Lawmakers push for tax reforms to make wealthy pay their fair share, address unmet needs / by Evan Popp

Photo: Getty Images

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 24, 2023

In a bid to fund education programs and ensure that the state has revenue to meet myriad unmet needs, Democratic lawmakers are pushing for two bills that would make the wealthiest Mainers pay what they see as their fair share in taxes.

Those two bills were heard during a public hearing Thursday before the legislature’s Taxation Committee. 

One of the measures, LD 843, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Osher (D-Orono), would establish an additional income tax bracket in Maine with a tax rate of 11.15%. That rate would apply to income in excess of $125,000 for single filers, income in excess of $150,000 for heads of household, and income in excess of $250,000 for married couples filing jointly. 

Maine’s current top tax bracket is 7.15%, and single filers pay that rate on income in excess of $58,050, heads of household pay that on money in excess of $87,100 and joint filers pay that rate on income over $116,100. That is the result of action taken by former Gov. Paul LePage, who pushed to lower the top income tax rate from 8.5% in a move that has cost Maine hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and has resulted in low and middle income residents being hit harder by property taxes while the wealthy primarily benefit from the lower income tax rate. 

The other bill lawmakers heard Thursday was LD 667, sponsored by Rep. Ben Collings (D-Portland). That measure would establish a surcharge of 3% on income in excess of $1 million and a 6% surcharge on income in excess of $10 million. The bill would require that 75% of the revenue generated from the measure go to funding K-12 education and 25% of the funds be spent on rural economic development. 

The measures are being introduced at a time of stark income inequality across the country, with the richest 1% making 84 times as much as the bottom 20%. Further, rising corporate profits have contributed disproportionately to inflation in yet another example of the wealthy doing well during the COVID-19 economic recovery while working class people struggle. 

Raising money to pay for unmet needs

Speaking in favor of his bill to generate money for education and rural economies, Collings noted that every year crucial programs and initiatives aren’t able to be funded in the budget due to a lack of revenue. LD 667, he said, would provide money to ensure that programs that help address the needs of Mainers can be paid for, setting the state up to succeed going forward. 

“Education and rural economics are vital for our future and vital for our economy,” he said. 

Collings also noted that a majority of Mainers voted in 2016 to create a 3% tax on income over $200,000 to pay for education programs — a policy that was subsequently repealed by the legislature. He argued that the referendum shows Maine people support tax fairness policies.

In presenting her bill, Osher noted that income tax is the fairest form of taxation. In other forms of taxation, such as sales tax or property tax, low-income people end up getting hit hardest in terms of the percentage of their wealth that they pay. But progressive income tax reflects the differences in people’s finances, with wealthier people paying more and lower-income people paying less.

But Maine’s current income tax code doesn’t truly reflect that policy goal, Osher said, pointing out that middle-income people are treated the same as wealthy people. 

“When it comes to fairness, Maine’s current income tax structure misses the mark,” Osher said. 

Osher said her bill would address this issue while also generating revenue to pay for items such as education programs, initiatives to help adults with disabilities, and behavioral health care and other programs that have long gone underfunded.  

Maura Pillsbury, an analyst with the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP), testified in favor of both Osher and Collings’ bills. Pillsbury said the issue comes down to fairness and prioritizing the needs of those who are truly struggling. 

“Raising top income tax rates will allow us to fund important needs and priorities,” she said. “Under our current tax code, millionaires pay the same income tax rates as middle-class families. We urge you to make Maine’s tax code fairer by increasing taxes on top earners.” 

Mills among opponents of bills

The Mills administration is opposed to both tax fairness bills. Michael Allen of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services submitted testimony on behalf of the governor, who has pledged not to raise taxes. Allen said the bills are unnecessary given the state’s short-term budget surplus, which advocates have argued is not actually a surplus given the longstanding deficit the state faces in meeting Mainers’ everyday needs.  

The administration also said the bills would make Maine among the states with the highest tax burden in the country and argued that the measures could result in higher-income earners departing Maine for lower-tax states. However, that argument is not borne out by research, which shows that lower taxes for millionaires in more conservative states and higher taxes in more liberal places haven’t spurred the rich to move to red states in large numbers.

Others also submitted testimony in opposition to the bills, with Nick Murray of the Maine Policy Institute arguing that, “Raising income taxes further will not help the state or its citizens. Both LD 667 and LD 843 would move Maine in the wrong direction, driving a larger wedge between the people and prosperity.” 

However, Jeff McCabe of the Maine Service Employees Association noted that the state is facing a crisis in terms of being able to provide key services for its citizens and that the wealthy can afford to pay more to help rectify the situation.  

“We pay taxes for critical services that benefit all of us,” he said. “Our public schools and colleges, roads and bridges, public safety, parks, clean water and the safety net protecting our children and seniors are just a few of the services we all count on. The revenues we raise through taxes ideally would provide the conditions for Maine communities to be places where we can all live, work, raise our families and, someday, retire with dignity in our own homes.”

Along with the two progressive taxation bills, lawmakers on Thursday also heard testimony on a Republican bill to phase out the income tax over five years, an idea that research shows would enrich the wealthy while hurting the poor, as municipalities would likely be forced to raise property taxes to make up for lost revenue. Furthermore, lawmakers brought up the point that the proposal would devastate the state budget, as nearly half of general fund revenue comes from state income taxes. As a result, initiatives such as the state funding 55% of education, municipal revenue sharing, and the MaineCare program would be much more difficult to pay for, MECEP said in its testimony. 

Republicans on Thursday also pushed for a bill to use excess state revenue for income tax “relief” that advocates said would serve to squirrel away money rather than using such funds to address various problems in the state. 

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

Delayed union drive at Bates College fails to get enough votes / by Dan Neumann

Bates College. | David Gale Studios, Creative Commons via Flickr

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 23, 2023

After more than a year’s delay, a campaign to organize a union for the adjunct faculty and staff at Bates College in Lewiston failed to get enough votes. 

On Thursday afternoon, the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board counted workers’ ballots that were cast in January 2022 to form the Bates Educators and Staff Organization (BESO), a wall-to-wall union that would have been part of the Maine Service Employees Association, SEIU Local 1989 and available to any worker who is not management, tenure-track faculty, or a campus safety officer. But the campaign failed with a vote of 254 against and 186 for the union.  

