(Illustration by Dan Kirchoff)
(Illustration by Dan Kirchoff)
Ending the War on Hedgehogs

Tuesday, January 31, will be a big day for the Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Committee as it considers a handful of bills regarding exotic pets, hunting safety requirements and turkey hunting. LD 35, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin Cty.), would allow individuals to import and possess hedgehogs without a special exotic animal permit. The process for adopting a hedgehog in Maine is lengthy, and the cost to secure permits is about $50. According to the website “Hedgehog Central,” Maine is one of eight states where possession of the prickly little creatures is either illegal or severely restricted. Pennsylvania, the website notes, has declared an “all out war on hedgehogs” and “breeders’ homes have been raided and their hedgehogs confiscated with all of the zeal of a major drug bust.”  Supporters of the laws argue that hedgehogs may carry foot-and-mouth disease, which can be spread to cloven-hoofed animals, although other studies indicate that the creatures are resistant to the disease and don’t pass it to other animals.

On the same day, Rep. Raymond Wallace (R-Dexter) will present LD 52, which would allow veterans of Armed Forces to receive a hunting license without taking a hunter’s safety course. And Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis Cty.) has submitted LD 98, which would eliminate the requirement to apply for a permit to hunt wild turkeys. The bill would also increase the number of wild turkeys a person may take during the spring season from two to three males and two to three of either sex over both seasons if shot in the fall. LD 98 would also allow hunters to register wild turkeys electronically or by telephone.

Firearms for Forest Rangers, Rules for Foragers

For years, forest rangers, who are essentially law enforcement officers for the woodlands, have complained that their jobs are becoming increasingly dangerous and they want to be able to carry guns on the job. Currently forest rangers carry pepper spray and handcuffs, and last year the Legislature passed a law to issue them ballistic vests. However, efforts to arm wardens have been thwarted by Gov. Paul LePage, who stated in a 2014 veto letter that he doesn’t want to pay for the necessary firearms training the policy would require. This year, Rep. William Tuell (R-East Machias) has sponsored LD 8, which would prevent the state from prohibiting forest rangers from carrying personal concealed firearms for the ranger’s protection while on duty. The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will hear the bill on January 31.

Also on Tuesday, Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin Cty.) heads to the Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry Committee to present LD 128, which would require anyone harvesting edible wild food, like fiddleheads and mushrooms, to have written permission from a landowner before harvesting on private property. The bill would apply the same requirements for wild food as the laws that exist for commercial harvesting of Christmas trees and boughs for wreaths. It would also revoke certification under the Maine Wild Mushroom Harvesting Certification Program of any person found in violation of the prohibition.

Ham Radio Operators vs. Pot Growers

With more and more states legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, amateur radio enthusiasts have been complaining that the increased use of grow-light ballasts has been interfering with shortwave radio transmissions. According to the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), these large grow lights can cause interference from up to 1,000 feet away, blocking ham and AM spectrums in violation of Federal Communications Commission rules. While this trend has been handy for police in tracking down illegal growing operations, it’s gotten so bad for radio enthusiasts that ARRL has filed a formal complaint to the FCC on behalf of the country’s 720,000 licensed ham radio operators.

On January 31, the Energy Utilities & Technology Committee will  have a front-row seat in the showdown between ham radio hobbyists and marijuana growers as it hears LD 58, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kinney (R-Limington), which would limit the use of any grow-light ballast that does not comply with FCC rules and that interferes with shortwave radio transmissions.

A Time Zone Change for Maine?

Enduring several months of bleak darkness, and the seasonal depression that comes with it, has always been the price we pay for living in Maine. But Rep. Kathleen Dillingham (R-Oxford) is hoping to help provide a little more light in the winter day with LD 71, which would move Maine from Eastern Standard Time to Atlantic Standard Time (AST) along with Maritime Canada and Puerto Rico. The State and Local Committee will hear the proposal on February 1 and, if approved by the Legislature, the measure would then be put to a voter referendum.

“Switching to Atlantic Standard Time — essentially, keeping the clock an hour forward all year — wouldn’t be nearly as radical a change as it sounds,” argued Ryan Lorrain, Dillingham’s legislative aide. “As it is, we’re actually only on Eastern Standard Time for about four months per year, from early November until early March. In the spring, summer, and early fall we’re on Eastern Daylight Time, which is the same as AST.”

In 2005, a legislative committee unanimously passed a bill to allow Maine to join the Atlantic Time Zone, but it failed in the full Legislature. Last year, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a measure to explore moving to AST, while New Hampshire is currently considering adopting the change. However, by federal law, either Congress or the U.S. Department of Transportation has to sign off before any state could feasibly move ahead with the time-zone change. Where Trump stands on this one is a mystery.

The Privatization of Mental Health Treatment

For the past month, legislative Democrats and LePage have been locked in a power struggle over the governor’s plan to privatize the housing of patients with severe mental illness. The patients, most of whom have been found not criminally responsible for crimes, are currently housed at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. The governor’s proposal to pay a private company to operate a new 21-bed facility has been met with fierce opposition from Riverview employees, patients and civil liberties groups who fear the complex will be run by a private prison company with a record of mismanagement and patient mistreatment.

Gov. LePage has since pulled his plan to build the private facility in Augusta and opted to put it in Bangor because state construction projects in the Capitol area must first be approved by legislative leaders. Republican leaders are ready to hand more power to the governor with a bill that would eliminate the requirement that such projects have legislative approval. The measure, LD 25, will be heard by the State and Local Committee on February 1. 

Fireworks & Fuel Efficiency

On February 1, the State and Local Committee will also hear Rep. Mick Devin’s (D-Newcastle) second attempt to get the Legislature’s approval to allow plantations like Monhegan to ban the use of fireworks except on July 4. Although state law allows municipalities to ban fireworks, plantations need state approval first. A plantation is a designation that falls between a town and an unorganized territory. Last session, Devin submitted the same proposal, but withdrew it after it faced harsh resistance from legislators — some of whom argued that plantations should not have to ask the state to ban fireworks and others who didn’t believe plantations should exist at all. What any of these arguments had to do with the merits of the bill is unknown, but that’s sometimes how it goes in Augusta. 

In addition to consumer fireworks, Devin says he would also like to ban the use of toy cannons, as they have also reportedly been a problem on the small island. 

On the same day, Sen. Dave Miramant will present LD 93, which establishes fuel-efficiency requirements for law enforcement vehicles. Current law requires the state to prioritize fuel efficiency when purchasing cars and light-duty trucks, but exempts law enforcement from that requirement. Miramant’s proposed fuel-efficiency mandate, to be considered by the State and Local Committee, will also extend to county and municipal government purchases of cars and light-duty trucks. Meanwhile, over in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio (D-Sanford) will introduce LD 56, which would include 50-milliliter and smaller wine or spirits bottles in the returnable container deposit law.