Nevertheless, local midcoast legislators are hopeful that they’ll find some bipartisan support for a litany of ambitious legislative proposals they’re submitting this year. Below is a rundown of some of the highlights proposed by legislators representing Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties. Senators Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty.) and Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty.), as well as Reps. Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro), MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) and Jeff Hanley (R-Pittston) ignored requests for interviews.
Referendums, Motor Voter & National Popular Vote
Legislators from both parties are still seething over the results of November’s election. Democrats are frustrated that Donald Trump managed to pick up enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency despite his having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Republicans are bitter that voters passed the minimum-wage increase, marijuana legalization and a 3-percent surcharge tax on wealthy households. Both parties are putting in bills that could possibly prevent similar electoral disappointments in the future.
Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) and Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) are sponsoring a bill that aims to bypass the Electoral College by pledging Maine’s electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Under the “National Popular Vote” proposal, Maine would join an inter-state compact, which currently has 11 states (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT & WA) pledging 165 electoral votes. The legislation would trigger member states to cast their votes to the popular vote winner once states with 105 more electoral votes join the compact.
Miramant is also proposing a bill modeled on an Oregon law that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they request or renew their driver’s licenses. Under the Oregon law, driver’s license applicants are sent a letter informing them that they have 21 days to opt out from the voting rolls. So far, over 225,000 Oregon residents have been automatically registered to vote under the new law and about 100,000 of them voted in November, according to the New York Times.
Republicans are planning to submit a number of bills to make it more difficult to put citizen referendums on the ballot. Rep. Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) has put in a concept bill that would set up a special panel to “vet” citizen referendums and make judgments on whether they are constitutional. She argued that such a commission could have better vetted ranked-choice voting (Question 4) and the marijuana legalization referendum, but did not specify whether it would have the power to veto referendums before they make it to the ballot.
Rep. Owen Casas (I-Rockport) is proposing a constitutional amendment to lengthen the terms of House and Senate members from two years to three to four years. Casas said the current two-year terms require lawmakers to spend more time campaigning than doing legislative work and that lengthening legislative terms would save money on the Clean Elections program. Maine is currently one of only 12 states doesn’t have four-year terms for Senators, although only five states have four-year terms for House members.
Casas and independent Rep. Kent Ackley (I-Monmouth) are also submitting a bill to allow independent voters to vote in Republican and Democratic primaries. About 37 percent of Maine voters are unaffiliated with either party, but under Maine law they must register with a party by primary day in order to vote in that party’s primary. About 23 states have so-called “open” presidential primaries, which allow independents to vote in partisan primaries without changing their affiliation.
Firearm Background Check Bill Is Back
Last November, 52 percent of voters rejected Question 3, which would have required criminal background checks for all firearm sales. Sen. Dave Miramant and Rep. Owen Casas are hoping to revive the measure by removing the requirement that gun owners submit to a background check when borrowing a gun, which was arguably the most controversial piece of Question 3.
Miramant has also submitted a bill that will require gun owners to take a safety course, which he initially proposed last year after a Thomaston woman was accidentally shot and killed by her fiance while he was showing a gun to a prospective buyer in a parking lot in Bath. Last session the Legislature repealed the law requiring gun owners to first take a safety course and apply for a permit before carrying a concealed firearm. Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston) has also sponsored a bill to allow towns to prohibit weapons at public meetings.
“It strikes me as odd that you go into the Court House or State House and you go through a metal detector, but someone can come into a planning board meeting irate as hell with a gun,” said Spear.
State Bank Bill Returns
Every session since 2011, various legislators have submitted bills to establish a state-run bank and this year is no exception. Sen. Dave Miramant and Rep. Owen Casas have agreed to sponsor the measure, which would take the state’s revenue currently held in private financial institutions and deposit it in a public bank to leverage low-interest loans to small businesses, support partnership loans with community banks and fund public infrastructure projects. Miramant, who is now serving on the Transportation Committee, says a state bank would be a good way to help fund the roads, which has required a lot of bonding in recent years.
“If we can’t get sane funding policies for the infrastructure and we’re going to borrow $150 million a whack every year or two, why shouldn’t it be in a state bank so that the interest gets paid to the state?” said Miramant.
Last session, State Treasurer Terry Hayes opposed the state bank proposal, arguing that it would “create instability in the financial sector.”
Clammers, Seaweed, Sea Level & Marine Resources
Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston) is wading into a controversial dispute between wormers and clammers with a bill to set aside 10 percent of mudflats in areas where both marine worm and clam digging would be prohibited for a certain period of time. With clam stocks plummeting due to invasive green crabs and other factors, clammers have been trying to reseed flats, but many complain that wormers disrupt their work. Spear’s proposal comes at the request of the Georges River Shellfish Management Committee, which represents the towns of St. George, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Cushing and Warren.
“They go out and seed areas and the wormers come along and dig it up,” said Spear. “Supposedly there’s studies out there that say they’re not affected, but I think this would be a chance to see if it does have some effect.”
Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) is putting in a bill to establish a “seaweed advisory council,” which would advocate on management decisions for seaweed, functioning similarly to existing councils for lobsters and shellfish. Devin, who is a marine biologist, noted that seaweed harvesting has been increasing, particularly along the coast from Rockland to the Pemaquid Peninsula. He said he is concerned about the potential of over-harvesting rockweed as it is the nursery habitat for a variety of marine species.
Devin also has bills to direct the state to set standards for addressing sea level rise and take out a $5 million bond to map the state’s coastline.
“We have the least-mapped coastline in New England, which in itself is very expensive to us because of insurance rates,” said Devin. “If mapping is improved, it will drop insurance rates.... And it also gives us a better idea of where to build and what’s in danger over the next several decades.”
Energy & the Environment
Devin is also sponsoring legislation to enable the establishment of community electric microgrids, which could develop more locally produced power.
“Experience in both Europe and Vermont suggests that, when well designed, the impact of microgrids is overwhelmingly positive for all concerned — consumer, utility, grid operator, ratepayer,” says Paul Kando of Midcoast Green Collaborative, which is supporting the measure, “but it requires significant adjustments to the business model of conventional utilities built around central power generating plants.”
Kando said that since distributed power generation, such as solar photovoltaics, is increasingly cost-competitive with natural gas and coal-generated electricity, the macrogrid must be stabilized and modernized to accommodate distributed power generation and new technologies.
Both Sen. Dave Miramant and Rep. Owen Casas are also submitting bills to encourage the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Miramant’s bill would require that law enforcement agencies to prioritize fuel efficiency when purchasing new vehicles. Casas is proposing a concept bill to expand electric vehicle (EV) charging stations throughout the
state. There are currently about 102 EV charging stations throughout Maine, with one in Rockland, one in Rockport and two in Camden, according to Alternative Fueling Station Locator.
Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) is sponsoring a bill to ban disposable Styrofoam containers. There are 70 communities across the country, including Portland and Freeport, that have passed Styrofoam bans. Last session, former Rep. Christine Burstein submitted the same bill, but it failed as a representative from the Department of Environmental Protection argued it would be too costly to implement.
Rep. Walter Kumiega says he’s proposing a bill to ban the sale of furniture treated with certain fire retardants that have been shown to be hazardous to human health, particularly firefighters.