End of Session Update
The Second Regular Session of the 130th Maine State Legislature finally adjourned Sine Die, or “without day”, on Monday, May 9. Lawmakers voted on the 5 vetoes sent to them by Governor Mills, and they took up a second “Errors and Omissions” bill to correct, add, or remove language from proposals already passed earlier in the session. Of significance in this bill was adding language and funding to the budget to include Maine’s Town Academies in the continuation of the free lunch program, and the removal of some problematic statutory language on new DEP regulations.
In addition, the House took a hemp regulatory bill off the table for further consideration and debate in the two chambers, eventually enacting it over the objections of the Democratic Senate and House Chairs of the Agriculture and Forestry Committee. The attempts by those in opposition to the latter bill to procedurally slow down or kill the bill, caused the session, which started around 9 am, to extend until about 6 pm. Several notable bills were left on the table at sine die, including a bill to require additional new renewable energy procurements equal to 7.5% of Maine’s electric load. Governor Mills addressed both bodies before they adjourned, celebrating the bipartisan nature of the hundreds of bills she signed into law, and otherwise promoting the issues and accomplishments of the 130th Legislature.
The Supplemental Budget is perhaps the most relevant and time consuming of the issues considered by the Legislature this session. With a $1.2 billion surplus available to the Governor and the Legislature, legislators were able to act on some significant, and politically important spending priorities. While Governor Mills did not end up getting as much as she proposed into the “Rainy Day Fund”, Maine still has almost $500 million in the budget stabilization fund. This is the highest it has ever been. Given the significant increase in inflation, including fuel and other energy costs, the Governor immediately committed half of the budget surplus to tax refund checks to Maine residents. After efforts by Republicans to increase the amount of the checks and scope of those eligible, checks of $850 will go to more than 800,000 Maine residents.
The Supplemental Budget also included $20 million to pay for free tuition to Maine’s Community Colleges to qualified Maine residents from the classes of 2020 to 2023, $100 million directly to the Department of Transportation for roads and bridges, thus avoiding another vote on bonds, over $20 million for Maine Housing projects, and funding for pay increases for child care providers and direct care workers paid exclusively through MaineCare contracts. It also continues the commitment to pay 55% of the cost of public education, and puts $15 million in an education stabilization fund. While the Governor proposed another $30 million to go into the MaineCare stabilization fund, that money was used to increase the tax refund checks, and over $100 million was found to increase COLA’s for Maine State Retirees on the final night of budget negotiations. The MaineCare stabilization fund still has $54 million in it to be used to increase reimbursements to providers if DHHS finds that is necessary. This fund was originally proposed to help ameliorate expected future costs of MaineCare expansion, as instituted by Governor Mills soon after taking office. Given this, it is highly unlikely DHHS will use it for other purposes of their own volition.
The Governor proposed, and the Legislature approved, over $60 million to help Maine farmers and food producers respond to PFAS contamination and funding for new staff in DEP, Maine CDC, and the Department of Agriculture, focused on PFAS testing, remediation, and consultation with impacted families, businesses, and municipalities. Given the lack of testing capacity in Maine for these contaminants, a portion of this funding will be used to help private labs in Maine buy the equipment and pay other necessary expenses to increase testing here in Maine. Up until now almost all of this testing has been sent to other states. This commitment to expanding in-state capacity will benefit everyone, as it will also shorten the time in which Maine residents and our businesses receive their results. In other PFAS matters, two new laws restricting land spreading of sludge/biosolids (and requiring testing of wastewater) and restricting out of state waste were also enacted.
Hot Button Issues
One of the other significant issues of concern were multiple proposed bills related to tribal sovereignty. Two of these bills became law after being changed to remove the concerns of enough legislators and the Governor to gain their support. One of these dealt with the ability of the Passamaquoddy tribe to dig wells for drinking water on land that they own. The other allows the Wabanaki tribes exclusive rights to online sports betting in Maine. However, brick and mortar entities, including casinos, will be permitted to make sports wagering available on their premises as well.
There also was an attempt by the Department of Education to move forward relatively quickly with moving Child Developmental Services into the public school system. While this general idea is supported by all of the recognized organizations and interested parties, the DOE chose to support a version of the bill allowing little to no input from those directly impacted and currently engaged in this work. While all the advocacy organizations supported moving forward with the effort, they also insisted they should be included in the transition planning and implementation. This led the DOE and the legislators supporting their efforts to kill the proposal rather than move forward with the version of the bill that included stakeholder input.
