December 15, 2018
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Maine lawmakers tiptoe toward pulling gridlocked spending bills out of limbo

Troy R. Bennett | File
Troy R. Bennett | File
The sun sets on the State House in Augusta.

Lawmakers set the stage Monday for calling a special session later this month with unanimous agreement on a spending package that doesn’t include any funding for Medicaid expansion or changes to Maine’s minimum wage law.

The $42.2 million package preliminarily approved Monday by the Appropriations Committee represents a significant breakthrough in a political stalemate that has stretched on since April, though several major issues remain unresolved. Still left to negotiate are a bond package that would likely include $100 million for road and bridge maintenance, a technical errors bill that threatens Maine Clean Election Act funding if not enacted, and an education funding bill.

The bills moving forward for consideration by the full Legislature include legislation to allocate money to eliminate a waiting list for in-home services for Mainers with intellectual disabilities and autism, maintain raises for direct-care workers, pay for lead abatement programs, create a hub-and-spoke model for people with substance abuse disorders, expansion of drug courts and fund a number of childhood and senior citizens support programs in the Department of Health and Human Services.

These bills will be wrapped into LD 925 to be considered as a whole. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said the Medicaid funding bill would likely be considered on its own. Gideon said in a written statement that Monday’s vote “demonstrates to the people of our state that we can find consensus without compromising our values.”

Gideon said she also hopes that a recent Maine Superior Court ruling calling for the LePage administration to expand Medicaid under the provisions of a 2017 citizen-led referendum would encourage lawmakers to support a bill that would provide $3.8 million for administrative start-up costs.

Robyn Merrill, director of Maine Equal Justice Partners and speaking for a coalition called Mainers for Affordable Health Care, said she was encouraged by Monday’s events.

“Ultimately, this was a step forward,” said Merrill. “This affords them the opportunity to take action on Medicaid.”

A spokeswoman for Gideon said legislative leaders will likely poll members this week to gauge their interest in reconvening for a special session. That requires a majority vote of each of the caucuses in the Legislature, including the lone Green Independent Party member in the House.

Republican members of the Legislature did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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