Anyone paying attention to the barrage of news releases from partisan offices of the Legislature and the Republican and Democratic parties probably has read the phrase “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 about who is doing more of 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.
So far this year, Democrats have passed 14 bills in the House and 11 in the Senate during the first 100 days of the first session of 126th Legislature.
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 the 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 held 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 last 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 enacted 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 about information on the potato tax and changes to apprenticeship and college savings programs.
In 2011 the Legislature also enacted a bill that made the whoopie pie the state’s official treat. Some have described the bill that allowed 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 enact the St. Patrick’s Day bill (although lawmakers were in a hurry because 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 enacted 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.
Since David Trahan took over as executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine in early 2012, he said he’s grown membership by about 2,700.
Most of them — 1,700, he said — have joined in the past two months. That’s no wonder.
In that span, Maine has had its most spirited gun-rights debate in recent memory. Trahan’s group wrote L.D. 345, a bill sponsored by Rep. Corey Wilson, R-Augusta, that would make data on concealed-weapon permits confidential.
Trahan, a former Republican legislator, didn’t just author the bill; he spearheaded public momentum behind it after a public-information request by the Bangor Daily News for the names, addresses and dates of birth of every permit holder in Maine.
Trahan said gun advocacy typically takes up 10 percent of his time. This year, it’s been 90 percent.
He’s gotten results. There’s already an emergency law on the books to make the data confidential, and Wilson’s bill seems primed for passage. Many Democrats support it, and a version of it left committee Wednesday.
Couple that debate with the gun-control narrative nationwide after mass shootings, and it’s no surprise Trahan’s group has gained.
The focus of his organization has turned.
“When I took over, I was expecting to talk about brook trout and deer,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Monday will mark the beginning of a busy and controversial week for the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee.
The panel is taking up more than 20 gun-related bills. Some of the measures are gun-control bills and include proposals that would limit the size of magazines, close the gun show loophole and repeal a 2011 bill that allowed concealed handgun permit holders to leave their guns in their vehicles when parking on private property, including at work.
There are also bills to loosen gun regulations, including a proposal by Rep. Aaron Libby, R-Waterboro, that would effectively nullify any gun control regulation enacted by the federal government. Libby’s bill is identical to several measures taken up in other statehouses where lawmakers are anticipating that Congress, or President Barack Obama, will enact additional gun control measures.
It wasn’t mentioned during the floor debates about a bill that would have prohibited people under age 17 from using an indoor tanning booth, but the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, assesses a 10 percent tax on tanning services.
The provision was enacted in 2010 and is one of several “sin taxes” that Congress inserted in the federal health care law to help pay for it.
One other fact that wasn’t mentioned during the debate: Only four states have laws that prohibit tanning by minors, but 29 states have introduced measures this year adding restrictions to teen tanning, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The regulatory groundswell comes amid fresh research from the American Cancer Society, which reported that tanning booths produce 10 to 15 times more ultraviolet radiation than natural sunlight, thus increasing the likelihood of developing melanoma by at least 75 percent.