For Immediate Release
AUGUSTA - House Republican leaders on Wednesday expressed disappointment with Democrats on the Maine Legislature's Legislative Council for bending the legislature's rules to simultaneously ram welfare expansion through the legislature for a third time and kill commonsense, bipartisan measures to reform Maine's broken welfare system. Joint Rule 217 of the legislature prohibits the introduction of the same bill twice in one two-year legislative term.
"Democrats bent the rules in order to push welfare expansion while simultaneously rejecting any attempt at welfare reform," said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette of Newport. "This uneven application of the rules seemed like something that would happen in Washington."
The most-publicized of Fredette's three welfare reform bills was his proposal for Maine to join 19 other states in requiring that job-ready applicants to Maine's TANF cash welfare program first apply for at least three jobs.
"The bill simply said that if you're able to work, you should try to get a job before trying to get welfare," said Fredette. "It's something almost anybody would agree onexcept for Democratic leadership, apparently."
Assistant House Democratic Leader Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan) joined the four Republicans on the panel to support the welfare reform measures, leading to votes of 5-5. A tie vote is the equivalent of a "nay" vote, however.
"I'd like to thank Rep. McCabe for recognizing the importance of reforming Maine's welfare programs," said Fredette.
Fredette's other two bills would have eliminated "catch-all" exceptions to nonparticipation in Maine's ASPIRE welfare work search program and created a study group to examine the feasibility of a tiered welfare system whereby recipients lose benefits gradually instead of all at once as their income increases, so as to encourage work.
"These are all really great bills that almost everyone I know outside Augusta supports," said Assistant House Republican Leader Alex Willette of Mapleton. "Today really showed a clear difference of opinion between the parties on welfare: Republicans think it needs reform while most Democrats think welfare is fine the way it is."
Rep. Fredette reintroduced a study proposal originally introduced by Rep. Mel Newendyke (R-Litchfield) that would have sought to create a tiered welfare system. The bill, LD 1064, carried 56 co-sponsors and was passed unanimously in the House before being killed by Democratic leadership. Fredette reintroduced it in the hopes that as long as Democrats were suspending rules, they would do so evenly. Instead, Democrats passed a reintroduction of welfare expansion while stopping welfare reform in its tracks.
"Maine ranks second in the nation for welfare spending thanks to liberal politicians who built up a bloated welfare system over the course of several decades," said Fredette. "For the sake of our budget, for the sake of our economy, and for the sake of fairness, we must rein in this out-of-control welfare system. Governor LePage and Republican lawmakers have put us on the path to welfare reform, but there's a long way to go and Democrats are obstructing it at every turn."
Maine House Republicans
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