“Of course, we are disappointed in the outcome of our election. However, we’ll continue to stay connected and work to build a voice for us educators and staff on campus,” the Bates Educators and Staff Organizing Committee said in a statement on Thursday.

“We faced a difficult and heavily-funded anti-union campaign, and still overcame so much together,” the statement continued. “Win or lose, it is clearly time for change at Bates, and although we won’t be able to take this step of forming a union together right now, we are incredibly proud of our organizing and the way our campus has come together over the past 18 months.”

The union drive began in October 2021, when the organizers announced their intent to unionize, citing low pay, poor working conditions and declining staff retention at the private liberal arts college as their reasons for organizing.

Staff members and student supporters hoped for an amicable response from administration, but, as Beacon previously reported, the college dug in against the organizers and hired anti-union consultants who began hosting meetings presented as unbiased informational forums about the pros and cons of unions. Routine for decades, such meetings are tactics used by employers to erode possible union support by requiring workers to attend anti-union briefings.

After staff voted by paper ballot last year, the administration petitioned the NLRB to impound the ballots while their legal team challenged the composition of the bargaining unit. The 2019 rule that allowed the ballots to be impounded for 14 months has since been rescinded by the NLRB.

In a statement released ahead of the vote count on Thursday, workers emphasized that the campus community is tired of Bates’ time, money and resources being used on expensive anti-union legal battles. 

With a new incoming college president, there is optimism that such tactics will change. On March 7, the college’s Board of Trustees announced that they had unanimously selected Gary Jenkins as the ninth president of Bates since its founding in 1855.

“The outgoing administration jammed our union efforts with now-illegal delay tactics and process challenges wherever they could,” said Jon-Michael Foley, a grounds and maintenance worker at Bates. “We’re ready to move on from the constant interference and get to the negotiations table. Is President Jenkins ready to collaborate and deliver better for us, or will it just be more of the same? Everyone is waiting eagerly for Bates to choose a more productive path forward.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at

Bills to help struggling state retirees gain bipartisan support / by Evan Popp

The Maine State House in Augusta. | Beacon

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 21, 2023

Retired public employees who have been trying to survive on insufficient pension payments may soon see relief after members of Maine’s Labor and Housing committee earlier this month issued a unanimous report recommending an increase to the cost-of-living adjustment. Inflation coupled with drastic cuts made a decade ago to state worker and teacher pensions are pushing more retirees closer to poverty.

As Beacon previously reported, former Gov. Paul LePage and the Republican majority in 2011 significantly slashed public employee pensions to pay for income tax breaks mostly benefiting the wealthy and corporations.

That plan froze cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments on pensions for three years and reduced the maximum COLA from 4% to 3%. Additionally, that 3% COLA boost was limited to only the first $20,000 of benefits the retirees receive. (The cap has since been adjusted to about $24,000).

The cuts have made state employees incredibly disadvantaged in retirement. Those who received pensions don’t pay into Social Security, meaning they are entirely dependent on their pensions when they retire. COLA is currently 8.7% for Social Security benefits, compared to 3% for Maine’s public employees. 

In a unanimous report to the legislature’s budget-writing committee, Democrats and Republicans on the Labor and Housing Committee recommended action to address that issue. The committee put forward two possible policy prescriptions that could help lower retirees’ expenses.

LD 112, sponsored by Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast), a retired music teacher, would require the state to pay 60% of former teachers’ health premiums. LD 111, put forward by Rep. Dan Shagoury (D-Hallowell), would similarly require the state to cover the cost of Medicare Part B for former teachers and public employees. 

Those bills are considered narrower fixes to the problem, with the committee acknowledging in its report that the measures are not “all-inclusive solutions” but will “help alleviate the pain that retirees have been feeling” since the changes made by LePage in 2011. 

A more expansive bill, LD 70, sponsored by Dodge, would eliminate the $24,000 cap on the portion of benefit subject to COLA to instead cover the entire benefit received. However, the Labor and Housing Committee said the bill would cost nearly $1.2 billion and noted that the Maine Constitution does not allow for the creation of new benefits unless they’re immediately and fully funded. 

Still, given the state’s projected revenue surpluses of $282.8 million for fiscal year 2023 and $488.6 million for 2024 and 2025, retired public workers and their advocates say lawmakers need to do what they can this budget cycle to help fill the hole dug by LePage and Republicans a decade ago.

The Labor and Housing Committee agreed that action to address the issue is needed, and lawmakers on the panel expressed “frustration and disappointment that the proposed [Mills administration] budget does not address retiree pension cost-of-living adjustments.” 

Labor advocates reacted positively to the committee’s recommendation, with the AFL-CIO praising Democrats and Republicans on the committee for “coming to a bipartisan agreement to support public employees.” 

Members of the committee were also excited by the unanimous report. 

“Grateful to my colleagues in the Labor and Housing Committee for coming together on this issue,” Rep. Amy Roeder (D-Bangor), the House chair of the committee, said. “While our committee members may not always see eye to eye on policy, we are committed to thoughtful, respectful dialogue around policy. Love that this was a point of agreement.” 

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

Wabanaki Tribes make case for self-determination in historic address before legislature / By Dan Neumann

Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis addresses Maine lawmakers in the State of the Tribes.

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 16, 2023

For the first time in state history, leaders of all the Wabanaki Nations addressed both chambers of the Maine State Legislature on Thursday. They called for recognition in law and policy of Wabanaki inherent sovereignty. 

Underscoring a rift between the tribes and Gov. Janet Mills on the issue of tribal self-determination, the Democratic governor was not in attendance. In contrast, Congressman Jared Golden, a Democrat from Lewiston who sponsored federal legislation to give the tribes more rights, listened to the address from the floor of the Maine House. 

“The blood sweat and tears of our ancestors run through this land and it will continue to do so for generations to come,” Penobscot Chief Kirk Francis said as part of a State of the Tribes address. “We are not going anywhere. All we want is for the state government to break decisively from the past and join the era of self-determination for tribal nations that has proven so successful throughout the rest of the country.” 

“We are capable of self-governance and should be treated as partners rather than threats to the future of the state,” Francis added. “We want a relationship with the state government that is based on mutual trust, fidelity and respect.”

