January 29, 2013

Seven state legislators submit no bills this session

Citing rookie years, health issues, no pressing needs or a desire to limit government, six Republicans and one Democrat stay on sidelines

By Michael Shepherd mshepherd@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Rep. Thomas Winsor, in his sixth legislative term, is no stranger to the State House halls. 

click image to enlarge

Helen Rankin

Legislators who haven’t submitted bills this session

Rep. Mike Nadeau, R-Fort Kent

Rep. Carol McElwee, R-Caribou

Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton

Rep. Peter Doak, R-Columbia Falls

Rep. Ellen Winchenbach, R-Waldoboro

Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway

Rep. Helen Rankin, D-Hiram

But this session, the Norway Republican has chosen to make, or not make, an interesting move.

According to a list of bill titles, he’s one of seven state legislators, all representatives, who haven’t submitted bills by this legislative session’s date of cloture, Jan. 18, a deadline for most bill requests. Legislators still can introduce bills if approved by the Legislative Council, the branch’s governing body.

Six of the legislators who haven’t submitted bills are Republicans. 

The Democrat, Rep. Helen Rankin, of Hiram, had heart surgery in December, just got out of rehabilitation recently and spent her first day in the Legislature on Tuesday, according to Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Democrats. 

Of those without bills so far, however, most are freshmen from rural areas in Aroostook and Washington counties, making a veterans such as Winsor an outlier. 

While two first-term legislators say they want time to soak in the Augusta atmosphere before taking the lead on a bill, Winsor said he’s most focused on his work on the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee — a prestigious appointment charged with handling budgeting, known for its daunting workload. 

It’ll be busy, with three budget shortfalls to address, including a projected $756 million difference between projected expenditures and revenue for the next two budget years.

But Winsor also said hasn’t heard many specific pieces of law his constituents want to change.

“No one’s come to me with a fire across their tail,” Winsor said. “I’ve been around long enough and I’m not going to put a bill in that I think is not warranted or that I think isn’t going to go anywhere.”

If you talk to freshmen who don’t have bills in, you’ll get a different story. 

“With freshmen, (many) have a justified idea that when they get there for the first time, they want to get to know the Legislature and know their committee before jumping in,” said David Sorensen, spokesman for Maine House Republicans. 

One new representative talked sheepishly about the pace of work she’s found in Augusta.

“I feel like I’m the new girl in school,” said Rep. Ellen Winchenbach, R-Waldoboro. “I’ve got a few ideas in my head, but I’m taking it slow because this is a learning experience.”

In 2012, first-term Rep. Mike Nadeau, R-Fort Kent, won a surprise victory over Democrat John Martin, of Eagle Lake. Martin had been in the Legislature since 1964, was speaker of the house for nearly two decades and was known as one of the largest power brokers Maine politics has seen.

Despite that, Nadeau said he doesn’t have bills in because he’s trying to get a handle on legislative processes in Augusta.

“I’m starting at the pace that I feel comfortable with and building some relationships with people who I think I can work with,” he said. “I think it was wise for me to not get into throwing in bills at this moment.”

Sorensen, the House GOP spokesman, said for more experienced legislators, not submitting bills could be the result of a limited-government outlook.

“Republicans generally have a philosophy of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ Less legislation is better,” said David Sorensen, spokesman for the Maine House Republicans. “Democrats usually want to legislate more than Republicans.”

Rep. Tyler Clark, R-Easton, seemed to agree. He said ideally, the fewer bills introduced, the better.

Though the three-term legislator submitted bills in the last Legislature, including a contentious one that would have required a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could get an abortion in Maine, which didn’t pass, he has none this time.

(Continued on page 2)

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