AUGUSTA, Maine — Bonds, charter schools, fireworks and the state’s weapons laws are likely to be common themes in legislative debate in the coming months as lawmakers wade through more than 1,600 bill submissions.
A legislative office Monday released a list of titles for the numerous pieces of legislation proposed by lawmakers in time for their Jan. 18 bill submission deadline. The specific proposals will emerge in the coming weeks as the Legislature’s Office of the Revisor prepares the official bill text.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate have proposed more than 30 separate bond measures that propose to fund job-creation initiatives, research and development projects, road improvements, a commuter rail, and a variety of projects at the state’s universities, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy.
The bond measures would also fund a handful of local projects, including an initiative to expand the Portland Fish Exchange and another to develop Lewiston’s Riverfront Island area.
The list of bill titles also shows that lawmakers are interested in revisiting a handful of laws that passed during the past two years by a Republican-controlled Legislature.
Legislators submitted more than 15 measures targeting charter schools, which Maine now allows following a 2011 law passed by the last Legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Paul LePage. The law made Maine the 41st state to allow the independently run public schools; similar bills had failed in previous Legislatures controlled by Democrats.
One measure, proposed by Democratic Sen. Linda Valentino of Saco, would prohibit so-called virtual charter schools, which would allow students to complete all or a majority of their coursework remotely. Three separate bills proposed by Democrats Rep. Victoria Kornfield of Bangor, Senate President Justin Alfond of Portland and Rep. Michael Devin of Newcastle establish moratoriums on the approval of virtual schools.
Democrats have raised concerns about the ties between nonprofit groups proposing to start virtual charter schools in Maine and for-profit companies the schools would rely on to provide curriculum, teaching and management services.
LePage has also stoked the controversy by publicly criticizing the Maine Charter School Commission for not approving applications to start virtual charter schools. Earlier this month, he called on the commission’s seven members to resign after they rejected four of five applications for new charter schools, including two proposals for virtual schools. The commission members said they would not resign in response to the governor’s call.
Lawmakers have also proposed measures that would affect the funding stream for charter schools, including a measure by Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay Harbor, that would eliminate the requirement that local public school funding follow each student who attends a charter school. Under Maine law, charter schools receive funding from the home school districts for each student they enroll.
Meanwhile, LePage is preparing legislation that would remove the 10-school cap on the number of state-approved charter schools.
Fireworks are another popular theme on the list of lawmakers’ bill proposals. Legislators in 2011 reversed Maine’s 60-year-old ban on the sale and use of the consumer explosives.
This year, lawmakers are proposing at least a half-dozen measures to establish restrictions on their use, protect farm animals from noisy fireworks and require local permits to set off fireworks. One measure, from Democratic Rep. Michael Lajoie of Lewiston, would completely repeal the law allowing the possession and sale of fireworks.
The state’s weapons laws are another frequent subject of legislation following last month’s deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would provide funding to allow Maine to expand its reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. While Maine is required by state and federal law to report the names of people who have been involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals — and, therefore, unable to legally own a gun — to the national database, it hasn’t had the funding to do so.
Other weapons measures on the list of bill titles would require additional training before someone can obtain a concealed weapons permit, ensure that the names of concealed weapons permit holders are kept confidential and ban guns with high-capacity magazines. A handful of bills would also prohibit the enforcement in Maine of federal restrictions on gun ownership.