AUGUSTA – From cutting back MaineCare benefits to rolling back collective bargaining rights, Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s Republican-majority Legislature have left their mark on the 2012 election-year session so far.

Lawmakers made eligibility changes to MaineCare that will remove thousands from a social service system the governor says the state can’t afford, passed portions of his education-reform bills and revamped oversight of the state housing authority amid GOP scrutiny of the agency.

“This session was a shift certainly in policy and attitude here in Augusta,” Assistant Majority Leader Andre Cushing III, R-Hampden, said last week.

Republicans, who won majorities in both houses in 2010 for the first time in 36 years, pushed through an agenda they hope will earn them another opportunity in this fall’s elections to call the shots next term.

“People didn’t fall in love with Republicans in 2010, they were dissatisfied with Democrats. I’ve used the analogy of a library book: We don’t own this. This majority’s been granted to us to take out for two years. How we treat it determines this fall if we get to take it out for another two years. So we need to tread carefully.”

A number of high-profile bills made it most of the way through the process but await final funding decisions, such as a measure to lop the state’s income tax rate in half over time to 4 percent, and a bill to overhaul the Land Use Regulation Commission that regulates development in Maine’s 10 million-acre Unorganized Territory.

Legislators were planning to make those decisions after returning May 15. But on Saturday, LePage issued line-item vetoes on parts of the supplemental budget, saying lawmakers need to be more courageous in cutting spending.

Legislators have five days to vote on whether to override the vetoes, which requires a simple majority, and were talking over the weekend about whether to return this week to take the votes.

In other action reflecting sharp partisan differences during the session so far, lawmakers voted to eliminate workers’ rights to unionize at a Turner-based egg farm, formerly known as DeCoster, and its subsidiaries. They enacted a bill that eliminates collective bargaining rights for private child-care providers who receive state subsidies.

They enacted a workers compensation overhaul which Republicans said reforms a program that’s too generous and subject to abuse, but Democrats said peels back worker protections.

They also removed the so-called “matching funds” provision of Maine’s public campaign financing, or Clean Elections law. What started out as a bill to require voters to show picture identification in order to cast ballots was watered down to a study of the broader issue of voter participation.

“It’s the Republicans who have exercised the majority, and quite frankly I think they’ve made some poor choices where to exercise that majority, particularly when it comes to working people and labor policy in Maine,” said the House Democratic leader, Rep. Emily Cain of Orono.

“The attacks on working people have been solutions in search of problems; they have not made anything better for businesses or for working people. It really just has been part of the national Republican playbook time and time again,” she said.

Regulatory burdens for telecommunication providers were eased, and some financial penalties removed, in legislation designed to bring requirements for all telecommunications providers closer to parity.

Lawmakers enacted a LePage-backed bill to allow students to move at their own pace to graduate and earn diplomas, and he signed a bill requiring school districts to adopt teacher and principal evaluation systems that make it clear what’s expected of them.


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