Why Maine Lawmakers Are Returning To The State House And What To Expect

Oct 23, 2017

The Maine Legislature convenes today for a special session. Maine Public's Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz talks with political correspondent Mal Leary about the origin of the session and what items lawmakers will consider.

GRATZ: Good morning. So why is this special session being called now?

LEARY: Because Gov. LePage called the special session. Right now, the two issues that the governor put in his call are: funding for the Geographic Information Service System - That's a mouthful, and early in the morning.  It's the system that brings money in from various state agencies - it pays for the mapping of the state. Well the money was in the budget but it wasn't properly allocated, according to the governor. So he wants the Legislature to fix that. That legislation's been taken up by the Appropriations Committee. They're supporting it, so that bill seems to be on the road to passage quickly.

The second measure is more controversial, and that's the one on the food sovereignty bill. the federal government has weighed in with the governor and said, 'You will lose the ability to inspect poultry and beef processing in your state if indeed you go forward with this food sovereignty bill.' So there is a fix before the Legislature but some people don't like the fix - they're talking about simply repealing the food sovereignty law in the first place. So that's likely to engender some debate on the floor of the House and Senate.

GRATZ: We should point out that food sovereignty bill, essentially, is the one that says people can grow and sell produce locally without government inspections.

LEARY: And that's the problem the federal government has - it says you can't give up inspecting of beef and poultry because it violates the agreement the state has with the federal government.

GRATZ; So what are some of the other major items that have been added to the Legislature's agenda?

LEARY: Well, all along we've been talking about the need for a special session to deal with marijuana implementation. The voters passed that a year ago. Now we have a piece of legislation to try to implement that. That legislation is controversial. There are folks who don't like parts of it, so that's going to engender debate. And then the governor, just a few days ago, introduced legislation that would simply, as they say in the Legislature, kick the can down the road to the next legislature to deal with. And there are a lot of folks who like that idea of kicking it down the road because of the complexities of implementing the retail sale of marijuana. What's interesting here is the politics - there might be enough votes to pass the marijuana implementation legislation, but the governor says he doesn't like it. That means he would likely veto it. That means it would take a two-thirds vote to pass something, and that is a much higher hurdle to implement the legislation.

GRATZ: One of the other things out there, too, has to do with the ranked choice voting - another citizen initiative - from a year ago.

LEARY:  And that's another one that some lawmakers are talking about kicking down the road.  And when you look at the vote coming out of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, you can understand why some of them are thinking that there were only 13 members on a legislative committee and that committee split four ways on the bill that's going to be a contentious issue, and that too is a candidate for a proposal that would simply kick it down the road until the next legislative session to deal with.

GRATZ:  Is it possible for even more items to be added to this session?

LEARY: One has to remember that, under the Constitution, the governor can put a bill in any time. And, of course, he may well do that. There's also the potential of legislative leadership letting in legislation at the last minute of some emergency nature.