Maine Department of Labor Submits Bills for 126th Legislature Bookmark and Share

January 23, 2014

For Immediate Release: January 23, 2014
Contact: Julie Rabinowitz, Department of Labor, 621-5009

Reforms include modernizing youth employment regulations and streamlining drug testing requirements, hearings on bills scheduled for Jan. 28 and Feb. 1

AUGUSTA—The Department of Labor has submitted several bills for the upcoming legislative session. These include proposals to expand job opportunities for minors, revision to the administration of and employer requirements for workplace drug testing, adjustments to the WorkShare unemployment program to conform to federal law, and a change to the review process for training waivers for unemployment claimants.

"We are continuing our efforts to improve the business climate in Maine," said Governor Paul R. LePage. "The Labor Department's bills will help both workers and businesses by expanding employment opportunities, giving more employers the ability to drug test their workers to ensure a safer workplace and improving the WorkShare program while increasing the efficiency of state government and reducing cost for the taxpayer."

The public hearings for LD 1669, “An Act To Standardize and Simplify the Process for Employers To Provide a Drug-free Workplace,” sponsored by Sen. Andre Cushing of Penobscot, and LD 1701, “An Act To Amend the Work-sharing Program To Conform with Federal Law,” sponsored by Sen. John Patrick of Oxford, will both be held on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, beginning at 2 p.m. in the Cross Building, Room 208, by the Joint Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.

A brief summary of the changes proposed by the Department's legislation this session follows.

LD 1698, “An Act To Streamline the Work Permitting Process for Minors and Conform Allowable Places That Minors Can Work to Federal Law” (statutory titles affected: 26 MRSA 773,775 and 777) clarifies the roles of the superintendent and the department and seeks to modernize Maine law by including areas of work for minors that are allowable under federal law, such as bowling alleys and movie theaters.

Currently the permitting process can be slow, particularly during the summer months, and employers must hold their jobs open while they wait for the minors' permits to be issued. Developing an online system and allowing the bureau to directly issue permits during the summer months provides minors with helpful options to expedite the permitting process while including safeguards for students attending summer school. The department may suggest an amendment to this bill specifying additional jobs that should be opened to minors that are legal under federal law, resulting from a review of other state's regulations and employer feedback to the Bureau of Labor Standards. The public hearing for LD 1698 is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014, beginning at 1 pm in the Cross Building, Room 208, by the Joint Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.

LD 1669, “An Act to Standardize and Simplify the Process for Employers Who Seek to Provide a Drug-Free Workplace” (statutory titles affected: 26 MRSA 681-690) would put in place a single, comprehensive policy managed by the department that is in compliance with all pertinent rules and regulations that must be followed by all employers conducting testing. Under current law, employers desiring to implement a substance abuse policy encounter a complicated, cumbersome, expensive process.

This bill would provide employers with a consistent model for implementing a drug-free policy, remove the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) requirement for employers with more than 20 employees, remove the requirement that employers with more than 20 employees must pay for half of rehabilitation above and beyond services provided through health care benefits, and remove the probable-cause single accident exclusion.

This bill will increase protection for employers and employees; reduce costs for employers, service providers and the State; provide a consistent policy that interested employers can adopt and provide consistency across employers for enforcement purposes.

LD 1668, “An Act To Expedite Training Waiver Decisions for Unemployment Claimants by Transferring Original Jurisdiction from the Unemployment Insurance Commission to the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation” (statutory titles affected: 26 MRSA 1192, sub-sections 6 and 6-C) would transfer original jurisdiction for making approved training determinations for unemployment claimants who are pursuing training outside of the Workforce Investment Act program from the Maine Unemployment Insurance Commission to the Bureau of Unemployment Insurance. This would not only allow the Commission to serve in the capacity of an appellate board for determining “approved training,” but also expedite the process for claimants. These determinations would instead be made during the same process used to resolve all other benefit eligibility issues. It also places Maine in compliance with the practice of all other states, since no other state gives original jurisdiction of these training determinations to its highest level of appeals.

LD 1701, “An Act to Amend the State of Maine’s Work-Sharing Program to Conform with Federal Law” (statutory titles affected: 26 MRSA 1198, work-sharing benefits summary) revises Maine’s work-sharing unemployment program per federal program requirements. WorkShare, a voluntary program for employers that wish to avoid a layoff by reducing staff work hours using a partial unemployment benefit to offset the resulting wage loss, has been implemented by a number of Maine employers since its inception in March 2012. Note: Current statute contains a sunset provision for Feb. 28, 2014, for the WorkShare program in order to evaluate the use of and overall impact on Maine’s Unemployment Trust Fund. This legislative initiative would also repeal the sunset provision.

LD 1643, “An Act to Enable the Bureau of Labor Standards to Access Federal Reimbursement by Amending State Law To Conform to Federal Law” (statutory titles affected: 26 MRSA 43-45; 561, 569 and 570) would conform state law to federal law, allowing the Bureau of Labor Standards to receive federal reimbursement of up to $400,000 per year for public sector consultation and enforcement services. The bureau’s Workplace Safety and Health Division enforces workplace safety and health regulations for the public sector. Through the SafetyWorks! consultation program, the bureau conducts safety and health audits and training for all private-sector and public-sector workplaces in the state, assisting them with OSHA compliance.

LD 1677, “An Act To Make Minor Technical Changes to Statutes Governing the Maine Department of Labor” (statutory titles affected: misc. sections of 26 MRSA) is an omnibus bill that clarifies and/or corrects minor inconsistencies in Title 26, the statutes that govern the Department of Labor. Changes include removing outdated language to reflect current organizational structure and job titles and correcting the titles of two standing committees of the State Workforce Investment Board, from “School-to-Work” to “Younger Workers” and from “Employment of People with Disabilities” to “Commission on Disability and Employment.” It also takes a provision applicable to only one standing committee and applies it to all six standing committees as intended in the original legislation.

Anyone wishing to provide input on these bills should contact Susan Wasserott, director of legislative affairs for the Maine Department of Labor, at Susan.Wasserott@maine.gov .

The Department of Labor administers Maine’s unemployment insurance system, helps ensure the safety of employees and provides workforce development leadership and vocational rehabilitation services throughout the state. The department focuses on connecting Mainers to jobs and helping businesses create jobs through strengthening our workforce development system, improving outreach to businesses and clarifying employment regulations.

-end-