Anti-Business Legislature Suggests Major Policy Changes (MMTA Commentary)

If you are a business owner, there are elected officials – especially on the Labor and Taxation Committees – in the legislature that don’t think a lot about you. The policies that they are pushing this session are hard to be characterized as anything short of disgust. Disgust for the jobs you provide. Disgust for the taxes you pay. Disdain for your unmitigated audacity to locate your business in Maine.

Most legislative sessions have many competing perspectives that are considered as public policies are made, changed and eliminated. There are citizens, interest groups, unions and businesses that all weigh in as the sausage is made and most legislatures take an overall balanced approach to these interests. This session, however, is different. And not just because of the pandemic, or meeting virtually – although neither of those things has helped improve the process or the results.

This session is different because the business community is often being vilified, sometimes being attacked and largely being ignored. Whether real or perceived, some legislators see you as being too successful, too unregulated and too inclined to mistreat your employees despite evidence to the contrary. In short, they don’t like you and they are finding new and different ways to show it. Here’s just three:

This bill would prohibit terminations without cause and would mandate that employers follow an arduous, three-step “progressive discipline” process before employees could be terminated, even when there is cause to terminate.

This proposal would add another layer of burdensome regulation on Maine employers. It is based on the faulty premise that Maine employers regularly terminate their employees without cause. It ignores the fact that businesses can experience changes that require layoffs to remain viable. It disregards the fact that Maine employers deeply value – and need – their workers and invest substantial time and money in their training and development.

When MMTA testified that “we reject the notion that there is a significant problem in Maine with employers terminating employees without cause” we were asked to prove it by members of the Labor Committee. You read that correctly, we were asked to provide documented evidence, supported by data, that something wasn’t happening in a significant way.

Click here to access the bill text.
Click here to access MMTA’s testimony.
Click here to access the Maine Jobs Council “Call to Action”

Labor advocates are attempting to use the extraordinary sudden shutdown of the economy last year as a pretext for justifying significant changes to the unemployment system that will increase taxes and create unnecessary complexity. It would expand benefits to include eliminating the waiting period, expands eligibility for those who voluntarily quit due to childcare and/or transportation, increases dependent benefits and expands eligibility for partial unemployment. Most egregious is that it would start a new “peer navigator program” to help claimants access benefits which has not been used in any other state for this purpose with no corresponding resource for employers trying their best to comply with all of these changes.

Click here to access the LD 1571.

Taken individually, these types of bills are not uncommon in any given session with some having a semblance of a chance to pass the full legislature. However, as stated before, this session is different and there is no indication that any of the various bills are part of a larger long-term plan. Each of the 1,700+ bills (so far) had separate public hearings and separate work sessions with a reduced ability to lobby the issues given the closure of the statehouse and everything being done virtually. During this process, especially in the Labor and Taxation Committees, the business community weighed in, offered valuable information and perspective and then were largely ignored.

To be clear, this commentary isn’t a complaint, it is a warning for MMTA members. We don’t have a crystal ball to tell you what is going to happen with all of these issues, but there may be opportunities in the coming weeks and months to get engaged and we suggest you take any calls-to-action seriously since the far-reaching impacts could be severe.

For her part, the Governor has been non-committal about the overall trajectory of the anti-business sentiment from this legislature. You may remember last session when there was a similar outlook with multiple workers’ compensation bills. Through Governor Mills’ leadership, she brought all parties together and brokered a suitable compromise. We can only hope that she again recognizes the important role businesses play in the Maine economy, despite the behavior of some in the legislature.