May 23, 2022

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Sports Really Satisfies

– Ten state boards may get the ax for doing too little

It may surprise people to learn of the existence of the Combat Sports Authority of Maine, a little-known piece of the state government that faces an uncertain future.

The authority is one of 10 state entities legislators are eyeing for possible elimination because it failed to file annual reports with the Secretary of State’s Office in either of the past two years, an indication they’ve either ceased to function or fallen short of their obligation to report on their activities.

Legislators don’t have to ax any of the boards or commissions on the list, but they might.

Among the other panels facing possible demise are the Animal Welfare Advisory Council, the Commission to End Student Hunger, the Maine State Film Commission, the Potato Marketing Improvement Fund Committee and the Seaweed Fisheries Advisory Council.

The Maine Legislature’s Committee on State and Local Government heard testimony this week about whether to eliminate as many as 10 state boards, commissions or authorities. Screenshot from video

Most of them had supporters show up for a recent hearing before the Committee on State and Local Government to plead for another chance, with many of the advocates pointing out the pandemic had slowed or stalled their work.

Matthew Peterson of Rumford, for instance, urged the committee to leave intact the Combat Sports Authority of Maine, created in 2009 “to ensure that all mixed martial arts and professional boxing exhibitions, events, performances and contests are subject to an effective, safe and efficient system of strict control and regulation.”

Peterson said the commission doesn’t cost taxpayers anything and probably neglected to file any reports because there weren’t any combat sports taking place during the COVID-19 lockdown. But it’s still active, he said, and shouldn’t be given the heave-ho.

Chris Guild, a member of the panel, told legislators that mixed martial arts and other events are already taking place again. “We’re excited to be back,” he said.

The legislative committee plans a work session Monday to go over the list and determine what, if anything, it should recommend terminating.

Katie Lisnik, executive director of the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston, urged lawmakers to leave the animal welfare panel in place. She said that while the council was inactive for a couple of years, “it was not because of lack of interest or need.”

Lisnik said that neither former Gov. Paul LePage nor Gov. Janet Mills had appointed any members to fill vacant seats so the council couldn’t get a quorum in order to hold any sessions. But with the appointment of several newcomers this year, including her, it can get back to work.

“We have already met twice this year and have an active and full agenda of important issues to explore and offer advice on,” Lisnik said. “Please let us fulfill this role.”

Nancy McBrady, director of the Bureau of Agriculture, Food and Rural Resources for the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, agreed the animal welfare board ought to continue to exist. She also urged legislators to save the Nutrient Management Review Board that recently got four new members.

But not every targeted board found support.

Donald Flannery, the executive director of the Maine Potato Board, told lawmakers that the Potato Marketing Improvement Fund Committee set up a program successful enough that it hasn’t had to meet since 2015. It isn’t needed any longer, he said.

McBrady said her department also favors getting rid of the potato marketing panel, created to provide loans for the modernization, construction and operation of storage, central packing facilities and investment.

She said there are three other potato-related committees that can pick up the slack.

Knocking out the Driver Education and Evaluation Programs Appeals Board would be fine, too, said Jessica Monahan Pollard, the director of the Office of Behavioral Health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Pollard said there are other ways for appeals to be heard.

But most of those who spoke at the public hearing this week favored retention of one board or another.

State development officials told legislators the Maine Film Commission, created in 1987, is still needed to advise the film office that last year provided support for 173 productions, including “The Lost Kitchen” and “Maine Cabin Masters.” They said the advisory board didn’t meet during the pandemic, in part because its members’ terms ran out.

Deirdre Gilbert, director of state marine policy for the Maine Department Marine Resources, urged the retention of the seaweed fisheries council as well.

She said the council couldn’t meet because the department “has been unable to fill the resource management coordinator position that historically provided staff support” for it. The department anticipates that will change soon so the council can be convened again to provide recommendations on the health of the seaweed resource, its ecosystem and the industry that’s grown around it.

Just because a panel isn’t doing anything now, and might not any time soon, may not be a good enough reason to ax it, some said.

Michael Bush, housing director for the Penobscot Nation, said one of the boards eyed for removal is the Penobscot Tribal Reservation Housing Authority, which hasn’t been needed for many years.

Bush asked legislators to “continue to allow this entity to exist” anyway because it “may prove beneficial in some future capacity.”

The legislative committee is planning to hold a workshop Monday to discuss which, if any, of the panels should get tossed. If it favors eliminating any of them, it will recommend the move to the Legislature.


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