AUGUSTA, Maine — Legalization of fireworks, authorization of charter schools and eight vetoes are among the items awaiting final action as state lawmakers return Tuesday to complete their work for the 2011 session.
After taking a break June 16 to let legislative paperwork get caught up for the final push, lawmakers are returning for what’s expected to be a one- to three-day wrap-up to the year’s work. With the $6.1 billion two-year budget already enacted, the most contentious item still on the table is charter schools, a proposal championed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage.
The bill, which awaits final House and Senate votes, would allow only 10 new schools over the first decade and none before mid-2012. Public charter schools are intended as an alternative for students who do not perform well in typical public schools.
Also unknown is the fate of a bill to legalize sales and use of fireworks in Maine, a state that has long kept most of the exploding devices illegal. Rep. Douglas Damon’s bill would allow “commercial” fireworks, which include some firecrackers and devices that explode in the air. A big unanswered question is whether lawmakers will approve the $27,000 cost of the legislation in its first year, said Damon, R-Bangor.
“Once this thing gets going, it pays for itself,” said Damon, referring to sales taxes and fees legalization would generate. Even if the bill passes, it would not take effect until September, well past this July Fourth holiday.
About two dozen other bills also await final action, including another one sponsored by Damon that would allow the Hollywood Slots racino, which now just includes slot machines, to also include table games, pending a local referendum.
Debate is expected on whether to sustain LePage’s vetoes of eight bills lawmakers have sent him. Among them are bills calling for a study by state health officials into the effects of wood smoke, and a study into transferring administration of state liquor and lottery operations from the public safety to finance department.
Another vetoed bill says nurses would have to be fingerprinted and subjected to complete criminal background checks to be licensed, a requirement LePage said is unnecessary and unfairly singles out nurses among other health care professionals.
In several of the bills requiring studies, LePage objected to the cost at a time the state is trying to save money. In his veto message on a bill to create a panel to improve the efficiency of Maine’s early childhood system, LePage called the proposal redundant saying, “It is this layer-upon-layer style of legislating that led to the bloated and inefficient government we all seek to reform.”
Republican legislative leaders called a recess to legislative action June 16, saying it was needed to allow time to for legislative staff to catch up with paperwork needed to finish business.
Minority Democrats were not amused by the delay, saying that under Republican leadership lawmakers missed a June 8 goal to finish up early in order to save money, then missed the statutory adjournment date of June 15.