The LURC Reform bill, LD 1798, has been scheduled for hearing on Thursday, February 16th at 1:00 pm. This is a top priority. Please keep an eye on our action page for more information www.maineaudubon.org/act. For more information about our concerns, go to: http://www.nrcm.org/documents/LURC.specific.issues.of.concern.pdf
The Takings bill has been printed. It’s LD 1810. We expect the hearing to be scheduled shortly.
Last week, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee held a public hearing on LD 1739, An Act to Change Regulation of Forestry Activities. This bill proposes to transfer authority for rulemaking regarding timber harvesting activities in protection districts in the unorganized territory from the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission to the Department of Conservation, Maine Forest Service and authorizes rulemaking at the Maine Forest Service regarding the enhancement of brook trout habitat. This appears to be implementing part of the LURC Reform Commission recommendations by moving oversight of forestry operations in LURC jurisdiction to the Maine Forest Service. Our primary concerns are making sure any new rules are at least as protective as existing rules and making sure that the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife signs off on any brook trout habitat enhancement efforts.
While the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee was holding this hearing, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee was holding a work session on LD 1738, An Act To Make Minor Adjustments to Laws Administered by the Department of Environmental Protection. Two of the “minor amendments” relate to our current sand dune protections. The Committee worked on this issue last year and did good work. I was personally disappointed to see this come back so soon and as a “minor amendment.” I was also out of breath running down the halls from one committee room to another. Fortunately, Sen. Seth Goodall, Rep. Joan Welsh and Rep. Melissa Walsh Innes asked great questions and pushed back in order to allow us time to get a handle on the proposed changes. Ultimately, Sen. Goodall worked with us and the Department of Environmental Protection to craft language that limited the scope of the changes and the Committee adopted his language. Given all of the many important issues that are being addressed at the State House – often at the same time – it’s really great when you have legislators looking out for these issues even when you’re not in the room.
The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has developed a working group to discuss funding opportunities for the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Maine Audubon will be participating on the working group. Unfortunately, we are facing a step backwards on this important issue. The Taxation Committee is developing a bill that will eliminate the income tax check offs. The chickadee checkoff would be included. This voluntary source of revenue would be lost at a time when the Department is also facing a decline in federal money. If this passes, it would be a terrible step backwards. Given that we were so close to passing an initiative to significantly increase funding for the Department by 2/3 vote last year and there was a lot of discussion about the importance of this funding, I’m perplexed by this proposal to take away this voluntary source of revenue.
The Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on LD 1647, An Act To Define “Person Aggrieved” in Proceedings before the Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission. This bill, if passed, would change the standard for when someone can appeal a staff decision to the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) or the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC) and the standard for when someone can appeal a BEP or LURC decision to court. The change would significantly narrow these appeals opportunities and would impact the public as well as interest groups of all persuasion. We hope that the Judiciary Committee will reject this proposal.
This week is somewhat quiet. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee is holding a work session on LD 1648, An Act To Clarify the Site Location of Development Laws Regarding Exemptions for Previously Developed Sites. This bill, as drafted, limits the applicability of the Site Law. We’re hoping that the Committee will narrow the language.