Finding small ways to make a difference on big issues
By Sen. Mike Tipping
I recently had my first two committee hearings on bills I’ve introduced. Of course they were scheduled at the same time on opposite ends of the Capitol complex in Augusta. With a bit of sprinting, I was able to present both, only slightly out of breath.
The two bills, one increasing transparency of electric utility spending and the other making it easier for Mainers facing eviction to get legal help, cover very different subjects, but they have a common thread. In both cases I’m attempting to make a small difference on some big issues – the housing crisis and skyrocketing power bills – by identifying clear, common-sense reforms.
LD 325, “An Act to Improve Consideration of Electricity Rate Increases,” would require that electric utilities like Versant and Central Maine Power be more transparent about the money they, their parent companies, and lobby groups they belong to spend on advertising and political influence campaigns.
The rules on this reporting haven’t been updated since 1986 and right now much of that spending is flying under the radar, not reported to either the Public Utilities Commission or the Ethics Commission. By having a better picture of how utility companies are spending some of the money they’re making from our power bills, I hope we can find ways to improve oversight and bring down rates.
No one testified against the bill in the committee hearing and I was glad to see the Bangor Daily News confirm that this spending is currently not being tracked comprehensively and note that “transparency measures are a priority for both parties at a time of high costs.”
LD 330, “An Act to Ensure Legal Representation for Residents Facing Eviction,” would make sure that tenants facing eviction are informed that legal assistance may be available, both when they are given an eviction notice and when they show up to court, and in some cases it would provide more time for them to contact and consult with a lawyer from an organization like Legal Services for the Elderly or Pine Tree Legal Assistance before they go to court.
A recent study of eviction cases in Maine found that legal representation for tenants makes a big difference. In Penobscot County, only about 13% of tenants have legal representation when facing eviction (compared to 81% of landlords). Those that do get legal help are 80% more likely not to be evicted (they may instead go to mediation, work out a payment plan for back rent or agree on a timeline to find new housing).
Tenants having legal representation often speeds up the process for all parties involved and it ensures that justice is better served and fewer people are made homeless.
There are bigger issues that the legislature must address. These bills won’t solve electric rate increases or fully fund legal services – there are other bills and parts of the state budget we need to work on to do that. But if I get them passed they will move us in the right direction and provide a basis to build off of for more common-sense reforms.
As always, if you need any assistance or have any questions, feel free to contact my legislative office at 207-287-1515 or email me at Mike.Tipping@legislature.maine.gov.