The tribal leaders’ remarks marked only the second time such an address was made to a full assembly of Maine lawmakers, the first being 2002. Thursday’s address was the first attended by leaders of all of the Wabanaki Nations in Maine — the Penobscot, Maliseet, Mi’kmaq and Passamaquoddy tribes at Sipayik and Indian Township. 

Hundreds of supporters were in attendance at the Maine State House, many watching the address on televisions in spill-over rooms. 

Supporters watch the State of the Tribes address in a spill-over room at the Maine State House. | Beacon

“We’re asking to be put on the same footing as the 570 federally recognized tribes across the country,” Mi’kmaq Chief Edward Peter Paul said. “Those tribes are subjected to federal Indian laws passed by Congress. We’re asking to be treated fairly.”

A multi-year legislative effort to overhaul the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, which was opposed by Mills and Attorney General Aaron Frey, passed both chambers before it died in the legislature’s budget-making committee last year. That legislation, pushed for by the tribes and their allies, would have altered tribal-state relations on matters from taxation to gambling to wildlife management by overhauling the Settlement Act, which has excluded the tribes from rights and protections created through federal law since its passage over 40 years ago.

Mills’ office told reporters before the address that she would not attend due to a scheduling conflict, though her office did not specify what that conflict was.

Mills has opposed the push for full recognition of Wabanaki sovereignty since taking office in 2019. As Maine’s former attorney general, Mills also opposed the tribes in court during some of the legal battles over tribal rights that led to the current stalemate. 

Mills has brokered some compromises with the tribes in recent years, including signing her own bill, which allows tribes to run online sports betting markets, and another to address the water crisis at the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Reservation. But she has pushed back against adopting all 22 recommendations made by the Maine Indian Land Claims Task Force.

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), the sponsor of the previous tribal sovereignty bill, has submitted new legislation this session, LR 1184, which would again attempt to implement the recommendations of the task force, though details have yet to be released. The bill is a top priority for the tribes this session. 

“Our success is your success,” said Clarissa Sabattis, chief of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. “As a result of this unchanging law, we have become outliers in Indian Country, economically underperforming when compared to tribes across the continental U.S.” 

Sabattis was referring to a report by the Harvard Kennedy School released late last year that found that while economic growth in Indian Country has boomed since the start of genuine tribal self-government in the late 1980s, Wabanaki Nations have been left out of these benefits as a result of the Settlement Act.

“With that,” she added, “I’d like to say I look forward to our continued partnership and forging a new path forward that is not only better for our tribe, but is also better for this great state that we all call home.” 

At the federal level, Golden sponsored a bill that would have allowed the Wabanaki access to all future federal legislation passed on behalf of tribes. That federal legislation, which Mills lobbied against, died in December when it was not included in a congressional budget deal due to opposition from Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Republican Sen. Susan Collins. 

Golden received applause from state lawmakers when thanked by tribal leaders for sponsoring the legislation.

Rena Newell, chief of the Passamaquoddy reservation at Sipayik and the tribe’s former representative in the Maine House, expressed optimism about the tribes’ relationship with lawmakers. 

“Over these past four years, the Wabanaki Nations and the legislature have seen growing momentum with respect to collaborative policymaking and relationship building,” she said. “Today is a sign that our momentum will only increase and, for this reason, I am excited for what the future holds for Wabanaki-state relations.”

Tribal leaders emphasized on Thursday that lawmakers have a chance to advance tribal sovereignty this year. To overcome a likely Mills’ veto, however, two-thirds of the legislature would have to favor the legislation, which means gaining Republican support will be a major part of the tribes’ strategy this session.

House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, a Republican representing Winter Harbor, has expressed some support for tribal priorities. In January, Faulkingham traveled with Talbot Ross and House Majority Leader Maureen Terry (D-Gorham) to Indian Island in the Penobscot Nation to meet with tribal leaders. 

Democratic leaders pledged to rectify the failures of past legislatures after the address.

“Symbolic gestures do not right decades, if not centuries, of wrong. They do not erase the ugly and deeply painful history regarding the state’s treatment of the Wabanaki Tribes, nor do they make up for the legacy of empty promises and their consequences,” Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) said in a statement.

Talbot Ross echoed Jackson: “By no means does the State of the Tribes address forgive a shameful history of pain and tragedy, discrimination and injustice,” she said in a statement. “However, it can signify an enduring commitment to perform the critical work of reflection, understanding, and collaboration in order to continue to heal past wrongs and work towards a more just and equitable future.”

William Nicholas, chief of the Passamaquoddy reservation at Indian Township, closed his remarks on Thursday calling on lawmakers to come together to form a veto-proof majority.

“Almost every treaty made has been broken, modified or interpreted to benefit the state. We must come together to make some positive, inclusive change,” he said. “Limited sovereignty is not sovereignty. The opportunity to address the unfair treatment that Maine tribes have received since 1980 can be worked on and end with this legislative body of leaders.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at


Lawmakers learn how denying sovereignty has restricted tribes’ economic growth / by Dan Neumann

Supporters attend a rally in support of Wabanaki tribal sovereignty in 2022. | Beacon

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 9, 2023

A researcher from Harvard Kennedy School presented data to the Maine State Legislature showing that the state’s restrictions on the Wabanaki Nations’ self-determination has hobbled the tribes’ economic development. 

“[The Wabanki tribes] are far underperforming the average and, in fact, are at the bottom of the barrel economically,” Professor Joseph Kalt, head of the Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, said from the floor of the Maine House on Thursday. “The fact that they’re not only all doing relatively poorly but very close to the bottom is telling you something important.”

As Beacon previously reported, Kalt and a research team released a study in December that found that while economic growth in Indian Country has boomed since the start of genuine tribal self-government in the late 1980s, Wabanaki Nations have been left out of this progress.

Average per capita incomes among the 9,546 citizens of the Wabanaki Nations in Maine — Maliseet, Mi’kmaq, Passamaquoddy and Penobscot — has only increased by 9% since 1980, compared to 61% for members of the tribal reservations outside of Maine. The average Maine income grew 25% during the same period.

Harvard Kennedy School professor Joseph Kalt presents to the Maine State Legislature. | Beacon

Kalt also said that employment numbers among all four Wabanaki Nations is only about one-quarter that of similarly sized tribes. And rates of child poverty are far higher among the Wabanki tribes. The average rate is 40.2% at Passamaquoddy’s Indian Township and 76.9% for children in Mi’kmaq Nation, while 15.1% for the rest of the state. 

