Next week, legislative committees will be holding public hearings on a range of proposals, from bills that would create a price on carbon and prepare for sea level rise to others that would move toward abolishing the Electoral College and establish a mandatory-paid-sick-leave law.

Putting a Price on Carbon

Rep. Deane Rykerson (D-Kittery) is proposing an ambitious, and certainly controversial, bill to fight climate change by putting a price on carbon pollution. LD 434, which will be heard by the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Feb. 28, would require a tax on the carbon content of fuels sold in the state. The measure would require fuel distributors to submit monthly assessments to the Public Utilities Commission. The PUC would then transfer the money to a special fund to pay utilities to reduce electricity rates for their customers “in a manner that is equitable and that provides maximum benefit to the economy of the state.”

A 10-Year Energy Independence Plan

Up on Mount Desert Island a little grassroots movement calling itself “Climate to Thrive” has come up with a vision to achieve energy independence for the region by 2030. And they’re also hoping to take it statewide. On Feb. 26, Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor) will introduce a bill (LD 658) to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee that would require the Governor’s Energy Office to adopt a 10-year energy independence plan, including conservation and renewable energy strategies, for the state to become a net exporter of energy by 2030. The proposal would also authorize the committee to report out a bill next year related to the plan.

Planning for Sea Level Rise & Shoreland Zoning

As polar ice caps melt and the warming ocean water expands, sea level rise threatens to inundate coastal communities, causing property values to plummet and costing cities and towns millions of dollars. The 2014 U.S. National Climate Change Assessment projects that global sea levels will rise by another one to four feet by 2100, but just a rise of two feet would more than triple the frequency of coastal flooding in the Northeast, even without storms, according to a study by the Island Institute.

On Feb. 27, the State and Local Committee will hear a bill that would amend the state’s growth planning and land use laws to make addressing sea level rise a top priority. LD 563, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York), would direct state, local and federal agencies to make their activities affecting the coastal area consistent with the policy of encouraging planning for sea level rise.

On March 1, Blume will also present a bill (LD 565) to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee that would establish the Maine Coastal Risks and Hazards Commission with the stated purpose of coming up with recommendations to the Legislature to address increased storm surges, extreme precipitation, projected sea level rise and increased river flooding and storm water runoff. Rep. Lori Gramlich (D-Old Orchard Beach) will then present LD 774, which would amend the state’s coastal management policies and set up a special advisory group to address the effects of coastal erosion to ensure the health of the state’s shoreline.

Blume will also introduce a measure (LD 562) to the ENR Committee that would double the maximum penalties, from $2,500 to $5,000 per day, for violations of municipal land use law and increase the maximum per day civil penalty for a specific violation of a municipal shoreland zoning ordinance occurring within an area zoned for resource protection from $5,000 to $10,000. The bill would also mandate that municipal shoreland zoning ordinances require permit applicants developing within the shoreland zone to provide preconstruction and postconstruction photographs of the shoreline vegetation and development site. And it would direct the state to provide more advanced training for code enforcement officers.

Aging In Place, Sheriff Experience & Shooting Ranges

With Maine’s rapidly aging population, one of the major challenges older Mainers face will be how to age in their homes. On Feb. 25, the State and Local Committee will hear a bill (LD 301), sponsored by Rep. Chris Babbidge (D-Kennebunk), that would make it easier for municipalities to develop policies to help older adults to age in place and to create age-friendly communities by changing the law governing comprehensive plans.

The same day, the committee will also hear LD 456, sponsored by Sen. Susan Deschambault (D-York Cty.), which would require that sheriff candidates have five years of law enforcement supervisory experience. Current law only requires that sheriffs meet basic law enforcement training and corrections standards and have five years of supervisory experience in general.

Shooting ranges have been a particularly controversial subject this session. A few weeks ago, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee (IF&W) considered a measure to shield gun clubs from laws prohibiting the discharge of firearms near homes, which was requested by a gun club in West Newfield in response to an angry neighbor. On Feb. 25, the State and Local Committee will hear another shooting range bill that could impact the same gun club. Current law prohibits municipalities from passing noise control ordinances that apply to existing gun ranges, but LD 489, sponsored by Sen. Justin Chenette (D-York Cty.), would give the commissioner of Public Safety the power to apply noise ordinances to those existing gun ranges.

Deer Minerals, Game Wardens and Cusking

Over in the IF&W Committee on Feb. 25, Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis Cty.) will present a measure (LD 638) that would allow people to place supplemental minerals for deer from March 1st to July 31st on other people’s land as long as they have permission and the product doesn’t include any grain or food. Some people put down the minerals for deer because they are good for antler development. The committee will also hear LD 650, sponsored by Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham), which would provide funding for five additional deputy game warden positions at a cost of about $400,000 over two years. And Rep. Chad Gignon (R-Athens) will introduce LD 652, which would change how often a person would be required to check cusk lines while ice fishing from at least once every hour at night to at least once every 24 hours.

