AUGUSTA (AP) – A group of state lawmakers led by House Speaker John Richardson is pushing a legislative package that advocates say is designed to support entrepreneurs and small businesses.

Fifteen bills have been developed, including one to create a new consumer and commercial court, another to establish a 3-1-1 business assistance line and a third to put a small business ombudsman in the governor’s office.

Richardson, D-Brunswick, launched an initiative that led to the drafting of much of the package a year ago, when he was the floor leader of the House Democratic majority.

His office said other supporters have included House Majority Leader Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, and Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-South Portland.

Credited as a co-founder of the working group that examined ways to bolster small business in Maine is Rep. Stan Moody, D-Manchester.

“‘Growth From Within’ is a new economic development strategy for Maine,” Moody said in a prepared statement Monday. “It is an approach of building the economy of Maine from the bottom up – one entrepreneur at a time.”

Among the bills being sponsored by Richardson is “An Act to Develop a Statewide Entrepreneurship Curriculum from Kindergarten through College.” He is also sponsor of the legislation calling for a new court.

Cummings is the sponsor of “An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue in the Amount of $50,000,000 for Maine Resident College Graduates Employed in Maine.”

“An Act to Stimulate Maine’s Economy by Providing a $120,000,000 Economic Development Bond” is being sponsored by Bromley, who also introduced the ombudsman measure.

Last week, Gov. John Baldacci outlined a proposal for nearly $200 million in new state borrowing, saying it could promote economic development and further protection of the environment while keeping Maine’s debt burden in check.

“There are a lot of things people are doing right in Maine; I want state government to help others duplicate those successes,” Richardson said in statement issued by his office to coincide with a State House news conference that drew lawmakers from both major parties and several business group representatives.

Assistant House Minority Leader Joshua Tardy, R-Newport, attended the news conference and said Republicans supported making small business a priority but would weigh specific proposals on their merits.

Tardy said “Republicans continue to believe … that the best thing government can do to help small business is to stay out of the business of small business.”

Working group members held seven forums around the state to seek input on small business issues.

The Maine Republican Party, meanwhile, pointed to its own list of bills it said seek to foster job growth, spur economic development and lower taxes.

“We are not content with the misleading political rhetoric of alleged relief – such as we’ve seen already this year. Instead, our priorities create opportunity for economic growth and leave more money in the hands of taxpayers,” said state GOP Chairman Randy Bumps.

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