Kalt indicated that these disparities are largely the result of the restrictions of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 (MICSA), which has excluded the tribes from rights and protections created through federal law since its passage over 40 years ago.

“What do each one of these tribes share?” Kalt asked lawmakers. “What they share is MICSA, which allows the state of Maine either actually or potentially to block the application of federal policies adopted since 1980, which is the era of self-government.”

Kalt’s research focused on the economic impacts of legislation that ushered in what tribal scholars call the “Self-Determination Era,” which began with the the 1975 passage of the Indian Self-Determination and Educational Assistance Act and continued with the 1989 signing of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, which freed tribal governments to decide to operate gaming enterprises within tribal nations.

While gaming played a significant role in the economic growth in tribal communities across the country over the last three decades, Kalt stressed that self-determination facilitated tribal expansion into diversified industries. That has been key to their economic development.

“It’s not just casinos,” he said. “It’s self governance that has resulted in diversified economies in Indian Country.” 

Kalt further explained that if the 1980 Settlement Act were amended and the Wabanaki tribes rose to the national average, Maine could expect to see an increase of $320 million to the state’s GDP.

A multi-year legislative effort to overhaul the Settlement Act died in the legislature’s budget-making committee last year. The reforms, pushed for by the tribes and their allies, would have altered tribal-state relations on matters from taxation to gambling to wildlife management. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills opposed the legislation, as did Attorney General Aaron Frey, and instead passed a compromise that will allow the tribes exclusive control of online sports betting markets.

At the federal level, Democratic Rep. Jared Golden sponsored a bill that would have allowed the Wabanaki access to all future federal legislation passed on behalf of tribes. That legislation died in December when it was not included in a congressional budget deal due to opposition from Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Republican Sen. Susan Collins. 

House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland), the sponsor of the previous tribal sovereignty bill, has submitted new legislation this session, although it remains to be seen exactly what that measure will contain. 

As the Wabanaki continue their campaign for self-determination, Kalt said that sovereignty has produced multiple benefits for tribes beyond the economic realm.  

“What’s happening in these communities under self-government is they’re starting to see recovery of language, recovery of culture. What’s happening?” he asked lawmakers. “Well, everybody knows when you read about what causes suicide, it is a lack of a sense of agency. Your life seems out of your control. What self-determination and self-governance has done for tribes is start to turn things around. What self-determination restores is a sense of agency, a sense of control, and it produces more and more success stories.”

In a statement after the presentation, Maulian Dana, tribal ambassador for the Penobscot Nation and president of the Wabanaki Alliance, said Kalt offered persuasive evidence that policies encouraging tribal self-determination have been “an amazing success story” among tribal communities across the country, including many that are located in rural areas.

“Maine is the outlier, and, as Dr. Kalt showed lawmakers today, it’s due to the obstacles MICSA places on the Wabanaki Nations,” Dana said. “It doesn’t have to be that way. A better story than the one we’ve seen over the past 40 years is possible.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at

Lawmakers, advocates push for enhanced tenant protections amid statewide housing crisis / by Evan Popp

Advocates rally outside the State House for affordable housing | Beacon

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 10, 2023

A broad coalition of lawmakers and advocates are pushing for bills that would reform Maine’s housing laws by preventing discrimination against a tenant for a prior eviction and raising notice requirements landlords must give for rent increases — two measures among a slate of legislation to address the state’s affordable housing crisis. 

The bills were heard at a public hearing Thursday before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. One of the measures, LD 557, sponsored by Rep. Ambureen Rana (D-Bangor), would bar landlords from asking people about any previous evictions and from using a potential tenant’s eviction history as a basis for denial. The other bill, LD 701, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kessler (D-South Portland), would raise the notice that landlords have to give tenants before a rent increase from 45 days to 90 days. Following Thursday’s hearing, the measures will be voted on by the Judiciary Committee at a later date. 

The bills come as Maine remains in the grips of an affordable housing crisis. As Beacon previously reported, 40% of Maine renters are considered cost-burdened by rent, homelessness has increased and there is still a shortage of about 20,000 affordable housing units in the state.

Preventing discrimination based on evictions

Rana’s bill is co-sponsored by a series of other lawmakers, most of them Democrats. The measure received support from a variety of advocates during Thursday’s hearing but was also met with fierce resistance from landlords and industry groups. 

In support of the bill, Frank D’Alessandro, legal services director for Maine Equal Justice, told lawmakers that evictions fall hardest on certain types of people. He said women and people of color, along with tenants with children, are disproportionately more likely to be evicted than other groups. By passing LD 557, D’Alessandro said lawmakers can ensure that such individuals are not punished again and again in their housing search for having been evicted. 

Meagan Sway, policy director for the ACLU of Maine, also submitted testimony in favor of Rana’s bill. Sway pointed out that the state is in the midst of a surge in evictions, with that number increasing 27% in 2022 over the previous year. LD 557 could help alleviate some of the struggle for people who are evicted, Sway said. 

“An eviction filing, regardless of the outcome of the case, follows a renter for years. For many tenants, eviction can have a domino effect of devastating consequences, including job loss, health issues, marital hardship and even homelessness. This bill would help ensure that a history of eviction does not have quite such a devastating effect and does not prevent marginalized populations from securing housing,” Sway said. 

Another supporter of the bill, Michael Beck, told lawmakers his story of being evicted as a way to illustrate why LD 557 is so important. Beck said in 2014, he and his family moved to a rental property in Georgia, which had numerous issues, some of which were never addressed by property managers despite frequent requests. Beck said he and his family notified the company of their intent to withhold rent until the issues were resolved, only to be served with an eviction filing. They eventually came to a deal in which Beck and his family were let out of the lease and the eviction case was dropped. However, because the company had filed for eviction, that notice followed Beck and his family around as they tried to look for other housing, making the process much more difficult. 

“The outcome of the filing didn’t matter to prospective landlords. We had a recent eviction on our record — that’s all they needed to know,” he said, explaining that his family was denied housing again and again. He said that his case shows eviction filings are subjective and that no two cases are the same. 

Unsurprisingly, LD 557 received an array of pushback from landlords and housing industry interests. The Maine Association of Realtors testified against the bill, arguing that eviction histories are a critical data point that serve to “protect the safety of existing tenants” and allow property owners to “safeguard their assets.” 

