A proposed new state office — one controlled by the governor and with subpoena power — is raising eyebrows at the State House.

Gov. Paul LePage proposes to create the Office of Policy and Management to replace the State Planning Office. Its mission would be to “improve the efficiency and effectiveness” of state government. And its powers would include the ability to “issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses, the production of books, papers, records, and documents” of state, county, municipal and quasi-independent agencies, according to the supplemental budget.

If someone ignores a subpoena, it would go to the local superior court for review.

The office would also have access to all confidential information and would be charged with finding $1 million a year in savings so it can be self-sustaining.

Members of the Appropriations Committee and others expressed concern last week that the subpoena language, particularly without prior judicial review, would give a government bureaucrat a lot of power.

“The mission of the new OPM remains vague, and powers being requested for the office seem extraordinary,” said Pete Didisheim of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

But David Emery, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said more than 100 different agencies and authorities have the same power, even if it is rarely used.

Emery said the office will focus on long-range fiscal planning, effective government, ways to save money and be a type of think-tank for the governor’s office. It will be the governor’s equivalent of the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, which is controlled by the legislative branch, he said.

Emery debunked rumors that the new office would serve as a type of secret shopper program for the governor.

“There’s nothing in the legislation that authorizes it,” he said. “It’s just not in the proposal.”

CHILD CARE BILL BACK

At the governor’s request, Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner, is sponsoring a bill that would eliminate the collective bargaining rights of about 200 family child care providers.

This is the same proposal that was part of the budget last year, and was rejected by lawmakers.

The governor’s office has said the arrangement was unusual because the in-home child care providers aren’t state workers and that Maine was one of very few states to allow them to be represented by a union.

The Maine State Employees Association and other pro-labor groups plan to testify in opposition to the bill today at a public hearing, said Chris Quint, executive director of MSEA.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate that last year Appropriations voted unanimously to take it out of the budget and in the last minute, we’re throwing major policy decisions in the last week of the Legislature,” he said.

A public hearing on the bill, L.D. 1895, is set for 1 p.m. today in front of the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee.

LURC DEAL STRUCK

After months of wrangling — both outside and inside the State House — there’s now a bipartisan agreement on how to reform the Land Use Regulation Commission.

Last year, Republicans introduced a bill to get rid of LURC altogether, saying it had become a group that didn’t represent the will of the people who actually lived in the 10 million acres of the unorganized territory. But instead of scrapping the entire system, a stakeholders group spent the summer and fall working to change it into a more effective governing body.

After a legislative review, there’s finally agreement on the new way forward.

Counties in the unorganized territory will choose nearly all the members on the board — instead of the governor — and the Legislature will vote on the nominees. And, counties will not be able to opt out, which was a major concern expressed during a recent public hearing.

REPUBLICANS TO HIT THE ROAD

The six Republicans running for U.S. Senate will hit the road in April and May for a series of public forums.

The best part?

You get to ask the questions.

The Maine Republican Party has organized the nine forums, starting April 6 in Aroostook County and ending May 19 somewhere near Oxford County. Exact times and places will be announced this week, according to a party news release.

Questions will be collected from the audience and chosen at random for each candidate.

Republicans running to replace U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe are: former state Senate President Richard Bennett of Oxford; Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls; Sen. Debra Plowman of Hampden; Maine Treasurer Bruce Poliquin of Georgetown; Attorney General William Schneider of Durham and Secretary of State Charles Summers of Scarborough.

The primary is set for June 12.

On the other side of the aisle, four Democrats are competing for their party’s nomination: Sen. Cynthia Dill of Cape Elizabeth; former Secretary of State Matt Dunlap of Old Town; Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland and Justin Pollard of Portland.

BENNETT TAKES ISSUE

Adrienne Bennett, LePage’s press secretary, took issue last week with lawmakers who said the governor submitted an unusual number of big proposals late in the second year of the legislative session.

“Democrats ought not forget when casting criticism, in 2008, Governor Baldacci introduced 15 bills after March 1 and 11 bills on March 25 or later,” she wrote in an email message. Baldacci had similar numbers in 2004 and 2006, she said.

LePage does not intend to submit any bills after March 25, she said.

ABOUT THAT JAMAICA TRIP…

Bennett, meanwhile, held her first weekly briefing for the State House press corps last Monday morning. She talked about some bills coming up in the Legislature and the governor’s efforts to help businesses.

She did not mention that LePage would be going on an annual family vacation to Jamaica two days later.

The press corps learned about the trip from the Maine Democratic Party, which sent out an email Tuesday afternoon criticizing the governor for leaving town just as the legislative session was heating up. LePage, who tends to keep his schedule more private than other recent governors did, had mentioned the trip Tuesday morning at an event outside the State House.

Bennett said later that she didn’t mention the trip at her weekly briefing because she didn’t want to make a story out of it. It may have worked. Unlike last year, the news did not get much attention at the State House. Of course, lawmakers also were a little busy.

State House Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

[email protected]