AUGUSTA – Republicans and Democrats supported a proposal Wednesday to combine issues regarding labor and business under one legislative committee.

After hours of negotiations, the Legislature’s Rules Committee voted 10-0 to form the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

Earlier this month, Republicans said they wanted to eliminate the Labor Committee by combining it with the Business, Research and Economic Development Committee. More recently, Republican legislative leaders said the new committee would be called the Jobs Committee, to signal their focus on spurring Maine’s economy.

House Democrats were quick to trumpet the new arrangement.

“Republicans backed off the proposal in the face of strong public opposition,” said Justin Alfond of Portland, the assistant Senate minority leader, in a press release. “We put working people before politics to develop a real solution that Republicans and Democrats could agree on.”

Members of the majority said the deal was sensible.

“The voters of Maine sent us here to produce results in terms of jobs and the economy, and this is a common-sense step toward that goal,” said Rep. Andre Cushing, the assistant House majority leader.

In opinion pieces published recently, Republican leaders argued that the new committee would better serve both labor and business interests.

Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, said in a column Saturday that his goal is to help the private sector create jobs.

“One common-sense way to do that is to ensure that decisions about business and work force issues are made in context rather than in a vacuum,” he wrote. “Nobody would be diminished by making one legislative committee responsible for weighing the needs and obligations of both workers and businesses.”

Organized labor disagreed with the original proposal, saying it’s important to have a committee focused on workers’ safety, wages, pensions and workers’ compensation.

Just before Wednesday’s meeting, labor unions and the former Senate chairman of the Labor Committee held a press conference to protest the elimination of the committee.

“To do away with this committee is a testament to how the Republican leadership feels about workers,” said Emery Deabay, a millworker from Bucksport. “They are telling us workers that we are the ones responsible for the economic troubles we face, we are the brakes that stop business development, and we don’t count.”

Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, is a logger who has spent eight years on the committee and served as its co-chairman in the last session.

“When we were in the majority, we didn’t take away the Business Committee,” he said. “They have the votes. They can do whatever they want with any piece of legislation.”

The vote reduced the number of standing legislative committees from 17 to 16.

The Rules Committee gave unanimous approval to more than 20 other changes Wednesday — mostly minor or technical changes — then broke for partisan meetings to discuss the labor proposal. 6:30 p.m., both sides had reached a compromise.

More details are expected today about the new committee’s jurisdiction; one known change is that oversight of the Maine Public Employees Retirement System will move to the Appropriations Committee.

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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