Lawmakers take up bills that won approval, but not funded

Lawmakers returned to the Statehouse today to take up more than 130 bills that gained legislative support but were not funded

AUGUSTA, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — Lawmakers returned to the Statehouse Wednesday to take up more than 130 bills that gained legislative support, but were not funded.

The bills may eventually die because of a lack of money. Funding the bills would cost more than $480 million over the next two years.

The Appropriations Committee room was packed with people interested to see if bills important to them would be spared the chopping block. House chair Drew Gattine says many of them won’t, because after the budget was signed by the governor, there simply isn’t money left to fund them. 

"As a result of that we have a very, very low projected fund balance so I don’t expected we’re going to be passing many, if any, bills today that have a general fund impact," he said.

County jails are facing a shortfall of nearly $4 million over the next two years. A bill that received widespread support would provide that money, but the head of the Maine Sheriff’s Association is realistic about actually getting the funding.

"There are many other good bills that are competing for funding as well. We understand that, but we’re in kind of a unique situation, it’s really a public safety issue," said Sheriff Joel Merry. 

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce closed a pod and cut five positions last year. He said he can’t cut anymore, but a reduction of inmates would help.

"You gotta give me a direction," he said. "If you’re happy locking up homeless people and the mentally ill and people that are just drinking in public, then that’s fine, but there’s a cost with it," he said.

The fate of another bill that received a big splash late in the session would ban the use of handheld devices while driving, such as cell phones. Its sponsor, state Sen. Bill Diamond, says it would produce revenues of about a million dollars through fines, which just about assures its survival.

"Seventy-five dollars the first offense, $150 the second offense, so it does generate money, he said. "That’s not the purpose, but it will. So the state can use that, maybe to help with the jails," he said.

Most of the bills will likely be bound over to the next legislative session beginning in 2018. That won’t do anything to help the jails that are facing shortfalls over the next two fiscal years.

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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