Eliminating the Subminimum Wage for People with Disabilities

On January 22, the Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on a measure (LD 1874) that would repeal a longstanding law that allows employers to pay less than the minimum wage to people with disabilities. Under federal law, employers are able to obtain a special certificate from the Department of Labor that allows them to pay workers with disabilities a subminimum wage. However, in recent years, disability rights activists have been pushing to repeal the law, arguing that it constitutes pay discrimination.

Last summer the U.S. House of Representatives voted 231 to 199 to phase out the subminimum wage for workers with disability in a bill that would incrementally increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. But it’s unlikely the proposal will go anywhere with a Republican-run Senate. So far seven states, including New Hampshire, have rolled back the subminimum wage.

Raising the Minimum Wage for School Support Staff

It’s well known that Maine has some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, with starting pay lagging $5,000 below the national average of $39,249. Last year Governor Janet Mills signed a budget that gradually increases teacher starting pay to $40,000 over the next three years. On January 29, Rep. Ben Collings (D-Portland) will present a bill (LD 1965) to the Labor and Housing Committee that would create a $16 per hour minimum wage for school support staff.

ATV Task Force to Present Recommendations

Riding all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) is a popular activity in rural Maine, but relations between riders and private landowners are often strained due to riders failing to get landowner permission and environmental damage caused by ATVs.

Last year, the Legislature formed a special 14-member task force made up of landowners, farmers, government agencies, ATV owners and retailers, and snowmobile clubs to look at expanding the 6,000-mile ATV trail system and come up with recommendations to deal with trail maintenance and standards, landowner relations and other issues.

On January 27, the ATV task force will report its findings to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, which will develop legislation based on the task force recommendations. In its report, the task force suggests limiting the size and weight of ATVs, creating a standardized annual trail inspection process, and equalizing fees, among other proposals.

Changing the Rules Around Bear Hunting

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will also consider a bill (LD 1118) on January 27 that would allow the Commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to unilaterally establish bear hunting and trapping season dates by rule. The measure, which is sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis County), would also reduce the costs of bear hunting and trapping permits from $27 to $10 and repeal the two-bear limit in statute. The bill comes as part of the recommendations of the Big Game Species Working Group.

Last year, James Cote of the Maine Trappers Association argued in testimony that bear seasons and bag limits should be regulated consistently with most other game species — through rule and not by statute.

“Allowing seasons and bag limits to be regulated by rule gives the Department more tools to meet goals identified in the new Big Game Plan, and also a greater ability to be responsive to societal needs and concerns,” he wrote.

However, animal welfare groups opposed the bill out of concern that it could allow the department to drastically lengthen the bear hunting season. Katie Hansberry of the Humane Society of the United States argued that the state’s wildlife management policymaking process should include a more broad representation of Maine citizens, rather than just sportsmen.

“This legislation would essentially turn control over Maine’s bear season from the legislature to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife,” she wrote. “Yet the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Advisory Council is currently made up entirely of hunters and anglers, even though those groups represent only a small percentage of Maine citizens.… The potential for an expansion of the season is also problematic with respect to trapping as bear are already subjected to this cruel, unsporting practice for two full months.”

Free Well Testing Bill

Rep. Lori Gramlich (D-Old Orchard Beach) will introduce a bill on January 27 that would require the state to offer free well water testing to low-income residents. The measure, which will be heard by the Health and Human Services Committee, would also require the state to review recent research regarding arsenic toxicity and levels suitable for consumption. It would also revise the state’s maximum contaminant level standards for arsenic to be consistent with that research.

Committee to Hear Several Bills Addressing Marijuana Regulation

As Maine finally gears up for legalizing the sale of retail adult-use marijuana in March, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hear several bills on January 27 to amend pot regulations. The state Office of Marijuana Policy is currently going through the process to finalize a rule, adopted on an emergency basis last November, that requires all adult-use marijuana products to be tested for “potency, mold and mildew, harmful microbes and filth” before it can be sold. While there are testing facilities in Maine, marijuana producers have expressed concerns that some of the proposed mandatory testing could be cost prohibitive, which could drive up prices and force weed back onto the black market.

Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox County) is proposing LD 1545, which would require that testing laws conform to the federal standards for testing tobacco. It would also allow marijuana businesses to sell their product with a label marked “untested” if a marijuana testing facility does not test the product within five days of receiving it. If the tests determine that the marijuana product exceeds the maximum level of allowable contamination, the bill directs the testing facility to immediately notify the state and quarantine the product for either remediation and retesting or destruction by state regulators.

