was the first criteria. Guidelines that are specific while allowing for flexibility, adaptability, transparency, and creativity in redefining business practices were also noted. Many are anxious to get something on paper, to make a plan and take action, recognizing that employers deserve input because “they know their business best.”
In response to a question about the phasing-in of certain industries, it was noted that the phasing-in process has more to do with the employer’s capacity and size, and not a “one size fits all” solution by industry. Chamber members should begin by putting in place a health and safety plan to best conduct business going forward. The DECD portal contains an online comment form and provides employers with a platform to share thoughts on potential goals and initiatives or on issues that should be addressed in the planning process.
As we work to reopen Maine, legislators were asked which changes brought on by the pandemic did they hope remained in place. They noted the “new normal” will require continued agility, adaptability and creativity within each industry sector. We will have undoubtedly learned much from this process, including the realization that many Mainers have the ability to work and learn remotely, as well as the environmental and infrastructure benefits.
The Maine State Chamber would like to thank our guests, Sen. Vitelli, Sen. Timberlake, Rep. Fecteau, Rep. Stewart, and our generous sponsors:
SERIES SPONSORS: Casella Waste Systems, Inc.; Central Maine Power Company; Maine Department of Economic & Community Development; Northeast Delta Dental; VHB
PREMIER SPONSOR: AT&T
SPOTLIGHT SPONSORS: Backyard Farms, LLC; Brookfield Renewable Energy
PRESENTING SPONSORS: Altria Client Services LLC; American Chemistry Council; Bank of America; Dead River Company; Emera Maine; Finance Authority of Maine; Hannaford Supermarkets; MaineHealth; Merrill's Investigations & Security; Mitchell Tardy Jackson Government Affairs; PhRMA; Preti Flaherty, LLP; Spectrum Healthcare Partners; The Sheridan Corporation; Unitil Corp.
OFFICIAL SPONSORS: Bangor Savings Bank; Charter Communications; Cross Insurance; E.A. Scribner Insurance Agency, Inc.; Elanco; Enterprise Holdings; IDEXX Laboratories, Inc.; Maine Better Transportation Association; MEMIC; Maine Primary Care Association.
Maine Department of Labor Schedules Remote Public Hearing on Paid Time Off Rules for Wednesday, April 15
After months of gathering comments and input from around the state, the Maine Department of Labor (DOL) released draft rules recently that will help determine the implementation and operation of Maine’s “Paid Time Off” (PTO) law, passed by the Legislature in 2019. The PTO law sprung out of LD 369, An Act Authorizing Earned Employee Leave, which was enacted after numerous negotiations between Governor Janet Mills’ administration, legislators, and the business community. Originally more than 10 pages long and focused on providing full- and part- time workers with paid sick leave, the bill was re-drafted by the governor to instead provide PTO to the same group of employees. The re-drafted bill was less than a page-and-a-half long, and while it laid out the basics of the leave parameters, it left much of the specifics to rulemaking, which would be conducted under the direction of the Maine DOL.
The law requires any Maine business with more than 10 employees to provide their full- and part-time workers with up to 40 hours of paid time off. Workers accrue one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked to a maximum of 40 hours. They must be employed by the business for 120 days to be eligible to take the leave. The leave can be used for any reason, but employees are supposed to give reasonable notice of intent to take the time.
As part of the rulemaking process, the department conducted a series of “listening” sessions around the state, starting in late October 2019, and held nearly a dozen meetings from as far north as Presque Isle, to Machias, Portland and Sanford, to name a few. While the comment sessions were for both employers and employees, they were predominantly attended by small businesses that were concerned with the mechanics of implementation, costs, and complexity.
Again, a quick review seems to indicate that employers received some of what they were looking for in terms their concerns over implementation, but not in other areas. For example, the rules indicated that if you cash out any other kind of leave benefit upon separation, you must also do so with any unused PTO time. This runs contrary to discussions in the Labor and Housing committee last session and creates a significate financial liability for impacted employers, particularly small businesses. When considering this particular requirement, it’s important to remember that, while many employers provide paid benefits to their full-time employees, they don’t provide it to part-time workers. Some small businesses don’t currently provide any paid leave. Therefore, some businesses are going to incur “sticker shock” with this requirement.
In the press statement released last week, the department intends to conduct a virtual public hearing on the rules on April 15, 2020, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Given the current need for social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this isn’t a surprising development. Individuals will have up to three minutes to deliver comments at that time. A link detailing how to participate in the virtual hearing can be found here.
If businesses want to provide comment but not do so virtually, written comments can be submitted electronically through an online submission form. Public comments may be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org; please note that it is about Earned Paid Leave Rules in the subject line. Mailed correspondence can be sent to Maine Department of Labor at 54 State House Station, Augusta, Maine 04330-0054. All submissions require your full name as well as a place of residence. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the written public comment period has been extended to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27, 2020.
The Maine State Chamber has closely followed the development of these rules since their enactment last year. We attended the majority of the statewide listening sessions and have met with DOL staff since then. The Maine State Chamber will be providing comment on the draft rules both in writing and virtually. For more information or questions, please contact Peter Gore by calling (207) 458-0490 or emailing email@example.com.
Updated 4/14/2020 MAB