You may have heard that there are over 2,000 bills being considered in the Legislature. This is the product of several things happening at various stages of the session, which goes from January into June this year and January into April the second year.
First, legislators submit bills, often on behalf of a constituent or an organization. I have submitted three bills this session and will use L.D. 977, “An Act To Restore the Super Credit for Substantially Increased Research and Development,” to illustrate the process.
I submitted this bill on behalf of a small-business owner who had used this tax credit from 1998, when it was first implemented, until 2014, when it was removed in a last-minute budget-balancing move. The tax credit benefits businesses that incur substantial research and development expenses, which are often not recouped for a few years. These are businesses that offer good-paying, future-oriented jobs that will keep and attract talent to Maine.
Departments such as the Maine Department of Health and Human Services or the Maine Department of Marine Resources can submit bills and the governor can also submit bills at any time.
Many bills are duplicates, such as bills to increase municipal revenue-sharing or, in this session, three bills to ban single-use plastic bags, which have been merged into one. As a result, many bills will be withdrawn at the request of the legislators who submitted them. For others that are similar, committees will unanimously vote that they “ought not to pass,” effectively killing them and narrowing it down to one.
Bills considered by committees receive a public hearing date where anyone may speak in favor, in opposition, or “neither for nor against.” L.D. 977 received bipartisan legislative support, including Sen. Shenna Bellows signing on as a co-sponsor, and was sent to be heard by the Taxation Committee on March 21.
While I knew who some of the supporters would be, small businesses who have used this tax credit in the past or those who would be able to take advantage of it, I didn’t know exactly who would show up and what they would say. As it turned out, the bill received several supporters, from software and bioscience companies, the Brewer’s Guild, the Maine Chamber of Commerce, and the Maine AFL-CIO. The Taxation Committee members asked clarifying questions of those who testified and no one spoke in opposition and no one spoke neither for nor against.
Next, the work session was held a few weeks later. At that meeting, there is no public testimony, but it is helpful to have advocates there in case there are questions regarding specifics. At the work session, the Taxation Committee’s legislative analyst presented a summary of the bill and pointed out some items that needed clarification. She also included a fiscal note, which lays out the estimated cost of the bill. After all, a tax credit is revenue lost to the General Fund.
Finally, the House chair of the committee, Rep. Ryan Tipping, recommended that the bill include some “metrics,” or some assessment measure that could be used should the bill become law. “We want to know that this tax credit does indeed help create and expand good-paying jobs,” said Tipping. He asked that developing those metrics be included in the bill, and with that, the bill, as amended, passed out of the committee with a unanimous vote.
While exciting and encouraging, there is still much more to do. First, I need to develop the metrics. With the invaluable help of the two small businesses that worked to craft the bill, as well as the Maine Technology Institute, we created those evaluative tools and presented them to the committee and the analyst. When this “language review” is completed before the committee, the bill will go out for consideration by the Legislature.
Typically, bills with a unanimous “ought to pass” do not receive a vote on the floor, but instead are passed “under the hammer,” a term used when there is no opposition. Conversely, many bills receive a unanimous “ought not to pass” and they are also not considered by the full House or Senate. This is important to point out. Many, if not most, bills receive a unanimous judgment in the legislative committees, whose members work hard to achieve consensus.
While this is great news, because the bill has a fiscal note, it’s important to seek out those who will be making the final budget decisions within the overall context of the governor’s budget. In this case, we met with Senate President Troy Jackson, Speaker of the House Sara Gideon, staff from the governor’s office, and Commissioner for Economic and Community Development Heather Johnson.
Next steps include identifying small businesses in the districts of the representatives and senators serving on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee that are likely to benefit from the tax credit.
(Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, represents Arrowsic, Dresden, Georgetown, Phippsburg, part of Richmond, and Woolwich. She sits on the Marine Resources Committee.)