AUGUSTA, Maine — Aroostook County legislators are asking that federal stimulus dollars be used to jump start the long-stalled expansion of Interstate 95 into northern Maine.
Earlier this week, the Legislature’s Transportation Committee voted unanimously in support of a bill directing the Maine Department of Transportation to request federal economic recovery money for extending I-95 beyond Houlton.
The full Legislature is expected to vote on the resolve in the coming weeks.
Bill sponsor Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said northern Maine residents have been waiting for more than 50 years for the promised expansion. Jackson and Rep. Charles Kenneth Theriault, D-Madawaska, argue that an interstate is critical to local farmers and truckers and that a new highway into Canada would help create a significant number of jobs in the region.
“The federal government and President Obama are looking for ways to help the economy, to put people back to work and businesses on the right track,” Jackson said in a statement. “Completing I-95 is a sure thing and something that should have been done decades ago.”
Maine is slated to receive more than $130 million from the first federal stimulus package. All of that money is earmarked for projects that were ready or nearly ready for construction.
Individuals sentenced to home confinement are occasionally given electronic bracelets that alert police or judges when the subjects go astray. A Bucksport lawmaker would like to see similar gadgets used to protect the victims of domestic violence.
Rep. Kimberley Rosen, a Republican, has introduced legislation that would allow a court to order some individuals convicted of domestic violence to wear a GPS, or global positioning system, device. The GPS anklets or bracelets would only be used on people deemed to be at high risk of attempting to attack their victims again.
Satellites tracking the individual’s movements would then alert police as well as the victim if the abuser crosses into a “prohibited zone.” Rosen’s bill, LD 567, is modeled after a program already in use in Illinois. Massachusetts has a similar alert system.
Lawmakers on the Criminal Justice Committee liked the idea but were concerned about the price tag of implementing such a program at a time of massive budget cuts. As a result, the committee was evenly divided in a vote but has asked Rosen to come back with cost estimates.
Rosen said she hopes to find some way to pay for the program, potentially through federal grants.
“If it were my daughter, I’d pay for it myself,” Rosen said in an interview.
Legislation that would ban smoking on state-owned beaches and other public gathering spots at state parks took a step forward this week in the Senate.
The bill, LD 67, would prohibit smoking within 20 feet of beaches, restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds and other places where people congregate within state parks and historic sites. The Senate gave the measure initial approval on Thursday. Additional votes are expected next week.
Sen. John Nutting, D-Leeds, introduced the bill after a constituent complained about seeing cigarette butts strewn throughout the beach at a state park.
Coming next week
Here’s a small sampling of some of the weighty, controversial or interesting issues that are on the Legislature’s agenda for the coming week:
— A public hearing on Monday on a citizen-initiated bill, LD 975, to create medical marijuana dispensaries, issue special identification cards for approved users and change the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use. The hearing is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the Health and Human Services Committee. The issue will be on the November ballot unless the Legislature enacts the measure.
— A hearing Monday on a bill, LD 1365, to create a single-payer health system in Maine is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee.
— Resumption of work sessions at 3 p.m. Monday and at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Energy Futures Committee on a host of bills related to energy independence.
— A hearing at 1 p.m. Thursday in the Taxation Committee on a Republican-sponsored bill, LD 1279, to reduce Maine’s top income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 4.5 percent and to eliminate income taxes for those earning less than $30,000. The committee also will hear several proposed constitutional amendments dealing with taxes.
— A hearing on a bill, LD 797, clarifying that variations of the word “squaw” cannot be used as place names in the state. The Judiciary Committee will hear the bill at 1 p.m. Tuesday.