April 8, 2013

State House Notebook: Zeroing in on who's done more nothing

House Democrats compare this Legislature to the previous one, when Republicans ran the show.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

and Michael Shepherd mshepherd@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

Anyone paying attention to the barrage of media releases from partisan offices of the Legislature and the Republican and Democratic parties has probably read the words "do-nothing politics" more than once.

Actually, the two sides have made "do nothing" the theme of the legislative session.

Democrats claim that Republican Gov. Paul LePage's reluctance to issue voter-approved bonds and Republicans' refusal to override a veto on a bill that previously received unanimous support are just the latest examples of their "do-nothing politics."

Republicans claim that the "do-nothing Democrats," who hold the legislative majority, are stalling on the governor's plan to repay the hospital debt or to introduce an alternative to his proposed budget.

The argument over who is doing more nothing inspired House Democrats to do a point-in-time comparison of this Legislature to the previous one, when Republicans ran the show.

According to the Democrats, the 125th Legislature passed 11 bills in the House and six bills in the Senate during the first 100 days of the first session in 2011.

This year in the 126th Legislature, Democrats passed 14 bills in the House and 11 in the Senate during the first 100 days of the first session.

Democrats also noted that 32 bills await action by LePage (it's actually 31 now that he's signed a bill to curb domestic violence), who has taken two vacations since lawmakers went to work Dec. 5.

LePage also vacationed during the 125th Legislature. In 2011, he traveled to Jamaica because, he told Capitol News Service, "he had nothing to do" and the Legislature "hadn't done a damn thing."

When LePage returned from his vacation, he blasted his Republican colleagues during a chamber of commerce event in Lewiston.

"In the last 60 days I've been relegated to selling newspapers," LePage said. "Why? Because we have nothing to do until legislators in Augusta, both Democrats and Republicans, do their job."

The Maine Republican Party this past week claimed that the Democratic-led Legislature had introduced nothing but "small ball" legislation during the first 100 days of the session. 

A comparison of the bills passed during this session and the Republican-led session of 2011 shows a similarly measured approach. In 2011, several bills renamed highways or roads and bridges. This year, Democrats have changed rules regarding information on the potato tax, and changed apprenticeship and college savings programs. 

In 2011, the Legislature also passed a bill that made the whoopie pie the state's official treat. Some have described the bill allowing bars to open three hours earlier on St. Patrick's Day when the holiday falls on a Sunday the Democrats' version of the whoopie pie bill.

It took the Republican-led Legislature 98 calendar days to pass the whoopie pie bill. It took Democrats 27 calendar days to pass the St. Patrick's Day bill (although lawmakers were in a hurry since St. Patrick's Day fell on a Sunday this year.). 

So who has done more nothing?

Perhaps the better question is why so little gets done early in a legislative session.

The answer could be that lawmakers typically don't run the most meaningful, or controversial, bills until late in the session, often after they settle on a two-year budget.

The budget often isn't approved until the end of the first five-month session. That's because negotiating a bipartisan budget is a delicate process that can be derailed by the divisive public debate that accompanies big-impact legislation. 

(Continued on page 2)

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