On Wednesday, the Maine House and Senate reconvened with a couple thousand bills looming and what Gov. Paul LePage promises will be a “bear” of a biennial budget. But currently, bills are still in the drafting process, and the budget won’t be released until January 6, so they have a little lull before the storm. 

So far, Gov. LePage has been uncharacteristically civil to the incoming House and Senate, with nary a petty insult or expletive to be heard from his office since at least last month. Though for Christmas the governor sent each member a pamphlet, written for children, titled “Understanding and Appreciating the Value of Money,” which he said was to help teach them to use “common sense and watching their dollars and cents” rather than “play[ing] politics with the taxpayer’s money.” As for his New Year’s Resolution?

“Yeah, I’m not gonna call them names. I’m just gonna call ’em ‘Legislature,’” LePage told WVOM radio Tuesday. “I’m not gonna pick on any individual and, quite frankly … it’s pretty hard to fight a losing battle.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t veto most of the bills that come to his desk this session.

Nevertheless, local midcoast legislators are hopeful that they’ll find some bipartisan support for a litany of ambitious legislative proposals they’re submitting this year. Below is a rundown of some of the highlights proposed by legislators representing Waldo, Knox and Lincoln counties. Senators Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty.) and Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty.), as well as Reps. Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro), MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) and Jeff Hanley (R-Pittston) ignored requests for interviews. 

Referendums, Motor Voter & National Popular Vote

Legislators from both parties are still seething over the results of November’s election. Democrats are frustrated that Donald Trump managed to pick up enough Electoral College votes to win the presidency despite his having lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes. Republicans are bitter that voters passed the minimum-wage increase, marijuana legalization and a 3-percent surcharge tax on wealthy households. Both parties are putting in bills that could possibly prevent similar electoral disappointments in the future.

Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) and Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) are sponsoring a bill that aims to bypass the Electoral College by pledging Maine’s electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Under the “National Popular Vote” proposal, Maine would join an inter-state compact, which currently has 11 states (CA, DC, HI, IL, MA, MD, NJ, NY, RI, VT & WA) pledging 165 electoral votes. The legislation would trigger member states to cast their votes to the popular vote winner once states with 105 more electoral votes join the compact.

Miramant is also proposing a bill modeled on an Oregon law that would automatically register eligible citizens to vote when they request or renew their driver’s licenses. Under the Oregon law, driver’s license applicants are sent a letter informing them that they have 21 days to opt out from the voting rolls. So far, over 225,000 Oregon residents have been automatically registered to vote under the new law and about 100,000 of them voted in November, according to the New York Times. 

Republicans are planning to submit a number of bills to make it more difficult to put citizen referendums on the ballot. Rep. Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) has put in a concept bill that would set up a special panel to “vet” citizen referendums and make judgments on whether they are constitutional. She argued that such a commission could have better vetted ranked-choice voting (Question 4) and the marijuana legalization referendum, but did not specify whether it would have the power to veto referendums before they make it to the ballot. 

Rep. Owen Casas (I-Rockport) is proposing a constitutional amendment to lengthen the terms of House and Senate members from two years to three to four years. Casas said the current two-year terms require lawmakers to spend more time campaigning than doing legislative work and that lengthening legislative terms would save money on the Clean Elections program. Maine is currently one of only 12 states doesn’t have four-year terms for Senators, although only five states have four-year terms for House members. 

Casas and independent Rep. Kent Ackley (I-Monmouth) are also submitting a bill to allow independent voters to vote in Republican and Democratic primaries. About 37 percent of Maine voters are unaffiliated with either party, but under Maine law they must register with a party by primary day in order to vote in that party’s primary. About 23 states have so-called “open” presidential primaries, which allow independents to vote in partisan primaries without changing their affiliation. 

Firearm Background Check Bill Is Back

Last November, 52 percent of voters rejected Question 3, which would have required criminal background checks for all firearm sales. Sen. Dave Miramant and Rep. Owen Casas are hoping to revive the measure by removing the requirement that gun owners submit to a background check when borrowing a gun, which was arguably the most controversial piece of Question 3.

Miramant has also submitted a bill that will require gun owners to take a safety course, which he initially proposed last year after a Thomaston woman was accidentally shot and killed by her fiance while he was showing a gun to a prospective buyer in a parking lot in Bath. Last session the Legislature repealed the law requiring gun owners to first take a safety course and apply for a permit before carrying a concealed firearm. Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston) has also sponsored a bill to allow towns to prohibit weapons at public meetings.  

“It strikes me as odd that you go into the Court House or State House and you go through a metal detector, but someone can come into a planning board meeting irate as hell with a gun,” said Spear. 

