First Regular Session adjourns; Special Session starts in April
The Maine State Chamber has already received several member inquiries regarding the current status of bills that were under consideration prior to Tuesday’s legislative session, when the Maine Legislature adjourned “sine die,” or “without day.” Normally, this is a posture the legislature takes when legislators have completed their work for the session and plan to go home. In a normal end to a “First Regular Session,” lawmakers would have wrapped up their committee work (public hearings and work sessions), completed floor debates on all bills, enacted a two-year budget, and said their goodbyes.
But what happened on Tuesday, March 30 was anything but normal. In fact, the passage of a “majority” budget and the subsequent adjournment of the full legislature has only happened twice in the state’s history – the last time nearly 16 years ago. The legislature did, in fact, enact a two-year budget with only majority support, and not the usual super majority (two-thirds). In doing so, a certain and necessary amount of parliamentary and legal maneuvering is necessary for the biennial budget to become law on July 1, as is required by the Maine Constitution.
When a budget, or any bill for that matter, is enacted on an emergency basis, it must receive the approval of two-thirds of the elected members of both bodies in the legislature, the House and Senate. When a bill is approved in this manner, it becomes law upon the Governor’s signature – in other words, immediately. Due to the complexity of the state budget and budgeting process, the usual and customary method of approving a budget is done on an emergency basis. As time, policy and legislative procedures have changed and adapted, the budget process has involved input from more legislators and legislative committees. This involvement, along with the increase in the size and scope of the state budget to more than $8 billion, means the process of finalizing the budget is not something that usually happens overnight.
In the case of the 2022-2023 biennial budget, while it did not happen overnight, it did happen over a weekend. Last weekend (March 27-28), Democrat leadership made the decision to move forward with the existing, or what used to be known as the “Part 1,” portion of the budget, separate from the “Part 2” portion of the budget, which traditionally has contained new initiatives, programs, and spending. So, think of the “Part 1” budget in terms of the ongoing budget that funds existing programs and current services. In adopting this strategy, Democrats, clearly believing Republicans would object, recognized their budget would not receive the necessary votes to enact on an emergency basis, and therefore, only receive enough votes from their majority caucuses for approval.
When a bill is approved with a simple majority, it is also signed into law by the governor, but instead of becoming law immediately, it takes effect 90 days after the legislature has finally adjourned. Under normal circumstances, this means most bills enacted in the first session become law sometime in late September or early October. However, as indicated earlier, the Maine Constitution does not allow or authorize the state to deficit spend, meaning it requires a budget be in place by the beginning of the state’s fiscal year (July 1). So, the usual 90 days after adjournment does not work under this scenario – unless you can approve, vote on, and get signed a budget 90 days before July 1, 2021, and then adjourn the legislature to toll the clock.
That is exactly what happened Tuesday, and why the budget was pushed forward with such haste once the decision was made by Democrats.
While this is an effective strategy to ensure the legislature is not left facing the specter of a state shutdown over prolonged budget disagreements, because it violates such a longstanding collegial norm, it also creates deep and lasting mistrust, hyper-partisanship, and a greatly diminished spirit of cooperation. This is not something that goes away overnight. The last time this happened in 2005, such feelings lasted years. How the legislature will recover from Tuesday’s events remains to be seen.
In adjourning as they did, the First Regular Session of the 130th Legislature has ended. However, the work of this session is far from over, with hundreds of bills still in the committee process, and hundreds more yet to be printed. Legislators will be coming back to finish their work and will do so in what is known as a “special session,” or the First Special Session of the 130th Legislature. It appears that all four caucuses have agreed to come back into Special Session at the end of April to complete their work.
From a process standpoint, nothing in the ongoing committee process really changes. Committees can continue to meet even though they are not in formal session. This means that public hearings and work sessions will continue without interruption from the change-over from regular to special session.
Any bills that were under consideration at the time the legislature went home Tuesday night remain alive and in play legislatively. Bills before the bodies or in committee were carried over under a “joint order,” keeping all legislation alive. So, from this perspective, nothing has really changed despite the political waves made by the majority budget process.
The Maine State Chamber advocacy team is closely following several very important bills on behalf of our members. Some of the most significant include:
The Legislature will initially convene for the special session on April 28, 2021. It is expected that legislators will continue to meet at the Augusta Civic Center, rather than in the Statehouse. It is also expected that all committee work will continue to be conducted virtually.
There is roughly half of a normal first legislative session left to “complete.” Obviously, a quick review of the bills we have highlighted above should make it clear that a considerable number of bills of concern to Maine’s business community remain. How the outcome of these proposals plays out against the backdrop of the majority budget, the bitter feelings that have resulted from its passage, and the upcoming supplemental budget discussions remains to be seen.
The Maine State Chamber’s advocacy team will continue to be at the forefront of these and other bills impacting our members and the entire Maine business community. For additional information or questions, please contact Peter Gore by calling (207) 623-4568, ext. 107, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.