WIC in Farmers Markets

Currently several farmers markets around the state, including the ones in Belfast and Damariscotta, accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds from low-income customers. On Feb. 25, Rep. Maureen Terry (D-Gorham) will present a bill to the Health and Human Services Committee that would authorize farmers’ markets to accept coupons from the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. The WIC program provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, and to children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Forcing Presidential Candidates to Release Tax Returns

In response to candidate Donald Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns during the 2016 presidential campaign, lawmakers in at least 25 states have introduced bills requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns, according to the news site Axios. Maine Democrats didn’t have success passing the last bill in 2017, but they might have better luck this time. On Feb. 25, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) will present a bill (LD 722) to the Veterans and Legal Affairs committee that would require candidates for president and vice president to disclose three years of federal tax returns in order to appear on the ballot in Maine. It would also direct the Secretary of State to post the tax returns on the state website.

In testifying for a similar bill in 2017, Berry noted that every major party nominee for president since Nixon had provided that information voluntarily, until the last election.

“For four decades, this unwritten rule of tax transparency has provided an important check against potential conflicts of interest in our increasingly fast-moving, globalized, and at times dangerous world,” wrote Berry. “The high stakes of global geopolitics, whether in the Middle East, in our relations with Russia and China, or elsewhere, are today causing new alignments and new deployments of U.S. military. At home, new treaties and new tax laws are being actively discussed. In this world of such high stakes, our President’s integrity and honesty must remain clear.”

Sex Trafficking & Stealing from the Elderly

On Feb. 25, the Criminal Justice Committee will hold a public hearing on a bill (LD 324), sponsored by Rep. Lois Reckitt (D-So. Portland), that would allow law enforcement to seize the property of people convicted of sex trafficking. A 2017 report by the Maine Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights stated that human trafficking is a “growing problem in Maine” and there has been an increase in prosecutions, including eight cases in the greater Bangor area and two operations busted in the Augusta area back in 2014. In December, two Chinese nationals living in New Hampshire were arrested and charged with running a sex trafficking ring in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the Portland Press Herald.

On the same day, Rep. Anne Carney (D-Cape Elizabeth) will present LD 316, which would increase penalties for committing theft against a victim over 66 years of age.

Paid Sick Leave Bill Rescheduled

The Labor and Housing Committee will take up a measure on Feb. 25 that would require employers with more than five employees to provide paid sick days. LD 369, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland Cty.), would also require employers with fewer than five employees to provide unpaid sick leave for their employees. The proposal was originally scheduled to be heard on Feb. 13, but the hearing was cancelled due to a snowstorm.

Eliminating Vehicle Inspections

Every session for as long as I can remember the Transportation Committee has considered bills to repeal the mandatory annual vehicle inspection law and every time the bills die a quick death. But Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) and Rep. Rich Cebra (R-Naples) don’t give up easily. On Feb. 26, Miramant will present LD 270, which would repeal mandatory inspection for all vehicles except commercial vehicles, trailers, semitrailers and fire trucks. Cebra has three inspection bills. LD 10 would provide that new vehicles don’t have to be inspected until two years from when they were initially registered. LD 117 would allow new vehicles that have had inspections to not have to have another one for five years after they were initially registered. After that, they would have to have annual inspections. And LD 389 would change automobile inspection requirements from an annual inspection to a biennial inspection.

Making Citizen Referendums Comprehensible

Maine Republicans have argued for quite some time that the reason why Mainers keep voting for progressive referendums like taxing the rich, the minimum wage and ranked-choice voting is because they don’t understand what they’re voting for. On Feb. 27. Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris) will present a bill (LD 534) to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee that would require that all ballot questions be written at the 6th-grade reading level to ensure that they are “understandable to the greatest number of voters possible.” It would also require ballot questions to “unambiguously state what the effect of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote may have.”

Recalling Public Officials & the State Bird

On Feb. 27, the State and Local Committee will also hear LD 554, sponsored by Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Andorscoggin Cty.), which would repeal provisions in law that limit the use of the recall process for elected municipal officials to cases in which the official is “convicted of a crime, the conduct of which occurred during the official’s term of office and the victim of which is the municipality.”

Rep. Betty Austin (D-Skowhegan) will also present LD 572, which proposes to specify either the black-capped chickadee or the boreal chickadee as the state bird. Back in November, the Portland Press Herald noted that while the Maine Legislature named “the chickadee” as the state bird in 1927, eight species of chickadees actually live in North America and two are in Maine — the black-capped chickadee and the boreal chickadee. Although the black-capped chickadee is the most common, the boreal chickadee with its brown cap and rusty-brown-colored body is less common in the rest of North America and mostly inhabits the inner Maine forest lands. Nick Lund, a birder who works at Maine Audubon, told the Press Herald that he hoped the Legislature would clarify which one should be the state bird.