State Bank Bill Returns

Every session since 2011, various legislators have submitted bills to establish a state-run bank and this year is no exception. Sen. Dave Miramant and Rep. Owen Casas have agreed to sponsor the measure, which would take the state’s revenue currently held in private financial institutions and deposit it in a public bank to leverage low-interest loans to small businesses, support partnership loans with community banks and fund public infrastructure projects. Miramant, who is now serving on the Transportation Committee, says a state bank would be a good way to help fund the roads, which has required a lot of bonding in recent years. 

“If we can’t get sane funding policies for the infrastructure and we’re going to borrow $150 million a whack every year or two, why shouldn’t it be in a state bank so that the interest gets paid to the state?” said Miramant.

Last session, State Treasurer Terry Hayes opposed the state bank proposal, arguing that it would “create instability in the financial sector.”

Clammers, Seaweed, Sea Level & Marine Resources

Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston) is wading into a controversial dispute between wormers and clammers with a bill to set aside 10 percent of mudflats in areas where both marine worm and clam digging would be prohibited for a certain period of time. With clam stocks plummeting due to invasive green crabs and other factors, clammers have been trying to reseed flats, but many complain that wormers disrupt their work. Spear’s proposal comes at the request of the Georges River Shellfish Management Committee, which represents the towns of St. George, Thomaston, South Thomaston, Cushing and Warren.

“They go out and seed areas and the wormers come along and dig it up,” said Spear. “Supposedly there’s studies out there that say they’re not affected, but I think this would be a chance to see if it does have some effect.”

Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) is putting in a bill to establish a “seaweed advisory council,” which would advocate on management decisions for seaweed, functioning similarly to existing councils for lobsters and shellfish. Devin, who is a marine biologist, noted that seaweed harvesting has been increasing, particularly along the coast from Rockland to the Pemaquid Peninsula. He said he is concerned about the potential of over-harvesting rockweed as it is the nursery habitat for a variety of marine species. 

Devin also has bills to direct the state to set standards for addressing sea level rise and take out a $5 million bond to map the state’s coastline. 

“We have the least-mapped coastline in New England, which in itself is very expensive to us because of insurance rates,” said Devin. “If mapping is improved, it will drop insurance rates.... And it also gives us a better idea of where to build and what’s in danger over the next several decades.”

Energy & the Environment

Devin is also sponsoring legislation to enable the establishment of community electric microgrids, which could develop more locally produced power. 

“Experience in both Europe and Vermont suggests that, when well designed, the impact of microgrids is overwhelmingly positive for all concerned — consumer, utility, grid operator, ratepayer,” says Paul Kando of Midcoast Green Collaborative, which is supporting the measure, “but it requires significant adjustments to the business model of conventional utilities built around central power generating plants.”

Kando said that since distributed power generation, such as solar photovoltaics, is increasingly cost-competitive with natural gas and coal-generated electricity, the macrogrid must be stabilized and modernized to accommodate distributed power generation and new technologies.

Both Sen. Dave Miramant and Rep. Owen Casas are also submitting bills to encourage the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles. Miramant’s bill would require that law enforcement agencies to prioritize fuel efficiency when purchasing new vehicles. Casas is proposing a concept bill to expand electric vehicle (EV) charging stations throughout the 

state. There are currently about 102 EV charging stations throughout Maine, with one in Rockland, one in Rockport and two in Camden, according to Alternative Fueling Station Locator.

Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) is sponsoring a bill to ban disposable Styrofoam containers. There are 70 communities across the country, including Portland and Freeport, that have passed Styrofoam bans. Last session, former Rep. Christine Burstein submitted the same bill, but it failed as a representative from the Department of Environmental Protection argued it would be too costly to implement. 

Rep. Walter Kumiega says he’s proposing a bill to ban the sale of furniture treated with certain fire retardants that have been shown to be hazardous to human health, particularly firefighters.

Hemp Legalization

It’s currently legal to grow industrial hemp in Maine, but only for people and organizations that hold a special state license  and federal permit. Sen. Dave Miramant is proposing a measure to loosen the regulations on the cultivation of hemp and allow all farmers to more easily grow it.

“This is going to be a boon to the state,” said Miramant. “This is a great money crop, health crop, easy-to-grow crop. It actually replenishes nutrients to the soil.”

Hemp still remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, even though levels of the psychoactive chemical THC are so low in the plant that it’s not possible to get high from smoking it. 

Drug War, Traffic Fines & Criminal Justice

Rep. James Gillway (R-Searsport) says he hopes to defray the cost of emergency services by allowing police to charge victims of overdoses for repeat calls. Gillway said he supported efforts to expand access to the overdose antidote naloxone, but that the drug has been costly, given the number of people with opiate addictions who repeatedly overdose. “We  want to help people and we want to save people, but there’s a fee attached to that service-wise,” said Gillway. He said he submitted the bill at the request of the Searsport Police. 

Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) is sponsoring legislation to establish a special day when anyone with outstanding traffic violations, with the exeption of OUIs, can pay their fines at a reduced price. Devin said his goal is to help low-income people who receive multiple fines and ultimately lose their licenses because they can’t afford to fix something on their cars. “I think that it has potential to help a lot of the poorer people in rural Maine who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Devin. 