James Ernst, manager of Sherwood Properties, also said screening tenants by looking at eviction data and other factors is “crucial for landlords to find good tenants and maintain good properties.” Ernst also claimed that “tenants who have been evicted are not good people to rent to,” although he acknowledged that most evictions are because of financial reasons.

Increasing notice for rent hikes

The other housing bill before the committee Thursday was Kessler’s measure to double the notice period landlords must provide tenants for rent increases. In his testimony, Kessler noted that rents in Maine have skyrocketed recently, with more than half of Maine renters experiencing price hikes during the past year.

Given the scope of Maine’s housing crisis, Kessler said Mainers deserve time to make significant decisions about their housing in the face of rent increases. 

“We know that stable housing is foundational to the health of our citizens,” he said. “The reality on the ground is that with just 45 days, folks … are likely to make a decision that puts them and their children in a worse situation than they were in before. Ninety days is simply the minimum amount of time it takes to sort these things out.” 

Cheryl Harkins, an advocate with the group Homeless Voices for Justice, submitted testimony in favor of the measure. Harkins highlighted the challenges posed to tenants and urged lawmakers to provide people with more time to figure out situations such as a rent increase. 

“The current notification time of 45 days for a rental increase is not sufficient in this current fiscal atmosphere,” she said. “A time of 90 days will give the tenant the time to shuffle budgets and to find extra employment if need be. The 90-day notice time would allow the tenant to find the extra money necessary to ensure the stability of their home.” 

Like Rana’s bill, Kessler’s measure received pushback from many in the housing industry. One such opponent, the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association, said the measure could cost landlords money. The group added that many of the organization’s landlords have said that if Kessler’s bill passes, in order to meet expenses “they will not be willing to negotiate lower move in costs, lower monthly rent (which many currently do to get or keep a good tenant), will spend less on unnecessary improvements, and will increase their consideration to get out of the business by selling and recouping the equity they have built over the years of ownership.”

However, not all property management groups feel that way. Debora Keller of Bath Housing, which owns and operates 175 apartments, submitted testimony in support of the measure.  

“We wholeheartedly support LD 701. It is a reasonable and fair step — albeit a small step — to give tenants a chance to plan in the face of a rent increase,” Keller said. “And we see no negative impacts on a landlord. In fact, it allows the landlord to plan ahead as well.” 

She said the company consulted with landlords and landlord representatives it works with about the bill and found that they agreed the measure would have “no detrimental impact on landlords.” 

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

Workers condemn King’s proposal to raise the Social Security retirement age / by Dan Neumann

Sen. Angus King in the U.S. Capitol in 2021. | Anna Moneymaker, Getty

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on March 2, 2023

One of the state’s biggest unions said its members are deeply concerned about a proposal floated by independent Sen. Angus King and a group of Senate Republicans to slash Social Security benefits by raising the retirement age to 70. 

“Social Security is a critical lifeline for working-class people and we strongly condemn any action to cut it, including raising the retirement age,” said Andy O’Brien, communications director for the Maine AFL-CIO, which represents more than 40,000 workers and retirees across the state. “While the rich in this country are living longer than ever, the disparity in life expectancy between the haves and have nots is getting worse. These proposals would significantly harm working class, low-income, Black and Indigenous people, who on average have much lower life expectancy rates than wealthy Americans.”

O’Brien added, “The labor movement is closely watching this debate in Congress and we will vigorously defend our retirement security against any attacks.”

Semafor reported on Tuesday that King is in talks with a group of Republican senators led by Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy to formulate a bill that could include raising the Social Security retirement age from 67 to 70. 

Other policy considerations reportedly being discussed include tweaking a benefits formula to take into account the amount of years a person has worked, and expanding the program’s ability to invest in private stocks, rather than the current trust fund model. 

Spokespersons for King and Cassidy said the focus of the negotiations is to keep the Social Security trust fund from going insolvent in nine years. The looming insolvency is spurred by a combination of Social Security payroll taxes dropping during the pandemic and retiring Baby Boomers expanding the number of beneficiaries.

But Republicans’ sincerity about fixing the solvency issues is in dispute.

The timing of the talks between King and Republicans is prompted by the need for Congress to strike a deal on raising the debt ceiling, which Republicans have previously threatened to take hostage to force cuts to Social Security.

For example, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has proposed waiving Social Security payroll taxes altogether as a way to keep people in the labor force longer and combat a tight labor market. 

“The lawmakers claim that they’re looking at benefit cuts and reforms due to concern over the solvency of Social Security — though Republicans have been clear that their intentions are to slash benefits and force people to depend on work to survive for even longer into old age,” Truthout reported.

The reporting on the talks between King and Senate Republicans did not include any proposals to solve the solvency issue by increasing the amount of money going into the trust fund.

On the progressive wing of the Senate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, have introduced a bill to increase retirement benefits by scrapping the income cap on the Social Security payroll tax. Currently, income over about $160,000 a year isn’t subject to the payroll tax. About 20% of current and future covered workers have earnings above the taxable maximum, according to the Social Security Administration.

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, has co-sponsored multiple bills to lift the income cap, including Connecticut Rep. John Larson’s proposal to subject those who earn more than $400,000 per year to payroll taxes and Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s bill to raise the income cap to $250,000.

“Congress must scrap the income cap allowing millionaires and billionaires to pay a Social Security tax on only $160,200 of their income,” Pingree said in a statement. 

She noted that with the cap in place, people making $1 million a year stop paying into the program by the end of February, adding: “Today, Feb. 28, actually marks the day when the wealthiest Americans stop paying into Social Security for the entire year — pretty crazy when you consider that most Mainers will be paying in until Dec. 31. As Republicans plan to cut, privatize, and even end Social Security, our best option is to sunset the cap and protect the hard-earned benefits of older Mainers.”

Spokespersons for King and Cassidy did not say whether lifting the income cap is currently a part of their talks. 

“The Social Security trust fund is going insolvent in nine years. Senators Cassidy and King have been working on a legislative solution — which has been reported in the past. The plan is not finalized,” the senators’ offices said in a joint statement.

“This is an example of two leaders trying to find a solution to a clear and foreseeable danger across party lines,” the statement continued. “Although the final framework is still taking shape, there are no cuts for Americans currently receiving Social Security benefits in our plan. Indeed, many will receive additional benefits.”

