AUGUSTA – Ahmed Abdelmageed, a pharmacist and assistant professor at the Husson University School of Pharmacy, thinks the application process required for his students to become licensed interns is so tortuous that legislators needed to hear about it.

Students must complete four separate applications, at $46 each, before they can intern at a local pharmacy, he told a legislative panel studying regulatory reform when it visited South Portland. And though the applications say it will take up to three weeks for processing, the last round took more than eight weeks, Abdelmageed said.

“My students were two days delayed in going on their rotations — two days delayed, when I only have three weeks to send them out to get exposure,” he said, adding that Maine is third in the nation for the worst shortage of pharmacists.

Charged with reviewing and reforming Maine’s regulatory environment, the group of lawmakers returns to Augusta today after traveling the state and listening to hundreds of Mainers’ tales of similar frustration.

“Somewhere along the line, common sense has to intersect the action of state government, and that’s what we need to work toward,” said state Sen. Jon Courtney, R-Sanford, the Senate chair of the Committee on Regulatory Fairness and Reform, in a recent interview.

HUNDREDS TURN OUT

But hundreds of other Mainers were driven to turn out at the hearings based on concerns about Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to repeal certain environmental protections.

“Not one Maine voter that I’m aware of stood up and said, ‘Put BPA back in my kid’s bottle,’” Jeff Stevensen told lawmakers at the South Portland hearing.

As one of his more than 60 reform proposals, LePage, a Republican, had called for repealing the Maine Department of Environmental Protection rule banning the chemical bisphenol-A, suggesting the state instead rely on federal Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration standards.

Legislators had expected to hear more from people like Abdelmageed, and not from residents like Stevensen, when they launched the tour. But lawmakers said it also provided purpose to their mission.

“My goal is to come up with a better solution than anybody produced originally,” Courtney said. “We’ll work through these in a patient way, and we’ll avoid the rhetoric. It’s just not productive when you are trying to deal with policy.”

QUESTION OVER PROPOSALS’ ORIGINS

Controversy has also surrounded the origins of LePage’s proposals, which were billed as the result of a series of red-tape audits hosted by the governor in partnership with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and regional chamber groups.

But environmental groups charge that some proposals — such as eliminating Maine’s children’s safe product law, which resulted in the DEP ban on BPA, and an electronic-waste law — seem more like they are aimed at assisting out-of-state corporations than appeasing upset Maine constituents.

The concerns were reinforced by the fact that the document released by the governor’s office features the signature document tracking code of the law firm Preti Flaherty. A top LePage transition team leader, Ann Robinson, is a partner at the firm and has lobbied on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry and financial institutions.

Robinson continues to advise the administration on the reform process, according to Dan Demeritt, a LePage spokesman.

The Conservation Law Foundation, a pro-environment nonprofit group based in Boston, has asked LePage’s office to turn over all documents related to his reform proposals under Maine’s Freedom of Access law.

Dan Billings, chief counsel for the governor’s office, recently responded to the group’s request by denying it access to documents generated during the transition. The administration would begin putting together materials to accommodate the request for documents beginning Jan. 5, when LePage was inaugurated, Billings said.

Greg Cunningham, a senior attorney with the nonprofit, criticized the response in a news release last week.

“The administration’s position is not only counter to its professed goals of transparency and putting people before politics but is legally unsupportable under the clear language of Maine’s Freedom of Access Act and as interpreted by the courts,” he said.

TRANSITION DIFFERENCES CITED

When asked why the administration — which billed itself as the most transparent in Maine’s history — would not voluntarily turn over the documents, Demeritt said circumstances and record-keeping are different during the transition.

“They call it ‘transition’ for a reason — we had a lot of things going on, a lot of moving parts. We were operating out of three different offices and things like that so . . . we weren’t in government yet,” he said.

State Rep. Robert Duchesne, D-Hudson, serves on the reform panel and criticized Robinson’s involvement with the administration after the transition.

“What I don’t understand is that once the governor is inaugurated and he’s been in office for several weeks, he has his own staff, why are we still getting memos in his name that are printed by Preti Flaherty? By this point, he has his own staff, he has his own advisers. Why is his work outsourced to lobbyists?” Duchesne asked.

Dana Connors, Maine State Chamber of Commerce president, also held a news conference last week, where he said the group wouldn’t necessarily endorse every LePage proposal.

“It behooves us coming out of this recession to look at (reform), but to look at it with balance and respect the value that both the economy has as well as protecting our environment has to us,” he said. “Both are important, and we shouldn’t be put in the place where we are thinking we are choosing one over the other.”

CHAMBER REVIEWING PROPOSALS

Connors said his group is reviewing the proposals. “I can absolutely tell you that those aren’t going to be all accepted by our organization,” he said.

Lawmakers serving on the committee said the hearings have provided valuable insight for their challenge to reform the regulatory process.

Republicans and Democrats alike say what they heard most often was that regulations must be consistent, permitting processes must be timely and regulators must be more willing to help firms navigate regulations.

“We want to focus on the things that bring predictability to the process, get decisions made in a timely manner and really create a series of regulations people can live with easily and really have the environment protected,” said state Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond.

Ultimately, the mix of environmentalists and aggrieved business owners in the room at the same time has been a good thing, said state Rep. Jon McKane, R-Newcastle.

“What was good, though, I thought, was seeing as the hard-core environmentalists were there, is that they had a chance to listen to folks who are really trying to make ends meet, who were really struggling,” he said.

Lawmakers plan several work sessions in Augusta before drafting their reform legislation.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]