Eye on Augusta: Some of the Bills Accepted for Next Legislative Session
Thursday, November 12, 2015 12:52 PM
Only 33 of the 395 bills submitted by state legislators for consideration in the Legislature’s next session will likely see the light of day when the new session begins in January. Due to the short length of the four-month session, leaders say they are only accepting “emergency bills” in addition to the 176 bills that have been carried over from last session and 20 bills submitted by state agencies. Last week, the Legislative Council, the governing body of the Legislature, also tabled 18 bills, which they will take up when the council meets again on November 19.
The council, which is made up of five Democrats and five Republicans, shot down most of the most controversial bills, including ones to regulate the use and sale of guns and another to repeal the governor’s asset tests for food assistance recipients. However, the council was able to allow in a bill that would ensure Land for Maine’s Future bonds don’t expire due to the governor’s refusal to release the voter-approved bonds for land conservation projects.
Gov. LePage is permitted to submit as many bills as he wants during the session, so some rejected Republican initiatives could come back in the form of governor’s bills.
Anti-Planned Parenthood Bill Could Come Back
Democratic leaders swiftly killed Rep. Mary Anne Kinney’s (R-Knox) measure to eliminate funding for the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood. Kinney says she plans to appeal the decision. Kinney and anti-abortion groups have cited a heavily edited online video released by an anti-abortion group that implies that Planned Parenthood is profiting from abortions in donating fetal tissue for medical research. Planned Parenthood has since announced that it will no longer accept reimbursement for any fetal tissue it provides to medical researchers.
Searsport Mack Point Bills
The council tabled a bill that would authorize a bond to build marine transportation and port infrastructure at Mack Point, which it will take up again at its next meeting. Little information is currently available about the bill, and the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport), did not answer a request for more information.
The council rejected a measure that would require an environmental impact statement to be performed before any dredging is done in Searsport Harbor at Mack Point. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Chuck Kruger (D-Thomaston), said the measure would apply to any dredge projects in the Penobscot River watershed of more the 10,000 cubic yards. In September the proposal to deepen and widen Searsport Harbor at Mack Point to increase shipping, then dispose of the 892,000 cubic yards of dredge spoils in pockmarks at the bottom of Belfast Bay was put officially on hold. Kruger said he has not decided whether to appeal the decision to prevent the bill from getting a public hearing.
Measure to Implement Ferry Safety Standards
Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox County) was able to shepherd his bill to implement safety recommendations on ferries through the Legislative Council. The measure would require the implementation of recommendations from a safety management systems report issued in 2008 that addressed standard operating procedure matters. Miramant said the bill is supported by the crews and the chair of the Ferry Advisory Board, along with users of the ferry service.
“It was recently brought to my attention that necessary training for onboard emergency situations on state-owned ferries is not being conducted,” said Miramant in a statement. “I’m happy this critical safety issue will be considered by the full Legislature when we return in January.”
Welfare Bills Return
Sen. Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo County) has submitted yet another bill to prohibit cash withdrawals from electronic benefits transfer cards to be used for tobacco, liquor, gambling, lottery, tattoos and bail. The council tabled the bill, but Thibodeau says he still thinks it has a chance because it’s a politically popular topic that helped Republicans get elected last year. A similar measure was defeated last session, and the same provision was put into a Republican Party-initiated referendum that may appear on the 2016 ballot.
“Nobody wants people to abuse the system or use welfare for stuff that quite frankly most Mainers don’t approve of,” he said. “Buying lottery tickets with public benefits is unacceptable to most Mainers.”
A recent Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting analysis conducted with Cornell University found that for every one-percent increase in joblessness in a given Zip code, state-sponsored lottery sales jump 10 percent. It also reported that people in the poorest regions in Maine spend 200 times more on lottery tickets than those in wealthier areas.