Protecting Endangered Species

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commtitee will consider a measure on Feb. 27 to amend the endangered species law. LD 713, sponsored by Rep. Catherine Nadeau (D-Winslow), would give law enforcement discretion in issuing warnings to first-time violators of laws prohibiting negligently feeding, baiting or harassing an endangered or threatened species or feeding, baiting or harassing a delisted species. It would remove the requirement that a law enforcement officer issue a warning to a first-time violator. The proposal would also increase penalties for negligently importing, exporting, hunting, taking, trapping, possessing, processing, selling, offering for sale, delivering, carrying, transporting, shipping, feeding, baiting or harassing endangered or threatened species.

Voter ID Returns

On Feb. 27, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hear the perennial Republican bill to require voters to have a photo ID to vote. Republicans have long argued that photo ID laws are necessary because voter fraud is supposedly rampant, even though a 2012 Republican-led investigation into possible voter fraud found no evidence that it’s a problem in Maine. Regardless, the bill has virtually no chance of passing with Augusta under Democratic control.

It’s Bottle Bill Day!

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee will hear several bills on Feb. 27 to change the state’s bottle redemption laws and provide more funds to struggling redemption centers. LD 87, sponsored by Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland), would increase from 5 cents to 25 cents the deposit and refund value on refillable and nonrefillable beverage containers. LD 377, sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), would increase the reimbursement to the local redemption center by 1 cent per returnable for the cost of handling beverage containers. LD 575, sponsored by Rep. Sheldon Hannington (R-Lincoln), would increase the deposit on returnables to 10 cents and would increase by 3 cents per returned container the reimbursement to the dealer or local redemption center.

Anti-Property-Tax Referendum & Traffic Surveillance

On Feb. 27, the Taxation Committee will hear Rep. Rich Cebra’s (R-Naples) bill (LD 146) to allow municipalities to exempt all personal property from local taxation by referendum. The next day, Cebra will present another bill (LD 323) to the Transportation Committee that would set a minimum penalty of $1,000 for littering on state highways. The same day, Transportation Committee will here Sen. Kim Rosen’s (R-Hancock Cty.) proposal to establish a pilot project allowing the use of traffic surveillance cameras on the Castine Road in Orland.

Recouping Legal Costs from the Governor

Sen. Brownie Carson (D-Cumberland Cty.), who sued former Gov. Paul LePage for refusing to fill public health nurse positions in blatant violation of a state law he sponsored, is now proposing a bill that would authorize courts to award attorney’s fees to citizens who prevail in future lawsuits against the governor. LD 698, which will be heard by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 28. would clarify that when citizens sue the governor or any executive branch agency to enforce federal or state law and the citizens prevail, they may petition the court for the state to pay all costs. If citizens demonstrate that the agency or governor knowingly violated the law, the court is required to also award reasonable attorney’s fees.

Dangerous Dogs & Breaking into Cars to Save Dogs

It’s always an exciting day when Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry holds public hearings on dog bills and Feb. 28 should be no different. The committee will hear LD 333, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Skolfield (R-Weld), which would repeal the law prohibiting a person from training or encouraging a dog to be aggressive toward or attack another person or domesticated animal. The current dangerous dog law exempts dog training programs recognized by the Department of Public Safety and the State Police.

Then Sen. Michael Carpenter (D-Aroostook Cty.) will present LD 556, which would allow anyone to enter a vehicle and remove an animal if they believe that the animal’s safety, health or well-being appears to be in immediate danger. The bill provides that a person who removes an animal from a vehicle under these conditions is immune from criminal or civil liability.

Killing a Land-Based Aquaculture Project

Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) has submitted a bill (LD 620) that could potentially kill Nordic Aquafarms’ plans to build a land-based salmon farm in Belfast. LD 620 — which will be heard by the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Feb. 28 — would direct the commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to “refuse to issue a land-based aquaculture license, or revoke an existing license, when the aquaculture activity presents an unreasonable risk to indigenous marine or freshwater life or its environment” and specifies that the activity may be either “alone in the use of a body of water or in combination with the aquaculture activity of any other land-based aquaculture operations using the same body of water.” Dodge says she is concerned about the “cumulative effect of chemicals and biochemicals [from land-based salmon farms] on wild salmon and other fish species.”

National Popular Vote

And finally, on March 1, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will once again hear a bill aimed at abolishing the Electoral College for presidential elections. LD 418, sponsored by Rep. Deane Rykerson (D-Kittery), would require Maine to pledge its electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Currently, 15 states have entered into the National Popular Vote compact, comprising 172 electoral votes. The legislation would trigger member states to cast their votes to the popular-vote winner once states totaling at least 270 electoral votes have joined the compact.