Pay raises, pet store prohibitions: So begins the silly season

Whoopie pies, Maine's official state treat. BDN photo by Nick McCrea.

Whoopie pies, Maine’s official state treat. BDN photo by Nick McCrea.

It is that time of the year again.

Now that the new legislators have been officially sworn in, seated, and given their committee assignments, it has begun.

They’ve submitted their bill requests, and now that the list has been posted, we can begin to get an idea of how they want to change our state. They’re only titles so far, but that’s often all we need. Some are serious, well-thought-out proposals for improving the lives of everyday Mainers.

Others, not so much.

Every session we get hundreds of ridiculous ideas from legislators from all over the state submitted as bill requests. Unless they’re a concept draft, each of these ideas must be transformed from a title into legislative language, which is usually done by the Legislature’s professional, nonpartisan staff. Then they must be printed, referred to a committee, and have a public hearing scheduled. Even if that hearing is a nominal one, it still takes time, which costs money.

Not only does each silly bill cost money, they take time away from more pressing issues. This was most blatantly obvious a few years ago, when the Legislature spent more time debating whoopie pies than health insurance reform. Hopefully this session they can avoid that sort of time-wasting, but they’ll still have to deal with a wide variety of ridiculous proposals.

From the Department of Bad Optics, we have two proposals from former Speaker of the House John Martin of Eagle Lake. The man whose behavior helped lead to term limits in Maine has a bill in to end them — which, since they were passed by referendum, would overturn the will of the people.

Not only does Martin think he should be able to stay in office forever, he thinks he should be paid more to do it: another bill he has in would give legislators a pay raise. We’ll have to wait for the text to see how much he wants it to go up and when it would apply, but it’s safe to say that this politically toxic bill will have a significant cost. It’s not required to be in the legislation, but Martin (and Rep. Chuck Kruger of Thomaston, who’s sponsored a similarly-named bill) should have to tell us what programs they would cut or taxes they’d raise to pay for it.

Meanwhile, even as Democratic leadership was staging a big Hall of Flags press conference saying they’d focus on jobs this session, some of their members apparently missed the memo. The most bizarre job-killing bill may be a proposal from Rep. Kimberly Monaghan of Cape Elizabeth: she wants to bar pet stores from selling dogs and cats. Regardless of whether this is a misguided attempt to boost adoptions or she has some other justification, this would undoubtedly cost pet stores a lot of business. That measure would almost certainly cost people their jobs and cost the state money. It will probably be killed in committee, but even that is more attention than this proposal deserves.

There are bad ideas on both sides of the aisle, of course. Sen. Paul Davis has sponsored a bill to elect two senators from each county, rather than from equally sized districts. Regardless of the merit of the bill, it was ruled unconstitutional decades ago and would only draw the state into a costly legal battle if passed.

Maine has too many serious problems — health care costs, energy costs, and tax burden, to name a few — to spend time dealing with silly ideas. The Legislature needs to focus on real bills that would help the state, not these sorts of trivialities.

Jim Fossel

About Jim Fossel

Originally from Alna, Jim Fossel has volunteered with a number of campaigns over the years, including for Peter Mills for Governor in 2006. He previously worked for U.S. Senator Susan Collins and House Republican Leader Josh Tardy.