The consequences of raising the retirement age would mean deep cuts for people who claim early. Social Security allows a person to retire as early as age 62, although by taking a significant reduction in their benefits. That reduction goes up as the full retirement age is raised. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that raising the retirement age to 70 would mean a retiree at age 62 would receive only 57% of their full monthly benefit.

“Most people claim early, which means they could receive as little as half their full benefit,” CBPP reported in 2016. “Nearly half of retirement beneficiaries claim benefits at age 62. Some of these beneficiaries — especially those with lower earnings — are in poor health but don’t meet the stringent criteria for disability benefits.” 

CBPP also found that raising the retirement age hits low-income workers, disproportionately people of color, the hardest.

“Though raising the retirement age cuts everyone’s benefits roughly equally, it affects incomes unequally,” CBPP reported. “That’s because Social Security benefits make up a greater share of income for low- to middle-income retirees, as well as for minorities.”

Kelly Hayes, a contributing writer at Truthout, also noted that cuts are being proposed as American life expectancy has fallen. 

“Life expectancies are dropping and they want to raise the retirement age,” Hayes tweeted on Tuesday. “They want you to work until you’re dead, but at a certain point, no one is going to hire you. What are people without money supposed to do in this country? Die or be caged. This is an age of social disposal.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at dan(at)

Mills’ budget criticized for prioritizing funding for police and jails over mental health needs / by Dan Neumann

Image courtesy of the Maine State Prison

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on February 16, 2023

Maine’s jails and prisons are full of individuals struggling with addiction and mental health issues. At a joint legislative hearing on Tuesday, advocates expressed dismay over Gov. Janet Mills’ proposal to dramatically increase the Department of Corrections budget while allocating a fraction of that amount for mental and behavioral health.

“This year’s budget has an additional $45 million for corrections and only $3.5 million for mental health,” Jan Collins, assistant director of the Maine Prisoner Advocacy Coalition, said in testimony to the legislature’s budget committee on Tuesday.

“Jails have been begging us for a decade to provide mental health services in the community because jails are not trained or equipped for the influx of people with untreated mental health diagnoses,” she added. “There are now ten times more individuals with Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI) in prisons and jails than there are in state mental hospitals. We are pushing people to the deep end of the pool. We should not be surprised that they are drowning. Our investments should be in prevention.”

In the joint hearing hosted by the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, lawmakers took public comment on a proposed two-year budget submitted by Mills last month. 

The governor has asked lawmakers to pass a budget that provides $2.5 million to the Opioid Use Disorder Prevention and Treatment Fund and $3.7 million to the Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, housed within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. 

But those investments in treatment and harm reduction are meager when compared to the proposed increases for the Maine Department of Public Safety (DPS) and Maine Department of Corrections (MDOC). 

Mills is calling for $461 million for the MDOC, a $45 million increase from the last biennial budget, and $127 million for policing, an $80 million increase.

“The governor’s budget proposes to substantially increase the DPS’s staffing and funding, increasing the number of positions in public safety by 21.5 (from 643.5 positions to 664) and increasing DPS’s budget by more than 10%,” Maine ACLU policy director Meagan Sway said. “For too long, we have relied on the policing institutions in our country to solve challenges better suited to our healthcare, housing, and educational systems.”

‘We need to change our actions and funding priorities’

The governor’s handling of the state’s overdose crisis has drawn a mixed response from Mainers dedicated to ending the failed “War on Drugs” and transitioning the state to a public health response. That is because Mills has focused on expanding both treatment and incarceration with calls to crack down on fentanyl traffickers.

hyper-focus on fentanyl — which the governor mentioned several times in her State of the Budget address Tuesday evening — misses the point expressed by harm reduction advocates that policymakers should instead be moving to decriminalize substance use disorder to allow people to more easily access treatment. 

During her speech, Mills announced additional measures to combat the drug overdose epidemic, which saw a 13% jump in fatalities last year. She proposed doubling the number of trained people who can respond with law enforcement to calls about substance use and help get people connected to treatment. She also pitched adding 140 residential treatment and detox beds.

The call for additional treatment beds was welcomed by many in the recovery community, who note that Maine currently only has 91 beds that are allocated for detoxification from substances.

At the same time, Mills’ budget proposes to increase funding for the Long Creek Youth Development Center, the state’s last youth prison, from $16.3 million to $18.1 million, despite the fact that the number of young people incarcerated at the facility has dropped by over two-thirds in the last five years. 

MDOC Commissioner Randall Liberty said during the hearing Tuesday that the increase is necessitated by higher labor costs at the youth prison. 

The Maine ACLU urged lawmakers not to increase funding for Long Creek, citing a July 2022 conclusion by the U.S. Department of Justice that Maine unnecessarily segregates children with mental health or developmental disabilities at the facility, in psychiatric hospitals, and in residential treatment facilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Instead of increasing Long Creek’s budget, the legislature should invest these funds into community-based supports that allow families to stay together and the state to meet its legal obligations,” Sway said.

In 2021, Mills vetoed a bill to close Long Creek, calling the measure “fundamentally flawed because it forces the closure of the State’s only secure confinement option for juvenile offenders before safe and appropriate alternatives will be available.” 

Advocates warned lawmakers Tuesday that Mills’ budget proposal fails to build those alternatives to incarceration at a time when the opportunity is potentially greater than ever, given a projected budget surplus for the next fiscal year. 

“The legislature is charged with crafting a budget during a time of unprecedented opportunity and abundant resources,” Sway said. “Where you invest those resources now will determine the health of our state in the coming decade.”

Similarly, Malory Shaughnessy of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services said the budget needs to match the growing consensus that the overdose crisis is a public health problem requiring a public health solution.

“We keep saying we cannot arrest and jail our way out of a problem, but each successive budget attempts and then fails to make this shift,” she said. “We need to fundamentally shift our thinking, but more than that we need to change our actions and funding priorities to reflect our new thinking.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at

‘People are desperate:’ Budget committee encouraged to make bold investments in affordable housing / by Dan Neumann

Activists with Housing Justice Maine call on state lawmakers in 2021 to create affordable housing. | Beacon

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on February 10, 2023

As Maine lawmakers begin to draft a two-year budget, they heard Thursday from housing advocates and industry experts about the sea of Mainers struggling to afford shelter. 

