Maine Legislature pulls all-nighter, passes pot sales rules
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The Maine Legislature missed its goal for wrapping up its session Wednesday as lawmakers worked late to pass online sports betting and a regulatory framework needed to allow adults to buy recreational marijuana.
Lawmakers didn’t actually adjourn until around 6:45 a.m. Thursday.
Several of the session’s biggest bills touch on issues long blocked under the previous Republican administration, including allowing pot sales approved by voters, requiring the use of a hands-free device to access a cellphone while driving and boosting the solar industry.
There was no drama regarding the two-year state budget totaling nearly $8 billion. It already was approved and signed by the governor. Lawmakers were unable to agree on a bond package to invest in renewable energy, infrastructure, broadband expansion and workforce training, though the Legislature could still act before August to get bonds on the ballot.
POT SALES, ONLINE SPORTS BETTING
The Legislature passed several high-profile bills in the middle of the night, including regulations to allow the sale of legalized recreational marijuana as early as next year.
Voters first legalized recreational marijuana for adult use in 2016, and adults over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana.
But the process of crafting regulations has been time-consuming. The state’s rules are designed to allow municipalities to opt in or out of allowing sales.
Lawmakers passed another bill to join the growing number of states that allow online sports wagers.
Other bills sent to Democratic Gov. Janet Mills would raise fees on drug manufacturers to fund opioid treatment, and ban adults from furnishing tobacco products such as e-cigarettes to anyone under age 21.
Meanwhile, Maine killed a bill to join states pledging to award Electoral College votes to the national popular vote winner in presidential elections.
Lawmakers have pushed issues from tribal gaming to universal health care into next year.
Maine’s Democratic Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill to ditch the state’s presidential caucuses for a primary system ahead of the 2020 presidential race.
But lawmakers didn’t end up passing a separate bill to allow voters to rank primary candidates under a system approved by voters in 2016.
Maine’s ranked-choice voting system can only be used in primaries for state and federal candidates, and general elections for federal races.
But the Secretary of State’s office said Thursday that ranked-choice voting would not automatically apply to Maine’s presidential primaries, in which voters indicate their preference for candidates and choose delegates to party national conventions, without a change in state law.
Spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said lawmakers could act before the March presidential primaries.
The system allows voters to rank each candidate on a ballot in order of preference. If no candidate gets more than 50%, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and the second choices of everyone who ranked that candidate first are distributed. That process continues until someone receives more than 50% of the vote.
ON THE GOVERNOR’S DESK
The governor was busy Thursday morning; she thanked lawmakers for their work, and also signed several bills including legislation prohibit profiling by law enforcement officers.
Mills put her signature on several other bills as the legislative session wrapped up, including a switch to an automatic voter registration system.
Her office says Maine joins over a dozen states with such a system, which will let residents opt out of being registered when they do business with the motor vehicles bureau.
She’s also signed a Student Loan Bill of Rights bill into law, along with legislation requiring state utility regulators to approve a long-term contract for the University of Maine’s offshore wind project.
There is still a pile of bills on Mills’ desk — including a bill to protect tribal fishing — that she could sign, veto or let become law.
Lawmakers reached a compromise by early Thursday on legislation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of certain individuals.
Such bills have long faced steep odds in the largely rural New England state, where gun owners across the political divide celebrate a history of responsible firearm ownership.
Maine law allows officers to take a person into protective custody for a mental health evaluation.
The compromise bill would require such a person to surrender dangerous weapons if a medical practitioner decides such access is seriously harmful. Then a judicial hearing held within 14 days could extend those restrictions for one year.
SPENDING BILLS, BONDS
Mills had proposed $239 million worth of bonds, with voters potentially approving an initial $189 million in November.
House Republicans concerned with the price tag of Mills’ bond proposal wanted to vote on the bonds individually. House Democrats declined, and the package fell short of a two-thirds majority in the House.
Lawmakers facing roughly $6 million in funds left over from budget negotiations agreed on funding for nursing homes, school-based health centers and mental health services for high-risk youth. Senate Republicans worried that lawmakers were funding too many bills without enough details about their eventual cost.
The Legislature also moved to send $150,000 to the University of Maine, which has agreed to take over an online Advanced Placement program serving high-achieving kids that faced closure.
The governor will now weigh in on such spending decisions. Scores of bills that passed this year will end up dying without funding.