Rep. Jarrod Crockett weighs in on issues, Legislature, Gov. LePage
Maine’s new fireworks law needs to be revisited.
Increasing the penalties for welfare fraud and restructuring the Land Use Regulation Commission are among the best regulatory reform accomplishments of the past two years.
Gov. LePage should abide by Maine voters’ approval of land conservation bonds two years ago and issue the bonds.
Those are some of the views of Rep. Jarrod Crockett (R-Bethel), the area’s recently re-elected House District 91 legislator.
Last week he shared his assessment of the past two years, his expectations for the next session of the Legislature and his opinion on other issues facing the state with The Citizen.
Over the course of his first two years in office, the two topics on which Crockett has heard the most from his constituents are fireworks and state road maintenance.
While roads are a steady source of feedback and an issue he says he will continue to work on, the law legalizing fireworks this year brought some unexpected reaction.
“I’ve heard more about that bill than I ever would have thought,” he said.
In addition to complaints from people who live on area lakes and ponds, where fireworks have most often been used, “I’ve heard from large landowners worried about fires,” said Crockett. “We need to re-look at that issue and make it as compatible as possible with what Maine people want. Clearly we didn’t get it right.”
Other recent legislation that he said may need more work includes two laws that affect education: charter schools and a physical restraint law.
Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are operated and governed independently of the traditional public school system, according to the Maine Department of Education. State education aid follows students from the district in which they live to the charter schools in which they enroll.
The charter school process is in its infancy and there may still be “kinks to be worked out,” said Crockett. “We don’t want to cause damage to public schools, but we want to provide options for students,” he said. “It’s a balancing act.”
Another education law tightened restrictions on the situations in which teachers may use physical restraint on students. But recent reports from schools describe circumstances in which teachers have been afraid to touch misbehaving students for fear of violating the law.
Crockett said the law may need to be revisited.
Among regulatory changes that the Legislature did get right, said Crockett, were the restructuring of the Land Use Regulation Commission and the tightening of rules governing welfare.
LURC, now known as the Land Use Planning Commission, oversees planning and conservation in the state’s Unorganized Territories. Gov. Paul LePage’s administration originally supported a bill eliminating LURC and giving its responsibilities to the counties. Instead, a compromise was reached to preserve statewide oversight but reform the makeup of commission itself to include representatives from Maine’s eight largest counties, including Oxford County.
Another accomplishment, said Crockett, was reform that increased penalties for welfare fraud, and steps such as limiting to five years the amount of time people can be on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and eliminating benefits to welfare clients found to be using drugs.
“The people who have a legitimate need are the ones we need to protect,” he said.
Another reform, on which he believes the jury is still out, is the change in the law covering Maine health insurance.
Instead of requiring insurance companies to offer policies to everyone regardless of their health, the new law created a separate fund to cover high-risk/high cost individuals. The fund is supported by a tax on premiums on other insurance.
For other people buying insurance, premiums can vary according to age and geographic location. The intent is to lower premiums for statistically healthier younger people, thus encouraging them to buy insurance. That would grow the overall pool of people and lower everyone’s premiums, according to the plan. The system is also intended to mesh with the upcoming ACA requirement for everyone to have health insurance.
In addition, more insurance companies would be brought into the Maine market by allowing the sale of policies across state lines.
But there have been complaints that since the Maine law took effect in July, premiums among some individual policy holders and small businesses have risen significantly. Democrats, who will now control the Legislature, have indicated they want changes.
However, said Crockett, the law will not be fully implemented until 2013, when people can buy insurance out-of-state, so he believes it’s too early to make a final judgment. Companies currently providing insurance in Maine have been given until 2013 to wrap up their books, he said, before the market is opened to other states.
In the larger health insurance picture, Crockett was asked if Maine should set up its own insurance “exchange” for 2013 to comply with the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), or let the federal government impose its own framework for an exchange. Since the ACA was passed in 2010, many states have been working on such exchanges, which are intended to provide one-stop shopping for people to compare available health plans.
But Maine, like other states that have resisted the ACA in the hope it would be overturned by the Supreme Court or repealed with the election of Mitt Romney as president, has held off on developing an exchange. State leaders are divided on whether there is now enough time left to craft an effective Maine plan, or whether it is better to simply accept the imposition of the federal one.
Crockett said for him, it depends on “what our options are for amending it later. Nobody gets it right the first time, especially when you talk about something this large.”
As for the state’s option to expand the number of people covered by Medicaid under the ACA, Crockett wants to know where the money will come from. “I would look at it with an open mind,” he said.
Gov. LePage has said he opposes expansion. Those on the other side of the issue argue that Maine residents would then pay federal taxes to support the expansion in other states without any benefit here, while at the same time the insured in Maine would indirectly subsidize the uninsured by paying higher premiums.
Conservation bonds, governor
Crockett disagrees with the governor’s decision to hold back on issuing bonds approved by voters in a 2010 referendum for the purchase of conservation lands.
LePage cites the state’s current fiscal problems as his reason.
But, said Crockett, “If the people of Maine pass it, it’s not for the governor to second guess. How does democracy work if you don’t respect what the voters do?”
He used the analogy of his own objection to the establishment of a casino in Oxford by referendum. “Now that it’s here I’ve got to respect it,” he said. “It’s not for me to judge.”
Asked how he would rate the governor’s job performance, Crockett said that to date, “some positives have been laid at his feet that were also the result of bipartisan action that was already in the works.”
But he rated as good LePage’s proposal to stretch out payments to the state on the upcoming extension of liquor lease rights to a private contractor, in order to bring in more money over time.
Crockett also looked to the future for the final judgment on the governor. “His legacy will be determined in the next two years in working with a Legislature that’s not controlled by his own party,” said Crockett. “His positions will have to be defensible, well-thought-out and reasonable. He’s going to have to compromise. It’s going to be interesting.”
Both the governor and Legislature will be tested as they wrestle with expected revenue shortfalls in the coming year.
“I’m hopeful we’ll be able to negotiate a solution,” said Crockett. “The big emphasis would be this is not Washington. “We’re required to have a balanced budget.”
Crockett will be the lead sponsor this session on a legislative ethics bill. He said that currently, an outgoing legislator can become a lobbyist the day after he/she leaves office. He doesn’t think that’s right.
“There’s no waiting period,” he said. “Why shouldn’t you take a year off?”