(The Center Square) – As Maine's lawmakers reconvene, dozens of bills are under consideration to address the public health crisis and economic fallout caused by COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will have a significant impact on the legislative agenda,” Jacob Posik, policy analyst at the Maine Policy Institute (MPI), told The Center Square by email. “There have been 15 bill requests submitted by 10 different lawmakers to reform emergency executive power or the process by which the governor declares and renews a state of emergency. Democratic Sen. Cathy Breen has also submitted a bill to give the legislature oversight of COVID-19 relief funds, as Gov. Mills has had unilateral authority over these funds to date.”
Both the pandemic and the governor’s policy response to it have taken a significant toll on the state's finances, Posik said.
The state’s new biennial budget, which was released Friday, seeks to strengthen Maine's pandemic response without raising tax rates, WGME reported.
A number of legislative proposals aim to ease the difficulty businesses and residents have faced during and beyond the mandated closures.
“A pair of bills were submitted to ensure Paycheck Protection Program loans are not considered taxable income, which would certainly provide relief to the many thousands of Maine businesses that utilized the program to keep their businesses afloat amidst all the economic restrictions imposed by the governor,” Posik said.
Another bill seeks to limit municipal minimum wage ordinances at 115% of the statewide minimum wage.
“This was submitted because Portland voters in November approved an emergency minimum wage ordinance that requires city employers to pay time-and-a-half during city or statewide emergency declarations,” Posik said. “This bill would undoubtedly provide relief to struggling small businesses in Portland, particularly restaurants and retail establishments, though I fear it won't get the attention it deserves.”
Long-term economic recovery needs to be driven by private sector investment, job creation, as well as entrepreneurship, Posik said. A new MPI report found it took the Maine workforce nearly 10 years to recover from the Great Recession, he said. As the population does not look much different now, recovery could take at least that long, the report said.