The Maine Legislature pulled an all-nighter on Wednesday and adjourned for 2019 early Thursday while leaving major items unresolved, including a bond package floated by Gov. Janet Mills that Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on.
Lawmakers could return for a special session to handle that and other unfinished business, but the impasse on a bond package creates major uncertainty for the Maine Department of Transportation, which could lose out on $100 million in borrowing that it counts on for annual work plans for improving roads, bridges and other infrastructure.
Maine lawmakers may not approve any bonds for the 2019 ballot, which would be a stark break from past practice. Mills proposed a four-part bond package earlier this month worth $239 million, centering it on transportation, conservation and economic and workforce development. Voters would have seen most of it in November. That last part — which earmarked $30 million of $50 million for broadband expansion — would have gone to the 2020 ballot.
It immediately ran into trouble. While the four items would have been voted on separately by Mainers, the Democratic governor packaged them together for an easier path to legislative approval and that rankled Republicans who wanted to vote on them separately.
All of that happened because the minority party can withhold the two-thirds votes in both chambers required to send bonds to the ballot. As the vote approached, Republicans signaled they wouldn’t go along with the four-part package. Democrats refused to split it into parts.
They didn’t resolve that by the time Mills’ package went up for votes around 4:30 a.m. on Thursday. Republicans withheld the necessary votes, then House Democrats spiked a Republican amendment that would have issued the transportation bond only.
On the House floor, Rep. Patrick Corey, R-Windham, a key backer of a $30 million conservation bond that made it into Mills’ package, urged members to vote against it, saying that “lumping it into a package that exceeds $200 million” made it “unsupportable.”
Maine has borrowed for four straight years to improve roads, bridges and other infrastructure and those measures are widely supported by politicians and voters. Legislative leaders could come back for a special session in 2019 to deal with bonds, but there is no plan to do so yet.
Also on the list of items left unfinished were a switch to apply ranked-choice voting to presidential elections and expand aid to immigrants. The bond package wasn’t the only big-ticket item left undone. Just before the Legislature adjourned, it passed an order that keeps outstanding bills alive for when it returns to Augusta either in 2019 or 2020.
On that list of items was a bill that would apply Maine’s first-in-the-nation ranked-choice voting system to presidential elections and expand aid programs to certain immigrants. It means that Maine is poised to have presidential primaries in March 2020 rather than the party-run caucuses, but they will likely be decided by plurality unless the Legislature comes back soon.
Mills also vetoed bills that were supported by labor groups, underscoring a sometimes tense relationship with her party. The Democratic governor was up all night alongside the Legislature, mostly to sign bills into law. Just before they adjourned, she made appearances in both chambers to thank lawmakers for their work in 2019. In the Senate, she repeated a familiar line that members would find “an open door, an open mind and an open heart” in her office and Mills has made relationship-building with the Legislature a priority.
However, Mills disappointed labor interests twice overnight by vetoing bills that would have established binding arbitration for public employees in labor impasses and would have allowed teachers to bargain collectively over planning and preparation time. Both vetoes were sustained.
Labor interests have had some victories under Mills, including when she signed a bill allowing loggers to collectively bargain. But they have been somewhat burned by her consensus deal-cutting with conservatives on two key priorities — a paid leave law and workers’ compensation reform. This could be a dominant narrative in Maine politics during the next year.
— A young mayor who stirred things up in Belfast won’t seek a second term. During Tuesday’s city council meeting, Samantha Paradis announced that she would not seek re-election. The announcement came after Councilor Eric Sanders said that he is running to be mayor during the next election. Paradis, an Aroostook County native who moved to Belfast to work as a nurse at Waldo County General Hospital, became the city’s youngest, second female and first queer mayor in 2017. “I am very happy to have had this opportunity to serve the city of Belfast,” she said, calling being mayor “one of the honors” of her professional life.
— Maine is getting older and more diverse. New U.S. Census data show that Maine continues to experience more deaths than births, but the population is increasing and diversifying. Because people with diverse ethnic backgrounds have been moving to Maine, the state’s population hit 1,338,404 million in 2018, up 0.25 percent from 2017 and up 10,772 people, or almost 1 percent, since 2010. Like most of the rest of the nation, the state’s median age is creeping up. It’s now 44.9 years old, compared to the national median of 38.2.
— The state’s Medicaid program is on track to begin covering transgender-related health care. Maine Public reports that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced an emergency rule on Tuesday that removes transgender-specific health services from the list of noncovered procedures under MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid. Maine had been one of 10 states that explicitly banned transgender-specific procedures from coverage under MaineCare. The origin of that rule is unclear but dates back to at least 1979, according to Jackie Farwell, a spokeswoman for the health department. Farwell said the cost of the change is expected to be “minimal.”
— A Republican legislator was escorted out of the House chamber after calling the Democratic speaker a ‘weasel.’ The exchange between Rep. Sheldon Hanington, R-Lincoln, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, came during Wednesday afternoon’s floor debate on the bill to restore aid to certain immigrants. Hanington later apologized to Gideon and other House members in a floor speech.
Another all-night legislative session reminds me of the similarities between overtired legislators and toddlers who refuse to nap. Ego disintegration in a room full of big egos can be a dangerous and unproductive phenomenon.
It also reminds me of how important it is for grownups to avoid the temptation to say or write mean things about sleep-deprived creatures who frustrate them by behavior that’s guided by fatigue.
That is all. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
We’re running out of energy and hours, so it’s possible Daily Brief will need to curl up and sleep through Friday. If a new Daily Brief does roll out Friday, consider it our post-adjournment gift to you, our loyal readers. Here is a bonus soundtrack to tide you over.
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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