Miramant will also present LD 999, which would allow marijuana retailers to sell both adult-use and medical marijuana products as long as they use different cash registers for the two different classifications. Then Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook County) will present LD 1621 that would allow marijuana businesses to make home deliveries if the municipality explicitly allows it.

On the same day, Rep. Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth) will introduce LD 1432, which would repeal residency requirements for running adult-use marijuana businesses. It would also allow medical marijuana dispensaries and caregivers to reclassify their products as adult-use marijuana to sell to recreational users. Rep. Colleen Madigan (D-Waterville) will then present LD 1444, which would shorten the distance marijuana businesses can be from schools from 1,000 feet to 300 feet.

California Negative “Deepfake” Ad Bill

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will take up a bill (LD 1988) on January 29 that would prohibit the intentional the dissemination of deceptive videos or audio with the “intent to injure” a political candidate’s reputation or to “deceive a voter into voting for or against the candidate” within 60 days of an election. The bill states that the law would apply to recordings of candidates that are “intentionally manipulated” in a way that would cause voters to have a “fundamentally different understanding or impression of the video or audio content than the person would have if the image or recording was unaltered.” The bill would exempt content meant to be satire and parody.

The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland County), is based on a controversial California law meant to prevent so-called “deepfake” videos from influencing elections. As The Verge reports, lawmakers have raised concerns about these deepfake videos, particularly after one slowed-down video that made it appear House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was drunk emerged last year. However, the California law has come under fire by the American Civil Liberties Union, which told the Associated Press that it would “only result in voter confusion, malicious litigation, and repression of free speech.”

Reimbursing Parents for Caring for Disabled Children

On January 28, the Health and Human Services Committee will take up a bill (LD 1936) that would allow parents to be reimbursed by the state for in-home personal care services provided to their child with disabilities. The measure, which is sponsored by Rep. Tina Riley (D-Jay), would require that parents register as a personal care agency to be eligible for reimbursement and the child must qualify for MaineCare.

Storing Excess Renewable Energy As Methane Gas

One of the biggest barriers to converting our electricity generation fleet to 100-percent renewable energy is that wind and solar power are intermittent and there is not a battery on the market with enough capacity to store the excess power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing hard. However, Germany has been a pioneer in converting wind and solar to methane gas for storage, which is showing great promise. Here in Maine, lawmakers are also looking into the possibility of creating similar energy-to-gas pilot projects.

Rep. Tina Riley (D-Jay) will present a bill to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on January 28 that would direct the Public Utilities Commission to create a pilot project that would convert excess renewable energy into methane gas to store it for future use. The bill would allow for up to three energy-to-gas facilities of up to 10 megawatts in production capacity.

Requiring Permission for Pelvic Exams

On January 28, Rep. Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) will present a bill (LD 1948) that would require medical students to obtain informed consent before performing a pelvic exam on an anesthetized or unconscious patient. The measure — which will be heard by the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee — would provide an exception if the examination is required for diagnostic purposes, is medically necessary or is within the scope of a procedure or examination for which the patient has already consented. Doudera said she decided to submit the bill after reading that it was once common practice to perform pelvic exams on unconscious patients “for teaching purposes.”

“I have met with a few hospital administrators and am in touch with the Maine Medical Association, but it’s very difficult to know how often this is still happening,” wrote Doudera in an email. “ I believe that our teaching hospitals throughout the state have best practices in mind as far as informed consent procedures go, but I’ve also discovered that there are many differing informed consent procedures in play, and not all of them deal with this issue.”

Allowing Leave from Work for Domestic Violence Survivors

The Labor and Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill (LD 2015) that would require employers to permit employees to take paid or unpaid leave from work if they are victims of domestic violence. The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick), would apply to employees who are seeking law enforcement assistance, medical care for injuries, shelter, legal services or other services related to the crime.

Banning Fireworks in a Shoreland Zone

Ever since fireworks were legalized in Maine back in 2011, residents have often complained about inconsiderate neighbors firing them off late at night, spooking animals and polluting water with debris. While attempts to repeal the law have failed, Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond) has a more narrowly focused bill (LD 1942) that would ban the use of fireworks just in shoreland zones with the exception of July Fourth, New Year’s Eve, Labor Day and Memorial Day. The proposal will be heard by the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the timeline for Maine's adoption of marijuana testing rules, which took effect on an emergency basis November 22, 2019 with the requirement that they be finalized within 90 days.