AUGUSTA, Maine — The more than 1,600 bills submitted by lawmakers for the current legislative session range from the serious to the sublime, though the sponsor of almost any proposal will tell you there are serious reasons for putting the idea into law.
But that doesn’t stop some raised eyebrows and wrinkled foreheads at the mention of bills like An Act to Require Edible Landscaping in a Portion of Capitol Park, An Act to Require Signs Recognizing the 45th Parallel in Maine, or An Act to Allow Media Motor Vehicles To Be Equipped with Amber Auxiliary Lights.
Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, found himself defending his bill requiring edible landscaping in Capitol Park, which lies across the street from the State House, during a public hearing Monday morning with the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee. Hickman, who is a farmer, proposes planting a range of herbs and vegetables in portions of the park and funding the project with private donations. He argued that the bill would make Capitol Park more attractive and educational, but hoped the idea, if successful, would spread to other state lands.
“It’s not a small thing to model growing food on state property,” said Hickman. “I think that the public will absolutely benefit.”
The first question after Hickman introduced his bill came from Rep. Jethro Pease, R-Morrill.
“I don’t disagree with having the gardens, but why does this have to be an act?” said Pease. “Can’t you just go to the grounds people with this? It seems like such a small item for us to be dealing with here in the State Capitol where we’re doing the people’s business.”
Hickman, who is in his first term, and a handful of other legislators who spoke in favor of the bill didn’t see it that way and argued that the garden could inspire others and perhaps help teach children about the origins of their food. That’s the case with most bills: no matter how off-the-bubble they seem at first glance, there’s usually a serious reason.
Another bill that has gained notoriety recently comes from one of the Legislature’s longest-tenured lawmakers, Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco. His bill, An Act to Extend the Hours for the Sale of Liquor on a Sunday When St. Patrick’s Day is on a Sunday, is proposed with an emergency preamble since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday later this month. It would allow the sale of liquor on that day between the hours of 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., which is currently illegal.
Hobbins, who sponsored his bill at the request of a constituent, argues that Irish bars across the state stand to lose money if they can’t open early on St. Patrick’s Day, but his bill became a rallying cry last week by Gov. Paul LePage and other legislators who are calling for fast action on LePage’s proposal to renegotiate the state liquor contract and use the extra revenue to repay Maine hospitals millions of dollars in Medicaid debt from prior years.
“If that’s more important than paying the hospitals, I think we have a problem,” LePage said of the St. Patrick’s Day bill. “If they can pass legislation in 24 hours, I don’t see why the hospitals haven’t been passed and the money not in the hands of the hospitals.”
Hobbins’ bill gained initial approval last week in the House of Representatives but requires more votes before coming law.
Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, also has a bill she knows some won’t take seriously, An Act to Partially Fund Tax Breaks for the Wealthy by Eliminating Certain Gubernatorial Benefits, which has not yet been referred to committee. The bill would end the lifetime retirement allowance for the governor, bar him or her from the state employees’ retirement plan and authorizes the state to sell the Blaine House with the proceeds to be deposited into the General Fund. The Blaine House is the state-owned governor’s mansion near the State House in Augusta and the General Fund is the account that funds the bulk of Maine government.
Russell said she proposed the bill in response to some of LePage’s budget proposals that would cut back on social services.
“If the governor is going to expect people to lose their housing assistance and lose their health care, he should be ponying up, too,” said Russell. “Let him find a place to live and let him find health care.”
Other seemingly out-of-the-ordinary bills proposed by legislators this year include:
— “Resolve, To Require the Office of Tourism to Market Maine as the Most Peaceful State and the State Having the Lowest Tax on new Industrial Investment in the United States,” sponsored by Rep. Roberta Beavers, D-South Berwick.
— “Resolve, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine to Require the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives to be Maine Natives,” sponsored by Rep. Brian Bolduc, D-Auburn.
— “Resolve, To Create a Study Group to Research the Possibility of a Virtual Legislature,” sponsored by Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford.
— “An Act to License Betting on Football Score Pools,” sponsored by Rep. Sharri MacDonald, R-Old Orchard Beach.
— “An Act to Repeal the Provision of Law that Requires the Trade Name or Brand of Malt Liquor to be Displayed in Full Sight of a Customer on a Faucet, Spigot or Dispensing Apparatus,” sponsored by Rep. John Schneck, D-Bangor.
— “An Act to Add Using An All-terrain Vehicle to the List of Activities Included in the Definition of ‘Guide’ in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Laws,” sponsored by Rep. Russell Black, R-Wilton.
— “An Act to Allow a Pet Owner to Collect Noneconomic Damages for the Death of a Pet,” sponsored by Rep. Alexander Reginald Willette, R-Mapleton.
— “An Act to Require That Forms, Pamphlets and Other Documents Be Designed to Permit the Continued Use of the Materials,” sponsored by Rep. Amy Fern Volk, R-Scarborough.
— “An Act to Improve the Availability of Coupons in Maine,” sponsored by Sen. John Tuttle, D-York.
— “Resolve, to Widen the Shoulders of Highways,” sponsored by Rep. Charles Theriault, D-Madawaska.
— “An Act to Exempt the Sale of the United States Flag from the Sales Tax,” sponsored by Rep. Stanley Byron Short, Jr., D-Pittsfield.
— “An Act to Allow the Use of Cloth Diapers in Child Care Facilities,” sponsored by Rep. Matthew Moonen, D-Portland.