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The Maine Legislature passed hundreds of bills this year. Many of them become effective Thursday, which is 90 days after the Legislature adjourned.
Some of these laws will impact — and, we hope, improve — the lives of Mainers by increasing their access to health care, improving safety and targeting dangerous behaviors.
If you’ve driven on Interstate 95 recently, you know that hand-held cellphones will be banned while driving beginning Sept. 19. We don’t pretend that this law will miraculously end the dangerous trend of texting while driving, but we believe it can make a difference.
Maine is now one of 20 states to ban hand-held cellphone use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And, by the way, you must be completely pulled over off the road to text or use your hands to make a call under the new law. Being stopped at an intersection does not count.
It will likely take more than a new law — and the prospect of a $250 fine — to change many drivers’ behavior. Research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that 97 percent of drivers believe texting or emailing while driving is a serious or very serious threat to their safety. Forty-one percent of those drivers, however, also acknowledge that they’ve read an email or text while driving in the past month. Nearly a third have typed a text or email in that timeframe.
The new law gives police a better tool to pull over people who are texting and driving. But, the real benefit of the law would be if drivers put down their phones and focused on the roads because it is the safe thing to do.
Also taking effect across the state Thursday is a prohibition on vaping on school grounds. Last week, President Donald Trump said that his administration would soon ban flavored e-cigarettes to curb youth vaping.
E-cigarettes had been touted as a way to help adults reduce or stop smoking, but recent deaths that have been tied to lung ailments linked to vaping have raised alarms. There are now 450 possible cases of “a mystery illness” tied to vaping in 33 states and one U.S. territory, The Washington Post reported earlier this month.
There is also growing evidence that vaping is leading young people to smoke cigarettes. After years of decline, the percentage of American teenagers who report smoking cigarettes rose last year. The percentage of teens who routinely use e-cigarettes continues to rise as well.
Another new law will increase taxes on some tobacco products, with the money going to efforts to reduce tobacco use.
Lawmakers also took several steps this past legislative session to lower prescription medication prices, including creation of a board to review drug price increases where manufacturers would be asked to provide information to justify their prices and any price increases. Another new law will allow importation of lower cost medications from Canada, although federal permission is required for such a program.
After years of moving backwards on energy policy, a new law will enable more Mainers to benefit from solar power generation.This dovetails with another law that increases the amount of electricity in Maine that must come from renewable sources.
Both were the targets of a long-shot, seemingly unsuccessful people’s veto effort, as was a law that bans the dangerous and harmful practice of conversion therapy for minors in Maine. Opponents of a law doing away with philosophical and religious exemptions to childhood vaccine requirements for schools turned in 78,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday. That’s well above the 63,000 needed to get a people’s veto on the ballot.
Efforts to overturn a law that expands access to abortion through expanded state funding and a law that allows terminally ill patients to end their lives with prescribed medication failed to gather enough signatures, the Christian Civic League of Maine announced Wednesday. Those laws will be going into effect Thursday, and as with many of the other new laws passed in Maine this year, we’re glad they are.