STANDISH — For the second year in a row, the Sebago Lakes Chamber of Commerce held a legislative forum at Saint Joseph’s College where local business owners and officials had a chance to interact with their state representatives.
“I am so honored to have our legislators here today, and even more pleased to have a great group of business professionals, town councilors, municipal officers and so forth here to be part of the discussion this morning,” said Chamber Executive Director Aimee Senatore.
The legislators who participated in the Saturday morning event on March 10 were Rep. Sue Austin, R-Gray; Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham; Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland; Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham; Rep. Jess Fay, D-Raymond; Rep. Phyllis Ginzler, R-Bridgton; and Rep. Lester Ordway, R-Standish.
Saint Joe’s President Dr. James Dlugos was also on hand to welcome the forum participants and attendees.
“We’re delighted to be able to host this again,” Dlugos said, noting the school aims to help convene members of the community for various discussions. “We’re also delighted to be here because the college — my faculty colleagues cringe when I say it — we’re a business. The business environment, the business climate, is important to us as well.”
About twenty people were in the audience for the discussion, including business owners and several local municipal officials.
Larry Eliason, the head of the Chamber’s government relations group, speculated that some local business owners couldn’t attend Saturday because they had to work.
Eliason said the event provides an opportunity for the local business community to have a “face to face with legislators they might not normally have a chance to” meet.
The audience asked questions touching on a variety of issues including the minimum wage, community broadband, energy costs, recreational marijuana, pesticide laws, transportation, Maine’s aging population and health care.
David Pollard of the Spring Meadows Golf and Country Club told the legislators that while he generally supports raising the minimum wage, he sees the incremental raise passed by referendum in 2016 as “a pretty steep grade now.”
That successful 2016 referendum raised the state minimum hourly wage from $7.50 to $9 and set it to be increased by $1 each year until reaching $12 in 2020.
“There’s no question I think the minimum wage should have been raised,” Pollard said, noting that his concern is with the rate at which it’s set to rise.
Raymond Town Manager Don Willard said that he wanted the state to take a leadership role in the development of community broadband Internet access.
“If we don’t do it, we’re going to get left behind,” Willard said.
Denno said he agreed with Willard and that “this is not just a Raymond issue, this is a rural Maine issue.”
Jon Shaw, one of the owners of Shaw Brothers Construction, touched on several issues including recreational marijuana as it relates to businesses conducting drug testing.
“We don’t have a defined on how we can test,” Shaw said. “As a contractor, you’re putting the risk right on Shaw Brothers.”
Corey, who serves on the Joint Select Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation working to implement the law passed in 2016 by referendum, gave an update on the marijuana discussions in Augusta.
Corey said that in-part, the voter-passed law, “put protections in place for people to use marijuana.”
Corey also said the implementation committee bill they’ve been working on this legislative session would put “some of those protections back in place for employers.”
This was the second business forum at the college for the delegation of regional legislators. Senatore has credited Fay with jump-starting the group.
“We work well together; we’re very collegial,” Fay said after the forum, noting that members with varying political affiliations are able to “disagree without being disagreeable.”
Saturday’s event only rarely sounded like a debate among the legislators, with the biggest point of contention involving economic planning at the state level.
“We don’t have an economic strategy for the State of Maine,” Denno said. “Every business I’ve ever been in, in my life had an economic strategy. We don’t have one in Maine. Strategy, leadership those are keywords, and we need to think about what will it take to make all of Maine succeed.”
Ginzler did not immediately respond to Denno’s comments, but when Windham Councilor Jarrod Maxfield circled back to the issue while addressing the group, she said she disagreed with Denno’s assessment.
“I kind of took exception to that,” Ginzler said. “I would say in the last eight years, we have moved this state with an economic vision. We have moved this state to economic and fiscal health, which it wasn’t eight years ago.”
The only two delegation members not in attendance Saturday were Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester and Rep. Rich Cebra of Naples. Fay said she thought they both had local caucuses to attend that day.
Cebra, who is also a Naples Selectboard Member, said at a board meeting Monday night that he”totally would have been there” Saturday if he didn’t have to run the caucus.
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.
Members of the Lakes Region legislative delegation participated in a business forum hosted by the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce at Saint Joseph’s College.