Will the Legislature be consistent in January?

Wednesday evening saw the Maine Legislature adjourn “sine die,” Latin for “without day.” In more practical terms, it means they are done. Until January.

Thank goodness.

As is tradition, the final day of the session was “veto day.” Legislators returned to the House and Senate to consider vetoes by the governor, as well as minor bills that needed to be cleaned up.

That is where things started to go awry.

One of the most lobbied issues over the past eight months was solar energy. A flagship piece of legislation — supported by the solar lobby, opposed by Central Maine Power Co., and vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage — was on the calendar. Its future was balanced on a knife’s edge; no one knew what the day would bring.

So, to start the day, Speaker of the House Sara Gideon forced a relatively minor bill out of the Energy Committee and onto the floor. It was a poke in the eye for many. And later in the day, when the time came to consider LePage’s veto of the solar bill, Gideon couldn’t marshal the votes to override him. The veto was sustained, and the bill died.

The Maine State House in Augusta. Troy R. Bennett | BDN

If Bangor Daily News reporters are to be believed, Democratic representatives were overheard criticizing the speaker for her decision to start the day ramrodding the minor bill. After the override of the major bill failed, one Democrat opined “that is why you don’t piss everyone off first thing in the morning.”

The confusion continued from there. LePage won just over 50 percent of his vetoes, preventing those bills from becoming laws. The Legislature agreed with him that licensed adults should be free to use their cell phones to make calls while driving by holding the device as it was designed.

They disagreed with him when it came to tobacco. Maine will soon be one of just four states in the nation where you need to be 21 to purchase tobacco products.

Of course, the law only prevents their purchase. If an 18 year old picks up a tin of Skoal in New Hampshire, they can dip to their heart’s content. And they can pack a lip while driving down I-95 with a cell phone to their ear.

This is where Augusta gets crazy. Consistency is swept downstream in the Kennebec, never darkening the Capitol dome.

Soon in Maine, your 18th birthday will continue to be a milestone. You’re an adult who can cast a vote for governor, or Senate, or president. You can raise your right hand to serve your nation in war. You can purchase a rifle, or a cell phone to use while driving. And you can take loans of $55,000 annually to attend a private college.

By your 21st birthday, you can owe $165,000 to a bank. And your first legal sip of alcohol or puff on a cigar can numb the pain of the interest you will undoubtedly pay over the next few decades of your life.

The politics of power aren’t much better. Tax incentives are thrown about for those who install solar panels and try to generate their own electricity. A worthwhile goal, but one generally limited to those with resources to pursue them; in practice, it is a subsidy to people who take advantage of it.

Meanwhile, we are faced with a major question: How do we pay for the poles and lines that litter our landscape? Yes, they carry electricity, but some also distribute cable, internet, and landline phones. In some cases, cellular providers are leasing space and mounting mini-antennae to them.

That infrastructure isn’t free. And yes, it probably requires some sort of subsidy.

But the infrastructure subsidies — “net metering” — are not considered holistically with the investment subsidies for installing solar panels. Nor is “adulthood” considered holistically. Twenty-year-olds can help elect the president; they can’t drink. Twenty-four-year-olds can hit the bottle daily and remain on their parents’ health insurance. So when are they truly adults?

These challenges before us are large; they don’t have simple answers. But when January rolls around and the Legislature reconvenes, they need to think bigger.

Passing inconsistent laws — 18-year-olds are adults who can be trusted to drive with a cell phone to their ear on their way to the polls or the recruitment office, but they are far too immature to buy a cigarette — simply confuses the issue where clarity should exist. Maybe January can provide clarity.

Michael Cianchette

About Michael Cianchette

Michael Cianchette was the chief counsel to Gov. Paul LePage from 2012-2013 and deputy counsel from 2011-2012. A Navy reservist, he was deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014 as a trainer and adviser to the Afghan National Police. He is an alumnus of the Leadership Maine program and holds a BA in economics and political science from Boston College along with a JD and an MBA from Suffolk University. He works as in-house counsel and financial manager for a number of affiliated companies in southern Maine.