“People are desperate,” Avesta development officer Nate Howes told members of the legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and Select Committee on Housing before a joint public hearing on Thursday. 

Howes explained that northern New England’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developer received 9,000 applications for the units they advertised last year. That was a 30% increase in applications from what Avesta received in 2021, and double the number they received in 2020, when housing prices began to skyrocket. Forty-three percent of the applications Avesta processed in 2022 were from residents who identified themselves as homeless.

“A recent vacancy in East Bayside received 40 complete applications in less than 24 hours,” Howes added, referring to a housing complex in Portland. “We received 1,000 applications for a recent 52-unit project in South Portland. One of our leasing specialists had to change her phone number because she was getting calls and texts in the middle of the night.”

Housing remains a top priority for lawmakers again this year. The national average home sale price has increased by 35% in less than two years. Forty percent of Maine renters are considered cost-burdened by rent, homelessness has increased and there is still a shortage of about 20,000 affordable housing units in the state.

In response, the Select Committee on Housing was formed this session to consider a host of proposals to study land use, increase housing density, mitigate the impacts of short-term rentals, and provide rental assistance. There is also a proposal to create a public developer that would maintain ownership of the housing it develops, which would be governed by the renters themselves.

Topping the list of housing priorities this session will be funding new affordable housing construction. Gov. Janet Mills’ initial budget proposal, released last month, would allocate $30 million to the Rural Affordable Rental Housing Program and the federal Low-Income Housing Credit Program — two private-public development partnerships overseen by MaineHousing, the state’s housing authority, through which they issue tax subsidies or forgivable loans to entice developers to build affordable units or refurbish old buildings.

The proposal was applauded by several private and nonprofit housing developers at the hearing on Thursday. 

Erik Jorgensen, MaineHousing’s director of government relations, said the $30 million proposed by the governor would build an estimated 250 affordable housing units. That would be on top of 87 other projects currently in the pipeline, he said, funded by the federal government and previous state allocations. 

That’s a step up from the production pace of previous years, when resources only allowed for about 180-220 affordable housing units a year to come online, and around 12 units each year for supportive housing for Maine’s unhoused population.

But Jorgensen told lawmakers that pace may fall off now that the state has spent its COVID relief funds from the federal government.

“While we’ve not yet recorded our figures for 2022, this period will, in all likelihood, be a high-water mark for our agency’s programmatic funding, which has started again to enter a period of contraction as pandemic-era special programs are winding down,” Jorgensen said.

In light of that contraction, some advocates told legislators on Thursday that the $30 million proposed by the governor is not nearly enough to address the overwhelming need for low-cost housing, and they urged lawmakers to up that total.

“While public investment is necessary to alleviate Maine’s affordable housing crisis, $30 million is insufficient to address the shortage of affordable housing,” said Josie Phillips, a budget and tax policy fellow with the Maine Center for Economic Policy.

“Housing insecurity and homelessness — driven by high costs of housing — have been repeatedly shown to endanger personal health, educational outcomes, and financial security,” Phillips continued. “Maine’s State Economist has also identified a lack of affordable housing to be one of the most significant challenges facing the state economy, particularly as it deters younger adults from migrating into the state and offsetting the aging population and declining labor force.”

Several others told lawmakers about the need to fund rental assistance for low-income Mainers. Maine’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, launched in 2020 with federal relief funds, ended in November and is no longer accepting applications. 

“I believe there is no single action to take that is more important than an improved, expanded, and fully funded rental assistance program,” said Craig Saddlemire, the development organizer for the Raise-Op Housing Cooperative, which operates 15 affordable housing units in Lewiston that are owned and managed by its residents. 

“Historically, only 25% of income-eligible households have been able to receive housing assistance, due to housing assistance programs being severely underfunded,” Saddlemire said. “This means a majority of the people who need housing assistance are facing the constant threat of eviction, homelessness, or foregoing other basic needs because they are burdened by housing costs.”

Maine Equal Justice policy advocate Ann Danforth echoed the need for rental assistance, saying many low-income and unhoused residents can’t afford to rent even a place defined as “affordable.” For example, many of the units built through the federal Low Income Tax Credit are put on the market at 60% of the area median income, which in Portland is a rent of about $1,100 per month.  

“Those most in need still cannot afford a Low Income Tax Credit unit or a Rural Affordable Rental Housing unit if it is not subsidized,” Danforth told lawmakers. “Even if the housing supply outpaces the demand, this will never drive down rental prices enough to be affordable to many of our low-income neighbors.”

Dan Neumann studied journalism at Colorado State University before beginning his career as a community newspaper reporter in Denver. He reported on the Global North’s interventions in Africa, including documentaries on climate change, international asylum policy and U.S. militarization on the continent before returning to his home state of Illinois to teach community journalism on Chicago’s West Side. He now lives in Portland. Dan can be reached at

While defending against attacks, opportunities emerge to extend trans rights in Maine / Evan Popp

Morgin Dupont, 25, a trans woman, holds up the flag for Transgender and Gender Noncomforming people at a rally for LGBTQI+ rights at Washington Square Park | Yana Paskova, Getty Images

Originally published in the Maine Beacon on January 30, 2023

With the new year has come renewed attacks on transgender kids in Maine.

The assault is coming via bills introduced by Republicans in the state legislature and in the form of campaigns by conservative activists at the local level, including those behind a recall of officials in a western Maine school district who pushed for an inclusive gender identity policy.

Still, with Democrats in control of the legislature as well as the Blaine House and some pro-LGBTQ legislation being introduced this session, advocates are hopeful that bills targeting trans kids will be defeated while measures to increase protections for transgender Mainers will become law. 

“We’re in a place of friction, but I think we’ll see our way through this,” Gia Drew, executive director of EqualityMaine, said. “So I’m positive that we’ll get through this legislative cycle, and I think we’ll end up in a better place.” 

Maine is far from the only state where policies related to trans people will be debated this session. And in some of those states, the situation is much more tenuous, as conservatives across the country have already introduced more than 100 anti-LGBTQ bills in 2023, including measures that target the safety of transgender students and their access to health care. The issue has become one front of the national right-wing culture war in schools, which has particularly targeted education on racism and gender identity.

However, Drew noted that trans people have powerful allies, including in the Biden administration and many elected officials in the Maine Legislature as well as the majority of the American people.

