The Maine Legislature is scheduled to wrap up its 2019 session nine days from today with a budget deal, rules for a new recreational marijuana market to approve and a pile of outstanding bills to sift through over the next week.
The budget-writing committee continues to trudge toward a deal that is now down to the amount of money for outstanding bills. The framework of a deal on Maine’s two-year budget due on June 30 has been in place for more than a week, with Democrats and Republicans solving divides on property tax relief and education items in a framework that promises to come in just below Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed spending mark of $8 billion. The consensus process is designed to get a budget that must win two-thirds approval in both houses to pass.
It’s final enough that progressives are complaining about the fact that it leaves in place the income tax system enshrined under former Republican Gov. Paul LePage in 2011, but it isn’t done yet. The panel met on Friday to approve many outstanding items in the budget.
The only major thing left to decide is how much money will be used to fund hundreds of millions of dollars in bills that have won initial approval but will die without dedicated funding. It looks like less than $10 million will be available for that, with both parties allowed to pick some pet items.
The Legislature will have to move quickly if long-awaited marijuana and gambling systems are going to get running. A legislative panel will hold a public hearing today on the Mills administration’s proposed slate of rules for the new marijuana market, coming more than two years after voters narrowly approved the system. The plan is to get them through the Legislature and to the governor’s desk by next Wednesday so they can take effect by fall. While the rollout has happened slowly, rules are being fast-tracked through the State House now and the Democratic governor is expected to sign off on them.
Maine is also likely to set up a sports betting system, which seven other states did after a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed it in 2018. A legislative committee agreed to allow it in Maine, though there are disagreements about whether mobile or online betting should be tied to physical facilities such as casinos or off-track betting parlors. The chambers haven’t voted yet.
Voting could continue into the evening in Augusta on Monday as lawmakers look to clear the decks. There are no marquee votes scheduled yet for today, but that could change as the day goes on and evening votes are expected — at least in the House of Representatives, which will meet in the morning and again tonight to consider items moved by the Senate today.
The biggest scheduled votes there are on bills to form a task force on police body cameras and force the disclosure of more information on paid signature gatherers for Maine referendum efforts. In the Senate, votes are scheduled on bills from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would ramp up wage theft remedies and increase the number of public works projects subject to prevailing wage requirements.
— What does everyone stand to gain and lose if Central Maine Power’s hydropower corridor through western Maine is built? The big winner would be Hydro-Quebec, whose power would flow through the line and would get $12.4 billion from Massachusetts ratepayers over 20 years, according to a Bangor Daily News analysis. CMP will get $2.9 billion — more than covering the $950 million cost of building a 145-mile line expected to have more than $1.4 billion in economic benefits in Maine. Natural gas companies will lose electric market share in the region, which explains their opposition. The line is also expected to reduce electricity costs by $33 million per year in Maine and $388 million in New England, though it has proven unpopular in a poll and faces threats in the Legislature.
— Maine’s stricter school vaccination law includes a grandfather clause for special education students. The bill, which stirred some of the most fervent debate during this legislative session, allows students with an individualized education plan to continue opting out of vaccinations on religious and philosophical grounds for several years after other students no longer have those options. To be eligible for this provision, students receiving special education services need to have claimed a religious and philosophical exemption before September 2021, when the law takes effect. New special education students will not be able to claim non-medical exemptions after September 2021. The exemption drew criticism from some medical professionals, including Dora Mills, the governor’s sister and former head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Just because you have an individualized education plan does not mean you should get a religious or philosophical exemption,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense from a medical standpoint.”
— Maine will soon have one of the strictest internet privacy policies in the United States. The Associated Press reports that Mills on Thursday signed a bill that prohibits internet service providers from using, disclosing, selling or permitting access to a customer’s personal information unless a customer “opts in.” It also requires providers to take reasonable measures to protect customers’ personal information from unauthorized use, disclosure, sale or access. And it prohibits providers from refusing to serve customers or charge customers who do not consent to their personal information being shared. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maine hailed the bill, which drew strong criticism from the Chamber of Commerce.
Would you like fries with that?
A video of a seagull stealing a lobster roll from a California woman who was visiting York County on Friday has gone viral. I would clap for the bird, but that would mean taking my hands off my food, which all Mainers know is a recipe for disaster.
“This is why we can’t have nice things,” Alicia Jessop wrote. “I was trying to take a picture of the lobster roll I ordered in Maine and, well, this happened.”
The bird was just trying to help her boost her Instagram presence. For a gull, it was an act of kindness.
“I was so focused on the perfect Instagram picture that I didn’t even notice the seagull coming in,” Jessop told NewsCenter Maine.
The next day, we were entertaining guests from North Carolina at an outdoor dining establishment in Portland. They were astounded and apparently deeply troubled by a gull that swooped down and ate a massive onion ring in one gulp. One of our guests immediately jumped up and cleared off the table, which drew smirks from knowing Mainers who understand that, at best, it was simply a delaying maneuver until the next unsuspecting tourist left a lobster roll unattended. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd 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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