Good morning from Augusta, where members of the 129th Legislature have submitted 2,041 pieces of proposed legislation for consideration.
That total falls in line with the number recent legislatures have proposed. It’s a relatively slight uptick from the previous Legislature, which kicked off its work by proposing about 1,800 pieces of legislation. But it’s far below the record of more than 2,700 bills and resolutions proposed by the 113th Legislature in 1987, and exponentially more than the first Legislature, which marked Maine statehood in 1820 by considering just 32 items of proposed legislation.
Many of this year’s proposed bills address similar issues, so they are likely to be combined or otherwise streamlined. Some will be carried over until the second legislative session next year.
Here’s an overview of the highlights and lowlights among this year’s batch of proposed bills:
With an ally in the Blaine House and control of both chambers, Democrats have a clear path to achieving policy goals blocked by the previous governor’s veto pen. Gov. Janet Mills moved last week to begin implementing Medicaid expansion, which was vetoed five times and was unimplemented by her predecessor, Republican Paul LePage. That law still needs long-term funding and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, have proposals to do that. The text of Gideon’s bill wasn’t available Monday and Mills has said she’ll provide a funding plan in her two-year budget proposal to be released this month.
Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, is re-filing a bill to ban conversion therapy, a pseudoscientific treatment attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation. A similar bill was vetoed by LePage last year, with conservatives calling it overbroad. Mills criticized that veto and would sign a similar one.
Fecteau has another bill titled “An Act To Ensure that the Voters’ Will with Regard to Bond Issues is Carried Out.” That’s a likely reference to LePage’s stalling of a 2015 senior housing bond that the Legislature wasn’t able to get issued during the former governor’s tenure.
As happens every two years, lawmakers submitted a slew of bills focused on how they are elected, how they are compensated and how long they can serve. One bill proposed basing legislators’ and the governor’s salary on the state’s minimum wage standard, while another called for increases to the governor’s salary and legislators’ expense allowances.
Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, wants to increase Senate terms to four years and set term limits for legislators. In a blast from the past, Rep. John Martin, D-Eagle Lake, has proposed eliminating the term limits law that voters approved in 1993, largely in response to the power he accumulated during a lengthy tenure as House speaker.
Lawmakers have all kinds of ideas about why Maine should borrow money. This year’s list includes 39 possible bond questions that will be whittled down to a more manageable package by spring. They cover subjects that include increasing broadband access, addressing sea level rise, putting money toward fire stations, expanding rail service and providing student loan debt relief.
Some are targeted for specific projects, such as proposals from Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, to borrow money to build a new fish hatchery and update a Boothbay Harbor marine laboratory. Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, wants a bond to build a convention center in Portland.
Past and future referendums will receive a lot of attention. Republican legislators want to scrap ranked-choice voting and “balance” minimum wage increases approved by voters, which won’t likely happen under Democratic majorities.
Conversely, Democrats and independents propose expanding the use of ranked-choice voting to legislative and gubernatorial elections, which would require amendments to the Maine Constitution that are unlikely because Republicans hold enough votes to block two-thirds majorities in each chamber.
Sen. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, has proposed a constitutional amendment to “protect voter-approved referenda.” Along those lines, Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, has proposed “An Act to Respect the Will of Maine Voters By Implementing a 3 Percent Income Surtax,” in response to the previous Legislature’s repeal of a surtax from a 2016 citizen initiative designed to increase funding for public education.
There are statement bills, designed to galvanize partisan bases at each end of the political spectrum, provoke opponents and provide campaign fodder. Among them this time are a call for a “Green New Deal” from Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, and a proposal to prevent teachers from engaging in political, ideological or religious advocacy in the classroom from Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst.
Lockman’s bill and others like it won’t pass in the Democratic-led Legislature, of course. But it’s likely that many of Democrats’ more ambitious proposals won’t either as the party toes a fine line between getting a lot done and motivating Republicans in a bid to oust them in 2020.
Finally, there are the less consequential bills. There’s an environmental bill from Rep. Allison Hepler, D-Woolwich, to regulate the sale — and release — of balloons. Rep. Maureen Terry, D-Gorham has submitted a bill to allow barbers to use straight edge razors on customers, and Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, put forward a bill to ease record-keeping requirements for auctioneers. Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, proposed requiring K-5 students to learn cursive handwriting, and Rep. Kent Ackley, I-Monmouth wants to change Maine’s license plate slogan from “Vacationland” to “Staycationland.”
— The new Democratic governor asked an out-of-state company not to sign a contract it had negotiated with her Republican predecessor to run a new psychiatric facility that’s being built in Bangor. Representatives of Tennessee-based Correct Care Recovery Solutions agreed, meaning Mills will be able to change the course of the proposed, 16-bed unit in Bangor. Union officials and former Maine chief justice Daniel Wathen, the courtmaster in charge of monitoring the state’s compliance with a decades-old court order that requires improvements to its mental health services system, had expressed concern about outsourcing management of the facility to a private firm.
— The man who has run Maine’s community college system since 2015 will leave that post to become the governor’s top legal adviser. Mills announced Monday that Derek Langhauser will serve as her chief legal counsel. David Daigler will succeed him as president of the community college system and Linda Pistner, who has held various jobs in the Maine attorney general’s office since 1979, will become Mills’ deputy legal counsel.
— With no one to drive the buses, a Maine school had to cancel classes Monday. Highlighting a statewide problem, Regional School Unit 71 canceled classes at an elementary school in Swanville because several drivers in the Waldo County district could not work Monday, administrators canceled classes. District officials worked Monday to formulate plans to ensure that school would not be canceled if a similar situation arises. If there is a driver shortage in the future, the district will combine bus runs with other schools instead of canceling classes at one particular school.
P.E means pain enhancement
I already have a favorite bill from among the 2,041 proposed by legislators this year.
The prize goes to Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland, for “An Act to Allow Secondary School Student Athletes an Exemption from Physical Education Requirements.” My only suggestion would be to make it mandatory that athletes not be allowed to prey on their uncoordinated peers — I mean, take part in — gym classes.
I base this conclusion on decades of lingering psychological trauma caused by varsity football and basketball players who became dodgeball marauders during gym classes at my high school. Gym class was bad enough for scrawny, little non-athletes like me who pulled muscles tying their sneakers and suffered heart palpitations simply by having to change out of nerd clothes, unbutton our top buttons and don the silly short shorts and T-shirts they made us wear for physical education class. Sorry, but the best educator in human history could not teach me to be physical. Or athletic.
Add to that the wolf-like leers of varsity players with arms bigger than my legs as they lined me up for a short-distance howitzer throw during the torture that was dodgeball and the seeds of a lifetime of nightmares were in place.
“Sorry, Coach, I keep forgetting that we are not supposed to hit them in the head. I guess that means he’s not out so I can hit him again, right?” still causes me to shudder awake from my dreams all these years later.
The only thing worse than being a dodgeball target was getting picked to be a “rabbit” in the gruesome game called Bombardment that our gym teachers devised. In that throwback to the good ol’ days of Sparta, varsity athletes with big rubber balls would form columns about 10 feet apart and the “rabbits” would have to run between them, striving to avoid being knocked off their feet by the projectiles.
For the sake of the non-athletes, please exempt varsity players from gym classes, Maine lawmakers. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.
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