9-22-14

Dear Constituent,

When parties are trying to recruit people to run for the Maine State House or Senate, they often tell potential candidates that it’s a part-time job. After all, the first session runs from January to the end of June, and the second ends in April. And in the early part of the session, the chambers and committees do not meet every day. So there should be plenty of time left over for your “real” job, or other obligations. Right? Wrong.

After serving one term in the House, I can tell you that to do the job right, it’s a full-time obligation. Admittedly, I had a heavier schedule than most House members because I served on not one but two committees, as senators do. So from the start, I was in Augusta almost every day. But there’s more to the job that pure legislating, that is, sitting in the chamber in the morning to vote and deliberate on bills, and in committee in the afternoons to hear witnesses and consider changes to proposed legislation.

Every day I receive numerous emails. I always respond to the ones from my District almost immediately, sometimes with an answer, other times to advise the writer that I am working on it, which may take some calling around or research. Then there are the reams of materials that we receive from our committee analyst, party caucus, and witnesses on a host of issues that come up on the floor and committee. To make an informed decision, you have to look these over. So I go home at the end of the day with a full briefcase. With respect to bills you are particularly interested in (because you sponsored them or because they are especially important) there is research, meetings, conference calls, chats in the hallway and in the chamber, and appearances as an advocate other committees. If you don’t do these things, your legislation is sure to die. Our party caucus meets every morning and some evenings, to hash out differing views and strategies on bills that are coming up.

During the so-called recess this summer, I was kept busy with a number of conferences, meetings, and projects relating to my work as a legislator. There are several non-partisan national organizations dedicated to helping state legislators keep on top of key issues, allowing them to share ideas with their counterparts from other parts of the country and hear from experts. I attended one such conference in Denver hosted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Conference on State Legislatures.  This meeting had an interesting format: bipartisan teams from several states met as groups to devise a strategy to help the working poor in these tough economic times. They then presented their plan to the whole group. I was there as a member of the organization’s Women’s Network rather than part of a Maine delegation, so I did not work with a team.  However, I learned of some great programs that have proven their worth in other states, and sound information from the experts that appeared before us. I hope to present some of these ideas in the next legislature.

The Maine legislature also is not dormant either in the summer months. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee (ENR), on which I serve, held a briefing last month by the Department of Environmental Protection on several issues. The most contentious issue was DEP’s decision to postpone action on designating formaldehyde as a “priority” chemical, that is, one that is known to cause cancer in humans and which DEP should consider banning in products sold in our State. The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that this chemical is a cancer threat, so the DEP’s decision seemed unjustified and we told them so.

Later this month, ENR will hold a confirmation hearing to consider the governor’s nominee to the Board of Environmental Protection, a citizen’s panel that also plays a role in this arena. We will vote on the nominations, but it is up to the Senate to decide whether to confirm the nomination.

Meanwhile, on the local front, I have been following the work done by the Town Planning Department. I joined others in a walking tour of Freeport and Brunswick to see how they have worked with private enterprises to make substantial changes in their cityscape in anticipation of the arrival of Amtrak (which was only a possibility at the time) and to improve the look and desirability of those downtowns for businesses, shoppers and visitors.

        I have long believed that Yarmouth’s Main Street has the potential to become a valued destination for various sorts of shoppers and visitors.  It is very attractive, boasts a number of unusual destinations (Firehouse Arts, 317 Community Center, the Bickford Collection, an independent bookstore, the Merrill Library, NYA, among other places) and is a pleasant, popular place to walk. Careful changes that need not cost a fortune could turn this area into a more viable business district without losing its charm. This week, I will attend the several Planapalooza forums that will flesh out some of these ideas.

I have also been making the rounds in Yarmouth, Chebeague and Long Islands, to hear from people about their concerns.  The islands will join Yarmouth in the re-drawn district (now called House District # 47) that previously had consisted  solely Yarmouth. I am intrigued by the joys and challenges of island living, although admittedly, the true test of the latter will come in February rather than September.

That’s all for now. Enjoy the remaining days of summer and hope for a fall as beautiful as our summer has been.

Best wishes,
Janice Cooper
State Representative