Maine lawmakers’ bills focus on solar energy, health care
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Democrats with newfound control over Maine’s Legislature have proposed bills to expand access to health care, eliminate restrictions on solar projects, forgive student debt and promote firearms safety, according to the titles of over 2,000 bills released by the Legislature.
Meanwhile, other bills — proposed by Democrats, Republicans and independents — would tackle the opioid crisis, the roll-out marijuana sales and the future of ranking candidates on the ballot.
There are also proposals on paid sick leave, an income tax hike, state funding for abortion services and measures to prevent “high-risk” people from obtaining firearms.
Few details are available so far about lawmakers’ bills, whose titles were released Tuesday.
Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who was sworn in last week, leads the state alongside Democrats who now control Maine’s Senate and House. She’s set to release a budget proposal in early February, and lawmakers face a healthy surplus left over from Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration.
Mills told supporters in an email Tuesday that too many Mainers are facing high health insurance bills while the state’s aging workforce and changing climate must be addressed.
The leaders of Maine’s Republican Party called on GOP lawmakers to work against bills that would “take Maine in the wrong direction.”
Mills has said promoting renewable energy is one of her top priorities in her first year.
At least five bills would eliminate restrictions on solar power projects, while over a dozen other bills tackle other aspects of energy policy, including creating a “Green New Deal for Maine” and promoting investment in renewable energy.
Wind power ballooned under former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who criticized subsidies to solar and wind industries. Pete Didisheim, lobbyist for Natural Resources Council of Maine, said he hopes Maine takes more action on climate change under Mills.
“We’ve been kind of alone as states all around us have been doing a much better job at reducing their dependence on fossil fuel and aggressively moving forward on renewables,” Didisheim said.
The number of people dying from drug overdoses has continued to increase in Maine, which saw 418 such deaths in 2017.
Mills used her first executive order to start expanding Medicaid to as many as 70,000 low-income Mainers, as voters demanded in 2017. She says the expansion will help provide drug treatment to people struggling with substance use.
Democrats are pushing to eliminate the two-year limit on Medicaid coverage for opioid use treatment drugs, while also pushing for new treatment programs in rural areas. A Republican bill would make it a crime to “transmit illegal drugs through breast milk.”
POT SALES, RANKED-CHOICE VOTING, WAGES
Lawmakers are still figuring out the future of measures that voters approved in referendums, such as legalizing marijuana sales, ranking the candidates in some elections and increasing the minimum wage.
Adults over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. But sales have been delayed until lawmakers approve new regulations.
Dozens of new bills tackle marijuana policy, from allowing state-chartered credit unions to serve marijuana businesses to sealing the criminal records of nonviolent offenders convicted of previous marijuana violations.
Maine voters can rank candidates in primaries and federal races, but not state-level races. Several Democrats and an independent lawmaker want to amend Maine’s constitution to allow ranking for all races, while some Republicans are pushing to repeal or freeze the voter-approved law.
Maine’s minimum wage jumped to $11 an hour this year and will increase again to $12 in 2020. Then, the wage will increase according to a formula tied to the cost of living.
Republicans are proposing changes in the hopes of helping smaller businesses and state-funded nursing homes struggling with the increase.
Other bills deal with more obscure topics.
One bill would examine “the sale and release of balloons.” The title of another proposes changing Maine’s license plate slogan from “Vacationland” to “Staycationland.”
Lawmakers have also proposed to allow hunters to shoot bows with crossbows and to allow barbers to use straight edge razors.