AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage signed three bills Wednesday he said will help improve Maine’s business environment and open the door to jobs by making changes to workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits and clarifying what kind of workers should be deemed “independent contractors.”
“We want job creators to come to Maine and create not only jobs, but careers for the people of Maine. Mainers deserve to be prosperous,” the governor said before signing the legislation in a Blaine House ceremony attended by several business leaders.
The measures drew strong opposition from Democrats and organized labor during legislative debates leading up to their passage.
The first bill simplifies and removes ambiguities from the workers’ compensation law, while changing eligibility requirements, compensation and other portions of the law, including placing a 10-year cap on benefits. Present law places no limit on benefits for severely injured workers.
The second bill standardizes and clarifies the definition of “independent contractor” — outside businesses or individuals hired to perform services for a company — to reduce confusion over who’s eligible for workers’ comp and unemployment. It also sets penalties for misclassifying workers.
The final measure, which changes eligibility requirements for unemployment compensation, is intended to bring Maine more in line with national norms, supporters say. It also sets criminal penalties for unemployment fraud.
Cathy DeMerchant, president and co-owner of Capital Area Staffing Solutions Inc., told the governor’s mansion gathering that the LePage-backed bills are “common-sense” and “business-friendly reforms.”
Kristine Avery, senior vice president of FISC Solutions office processing services, said the laws will reduce regulatory burdens faced by businesses.
Democrats fought the workers’ comp and unemployment bills during the recently recessed legislative session. They said unemployed Maine workers’ benefits will be reduced, and the new law will make Maine one of less than a dozen states that delay unemployment benefits until after laid-off employees have used up their vacation time.
The workers’ comp law rolls back benefits for people who get hurt on the job and jeopardizes stability and security for Maine families, said the Maine AFL-CIO, which called it “a windfall for the insurance industry.”
“These bills are attacks on working Mainers’ rights and security,” the labor federation said. “They do not create a single job or move our economy forward. These attacks will not be forgotten when workers head to the ballot box in November.”