Things have been really busy and most issues are still percolating but here’s a snapshot of where things stand.
Land Use Regulation Commission (LD 1798):
The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (ACF) Committee has held three work sessions and yesterday voted on an amended LD 1798. The vote, unfortunately, was divided along party lines.
Some improvements have been made to the original bill, but several key issues remain that are critical:
1. Counties may still opt out after five years. While there is some language that they can’t start the process until five years has passed, but that’s not realistic.There’s also language indicating that a county opting out would have to come to the Legislature for approval. That doesn’t provide much comfort to me.
2. Eight of the nine commissioners can also be county commissioners and they can nominate themselves. The Governor has no role in appointing them although the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and the Senate would provide some oversight. While it is true that currently county commissioners can serve, there is an inherent conflict in this approach and 1 out of 7 is quite different than 8 out of 9.
3. The Majority Report also has all large development projects going to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for review. There are many outstanding questions as to how this would work and this will eliminate the current one stop shopping approach. Instead, an applicant will likely have to go to multiple agencies for review. We had suggested that they try a pilot project approach testing wind projects located in the expedited areas to see how it works before moving everything. I suspect, if this happens, there will be significant regret all around.
The minority of the Committee is still developing its proposal. The Minority ‘Ought to Pass as Amended’ Report does not include the opt-out provision and does not allow County Commissioners to simultaneously serve on the LURC Board. The ACF Committee has scheduled a final language review for this week.
Please contact your legislators and urge them to support the Minority ‘Ought to Pass as Amended’ Report!
“Takings” (LD 1810):
LD 1810, if passed, would allow property owners to seek payment from the State, mostly Maine taxpayers, by claiming that new land use laws have reduced the value of their property by 50%. If payments are not provided, the law responsible for the claimed decrease value in land would be waived.
An amendment has been proposed by Rep. Brad Moulton and Rep. Charlie Priest, which offers venues for landowners to express their frustration and find opportunities for redress without gutting our core environmental protections. The Judiciary Committee is holding another work session for this bill on Thursday, March 8th. Please stay tuned.
Chickadee Check-off (LD 1826):
This bill proposes to remove all income tax return check-offs. The public hearing went very well; there were no supporters of the bill to eliminate all income tax check-offs. There was even discussion about making improvements to the check-off process and location on the tax form. The Taxation Committee held a work session on Tuesday, March 6th and we’re happy to say that members of the Committee are supportive of keeping the Chickadee Check-off on the income tax return forms.
Land for Maine’s Future (LD 852):
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee met last week and eliminated a number of the bond bills but held onto our Forest, Farm and Fish Bond Bill. While it’s really good that they kept the bill, this is just one small step towards being in the bond package. It’s clear the Committee will now focus back on the supplemental budget and won’t take bonds back up until later in the month. In the meantime, we’ll be making sure leadership and Committee members are aware of the benefits to the economy land conservation and LMF provide.
Aggrieved Persons (LD 1647):
LD 1647, An Act To Define “Person Aggrieved” in Proceedings before the Department of Environmental Protection and the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission, is coming out of the Judiciary Committee with a split vote – 7 ‘Ought Not to Pass’ to 6 ‘Ought to Pass as Amended.’ Soon, this bill will face a vote in the House and Senate.
This bill limits the opportunities of members of the public and citizen groups to appeal a staff decision of the Land Use Regulation Commission or Department of Environmental Protection to the citizen board. Ultimately, LD 1647 makes the appeals process for Maine citizens like you and me much more expensive and time consuming. We are strongly opposed to this approach.
Please contact your legislators today and urge them to support the Majority ‘Ought Not to Pass’ Report for LD 1647!
Please stay tuned.