With each new year, once the revelations have subsided, legislators across the country in most states prepare to get back to work. Maine is no exception, with the Legislature gaveling back into session last Wednesday. Here in Maine, the second session of each Legislature is supposed to be shorter, according to statutes, legislative rules, and tradition.

While the statutory adjournment date for the first session is the end of June, for the second session it’s the end of April. Although a cynic might say the shortened schedule is purely in legislators’ self-interest, as it allows them more time to campaign, in truth we all ought to be thankful. Every day the Legislature is in session is a day when all of us as taxpayers are tightly gripping hold of our wallets, for fear the government might sneak its hands in there to fund whatever grandiose ideas pop into their heads.

This year will be no exception — and even with a shorter schedule, we all might want to keep tight hold of our wallets. In the first session, any legislator can sponsor any number of bills they like and get a committee hearing out of it at the very least, no matter how ridiculous it may appear. In the second session, the Legislative Council — made up of House and Senate leadership from both parties — is supposed to keep a lid on things, as they have the discretion to only allow legislation that’s considered an emergency. Sadly, legislators seem to have a different definition of the word “emergency” than the rest of us, more along the lines of “ideas I had to help me get re-elected that I didn’t think of during the first session.”

In addition to the new bills that probably aren’t really emergencies, leadership can authorize legislation to be carried over from the first session. These are bills that they didn’t really get around to dealing with then, so they’re going to take them up now, like a tardy student getting an extension on their homework assignment. This year, there are a huge number of holdover bills that legislators will be facing, making this second session seem more like the first session in quantity as well as quality.

Apart from all the bills that should have been dealt with somehow last session, there are a number of major issues that will need to be addressed this year. At the top of the list will be how to fund Medicaid expansion, which was easily passed at the ballot box but which contained no funding mechanism. There’s every reason to believe that this will be a monumental fight, since Republicans will (hopefully, at least) attempt to maintain some semblance of fiscal responsibility. Gov. Paul LePage has wisely — and with the support of House Republican Leader Ken Fredette — ruled out raising taxes or raiding the rainy day fund, while Democrats have promised to implement Medicaid expansion but haven’t signaled how they’ll pay for it (as per usual).

That won’t be the only fight, though. Every year the Legislature considers a bill to conform Maine tax law to any changes that have occurred at the federal level in the last year. Normally this is a fairly routine and bipartisan process, tweaking language here and there to update state law. After the recent massive overhaul to federal taxes passed by Congress, however, there could be a pitched battle over this year’s tax conformity bill.

Even if there ends up being bipartisan agreement over the bill itself, any major changes will affect the state’s tax revenue and need to be accounted for in the budget. The twin pressures of funding Medicaid expansion and tax law conformity could lead to another showdown over the budget — albeit one that should be totally unnecessary.

Also, the Legislature will need to take steps to implement another referendum: the legalization of recreational marijuana. A bill that would have done this failed in last October’s special session after it was vetoed by Gov. LePage. The special committee that wrote it will have to return to work this year. Hopefully, that group can come to a reasonable compromise that will make it through the Legislature and be signed by the governor.

All of these issues piled into a shorter schedule during an election year will make for a wild season. With so many issues on the table and so many legislators running for higher office, this session may be shorter, but it’s certainly not going to be quieter.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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