October 29, 2013

Republican effort to tie welfare to work search may stall in Maine

The lawmaker behind the measure expects Democrats to kill the bill on a technicality.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

The House Republican leader said Monday that he expects Democrats will use a technicality to kill his bill requiring Mainers to prove that they have applied for work before they qualify for cash welfare benefits.

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The proposal by Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, would add a pre-work search requirement to those applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Currently, welfare recipients must show that they’re looking for a job to continue receiving benefits. The bill has counterparts in 19 other states, but faces long odds in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. It was unclear Monday whether the bill will receive a public hearing in the shortened second session because of a provision that prohibits lawmakers from introducing the same bill twice in a single two-year legislative term.

The 10-member legislative council will decide Wednesday which of the 400 bills that have been submitted for the next session will go through the legislative process. Democrats hold six of the 10 seats, prompting concern from Fredette that Democratic leadership will use the duplication rule to spike his proposal.

“Do I think that they’re going to use (the duplication rule) to kill my welfare reform bills? I think the answer is absolutely yes,” Fredette said.

Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Monday that the speaker won’t support the bill next session because it’s a political proposal and bad policy. However, it’s unclear if other Democrats on the council will reject the bill before it gets that far.

“The speaker is rejecting the bill on its merits,” said Quintero, adding that the proposal creates additional barriers for the needy to obtain the benefits they need to support their families.

The bill was coded as a potential duplicate by the non-partisan Revisor’s Office, which drafts and prints legislation. The office noted that the bill was similar to L.D. 256, a concept bill sponsored by Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford. Beaudoin’s bill would have required TANF recipients to collaborate with municipal officials to “seek meaningful employment” or volunteer in order to “continue to receive benefits.” The proposal was defeated.

Fredette acknowledged that the Revisor’s Office is responsible for screening bills. However, he said a cursory reading of his bill and Beaudoin’s showed that the two proposals were different.

“I’m a little concerned,” he said. “As an attorney – and I know that some of those folks (in the Revisor’s Office) are attorneys – a plain-face reading of the bill does indicate that they’re substantially different. I certainly hope there was no strong-arming among Democratic leadership in either the House or the Senate to try to sway the Revisor’s Office that way.”

Earlier this year the duplication rule was inserted into the debate over Medicaid expansion, a hotly-contested issue in Maine and other states weighing whether to participate in a key component of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Two expansion proposals were defeated last session. However, in September, Eves said that he planned to bring the issueback when lawmakers reconvene for the second session in January.

The House Republican Office immediately claimed that doing so would violate the duplication rule. Fredette reiterated that point on Monday, saying that if Democrats were going to claim that his bill was duplicative then they should make the same judgment about a new Medicaid bill.

“People expect there to be consistent application of the rules,” he said. “Medicaid expansion was voted on once, voted on twice. I don’t think anybody can say going forward that this is not an issue that we haven’t already dealt with this year.”

The new expansion bill has not yet been drafted, but Quintero indicated Monday that the proposal could be introduced as an emergency measure. It’s unclear how Democrats plan to get around the duplication rule, but it’s clear that a new Medicaid expansion proposal that has a chance of garnering Republican votes would have to be different than the one that failed earlier this year. The bill that was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage had been significantly altered by an amendment sponsored by assistant minority leader Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta.

(Continued on page 2)

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Today's poll: Welfare bill

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