The Maine Legislature is scheduled to leave the capital for 2019 on Wednesday, with a two-year budget in hand and a pile of bills sponsored by Democrats signed into law. But lawmakers still have work to do, with votes outstanding on major bills from borrowing proposals to marijuana rules and resolving a dispute over local taxes.
The budget-writing committee is busy putting together a bond package to go before voters in November. The appropriations committee held hearings Monday on bond proposals targeted mostly for the November ballot, with the diverse items in Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed $189 million package for 2019 and $50 million more for 2020 holding some of the best chances for inclusion in a final deal.
Any item going before the voters needs to get two-thirds passage in both chambers. A $105 million transportation bond floated by the Democratic governor is a virtual lock to go to the ballot. It would be the fifth straight year Maine has borrowed for that purpose.
Past that, things get dicier. For 2019, Mills is targeting another $65 million for conservation, wastewater and energy projects and $19 million for economic development. She wants to set aside $50 million more for 2020, including $30 million for rural broadband.
There is a growing sentiment that many minority Republicans may simply favor a transportation bond and hold back on the others, but many other items — including a bond for the Land for Maine’s Future program that Mills proposes to fund at $30 million — have bipartisan support. Democrats could pick up enough votes to expand the package. It’s unclear how much.
Key votes are still outstanding on marijuana rules, sports betting, presidential primaries, a compromise over a so-called “red flag” bill and allowing a local lodging tax. Many of those items are among last-minute bills that are racing to the floor — especially the marijuana rules, which only went to a legislative hearing last week where Maine’s largest dispensary group, Wellness Connection of Maine, threatened a lawsuit over a residency requirement that a legislative panel watered down.
The chambers also must vote to have Maine join a first wave of states legalizing sports betting after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, join several states looking to ditch presidential caucuses for primaries ahead of the 2020 election and pass an alternative to a so-called “red flag bill that would peg gun seizures to a mental health diagnosis.
Many service centers are rooting for a bill to allow a local-option lodging tax after the Maine Senate rejected allowing cities and towns to assess a local meals and lodging tax of no more than 1 percent last week. It’s unclear whether the lodging-only tax has a better shot.
Lawmakers also need to split up the last $6 million in budget money with heavy real-world impact looming on some of those bills. The budget-writing committee hasn’t yet addressed the $880 million worth of bills in the two-year budget cycle that have been passed by the Democratic-led Legislature but won’t take effect without funding. However, they only have left themselves $6 million to cover all of those measures and the money will be equally split between Democrats and Republicans.
The committee advanced several proposals on Monday that have negligible fiscal impacts over that period, but the race for the remaining money is leading to a lot of nail-biting among lobbyists.
One of the remaining bills, for example, must pass in order for services to 400 children at risk of criminal involvement or problem sexual behavior to continue, according to Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services in Maine. The Legislature’s fiscal office pegs the cost of the measure at $472,000.
— Maine seems unlikely to join an effort to change the way Electoral College votes are allocated. The House of Representatives on Monday voted against a proposal from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, to have Maine join a coalition of states that would assign their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most overall votes. In previous votes, the House had opposed and supported the plan. It failed in an initial 76-66 vote in the House last month, then the chamber endorsed it in a 77-69 vote after seven Democrats flipped their positions last week. But it is on track to die after Monday’s 79-68 vote in the House, when 20 Democrats voted with Republicans against it. That included six Democrats who flipped relative to the last vote, including Majority Leader Matt Moonen of Portland and Assistant Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford, who had backed the measure until Monday. Mills hasn’t taken a stance on the bill.
— The trial of a man who shot a Somerset County deputy will likely resume today after being put on hold Monday. Defense attorneys for John D. Williams, who is on trial for shooting Cpl. Eugene Cole in April 2018, were deciding Monday whether to call an expert witness from out of state to challenge the prosecution’s crime scene reconstruction. The witness was not available Monday, so Superior Court Justice Robert Mullen agreed to delay proceedings until today. The defense has called only two witnesses, and Williams declined to testify in his own defense. The key question is not whether Williams shot Cole — all parties agree that he did — but whether he did it with intent, which will determine whether it is murder or manslaughter. Closing arguments are expected to begin after the defense rests on what will be the sixth day of the trial.
— The trend toward hospital management consolidation in Maine continues. The boards of Mid Coast–Parkview Health in Brunswick and MaineHealth in Portland voted last week to merge into what they described Monday as “the region’s largest integrated health system.” Further votes and state regulatory review are required, but last week’s votes put Mid Coast-Parkview, which employs about 2,000 people on track to become part of the Maine Health network, which employs 19,500 people and has in recent years absorbed hospitals up the coast and in western Maine.
— Proposed parking restrictions at Acadia National Park have been delayed. Park officials have decided to wait another year before implementing a seasonal parking reservation system that will limit the number of vehicles allowed at certain times at popular sites in the park. Acadia officials had hoped to have a system in place for the 2020 tourist season but now plan to have it ready for 2021. Rising visitation numbers and ongoing congestion each summer prompted the park to develop plans to limit the number of private vehicles allowed at sites such as the Cadillac Mountain summit, Sand Beach or the Jordan Pond House restaurant. Reservations will not be required at such sites for visitors who arrive on buses or bicycles, or hike in by foot.
Happy birthday to us
The Bangor Daily News published its first edition 130 years ago today.
There’s been lots of news and lots of change since June 18, 1889. Click here to read about the company’s fascinating and impressive history.
In all that time, the only day the company could not put out a paper was Dec. 31, 1962, “when 37 inches of snow fell in Bangor, and howling winds caused snow drifts up to 20 feet tall.” I’ve heard stories from people who worked at the paper at that time about how editors offered to venture out into the storm to deliver papers if the presses could get them printed.
Newspaper people are a stalwart and stubborn bunch.
As for the future, I’ll give my boss, Todd Benoit, the last word:
“The newspaper industry, including the BDN, has seen more change in the last 10 years than in the previous 50. But we are emerging stronger because of what hasn’t changed — the terrific work of our staff and their willingness to take on this enormous challenge. They are awesome.”
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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