Legislative Update as of 2/21/20

Centuries-old Maine conflict did not end with one stroke of a president’s pen

After one of the most hard fought lawsuits in Maine history, state officials and leaders of Maine’s tribes were both smiling on Oct. 10, 1980, as President Jimmy Carter signed the Maine Indian Land Claims Settlement, calling it “the final resolution” of “one of the most difficult issues I ever got involved in.”

State officials were happy to have avoided the risk of losing a lawsuit that claimed 12.5 million acres on which 350,000 people lived, plus monetary damages up to $25 billion. Tribal leaders were glad to have gained $81.5 million, much of it intended to buy 300,000 acres of land. But the centuries-old conflict did not end with one stroke of a president’s pen. Many of the same issues resurfaced at two heated public hearings on LD 2094 on Feb. 14 and 18 in the Judiciary Committee.

Over the last several decades, Council members have developed close relationships with the Tribes, sharing roads, fighting fires, combating insect infestation, and, protecting the environment. In the management of forest lands, the interests of Council members and the Tribes are intertwined. They have worked cooperatively to better manage this wonderful natural resource and its surrounding environment of which they — the Council members and the Tribes — are stewards.

It is with great reluctance, therefore, that the Council reached the conclusion that it must oppose LD 2094 in its current form. 

The Council’s testimony was presented by Timothy Woodcock, a Bangor lawyer who also served in 1980 as minority staff counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs during the settlement negotiations.

With a March 6 deadline for committees to report out bills looming, some bills are still being introduced, the supplemental budget discussion is being debated — MFPC testified in favor of three sections of the ACF budget — and work continues on some of the more challenging issues such as changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act. The first work session on LD 2094 is scheduled for Wednesday, March 4, 9:30 a.m., State House, Room 438.

Essential points about LD 2094 An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Task Force on Changes to the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act

  •  LD 2094 would allow the Tribes to acquire land in trust anywhere in the state without requiring the approval of either the State or the municipality where the land is located.
  •  It would allow the Penobscot and Passamaquoddy Tribes and Houlton Band to qualify for Treatment as a State status for purpose of environmental regulations and standards. This new authority would authorize the tribes to issue standards governing the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Act, and, any other, similar laws. 
  • It would provide the Tribes with criminal and civil adjudicatory and legislative authority over all activities on Tribal Lands.
  • If the Legislature amends the Maine Implementing Act (MIA) and later concludes that some or all of the changes have created problems or even serious burdens for some or all non-tribal citizens, the Legislature will be unable to amend the MIA without the approval of the Tribes. If the Tribes did not consent, the State’s only recourse would be to secure an act of Congress to alter the MIA’s terms. 

If disputes arose between the Tribes and the State, it is likely that the United States would side with the Tribes and even assume their litigation costs. 

This week- Feb. 17-21

  • LD 2061 An Act Regarding the Transportation of Products in the Forest Products Industry. After the Maine Forest Service opposed the bill, Sen. Troy Jackson asked that it be tabled Tuesday in Taxation.
  • LD 1498 An Act To Provide Equity for Commercial Vehicles on Roads and Bridges in Maine. The Transportation Committee unanimously approved an amendment that would sunset the Canadian trucking weight exemption for wood in six years, but would not include the exemption for chemicals. Samuel Prawer, OPLA analyst, will be working on the wording of the amendment. MFPC testimony.

The ACF Committee discussed reporting out a followup bill, as authorized last session in LD 1691, to ask for a study of glysophate (Roundup) by the Environmental Risk Advisory Committee at the Board of Pesticide Control. The BPC already conducted an audit of aerial spraying.

Next week Feb. 24-28 – BETR/BETE at risk again 

Has your company been impacted by the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement (BETR) and/or Business Equipment Tax Exemption (BETE)? The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee (GOC) is holding a public hearing Friday, Feb. 28, 9 a.m., Cross Building, Room 220, to gather public comments on a report about BETR and BETE by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA). Some of the findings include:

  • Municipalities and businesses are impacted by challenges in determining asset eligibility for BETR and BETE.
  • Goals and intended outcomes against which BETR and BETE are to be evaluated are unclear. Municipalities are not adequately reimbursed for mandated expenses.
  • Maine Revenue Services (MRS) has not provided the Department of Administrative and Financial Services (DAFS) information on the BETE mandates that they administer as required by statute.
  • MRS documentation that supports adjustments to BETE payments is inadequate.

It’s important to have a strong show of support for BETR and BETE from our industry at the hearing and MFPC will be working with the Maine Chamber on a coordinated response. Please contact Patrick Strauch or Roberta Scruggs with your views of BETR and BETE.

LD 2097 An Act To Establish Requirements for the Construction of Elective Transmission Lines by Transmission and Distribution Utilities. Work Session – Energy, Utilities and Technology, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 1 p.m., Cross Building, Room 211.

Previous Updates:

Legislative Update as of 2/7/20

Tree Growth Tax under attack again

The Tree Growth Tax program came under attack — again — on Tuesday and Thursday. The work session on Rep. John Martin’s LD 1150 An Act to Amend the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law to Encourage Public Access was held on Tuesday, instead of Thursday and the outcome was good. The Taxation Committee voted against it 12-1.

