AUGUSTA, Maine — If new bills are a window into the consciousness of lawmakers, then the Democratic-led 129th Legislature has vaping, guns and marijuana on their minds.
The titles of approximately 400 bills proposed by legislators for the 2020 session were released last week, covering everything from protecting Mainers from future propane explosions to changing health care in Maine.
Lawmakers will have to make their case for their bills in two weeks, when a panel of 10 legislative leaders will meet to decide which ones will be considered in next year’s session. Here are some themes that we found in the titles.
The backlash against vaping has been escalating since late summer, and it’s apparent in a handful of bills. About 18 people have died and hundreds have been sent to the hospital across the country, including five Mainers, after many reported using a vape device to consume tetrahydrocannabinol — or THC — the active ingredient in marijuana. Health officials are unsure if the THC or other substances added to the vaping liquid are causing the illness, according to the Associated Press.
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are responding with measures to varying degrees of strictness — from banning smoking and vaping at public transportation stops, banning the addition of THC and cannabidiol to vaping liquids, to banning the sale of vaping devices outright.
A crop of gun-related bills will likely face a tough road. Maine has long resisted tightening restrictions to guns, and Gov. Janet Mills said early this year that “ the people have already spoken” on the issue of background checks after a ballot initiative failed in 2016.
Many other Democrats are giving it a go, with measures aimed at addressing gun trafficking, requiring gun owners to have liability insurance, banning assault-style weapons, amending Maine child endangerment laws to include allowing children access to loaded firearms without permission, and prohibiting guns on nursery school and child care facility grounds.
One Republican-backed gun bill that would allow retired police officers qualified under the federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act to carry a concealed firearm on school grounds, but efforts to allow guns at schools have also proven unsuccessful in the past.
Maine is closer to its first sales of legal recreational marijuana, and legislators are putting forward a bevy of bills on the subject. Sales under the new state program are expected to begin this spring, but lawmakers have proposed changes touching on everything from setting energy efficiency standards for the marijuana industry, expunging certain criminal convictions related to cannabis and allowing adult use manufacturers and stores to buy products from registered caregivers or dispensaries up to 90 days after getting licensed.
One lawmaker is trying to make natural gas and propane leak detectors mandatory in certain buildings after a propane leak caused a fatal explosion in Farmington. Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, said she decided to investigate whether were requirements for leak-detecting sensors after a propane leak caused a nonprofit’s new building to explode last month, killing a fire captain and injuring several other firefighters and a nonprofit employee. Nearby homes were also damaged by the blast.
The state does not require propane or natural gas detectors, Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said. Reckitt said she has not nailed down the type of buildings where devices would be mandated, but said nonprofits, government buildings and housing complexes are being considered.
Some health care bills would affect MaineCare coverage, create a state-based exchange and attempt to repeal abortion requirements. A bill from Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, would create a state-run health care exchange, something Mills also wants. Other efforts would touch on promoting telehealth in the state’s targeted case management program — a service under MaineCare that coordinates community support systems for children and adults — and increasing reimbursement rates in that program to reflect inflation, and expanding eligibility for home access adaptation benefits.
A bill from Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would repeal laws requiring health insurers to cover abortion and taking abortion coverage out of MaineCare. A people’s veto effort to repeal those measures failed to get enough signatures to make it onto the March 2020 ballot in September.