By Sen. Bill Diamond
I hope you and your loved ones enjoyed a happy holiday season together. Even though many of us had to adjust the way we celebrate this year, I was glad for the opportunity to reflect on the things I am grateful for and to connect with family. This has been a very difficult year, but the holidays can still bring joy. I know we are all looking forward to better times in the New Year.
A few weeks ago, Legislative leadership announced committee assignments for the next two years. There are currently 17 joint standing committees in the Legislature. Each committee has three members from the Senate and 10 members from the House of Representatives, with one Senator and one Representative serving as co-chairs. Each committee is responsible for overseeing legislation on a set of topics, discussing and debating relevant bills and hearing from experts and the public on how the bill would affect Mainers. After doing this, committees decide if a piece of legislation should go to the full legislature for further discussion and votes, or if it’s not a good fit for the state right now.
I’m happy to share that I have been reappointed as Senate chair of the Transportation Committee for the next two years. The Transportation Committee is responsible for the safety and upkeep of Maine’s roadways, waterways and railroads; public transportation; the Department of Transportation; and other matters of transportation policy. I served as chair the past two years, and I’m proud of the accomplishments we were able to make in that time. This includes passing the hands-free driving law, a law I sponsored that banned the use of handheld electronic devices while driving. Safe and efficient travel around our state is essential for nearly every part of life. It allows us to go to work, school, and the doctor. It allows us to enjoy the beautiful and unique landscapes and cultures Maine has to offer, and to share those with visitors who are an essential element of our economy.
I know for many people it can be hard to see government at work in their daily lives, so I will share one example. Those familiar with the intersection of Route 202 and Falmouth Road in Windham know that it is a dangerous intersection that frequently sees traffic backups, fender-benders and sometimes worse. The intersection has been labelled a high-crash location by the Department of Transportation, meaning it had more than eight crashes over a period of three years and has a higher rate of crashes than similar intersections elsewhere in the state. After listening to community members share their concerns about this intersection, the Windham legislative delegation, which includes myself, Rep. Mark Bryant (D-Windham) and Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham), worked with the Department of Transportation and with local officials to get a traffic light installed at the intersection. This is projected to be completed by Feb. 1.
As we all know, the pandemic has impacted the livelihoods and pocketbooks of many Mainers, and it has also affected the financial outlook for our State. Maine has seen drops in revenue that will impact our ability to budget over the next few years. However, much of the work the Transportation Committee does is funded by a separate budget, called the Highway Fund. This money comes from fuel taxes, excise tax, and licensing and other fees related to the use of vehicles on public highways. While both the Highway Fund and the General Fund are expecting shortfalls in the coming years, I will continue to vote for fiscally responsible legislation that will ease the burden on Mainers.
The issues facing our state over the next two years are great, and we’re going to need to work together to find solutions. As I wrote in my last column, the public now has more opportunities than ever to participate in their government, with the option to give testimony in front of committees live, by video or by phone. I hope people will take advantage of this, so that we can build a path forward together.
As always, if I can be of assistance to you or your family, or if you have ideas you would like to share, please reach out to me at email@example.com or 287-1515. <