“There is good news,” Drew said. “I know it’s hard to say that, but there is good news.” 

Legislation looks to expand trans rights

Drew said she’s excited about a number of bills this session that seek to build on gender equality measures from past legislatures. One such bill that EqualityMaine will be pushing for would allow health care settings to collect data on gender identity and sexual orientation, similar to how information for other protected categories is gathered. 

Drew said such information is important, particularly given what happened during the height of the pandemic, when health data showed that COVID-19 was impacting certain groups — such as Black Mainers — at a higher rate. However, it wasn’t possible to tell how the virus was impacting LGBTQ people, Drew pointed out. 

Another measure the group is advocating for would update Maine Department of Education regulations for schools when it comes to the Maine Human Rights Act, including for trans youth. Drew noted the regulations haven’t been updated for 18 years and that she believes that delay is part of the reason issues related to trans kids are now frequently being debated at the local level. 

“The state has not done their job to update their regulations,” Drew said. “So I think this would be really helpful for schools across the state and for kids and parents to know where they stand in terms of their rights and what schools are expected to do, what the minimum is.”  

Quinn Gormley, executive director of MaineTransNet, said she is also excited about a couple bills this session. One measure would protect MaineCare coverage for gender affirming care. Gov. Janet Mills’ administration in 2019 issued a rule requiring MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to provide such care for people. However, leaving that policy as is would make it vulnerable to being rolled back under a future Republican governor hostile to trans rights, Gormley said. As a result, advocates are looking to enshrine health coverage for trans people in statute.  

Gormley added that MaineTransNet will be supporting a couple of bills around forms and documents, pointing out that only about 30% of transgender Mainers have their legal information aligned with their gender identity. The bills the organization is pushing for would improve systems to make sure there’s a universal option for non-binary people across state forms and systems.  

Photo: A chalk drawing of the Transgender Pride Flag | MaineTransNet

Given the national environment targeting transgender people in many states, putting forward measures that create additional protections is crucial, Gormley said. 

“As much as we’re playing defense, I think we also have to be pushing bills that support trans people of all ages,” she said. “It can’t just be that we’re fighting back against this hate, it also has to be that we’re making progress and showing that there’s another side to be had here.”

Along with those bills, Rep. Laurie Osher (D-Orono) is also introducing several measures to improve health care for trans Mainers and to protect access to gender affirming care. One bill would ensure that medical professionals are trained in cultural competency in order to provide adequate care for transgender, intersex and gender diverse people and that such individuals are consulted in the creation of that training. 

In addition, Osher is proposing a sanctuary bill that says Maine wouldn’t cooperate with law enforcement from states that have banned gender affirming care who are investigating people who have sought such treatment in Maine. 

Osher said both bills are based on measures successfully passed in California, adding that she has been in conversation with advocates from groups such as EqualityMaine and MaineTransNet about the legislation.  

“We want all citizens in Maine, all people in Maine, to be treated with dignity,” Osher said. “The bills I’ve put in are about treating people with dignity who have been marginalized and treated poorly … in other states. We don’t want Maine to be one of those states.” 

Challenges remain 

Still, despite the opportunity to make progress on trans rights this session, advocates must also defend against a series of bill titles put forward by Republicans that appear designed to roll back protections for LGBTQ people.

One of those measures, Gormley said, is “An Act to Eliminate Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion from School Curricula,” sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Adams (R-Lebanon). Measures seeking to curb education about diversity and inclusion are typically targeted at teaching about race and gender identity. 

Adams has also introduced a bill title that Gormley said likely seeks to ban transgender women and girls from participating in school sports in accordance with their gender identity, a retread of a pair of Republican-led measures that lawmakers voted down last session.  

In addition, there are various measures aimed at creating a parental bill of rights, an idea floated by Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage during his 2022 campaign. At a press conference introducing the policy, LePage featured a parent complaining about education on gender identity in schools. 

Another bill proposal, put forward by Rep. Katrina Smith (R-Palermo), would require parental approval for school employees to use a name or pronoun other than a child’s given name and pronouns. That legislation would be in conflict with the Maine Human Rights Act, Gormley said.

Other GOP bills include several that appear aimed at prohibiting or holding school employees liable for medical decisions for children, such as gender-affirming care, without parental approval. Drew said such measures are not based in reality, pointing out that while “schools are trying their best to support students where they are, they’re not providing gender-affirming care.” 

Gormley added that the current debate over parental rights in schools — particularly in relation to trans kids — lacks nuance. 

“An ideal situation is one where the parents are involved, of course that’s what we all want,” she said. “But there are legitimate situations where involving the parents is going to endanger the minor.” 

Photo: Beacon

Both Drew and Gormley added that they see a direct link between the plethora of anti-trans bills introduced in the legislature and the recent campaign in MSAD 17, based in Paris, that resulted in the removal of two school board members who pushed for a gender-inclusive education policy. Voters in the school district earlier this month recalled school board director Sarah Otterson while fellow board member Julia Lester — Maine’s second openly-trans elected official — resigned before the vote. 

Lester and Otterson were targeted over their support for a policy designed to foster a school environment that supported students of all gender identities and gave students the option to talk about their identity with adults at school, with the understanding that such conversations would remain private.  

Drew said she is disappointed by the result of the recall election and said it shows how the issue of trans rights has been politicized. 

“This is a concerted, organized national movement to remove LGBTQ people — especially transgender people and kids and adults who support LGBTQ people — from public schools, from being teachers, from after-school programs,” she said.

Gormley also pointed out that one of the leading advocates of the MSAD 17 recall effort, Republican Rep. John Andrews of Paris, has put forward several bills that worry her, including a measure to allow for the recall of municipal elected officials for any reason — a possible attempt to replicate what happened in Paris around the state. 

The anti-trans measures put forward by Republicans are unlikely to pass Maine’s Democratic-controlled legislature. Still, Gormley said the bills can do lasting damage to trans people, and youth in particular, who are forced to see their very identity questioned and delegitimized by certain elected officials. 

“I still hope that at some point in my life, I will be able to know a generation of queer and trans kids who don’t know what it feels like to have their existence debated in the legislature,” Gormley said. “It hasn’t happened yet. I think we’re going to defeat these — we’ve defeated most of them before. But the debate does real harm.” 

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