Politics

April 29, 2013

Gun issues cause division in Democratic caucus

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

Two Democratic legislative leaders from rural districts say they own guns with magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which would be banned for sale or resale in Maine under a proposal from Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland.

It's a good illustration of the divide on gun issues in the Democratic caucus that showed itself last week on votes on a bill that made concealed-handgun permit data private.

Eight Democratic senators -- most of them from urban Cumberland County -- voted against the bill. Ten voted for it. In the House, Democrats also split, with 55 voting in favor and 31 against. In both chambers, no legislator living north of Winterport voted against the measure.

Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said they would both be affected by Alfond's proposed magazine limit and wouldn't support it. Both were endorsed by the National Rifle Association in 2012.

McCabe said a 10-round limit is based on "an arbitrary number," while Jackson said it wouldn't prevent mass shootings.

"Crazy people are going to find a crazy way to do what they want to do," he said. "I don't think it's going to make any difference to people who are foolish enough to do something like that."

If McCabe and Jackson are any indication, however, there may be room for compromise in the caucus: Both said they would consider supporting expanded gun background checks.

ROLE REVERSAL

A battle via press statements from two partisan spokespeople yielded an ironic role reversal on "local choice" last week in Augusta.

It started when David Sorensen, spokesman for House Republicans, lamented House passage of a bill that would let municipalities raise motor vehicle licensing and registration service fees by $2, saying it would be "raiding the pockets of hardworking Mainers to the tune of $3 million."

On Friday, Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves, countered with a release pointing out that the bill would give cities and towns the "local choice" to raise fees as a possible budgetary solution. She's right, but it makes fee increases more likely.

That type of phrasing, though, has been the Republican answer when Democrats decry Gov. Paul LePage's proposed elimination of revenue sharing to cities and towns in the next two-year budget. In a statement earlier this month, Quintero wrote that "it will result in increased property taxes."

Sorensen has countered those arguments by saying, "Property taxes can only be raised by municipalities," and that "the budget proposal does not increase property taxes."

He's right, but it would make property tax increases more likely.

Expect the game to continue -- especially around revenue sharing, the highest-profile LePage budget idea -- as we move into the session's homestretch. The Legislature adjourns in June.

UNEMPLOYMENT AUDIT

Due to "inadequate internal control procedures," a state audit report released earlier this month found Maine likely issued more than $100 million in unemployment benefits to people who weren't actively searching for jobs and obtaining timely re-employment in the 2012 fiscal year.

According to the report, the Maine Department of Labor agreed with the finding, saying it will "continue implementing procedures and system improvements."

The number looks dramatic, but Maine is hardly unique. The federal government has highlighted these problems for years.

In 2011, a U.S. Department of Labor official told a congressional committee, the department noted an 11.2 percent rate of improper unemployment insurance payments the previous year, representing $16.5 billion in overpayments and $936 million in underpayments, saying the primary cause of overpayments was the continuing payment of benefits to those who found work.

The Congressional Research Service has said the reason for most overpayments is "administrative in nature," due to agencies' failing to verify certain information about those enrolled in the program.

MUNITIONS MONDAY

Going back to guns, a host of firearms-related bills are scheduled for a work session Monday before a legislative committee.

The Legislature's Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is expected to pare more than 20 bills down to one or two more sweeping proposals during the legislative session, and their decisions Monday should give a clearer picture of what will be kept and tossed out going forward.

Among the bills to be heard are proposals to institute mandatory background checks at gun shows and in private gun sales. Another would repeal a law saying employers can't prohibit employees with concealed-handgun permit from leaving guns in vehicles at work.

Michael Shepherd can be contacted at 370-7652 or at:

mshepherd@mainetoday.com

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

 

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