The Maine Legislature voted on a number of important issues this week, ranging from high-profile tribal sovereignty measures to bills related to economic justice, health care, housing and the environment. Here’s a rundown of some of the recent decisions made in Augusta.
The legislature this week took up multiple measures designed to reinforce the inherent sovereignty of the Wabanaki in what has been a multi-year campaign by Indigenous nations in Maine to be treated like all other tribes around the country.
On Thursday, the House approved a bill that would alter the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980. The bill, LD 1626, would change the Settlement Act to create “an enhanced process for tribal-state collaboration and consultation as well as a process for alternative dispute resolution.” Other aspects of the legislation include strengthening tribal communities’ criminal jurisdiction, recognizing the rights of tribes to regulate hunting and fishing on their lands, and affirming the Wabanaki’s right to regulate natural resources and land use on their territory. The vote was 81-55 in favor of the bill.
Also this week, the legislature approved another tribal sovereignty bill, LD 906. That bill would address the unsafe and deteriorating water system at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation, known as Sipayik, where dangerous levels of toxic chemicals have been found. Along with LD 1626, Gov. Janet Mills has expressed skepticism about the water legislation. But given the bipartisan support LD 906 received in both the House and the Senate, advocates have a chance to overcome a potential veto from the governor. The bill now goes to Mills for consideration.
Lawmakers this week sent a bill to Mills designed to close a loophole in Maine law that has allowed Juniper Ridge landfill to become a dumping ground for waste from surrounding states.
As Beacon previously reported, about 90% of the waste sent to a processing facility in Lewiston that ends up in Juniper Ridge is from out of state. The amount of waste going into Juniper Ridge is increasing every year, the coalition noted earlier this year, filling 32% faster than anticipated. A continuation of that would mean additional expansions of the landfill, which environmental advocates have argued would lead to increased pollution.
The bill to address the issue, LD 1639, was approved with strong bipartisan votes in both the House and the Senate.
The legislature took action on several housing bills this week. On Thursday, the House passed on a 78-51 vote a bill aimed at reforming zoning laws and cutting red tape to allow for development of affordable units. The Senate then approved the bill April 15 on a 20-13 vote.
That bill, LD 2003, sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), was originally larger in scope. However, it was scaled back last month amid opposition from some groups. While advocates still support the bill and view it as a step forward, they argued the changes made to the measure represent a missed opportunity for a more ambitious effort to address the affordable housing crisis.
It was a similar story with LD 1673, another affordable housing bill that was scaled back in the face of opposition. That bill cleared final votes in both the House and the Senate this week and was placed on the Appropriations Table for funding consideration. Originally designed to set affordable housing goals in each municipality, the measure was significantly amended to include non-binding goals and reduce the scope of communities covered by such goals.
The House gave its final approval this week for a bill, LD 2019, that would prohibit a person from distributing a pesticide contaminated with perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS, which have been linked to a wide variety of harmful health impacts. The bill also bans the distribution of pesticides that contain intentionally added PFAS beginning in 2030.
The measure also adds “any substance or mixture of substances intended to be used as a spray adjuvant” to the definition of pesticide.
The Senate also gave initial approval to the bill this week. The measure still faces a final vote in the chamber.
In addition, the House this week approved another PFAS-related bill. LD 1911 would authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to “require a person licensed to discharge wastewater to sample the effluent discharged for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances and to report the sample data to the department,” among other provisions. The bill was then approved by the Senate on a bipartisan vote.
The Senate this week officially killed a bill that would have established certain motor vehicle-related violations as secondary offenses. The measure, LD 1479, sponsored by Rep. Victoria Morales (D-South Portland), sought to make such offenses enforceable only if an officer had detained a driver for the suspected violation of another law.
Offenses that would have been classified as secondary by the bill include operating a vehicle after suspension for not paying a fine, not registering a vehicle if the registration has been expired for less than 150 days, and hanging an object from the rearview mirror, among other similar violations.
Supporters of the legislation added that the measure was meant to address discrimination in who is stopped, with myriad lawmakers in the House saying drivers of color are often pulled over more than white drivers. Still, the Senate voted the bill down 27-3, with only Cumberland County Democratic Sens. Ben Chipman, Anne Carney and Heather Sanborn voting for the measure. That result came after the House voted against the bill last week.
The Senate also took action this week on a bill dealing with the issue of solitary confinement in Maine. The bill, which the House passed to define the practice as confinement in a cell for over 22 hours in a day, was then amended in the Senate this week to simply remove the term solitary confinement from statute in a move that advocates said would obscure how the practice is used in Maine prisons and jails.
On Thursday, however, the House voted to reject the Senate’s amendment and instead passed its own amendment to the bill, sponsored by Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland), that would require prisons and jails to send a report to the Maine Department of Corrections if a person is held in isolation for more than 22 hours in a day.
The House and Senate this week passed a bill to direct the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to study the impact on the state of adopting “a corporate income tax system that requires worldwide combined reporting for income tax purposes.” The report on the issue would be due by February 1.
The measure, LD 428, is an effort to start the process of eventually closing a loophole used by multinational corporations to avoid paying taxes in Maine. It will now go to Mills for consideration.
The House this week also gave initial approval to a bill designed to improve labor standards on renewable energy projects. The bill, LD 1969, sets standards for pre-apprenticeship training programs by the Maine Apprenticeship Program, including the payment of “meaningful stipends” to participants.
The measure also requires that renewable energy projects of a certain size pay construction workers “the prevailing rate for wages and benefits,” among other stipulations. The bill was passed Wednesday by the House 81-57 and now moves to the Senate.
The Senate gave final approval Monday on a bill to close a loophole that has let insurance companies deny no-copay coverage of birth control. The measure, LD 1954, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), mandates insurance coverage of all birth control methods approved by the FDA.
The legislation was passed unanimously in the Senate, sending the bill to Mills for consideration.
In another unanimous vote in the Senate on Monday, the chamber sent to Mills a bill that would require the Maine Health Data Organization to document the 100 most expensive prescription drugs and the 100 most frequently prescribed drugs each year. LD 1636 also mandates the organization to determine the potential savings from subjecting such prescription drugs to a “referenced rate,” defining that rate as “the lowest cost from official publications of certain Canadian provincial government agencies and the wholesale acquisition cost.”
The House gave approval this week to a bill, LD 2018, that would ensure the incorporation of “equity considerations in decision making” at the Department of Environmental Protection, the Public Utilities Commission and other state agencies.
The measure also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to adopt rules so that “environmental justice populations and frontline communities are provided with fair and equitable access to the department’s decision-making processes.”
The bill was then passed by the Senate and given final approval by the House. It now returns to the Senate.
This story was updated April 15 to reflect the Senate vote on LD 2003.
Photo: The Maine State House | Beacon
Evan Popp studied journalism at Ithaca College and interned at the Progressive magazine, ThinkProgress and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. He then worked for the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper before joining Beacon. Evan can be reached at email@example.com.
Beacon, April 15, 2022, https://mainebeacon.com/