Anti-bullying, concussion bills get late funding

Posted May 21, 2012, at 5:08 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — An anti-bullying bill that was set aside last year and a National Football League-backed measure to prevent concussions in school sports are among the bills that won final passage in the waning hours of Maine’s legislative session and awaited Gov. Paul LePage’s signature Monday.

More than 40 bills that had been passed during the session but were placed in a kind of legislative limbo because of their cost were approved before lawmakers recessed last week. LePage signed several of them Monday, notably a heavily debated bill to overhaul the Land Use Regulation Commission, which oversees development in a 10 million-acre region known as the Unorganized Territory.

Besides changing LURC’s name to the Land Use Planning Commission, the bill makes residency in the counties where the agency has jurisdiction a requirement for serving on commission. That and other changes aimed at increasing local control are incorporated into a bill that originally sought to abolish LURC.

The new law “provides a great opportunity to set aside old battles that often pitted landowners against those who see the Great Maine Woods as a public good,” said Conservation Commissioner Bill Beardsley, who added it’s “a major step toward a shared vision of rural Maine.”

The anti-bullying bill builds on existing law by providing a clear definition of bullying, an explicit prohibition on bullying behavior, alternative discipline strategies and teacher training on how to address and prevent bullying. It won the support of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, the Maine Council of Churches and other groups.

“Teachers know firsthand that students can’t learn if they’re scared to be in school. This bill will help make sure that all kids feel safe in their classrooms and can focus on learning,” said Chris Galgay, president of the Maine Education Association.

The concussion bill requires schools to adopt and implement policies on management of concussive and other head injuries in school sports, practices and other activities. Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett, a former New England Patriots linebacker, came to the State House in January to speak in favor of the bill. It also won the endorsement of the NFL, which has made player health and safety a top priority.

Lawmakers gave their final OK to a bill that allows schools to award diplomas based on a student’s proficiency and enable students showing mastery of a subject to move at their own pace. The measure is part of LePage’s education reform package.

A bill meant to clarify the state’s sales tax on recreational vehicles and campers won final approval. The sponsor, Rep. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, said the legislation requires a 5 percent sales tax on rentals or leases of campers and RVs. The tax will not be charged on the vehicle if it is purchased for the purpose of rentals or leases.

Among the other bills under review by the governor are five borrowing proposals totaling nearly $96 million. The largest, covering half of the total, is for highways, bridges and other transportation projects.

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