On Thursday, a public hearing was held on another bill that attempts to link Tree Growth to an unrelated concern, LD 2061 An Act Regarding the Transportation of Products in the Forest Products Industry. In his testimony, sponsor Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, asserted that Canadian truckers could not make intrastate deliveries, but Executive Director Patrick Strauch testified along with several members in opposition.

First, because legal H2A bonds brought into the U.S. are not in violation of the cabotage rules and are allowed to make intrastate deliveries. Additionally the bill is unnecessary. It is written into landowners’ contracts with contractors that all federal laws and regulations must be followed. In our experience, Canadian trucking companies have been very careful to comply with regulations regarding transportation of forest products in Maine. If violations are occurring, enforcement of the current law is the way to deal with the issue, not new legislation that penalizes a select segment of landowners (owners of more than 50,000 acres) 

Second, the Council and individual members strongly objected to yet another attempt to use the successful and productive Tree Growth Tax program to punish behavior unrelated to the program’s goals of promoting better forest management and encouraging landowners to retain and improve their holdings of forestland.

Other important developments this week:

  • The Senate sustained Gov. Janet Mills’ veto of another bill by Sen. Jackson, which was strongly opposed by the Council, LD 268 An Act To Create a Credit under the Commercial Forestry Excise Tax for Landowners Using Businesses Based in the United States. Read the governor’s veto message.
  • Because of the weather, the Natural and Working Lands Committee of the Climate Change Council was postponed. It has been rescheduled to Friday, Feb. 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Strauch and Tom Doak, executive director of Maine Woodland Owners will be presenting recommendations for inclusion in the committee’s report around noon. Deering Building Room 101, 90 Blossom Lane, Augusta.
  • The report of the audit on aerial application of herbicides by the Maine Board of Pesticide Control was presented to the ACF Committee.
  • The PFAS Task Force Report was presented to the ENR Committee Thursday. Chuck Kraske from Verso represented the Pulp & Paper industry on the task force.

Next Week, Feb. 10-14

ACF Committee:

  • LD 2082 Resolve, Regarding Legislative Review of Portions of Chapter 28: Notification Provisions for Outdoor Pesticide Applications, a Major Substantive Rule of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Board of Pesticides Control. Public Hearing: Thursday, Feb. 13, 1 p.m., Cross Building, Room 214. MFPC position: Monitor.
  • LD 2083 An Act To Require the Board of Pesticides Control To Annually Publish Certain Information Regarding Pesticides and To Prohibit Certain Uses of Neonicotinoids. Public Hearing: Thursday, Feb. 13, 1 p.m., Cross Building, Room 214. MFPC Position: Monitor.

Transportation Committee:

  • 1498 Transportation An Act To Provide Equity for Commercial Vehicles on Roads and Bridges in Maine. Work session: Thursday, Feb. 13, 1 PM, State House, Room 126. MFPC Position: Oppose

Legislative Update as of 1/31/20

The legislative pace is definitely picking up and this week was pretty hectic. LD 1770 (forestry law compliance) was voted ONTP; LD 1415 (discontinued roads) and LD 650 (landowner relations) were voted OTP as amended, but no amendments are available online yet. The best news of the week was that the Council’s Legislative Breakfast Thursday was very successful (details and photos in next week’s MFPC newsletter). 

But next week (Feb. 3-7), there’s so much going on at the Legislature that I’d need to be in three places at once to cover the hearings, work sessions and meetings. Since that isn’t at all likely, we will really need members to help out on some important issues in Augusta. Let Roberta Scruggs know if you plan on attending. There are more where and when details in the chart below, but here’s what’s coming up.

  • The report of the audit on aerial application of herbicides by the Maine Board of Pesticide Control will be Thursday at 1:15 p.m. in the ACF Committee. Landowners involved with the project should plane to be in attendance.
  • The PFAS Task Force Report will be presented to the ENR Committee Thursday at 1:00. Chuck Kraske from Verso was the Pulp & Paper industry representative on the task force.
  • Two important bills, one carried over and one new, will be heard in the Taxation Committee Thursday at 1 p.m. Both Sen. Troy Jackson’s LD 2016 An Act Regarding the Transportation of Products in the Forest Products Industry, and Rep. John Martin’s LD 1150 An Act to Amend the Maine Tree Growth Tax Law to Encourage Public Access are proposing to attach stipulations unrelated to the Tree Growth Tax program as a way to leverage landowners into action. These actions are wrong and inappropriate to the stability of a program that is focused on encouraging land management. We are seeking defeat of these bills and ask members to contact Taxation Committee members (their emails are at the bottom left of the committee website) and express your concerns. Those who can attend the hearing and work session are encouraged to do so. 
  • The Natural and Working Lands Committee of the Climate Change Council will be meeting Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the forestry issues are currently scheduled around noon. Check with Sue McCarthy for any schedule changes before heading to Augusta.   Deering Building Room 101, 90 Blossom Lane, Augusta. Tom Doak, executive director of Maine Woodland Owners, and I will be presenting recommendations for inclusion in the committee’s report. There will be alternative ideas about how to achieve carbon reductions using Maine’s forests, so support from Council members, particularly during the public response part of the agenda, would be much appreciated. I will be presenting concepts from the position paper we have developed and also pointing out how current and future markets for wood products need to be emphasized in the climate action strategies.