It should be a busy day around the State House on Wednesday.

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will take up several bills to change the referendum process in Maine (including the gathering of petition signatures) as well as the perennial Voter ID law.

Over in the budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, a large crowd is expected to testify about the LePage administration’s plans for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. LePage’s proposal includes eliminating some forest ranger positions and creating new “natural resources law enforcement officers” to take over the policing and investigations now handled by rangers.

Remember the bill to designate the Labrador retriever as Maine’s state dog? That proposal didn’t fly with the State and Local Government Committee, but we’ll see if these two bills fare better after Wednesday’s public hearings:

LD 110 – An Act To Designate Maple Syrup as the Official State Sweetener

LD 137 – An Act To Designate the Friendship Sloop as the Official State Maritime Symbol

Mining is back

On Wednesday, state lawmakers will pick up pretty much where they left off last year on controversial rules that could revive a nearly nonexistent metallic mining industry in Maine.

And if all of the recent behind-the-scenes political maneuvering is any indication, passions haven’t simmered much – if at all – since the mining issue fizzled out in the Legislature last year.

First, a quick recap: in late-2013, the Board of Environmental Protection endorsed new rules that would loosen environmental regulations that have all but shut down industrial mineral mining in Maine since 1991. But the Democratic-controlled Legislature refused to go along and, instead, ordered the Department of Environmental Protection to come back with new rules. Then Republican Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the Legislature’s order, essentially leaving everything in limbo.

The DEP has brought the same rules back for reconsideration again this year. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hold a public hearing on the issue at 9 a.m.

While the proposed rules would apply statewide, the changes were sought to allow J.D. Irving Ltd. – the Canadian company that is Maine’s largest private landowner – to mine for the potentially billions of dollars in gold, silver and other metals at Bald Mountain in Aroostook County. Environmental and outdoors groups fear looser rules will only lead to the type of long-term contamination seen elsewhere.

For more of the background on Bald Mountain and the mining debate, click here.

On Tuesday, opponents of the rules cheered a memo from the Maine Attorney General’s Office suggesting that the DEP did not follow the proper administrative process when it re-submitted the same exact rules to the Legislature this year. The memo didn’t appear to have the effect desired by those opponents, however.

Sen. Tom Saviello, the Wilton Republican who co-chairs the committee, said the hearing will happen as planned.

“The bottom line is, I want to get it done,” said Saviello. “It’s the biggest bill in front of my committee and I want to do it while their minds are fresh.”

Opponents of the proposed rules were also upset by this line in the committee instructions for Wednesday’s hearing: “Please do not present testimony regarding mining activities proposed at Bald Mountain or any other specific sites.”

In other words, stick to the rules at hand during your 3-minute testimony. That might be a tall order for the committee to enforce, however, given the fact that Irving’s interest in Bald Mountain was the impetus behind this latest push to re-write Maine’s mining rules.

Collins in middle of DHS/immigration debate

Expect to hear a lot in the coming days about the latest congressional impasse that could lead to a “shutdown” of the Department of Homeland Security beginning Saturday (even though few DHS programs would actually shut down).

Once again, Maine Sen. Susan Collins could play a role in attempting to negotiate an end to the impasse, as she did during the 16-day shutdown of the entire federal government in October 2013.

On Monday, Collins introduced a bill that would block executive orders issued by President Obama late last year to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. While Collins said she supports reforming the country’s immigration system – and voted in support of a 2013 Senate-passed immigration bill that stalled in the House – she has joined other Republicans and some Democrats in denouncing Obama’s executive orders as presidential overreach.

Republicans are attempting to use the DHS budget bill to thwart Obama’s plans. But Senate Democrats have filibustered the DHS bill because of the immigration add-on.

Fearful of public backlash against his party, the new Republican Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, now wants to separate the two issues in order to avert a DHS shutdown. According to reports out of Washington on Tuesday, McConnell has agreed to allow a vote on a “clean” DHS bill and then hold a separate vote on de-funding Obama’s executive orders.

Collins’ bill could be that vehicle, although it was clear Tuesday evening that the political posturing was far from over inside the Capitol, as evidenced by this report from the National Journal.

“Democrats will need to agree to McConnell’s new plan for the DHS funding bill to move forward. The minority—or at least six of its members—will have to agree to allow the Senate to take up the House-passed DHS bill, which Democrats have already voted down four times. The House bill currently includes several amendments defunding Obama’s executive actions on immigration from the past three years, but McConnell has promised that he would move to remove them once Democrats agree to get on the bill.

“If Democrats continue to filibuster the funding bill, McConnell said Tuesday he would bring up the immigration measure from Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, on Friday anyway.”

The text of Collins’ bill was not yet available online but her spokeswoman, Alleigh Marre, said the bill only targets Obama’s 2014 executive orders, which Collins has said “undermines the separation of powers doctrine that is central to our constitutional framework.”

Unlike the House-drafted version of the DHS funding bill, Collins’ proposal would not dismantle the so-called DREAMERS program adopted by Obama in 2012 that allows some children brought to the U.S. by their immigrant parents to become legal residents.

Of course, Collins’ effort to undo any part of the president’s actions will not sit well with groups in Maine and nationally that have been demanding reforms to an immigration system that all sides agree is broken. But she is not the only moderate — whether Republican, Democrat or independent — critical of Obama’s executive order bypassing Congress.

But what about King?

If Collins’ bill does come up for a vote, it will be interesting to see how her Maine colleague, independent Sen. Angus King, votes on the measure.

King has roundly criticized House Republicans’ efforts to link DHS funding with Obama’s executive action on immigration. Yet at the same time, King has been critical of the president’s unilateral move and its implication for the separation of powers.

Back in November, King prophetically worried that Obama’s actions “could actually make the reform we need more difficult by causing a backlash in public opinion and solidifying Republican opposition.”

And as he later told NPR:

“You know, the Constitution says that the Congress makes the law and the president executes it. It’s a very clear division. The Framers knew what they were doing and it doesn’t say if the president gets frustrated and Congress doesn’t act, he gets to do, you know, what he thinks is important for the country.”