Several efforts to raise the amount of funding for smoking cessation services were ultimately consolidated in an increase in the Fund for a Healthy Maine to be specifically allocated for this purpose. However that money will be derived from the tens of millions of dollars already available to the state from current tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement funds, rather than new tobacco taxes. Further, the efforts to ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol sales to adults, was never brought off the table in the House. This would have cost the state at least $22 million this biennium.
On the energy front, the citizen-initiated legislation for a consumer-owned utility to take over from the state’s two investor-owned utilities was not submitted this session but is promised by its supporters for next session. Two bills proposing to ease burdens on distributed generation developers died after opposition from the Public Utilities Commission and the Public Advocate. LD 634, intended to reduce the costs of the existing Net Energy Billing program, was enacted after hallway discussions resulted in a floor amendment with bipartisan support. Preti lobbyists, on behalf of the Industrial Industry Consumer Group, led the charge for lower costs for Maine ratepayers. The proposal for a public generation authority to develop new renewable generation to support the state’s climate goals was passed in the House but died on the Senate table. As noted, the renewables procurement bill, partly modeled on successful 2019 legislation, also died in non-concurrence between the bodies. Finally an “Energy Relief Fund” was enacted to provide certain small businesses with one time relief payments.
One last proposal that dominated the last days of session addressed the use of biometric identifiers. The bill would require increased consent and security provisions around the use of biometrics such as voice recognition and fingerprints. In addition, the bill would allow consumers whose biometrics were used by a company to sue the company directly, even if they had not experienced any direct harm. There were versions of the bill that were voted out of the Judiciary Committee. The majority report proposed that a comprehensive study be conducted on the issue during the next six months with the ability of the 131st Legislature to implement any recommendations coming from that stakeholder process. In addition to creating a stakeholder group, the second report proposed enacting certain provisions of the bill that would decrease consumer safety and significantly impact Maine’s economy. In addition to eliminating or severely restricting the use of certain cutting edge and secure technology in Maine, the minority report created a huge private right of action and class action litigation threat for all businesses in the state. The two legislative bodies never concurred as to what version, if any, should be enacted and therefore, the bill ultimately died between the chambers.
None of the legislation intending to further raise the minimum wage, mandate paid family leave, or raise the salary threshold for eligibility for overtime pay were enacted as originally proposed. Versions of the latter two proposals were approved, but only as studies requiring further review and reports back to the Labor Committee.
The Gubernatorial race will continue to heat up throughout the summer and fall with the latest polling showing Governor Mills with a slight edge over former Governor LePage (42-39%). Mills is so far outraising LePage, but Republican votes from low information voters seem to come much more cheaply than do the same votes for Democrats.
In the 2nd CD race, in Maine’s more rural and much more competitive Congressional District, Democratic Congressman Jared Golden is seeking his third term in office and is most likely to face the person he unseated in 2018, Bruce Poliquin. There is a Republican primary in that race with Liz Caruso, who has received some recognition for taking part in the campaign to halt the CMP/Hydro Quebec powerline corridor through western Maine. The general election is expected to be close and expensive, but Golden’s personal approval is at 41% with 26% disapproving. His bipartisan voting record is garnering him just over 51% support among Democrats, but over a third of Republicans also view him favorable. In comparison, Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree in 1st CD receives only 6% support from Republicans but is still expected to win handily in the deep blue southern district. All of the above mentioned polling took place before the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.
The partisan primaries will take place on June 14th, as will the Special Election to replace Democratic Senator Louie Luchini who resigned his seat in January due to a job opportunity with the Small Business Administration. This campaign for the Hancock County Senate seat will pit current, two term State Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, against popular business owner and former 4 term Republican State Senator Brian Langley. No matter the result, they are expected to run against one another again in November.
After the primaries Preti will provide more information about the upcoming General Election in November, including opportunities for outreach and support of candidates, including the competitive races in which support of one candidate or another may be crucial to legislative efforts next session.
The Preti team will continue to monitor the ongoing meetings of the Legislative Council, the Appropriations Committee, the Government Oversight Committee, and any relevant ongoing proceedings, rulemakings, or meetings with the various departments. Please let us know if you have any question or concerns about any of Maine’s new laws discussed above. Please review the Advokit reports and let us know if you have any questions or if it inspires ideas for legislation we should consider submitting this fall after the elections. The team looks forward to continuing our efforts on your behalf.