The people who know what’s best are usually the ones closest to the problem

Senator Stacey Guerin delivers this week’s Republican Radio Address

By Senator Stacey Guerin

Sen. Stacey Guerin – Penobscot

AUGUSTA – There have been a fair number of bills that have made it into the Legislature’s Second Regular Session. While some are carryover bills that belong there, more have been introduced as “emergency” legislation – bills that need consideration due to the timeliness of the issue.

Hi, I’m Senator Stacey Guerin representing District 10, and it’s my pleasure to bring you this week’s Republican Radio Address.

With a second session that is typically shorter than the first, it’s hard enough to give the bills that do require consideration the proper attention to fully understand what you might be enacting. That’s actually tough in either session, but at least you have much more time in the first session that has in some years extended into the summer.

Usually, the complexities of a particular bill are what drives the attention given to it. When that process is rushed or new, unnecessary legislation is introduced, it dilutes the attention that can be given to the deeply intricate bills that may have been carried over.

So when we do have important legislation to consider that requires our undivided attention, we’re often left with a process that doesn’t do Maine’s people justice. Consider, for example, the new affordable housing bill that is before the Legislature.

LD 2003, which aims to implement the recommendations of a commission charged with studying how to increase affordable housing opportunities in Maine, is a bill worthy of our full consideration. Yet it was assigned to my Labor and Housing Committee just 11 days ago, a full four months from when it was accepted by the Legislative Council in October 2021. This 12-page bill intends to change an entire landscape of local rules and regulations that have governed housing and sprawl in Maine for a generation in hopes of creating more affordable housing across the state.

A worthy goal? Yes. Can we accomplish it in this supposedly shorter session? I just don’t know.

Consider the fact that the public hearing alone on this particular bill was nearly eight hours long. Yes, you heard that correctly. The hearing held on Monday, March 7 went from 10 a.m. until well after 5 p.m., and more questions than answers were raised from the testimony given, all of which needs further investigation.

There’s no doubt that solving the affordable housing crisis in Maine should be a goal for legislators, regardless of what party you’re in. That was quite evident in the nearly unanimous vote by the Legislative Council to bring the concept forward to the Legislature for consideration and its bi-partisan sponsorship. And the bill does try to solve the issue.

Unfortunately, it’s also deeply flawed.

What drew the most criticism during testimony before our committee is perhaps the most difficult to solve. In some sections of the bill, the language is more adversarial regarding the roles of state and local governments, especially regarding delegated “home rule” ordinance powers codified by a 1969 Maine Constitutional amendment.

Even the bill’s cosponsor, my esteemed colleague Republican Representative Amy Arata of New Gloucester, offered only partial support of the bill as a whole and recommended a host of changes to make it better. Specifically, she proposed amending nine sections including eliminating language that would make it easier to sue municipalities, amending the growth cap prohibition to take into consideration the limits of existing public utilities, and taking a more incentivized carrot approach instead of the weight of a stick.

Yet it was the testimony of Meghan Gardner – a town councilor in Orono – that is perhaps the most telling. Describing her politics in her testimony as “far enough left of the party establishment to perhaps make them a little nervous,” she said the bill was too far-reaching – even for her. She was against it due to the cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all approach that directly threatened local control for municipalities like Orono, a town that has spent a considerable amount of time and resources controlling its housing to prevent student conflicts with neighborhoods, and overpriced rents due to the nature of transient student housing.

Meghan also said she has served as the chair of Orono’s Comprehensive Plan Committee, and that brings up another issue: Some towns are too small to even have a planning board.

And much of the solution may have nothing to do with this bill at all. Building houses affordably is a real challenge right now with high material costs, and finding the labor to do it is even more so. We need to invest in educational opportunities for the trades to have the workers available to begin bringing building costs down. Right now, they’re at a premium.

On the surface, LD 2003 looks to accomplish the worthy goal of solving our affordable housing crisis. But when its cosponsor and even a college town councilor agree that it’s too flawed, that should be deeply concerning.

Most concerning of all, however, is the amount of time Democratic leadership has given us in the hopes to simply push this legislation through. That should concern everyone.

Again, I’m Senator Stacey Guerin of Senate District 10, and I hope you have a great weekend.

Senator Stacey Guerin is in her second term in the Maine Senate and represents District 10. She is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee.

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