AUGUSTA — Local lawmakers say they are poised to roll up their sleeves and get to work on their committees, where the real give and take of crafting new laws takes place.
“No. 1 on our agenda is overseeing how the Affordable Care Act is implemented,” said Rep. Sharon Treat, D-Hallowell, who will serve as House chairwoman of the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
Treat said she believes there is bipartisan interest in making sure the new federal health care law goes into effect smoothly. While Maine could try to set up its own exchange until mid-February, it will most likely allow the federal government to run an exchange in Maine, she said. Maine residents and businesses will be able to start shopping for insurance in the fall of 2013, with plans set to take effect in January 2014.
As a legislator, she’s interested in making sure the state monitors the program to make sure it’s working, particularly with regard to its relationship with the existing Medicaid program and the state Bureau of Insurance.
Legislative leaders announced committee assignments late Thursday, naming members to 16 panels that will hear legislation, hold public hearings and decide if bills move forward to the full Legislature. Also, members were named to the Government Oversight Committee, which directs investigations into government programs and personnel.
Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, has been appointed to the Health and Human Services Committee for a second time. Her committee will need to immediately address a $100 million deficit at DHHS.
“We’re not going to be able to find that entire amount within the department,” she said.
Last year, the Legislature passed a law to streamline the structure at the department, something that Sanderson believes is working to make the department more efficient. It wasn’t designed to save money, she said, so the committee will need to figure out how to bridge the budget gap.
Another local member of the Health and Human Services Committee is Rep. Ann Dorney, D-Norridgewock. Dorney, a family physician, is one of four doctors who will serve in the new Legislature that will begin meeting in January.
Dorney said she too will have an eye on the state’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and that she’s seen a growing problem with narcotic addicts. In a completely different area, she plans to sponsor a bill to bring more geothermal heating systems to schools in Maine, similar to the one installed at Madison Area Memorial High School.
“It’s an easy way to help schools create jobs and reduce global warming all in one,” she said.
Rep. Tim Marks, D-Pittston, will serve on two committees — Criminal Justice and Public Safety and Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. A retired state trooper, Marks said he’s anxious to be part of writing laws, rather than enforcing them. He plans to introduce a bill that would give people a discount if they pay their traffic tickets on time, which would save the court money in trying to recover the fines.
Some people hope to get their fine reduced if a trooper does not show up in court, he said.
“I never thought it was fair to give squeaky wheels a break when everyone else paid the full fine,” he said.
In the area of fish and game, he got an idea from a constituent who wants to expand youth hunting opportunities from one day to one week. He said if the weather is bad on a designated youth hunting day, or if a teen’s parent has to work, the child misses an opportunity.
Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, is looking forward to making a difference on the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, saying he hopes to make progress on expanding the reach of natural gas in the state.
“It’s one of the few areas in the Legislature where you can have an immediate impact on Mainers,” he said.
In particular, Harvell said he’s been working to bring natural gas from Jay to Farmington. Other parts of central Maine stand to benefit from the expansion of natural gas as well, with two companies going forward with projects in the area.
Harvell, who is now entering his third term, will also serve on the Insurance and Financial Services Committee and the Government Oversight Committee.
Rep. Stanley Short, D-Pittsfield, said he will focus on improving hunting and fishing opportunities as a member of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee. An avid bird hunter and bird-dog trainer, he would like to see the state do more to promote the outdoors to tourists.
“I think we have endless opportunities that will help the state move forward,” he said. “I’d like to move us more in that direction.”
Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, served as chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee last term and will be a committee member this year. He said the committee will see bills on mining, landfills and chemicals, but he hopes the bipartisan approach adopted by the committee last term will carry over into this session.
“We did so much good work last time we’re going to be in pretty good shape,” he said.
Susan Cover — 621-5643