2012-01-20 / Commentary

GOP legislators build on 2011 success

BY REP. KIMBERLY OLSEN

Maine Republicans accomplished a great deal in last year’s legislative session.

We implemented reforms in health insurance, taxes, regulations, welfare and the state pension system to increase Maine’s competitiveness and restrain government. We also paid off outstanding hospital debt that had built up for years and reformed the Maine Turnpike Authority after exposing waste and fraud.

This year, we have no intention of slowing down.

We will continue our welfare reform program via legislation that makes certain assistance is available to those truly in need. Through our efforts to pass bills that crack down on fraud in Medicaid ( MaineCare) and methadone clinic reimbursement abuse, we will strive to ensure that taxpayers’ hardearned dollars are not squandered.

Another item on the agenda involves workers’ compensation reform. We have not had a major review of our workers’ compensation laws in almost 20 years. Maine still has one of the most expensive workers’ compensation systems in the nation, even though rates have dropped 7 percent, thanks largely to the restructuring of the medicalfee schedule.

Essentially, this reform protects taxpayers and employers from paying more in medical costs for an injury sustained while working as an employee than for the same injury sustained while not on the job.

This is important to understand, because in our system, states compete with one another for business. Regardless of how we think we’re doing as a state, we need to look beyond our own borders to create a more favorable market that will bring jobs to Maine.

This year’s Republican proposal on workers’ compensation makes sensible changes that reduce litigation and tighten eligibility while sending a strong signal to employers that Maine is serious about their success.

Personally, I have introduced a “Caylee’s Law” bill similar to that being considered in many other state legislatures across the country. This proposal is in response to the horrific events surrounding the death of 2-yearold Caylee Anthony, who was found murdered after being reported missing by her grandmother. Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, admitted not having seen her for weeks at the time of the child’s declared disappearance.

“Caylee’s Law” is a measure I couldn’t imagine any parent not supporting. I was especially motivated to submit this measure after receiving countless emails and calls from constituents requesting that something be done to prevent a similar occurrence here.

My initiative seeks to guarantee Maine children some level of justice that Caylee Anthony deserved. If the bill is enacted, parents will be required to report a missing child within a set time frame — 24 hours — or face a Class C crime, punishable by up to five years of imprisonment.

One of the biggest issues this session will undoubtedly be how we address the budget deficit in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). While it’s true that most of the current shortfall is not the result of extra people enrolling this year, the fact remains that DHHS has been growing far faster than the rest of the budget — or state revenue.

We need to fix that underlying problem to keep the system sustainable. Enrollment has grown steadily over the past 10 years, through good times and bad, outpacing the rate of population growth by ten-fold. Federal stimulus money masked the shortfall for the past few years, but that money is all gone.

Republicans are committed to solving the problem by containing spending in DHHS, not by cannibalizing other important state agencies, such as education and public safety, nor by rescinding tax relief to working families.

Although we are committed to this framework, we are flexible as to where to tighten the DHHS budget, as evidenced by our position on protecting assisted living facilities.

My colleagues and I look forward to working with Democrats to create a viable safety net for Maine’s neediest citizens.

All of these reforms speak to an overarching view of government that we, as Republicans, proudly espouse. We deeply care about protecting those who are truly incapable of taking care of themselves. Yet we understand how frustrating it is for a working person who is struggling to pay his or her own bills to see others who are just as capable remain reliant on taxpayers for support.

We are committed to ensuring that government works as efficiently and honestly as possible. I encourage you to follow events as they unfold over the next few months in Augusta and wish to ask my constituents to not hesitate to contact me directly with any concerns or ideas.

Please know that your input is valued and that all of us at the State House are honored to be representing your interests.

Rep Kimberly Olsen, R-Phippsburg, represents Maine House District 64, which includes Phippsburg, Harpswell and part of West Bath. A carpenter and homebuilder, she serves on the Marine Resources Committee.

letters@timesrecord.com

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