Rep. Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) said he has a bill to prohibit convicted sex offenders from living within 750 feet of their victims. Sen. Dave Miramant says he is considering putting in a bill to allow concerned citizens to smash the windows of cars to save a young child or dog who they believe might be baking inside on a hot day. However, he said he may reconsider, given that some of those concerned citizens might exercise their new powers a little too enthusiastically. 

Paid Family Leave & Labor Issues

Rep. Owen Casas is putting in a concept bill with the aim of creating a system of paid paternity and maternity leave.  

“I highly doubt that it will be passed by this Legislature, but I think that the committee should look at it and figure out what they think is a good approach because I’m supportive of [the concept],” said Casas. 

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center study, 40 percent of all households with children under 18 include mothers who are either the sole or primary source of income for the family, compared to 11 percent in 1960. The United States is the only country among 41 nations that does not mandate paid parental leave, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Currently, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island offer paid family and medical leave, which are based on temporary disability insurance programs paid for through a payroll tax.

Rep. Casas is also hoping to address work shortages by reforming the state credentialing programs. Casas says his goal is to direct the state to accept more out-of-state certifications in order to make it easier for more skilled workers to live and work in Maine. At a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast, Maine Development Foundation CEO Yellow Light Breen said a major goal for business groups is to be “the easiest state in the country for immigrants to get their professional credentials validated and given approval and parity.”

Allowing Grocery Stores to Open on Holidays

Rep. James Gillway (R-Searsport) is taking another stab at allowing grocery stores under 10,000 square feet to remain open on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. Under current Maine law, only stores 5,000 square feet and under may stay open on major holidays. Gillway’s proposal would give municipalities the option to vote if they want to exempt grocery stores under 10,000 square feet from the state’s blue law. Gillway says he is submitting it on behalf of larger-sized independent groceries, like Tozier’s in Searsport and Wentworth’s in Northport.

The Maine Grocers Association testified neither for nor against Gillway’s last attempt to revise the law, noting that some of its members prefer to stay closed so their employees can spend time with their families. However, other members said that the grocery business is very competitive and a few more business could be very helpful. 

Naturopaths, Medicaid & Pharma Bro’s

On the health care front, Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston) is submitting a bill to expand Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act, which would provide 70,000 low-income Mainers with health coverage. Currently, activists are putting together a citizen initiative to expand Medicaid, although its future remains uncertain as President-elect Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans have vowed to repeal the ACA. Rep. Owen Casas is also submitting a bill to allow naturopathic doctors to prescribe hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone. 

Two years ago, the state enacted a law to ban “patent trolls” from making bad faith patent infringement claims against businesses who don’t pay large licensing fees for dubious patent claims. In testimony supporting the bill, the Maine Bankers Association noted one company took ownership of a certain technology patent used in automated teller machines and began alleging infringement of several patents related to the technology. The Maine law exempts pharmaceutical companies, but Devin said his aim is to repeal the exemption, which he said might have some support given last year’s news that Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli jacked up the price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750.

“I’m hoping that will wake up enough Republicans to say there’s no reason for large pharmaceutical companies to use patent law underhandedly to squash innovation, which is essentially what they do,” said Devin.

State & Municipal Government

Rep. John Spear has put in a number of bills addressing local school and municipal issues. One bill would extend the probationary period for municipal management positions, such as town managers and public works directors, from six months to a year. Spear noted that other public employees, including teachers, have much longer probationary periods and he said that six months is not long enough to make an informed judgment on an employee’s performance. 

Spear also has a bill to make public the names, addresses and application materials of superintendents of schools, city managers, town managers and county managers at the time that they’re submitted. Spear said he put the bill in because too often the public isn’t aware that an employee has a three-year contract until after they’re fired.

“The public should be more aware of what’s happening and it should be more transparent,” said Spear. “I know there’s going to be arguments that it’s going to discourage people from applying, but so be it.”

Spear is also submitting a bill in response to a civil suit brought by South Thomaston against two former town firemen alleging that $15,000 in funds donated to the South Thomaston Firemen’s Association were misappropriated. Spear said that the town’s lawyer is doing the work pro-bono, but that it ordinarily would have cost well over $15,000 in legal costs. His bill would increase the value of money eligible for small claims court from $6,000 to $15,000, which he said could save the court time and money.

Finally Rep. James Gillway says he will be supporting a measure that would limit the number of bills legislators can sponsor to just five in order to cut down on the number of frivolous bills that are heard every session. 

“I don’t think that it’ll go anywhere, but it’s a good conversation to have, and I think maybe the rules should change,” said Gillway. “Maybe we won’t end up with 3,000 bills and a third of them are just either the perennials or just absolutely don’t make sense.”