A year ago this month, Saco elected me to the Maine House as its youngest member with the hope of reforming Augusta and to fight for the interests of our community. While Washington can’t seem to get its act together, there are smaller victories here in Maine that are important to point out from this past legislative session.
Immediately following swearing in, I helped to form the bipartisan youth caucus comprised of Democrats and Republicans younger than 30. Through collaboration and civility we were able to come together on important issues. We made education reform a top priority. Through our efforts we passed two important bills relating to education that have since become law.
The first being is a bill to ensure students have a basic knowledge of financial literacy to be embedded within the current curriculum in order to graduate high school. Having a basic knowledge of how to balance a checkbook, draft a household budget, and general money-related topics is vital for students going out into the real world and hopefully avoid financial problems by having a basic level of understanding.
The second, and probably my most proudest accomplishment this session, was my bill to put community service on the list of traditional academic measurements for graduation which currently includes examinations, quizzes, performances and student portfolios. In layman’s terms, it allows educators to grade community service as a means of obtaining a high school diploma. This became law after unanimously passing in the House and Senate and was even signed by the governor. Teachers will now be able to create multiple pathways of learning opportunities by bringing their current curriculum alive through hands-on experiences.
In all, this session I was pleased to sponsor 11 bills and cosponsor 53 other bills. Of the 11 sponsored bills, three were unanimously approved in the House and Senate, two of those became law, and one is being held for funding until January.
A bill of mine that received probably the most attention, including appearing on WCSH 6 with Pat Callaghan to clarify details, was a bill to help improve the safety of our highways. This new law has transferred the jurisdiction of increasing or decreasing speed limits on the entire length of the interstate from the political body to the transportation department. This ensures that speed changes are left to the people who specialize in engineering science rather than political science.
After hearing from many people, including a family severely plagued by Huntington’s disease in Saco, a bill was needed to address the concern for additional resources and expanded services for home-based and community-based care. This was passed unanimously in the House and the Senate and actually has been a priority for the LePage administration. The governor and his officials at DHHS support this initiative because of its ability to save money within the MaineCare system in the long run by limiting the strain on already full nursing home facilities and encouraging a more cost-efficient way of administering services. While passed, this bill awaits for funding from appropriations next year. If its left unfunded, it will simply not go into effect. (See story, page 1.)
There are also a few co-sponsored bills worth mentioning. During the debate over the recent Thornton Academy contract locally, some of you may have heard the phrase: insured value factor. This is crucial for town academies across the state that don’t receive any public funding for infrastructure projects. The bill put forward by Sen. Linda Valentino and I that was passed will increase the insured value factor payments incrementally starting next year. This will significantly help Thornton Academy afford capital construction projects in order to continue the high level of academic and extracurricular vigor that my alma mater is known for. Another was a bill to help clean up some of the laws regarding tuition waivers for children of veterans. This will hopefully make it easier for children of veterans to obtain their college degree.
If you remember back to your high school years, you might recall that freshmen were on the lower end of the social totem pole with the senior class at the top. This is similar to the atmosphere in Augusta, with freshmen generally expected to just get in line and not make a big splash. Part of being the youngest legislator coming in at 21, I felt an even greater need to break the mold and fight for the issues and bills our community sent me there to do regardless of the politics up there. While there are still many more issues to solve, bills to introduce, and fights to be had on the House floor, I am confident that this is a good first step to rethinking priorities, reforming policy, and renewing the commitment of putting the public service back into politics. For those of you in my House district, look out for my legislative newsletter in coming weeks.
Justin Chenette is the state representative for Saco and the owner of Chenette Media LLC. You can follow legislative and community updates at www.justinchenette.com and Facebook.com/justinforsaco.
Beyond the Headlines
Weekly Column featured in The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier Newspaper by Rep. Justin Chenette of Saco