LD-765 Status Report

Status Report on L.D. 765 - April 16, 2011

L.D. 765 Ought to Pass

I’m pleased to report that the Maine State Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development (known as the “LCRED Committee”) held its Work Session on LD765 on Friday morning, April 15, and they voted the bill out of the Committee “ought to pass.”  They did not make any changes to the bill, so the amounts of funding we requested are unchanged so far.  Now the bill goes to the Appropriations Committee where its fate is uncertain.

Given the state’s budget situation, the bill could easily die on the Appropriations Table, but with good attention and constant monitoring, we may be able to get some or all of the funds requested in the bill.  It will likely not be until the eve of the adjournment of the Legislature that we will know if they “found” any money to fund the bill.  The Legislature is not likely to adjourn until the latter half of May at the earliest and it could run until late June (or even early July) depending on how difficult it is for them to arrive on a budget compromise.

The good news is that the powerful testimony that many consumers of educational and rehabilitation services helped to organize and presented themselves at the Public Hearing before the LCRED Committee on Wednesday, April 6 had a profound impact on the members of the Committee.  The bill received unanimous support from the members of the LCRED Committee when the vote was taken on April 15.  Furthermore, a number of members of the Committee including Representative Kerri Prescott, the House Co-chair, made passionate statements about how it was their responsibility to get the Appropriations Committee to find funds for this bill notwithstanding the mandate from the legislative leadership that no “money bills” should be brought forward this year.  Senator Rector, the Senate Co-chair also supported the bill strongly along with Rep. Paul Davis, its sponsor, who is a well-known fiscal conservative. In fact, other members noted that if Senator Davis advocates for a “money bill” before the Appropriations Committee, then it will have a strong impact because he never supports spending bills. 

After the Work Session, Michael Barndollar and I spoke with Representative Peggy Rotundo who is a member of the Appropriations Committee and serves on our Advisory Board of Trustees.  Peggy was not optimistic about the likelihood of the bill succeeding, but she did say that she would help us watch the bill and talk to her colleagues on the Appropriations Committee about the bill.

Notably, Senator Troy Jackson and Representative John Martin, both from Aroostook County, will be key players because of the lack of services available from TVIs and O&M instructors in Aroostook County.  John McMahon told us after the vote that the O&M position in Aroostook County was facing elimination as part of the Governor’s Supplemental Budget and that the contract for O&M services that had been in place to serve some adults in Aroostook County cannot be renewed now that it has expired.  As a result, unless DBVI can get the position reinstated, there are no Orientation & Mobility services available in the County unless L.D. 765 is passed because it contains funding for a new O&M position.

There will be a time (probably in mid-May) that contacts with members of the Appropriations Committee will be most helpful.  Michael or I will let you know when it is time to urge everyone you know to phone, email or write letters to members of the Appropriations Committee.  Retta Choate can get you names and contact information for the members of the Appropriations Committee (including John Martin) if you need it.

The L.D. 765 Fact Sheet (available on our website at http://www.theiris.org/get-involved/advocacy) summarizes the bill and may be helpful as you try to bring consumers and others up to speed on the importance of this legislation.  Please note that the fact sheet refers to the Resolve Report and to the DOE Complaint Investigation Report, both of which can also be found on our website.  I encourage you to share those documents with folks who are truly interested in these issues so that they can learn about the true crisis caused by the deplorable inadequacy of resources to provide educational and rehabilitation services for people who are visually impaired or blind in Maine. 
So, while the likelihood of LD765 actually receiving funding is uncertain at best, the bill received a huge endorsement from the unanimous “ought to pass” vote by the LCRED Committee on April 15 and we are doing all we can to maximize the chance that the bill will be funded.  The fact that the bill has strong support from the members of the LCRED Committee and its sponsor also gives us some hope that it might actually succeed. 

In closing, I want to once again thank all of you who testified at the Public Hearing held by the LCRED Committee on April 6, or helped with arrangements so others could testify.  The testimony at the Public Hearing was very powerful and it could not have happened without all of your involvement.  Thank you very much for your efforts!

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