Topsham rep's bill would dock legislators' pay when they skip work

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AUGUSTA — State Sen. Linda Baker thinks its important to show up.

Especially if you’ve been elected to serve the people of Maine and are getting paid to do so, according to the Topsham Republican and former school teacher.

Baker is offering legislation that would dock lawmakers’ pay when they have poor attendance records.

“If legislators are not in attendance their constituents cannot be represented,” Baker told the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee Monday. “In the working world around us employees are held to attendance standards. As a state legislator in Maine there is no attendance accountability. A legislator is paid regardless of attendance. This is unacceptable.”

Baker’s bill would allow lawmakers a limited number of eight paid days off for sickness or personal time each two-year lawmaking session. Baker allows lawmakers five days in the first year of the session, which is usually longer than the second, and three days off in the second year.

Her bill would allow the Legislative Council, which is made up of caucus leaders from the House and Senate, to determine how much a lawmaker would be docked for missing work.

Baker said she didn’t mean the bill to be about saving the state money, as lawmaker pay was already relatively modest. “It’s not the money, because it’s minimal as we all know,” Baker said. “But it’s the idea, it’s the principle of the thing, if you want to take a vacation, that’s fine, good for you but I don’t think you should be paid for that time.”

Baker said that lawmakers have plenty of time during the rest of the year to vacation with family or to have time away from their State House jobs as each session is limited to about 100 days.

Several lawmakers on the committee said they like the idea and seemed supportive of Baker’s idea.

“I knew what I was getting into when I came down here,” Rep. Richard Pickett, R-East Dixfield, said.

Pickett, a first-term lawmaker, said he understands the need for a limited number of excused absences as allowed under legislative rules but thinks lawmakers shouldn’t get paid vacations. He said he cancelled a February vacation to Florida because he knew he would have to be in Augusta to do his job as a lawmaker.

“My constituents count on me to be here and do their business on a daily basis. If you are taking absence without leave for that amount of time you deserve to be penalized and I would support this bill wholeheartedly,” Pickett said.

Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias, said he too would back Baker’s bill. “To use an old ’80s analogy: be there or be square,” Tuell said. “Come on now, I’m in total agreement with this.”

Other lawmakers on the committee said they wanted more information before they made up their minds on Baker’s bill.

State Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, an independent from Friendship, said he would like to see some hard data and asked Baker if she could come back to the committee with data showing the last several years attendance records for the House and the Senate.

Evangelos said just looking at a lawmaker’s committee attendance could be misleading as many lawmakers serve on more than one committee and may be serving on one or the other on any given day.

The committee will vote on the bill, LD 1046, in the days ahead.