Workforce development bill sails through Maine Senate

AUGUSTA — A bill that's being heralded as "first-of-its-kind" legislation aimed at closing the state's so-called "skills gap" easily cleared the Maine Senate on Wednesday.

The bill, LD 90 — the work of a special committee of the Legislature — was rolled out last week and broadly praised as a bipartisan solution to a problem many say is key to moving the state's economy forward.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously on a voice vote and likely will move to the Maine House for consideration Thursday.

The bill has not only gained wide bipartisan support but also the support of both organized labor and the business community.

Among other things, the measure revitalizes the Maine Apprenticeship Program, a partnership between the state and about 150 businesses. The program couples on-the-job training with formal education programs and provides up to 50 percent tuition reimbursement for qualified applicants.

Its aim is to allow workers to gain the skills and education they need to advance while continuing full-time employment. 

The bill seemingly has broad support in the Legislature and its authors say they've worked with Gov. Paul LePage's office to craft the measure — workforce development has been an important focus of LePage's administration — but the governor's office has remained relatively quiet on the legislation.

LePage's senior economic adviser, John Butera, said the bill is complex and has a lot of moving parts that the governor's office wants to fully understand before it offers an endorsement or criticism of the bill.

Butera said the governor's office was supportive of the bipartisan nature of the bill, but was reserving judgment on the bill's merits. The measure is expected to cost the state an estimated $5 million to $6 million. That so-called "fiscal note" will be something the governor's office will want to consider carefully, Butera said.

Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, one of the bill's chief authors, said Wednesday he was optimistic the bill would garner the governor's support. 

"This bill is not about either party claiming credit; it's about the businesses and workers of Maine. It's about moving the economy forward," Goodall said. "We've been very appreciative of the governor's administration working with us to date, as well as the daily appearance of his departments participating in the committee."

Goodall said the focus was on the common goal of "improving the skills of Mainers." He said the bill includes a cost that is aimed largely at expanding key community college programs, particularly in the area of precision machining.

He said the bill aims to reduce the waiting lists for programs that train people for other in-demand jobs, including nursing programs. According to testimony on the bill, there is a backlog of more than 4,000 students waiting to get into programs that would provide them with skills to gain employment or improve their wages, Goodall said.

Other parts of the bill bring training and retraining programs to rural residents or into the workplace of small businesses, which cannot afford training programs to upgrade their workers' skills. 

"It's very challenging for individuals to leave their daily life and go to college," Goodall said. He said workers often need only a little extra training to update skills, "if they've been laid off, for no fault of their own or if they are moving into a new career."

Other key components of the bill are:

* A new credit transfer program for the the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System.

* New financial assistance for more than 1,000 people who started degree programs but left school before earning a degree.

* A new pilot program through Portland Adult Education that will work in cooperation with Lewiston Adult Education to create a "Welcome Center" aimed at helping foreign-trained professionals get the training they need to use their existing skills to find adequate employment in Maine.

Republican leaders have said they would support the bill, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, told a Wednesday gathering of business groups at the Capitol that he would deliver the bill to LePage's desk.

“You might find divisiveness elsewhere in the Legislature, but not here,” said Assistant Senate Minority Leader Roger Katz, R-Augusta. “Our work was truly a collaborative effort, and the result is something that Democrats and Republicans can be proud of."

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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Comments

This sounds rosy but I have a

This sounds rosy but I have a credibility gap when it comes to both the Maine media and the Maine state legislature.

The first thing one encounters when reading this bill is that it is set up to the benefit of The University of Maine- a tax payer subsidized University which features a minor in Marxist and Socialist Studies and hosts the University of Maine Manufacturing Center.The Manufacturing Center's website would be indistinguishable from a private sector business without The U of M logo at the top. The University of Maine Manufacturing center competes with the private sector for prototype manufacturing- which is what is needed by our "innovative economy"- financed by the high growth investors community,and creating products that will most likely be manufactured where labor costs are lowest in the global market place. Evidence in point is Alan Hinsey's interview with Channel Six in which he tells us that TexTech is the "poster child" of Maine's creative economy. Textech has three manufacturing facilities- one in Maine, one in China and one in Thailand. ( you can find a link to the interview in the blog post link below)

LD 90

ยง 9. Education Coordinating Committee

"The Education Coordinating Committee, referred to in this section as the "committee," is established to promote efficiency, cooperative effort and strategic planning between the Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the University of Maine System, the Maine Community College System and , the Maine Maritime Academy and organizations and associations with a commitment to and interest in education matters. The committee consists of the Commissioner of Education, the Chair of the State Board of Education, the Chancellor of the University of Maine System, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Maine System, the President of the Maine Community College System, the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Maine Community College System, the President of the Maine Maritime Academy and the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Maine Maritime Academy."

I suspect that the major chunk of this "work force education bill" is going to subsidize the University of Maine Advance Manufacturing Center- which is , simply put- a state owned means of production that manufactures prototypes for private businesses using student labor, according to what has been reported in the media.

As a part of a Maine family in design and manufacturing ceramics- an industry that has all but died in the western world by way of outsourcing to low cost labor markets, I came by my experiences to explore the legislation written in the state since around 1977 when the Maine Development Foundation was chartered by our legislature in a mirror image of what occurred in China a few short years later when China amended it's constitution to allow for private ownership (excepting land ownership). China's transformation was done constitutionally. Maine's transformation has been achieved by superseding our constitution with statutory laws that defy our constitution, which I have been writing about for years on my blog, Preserving The American Political Philosophy.

I have a vision of revitalizing the American ceramics industry by creating A Great American Ceramic Designer Craftsmen Network. Such a network can provide meaningfully engaging jobs and can be located in low income areas. We have found that rural employees are our best employees.This blog post tells part of my story in the context of global transformations mentioned above and provides more insight as to why I am totally cynical of the way that the "workforce educational development bill" is being framed by the media. I believe it is a bill tailor made to underwrite the University Of Maine manufacturing center- which is a state owned means of production.

http://americanpoliticalphilosophy.blogspot.com/2013/05/on-being-anomaly...

BROOKS MORTON's picture

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