Reproductive Health Bills

The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will consider three bills concerning reproductive health on April 29. LDs 699 and 1289, sponsored by Sen. Brownie Carson (D-Cumberland County) and Rep. Margaret Craven (D-Lewiston), would provide funding to develop educational outreach programs regarding reproductive and sexual health care for women at the highest risk of experiencing unintended pregnancies. The program would be targeted at women who have been incarcerated or are experiencing substance use disorder, homelessness or other circumstances that indicate a need for family planning services.

The committee will also hear LD 684, sponsored by Rep. Catherine Nadeau (D-Winslow), which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to develop recommendations to prevent and manage neonatal abstinence syndrome, which is a condition drug-affected infants suffer when they withdraw from drugs after being exposed to them in the womb. About one in 12 babies born in Maine is born addicted to drugs, according to the 2019 Maine KIDS COUNT report.

Preventing Elder Abuse

The Criminal Justice Committee will hear a measure aimed at preventing elder abuse on April 29. LD 1249, sponsored by Rep. Arthur Verow (D-Brewer), would make it a Class C felony for caregivers to isolate, neglect or physically, sexually, emotionally, or financially abuse dependent adults or elderly people over 60 years of age. If convicted, offenders could face up to five years in prison under the proposal. The bill is based on a similar law in Rhode Island.

Response to the Intertidal Decision

On May 1, Sen. Dana Dow (R-Lincoln County) will present a measure to the Judiciary Committee aimed at overturning a recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruling that the intertidal zone is owned by private shorefront landowners rather than the public. The case involved a dispute between rockweed harvesters and private land owners over who has the right to access tidal flats. An earlier landmark court decision stated that the area between the mean high tide and mean low tide mark is owned by the upland property owners and not the public.

Dow’s bill (LD 1388) would direct the Maine attorney general to take the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court if Maine Supreme Court decisions do not grant the state title to intertidal lands. Under the proposal, if there is no Law Court decision to appeal within two years, the attorney general shall bring a declaratory judgment action in federal court to declare the state’s title to intertidal lands, pursuing the case through to an appeal to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Bill to Potentially Expand Access to Abortions in the Midcoast

Gov. Janet Mills is backing a bill (LD 1261) that would allow physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to perform abortions. The Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hold a public hearing on Mills’ proposal on May 1.

Reproductive rights advocates argue that there is no medical justification for Maine’s current state ban on allowing nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform abortions. Currently, women seeking an abortion after 10 weeks can choose from only three health centers in the state — Maine Family Planning in Augusta, Planned Parenthood in Portland and Mabel Wadsworth Center in Bangor. While Maine Family Planning has 17 smaller clinics — including in Rockland, Damariscotta and Belfast — they are staffed exclusively with APRNs because there is a shortage of doctors. As a result, women in rural areas are forced to drive several hours for the procedure.

“Every woman in Maine should be able to access reproductive health care when and where she needs it, regardless of her ZIP code,” said Mills in a statement. “Allowing advanced nurse practitioners and physician assistants to perform medication-administered abortions, which are already permitted in other states, will ensure Maine women, especially in rural areas of our state, can access reproductive health care services. It is time to remedy this inequity that negatively impacts too many Maine women.”

In 2017 the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and ACLU of Maine filed a legal challenge to the 1979 state law barring nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives from performing abortions. The suit points to a 2013 study of nearly 11,500 abortion patients published in the American Journal of Public Health which found that APRNs perform abortions just as safely as physicians. If the ban is repealed, attorneys say the number of clinics offering the procedure would increase to at least 18 locations — including Rockland, Belfast and potentially Damariscotta — and abortion care would be available six days a week at five or more locations on any given day.

Strengthening Transparency Laws in the Wake of LePage

During the LePage administration, the state’s Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) became a joke as the governor routinely ignored public records requests for government documents like the receipts for his many trips to Washington and stays at the Trump International Hotel while he lobbied the president. The Free Press still has several FOAA requests from 2015 collecting dust somewhere up at the State House. Fortunately, this year the Legislature may finally be able to pass some legislation to put some teeth in the FOAA law to prevent other governors from flagrantly ignoring the law as LePage did. On May 1, the Judiciary Committee will hear several such proposals.

LD 1414 would establish a tiered schedule of fines for state agencies and local governments that willfully violate FOAA. It would be a $500 fine for a first violation, a $1,000 fine for a second violation and up to a $2,000 fine for subsequent violations. Under current law, government officials must respond to FOAAs “within a reasonable time” of receiving a request for information, which left a gaping loophole for LePage to exploit because the phrase is totally subjective. For instance, waiting eight years for the governor to return a FOAA isn’t a long time when you consider the age of the planet.

LD 1575, sponsored by Rep. Thom Harnett (D-Gardiner), instead would require public officials, within 30 days of receiving the request, to provide an update of progress on the request and, within 30 days of providing the update, fulfill the request. If the agency or official is unable to fulfill the entirety of the request within the specified time period, they would have to provide an explanation for why they were unable to fulfill the request and provide a written estimate of the expected date of compliance with the remainder of the request. Finally, LD 1575 would direct the state’s Right To Know Advisory Committee to examine the specific challenges of ensuring public access to public records in the face of new and emerging technologies and to develop recommendations that are designed to preserve communications that can be accessed by the public.

Expanding Property Tax Credits

Back in 2013,  the Legislature eliminated the popular “Circuit Breaker” property tax relief program and replaced it with the refundable Property Tax Fairness Credit, which provided much less money to low- and middle-income residents. On May 1, the Taxation Committee will consider proposals to increase these property tax credits.

LD 393, sponsored by Rep. Janice Cooper (D-Yarmouth), would expand the property tax fairness credit to residents whose property taxes exceed 5 percent of the residents’ income, rather than the 6 percent in current law. The measure would also apply to renters whose “rent constituting property taxes” (the portion of their rent that goes to property taxes) exceeds 5 percent of their incomes.

The committee will also hear LD 669, sponsored by Rep. Victoria Morales (D-So. Portland), which would replace the property tax fairness credit with a new housing relief tax credit. The new credit would be equal to the amount by which a resident’s housing costs exceed 25 percent of their income. Under the proposal, housing costs would include home maintenance, property taxes, property insurance, mortgage payments, rent, heat and utilities. The maximum credit would be $3,000 for residents under 70 years of age and $4,000 for residents over 70 years.

And finally, Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York) will present LD 887, which would increase the maximum property tax fairness credit from $750 to $2,000. The credit would be fully refundable after the application of nonrefundable credits. And Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) would strengthen the property tax fairness credit so that it would provide the same benefits as the old Circuit Breaker program.

Expanding Public Preschool Programs

On May 1, Rep. Victoria Kornfield (D-Bangor) will present a bill (LD 1458) to the Education Committee that would set a goal to ensure that public pre-school for 4-year-olds is offered in every school district in the state. The bill directs the Department of Education (DOE) to come up with a list of recommendations for how to make that happen, including how to fund the program. It is currently up to local school districts to decide if they want to offer pre-K. Nearly 80 percent of Maine school districts offer at least one public preschool classroom and approximately 40 percent of all eligible children are enrolled in pre-K statewide, according to the DOE.

Providing Health Insurance to Pregnant Women & Families

On May 1, the Health and Human Services Committee will consider a bill that would expand access to Cub Care, the free or low-cost health insurance program for pregnant women and families with children.

LD 1539, sponsored by Rep. Ann Carney (D-Cape Elizabeth), would raise the maximum eligibility level of family income for Cub Care from 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($50,200 for family of three) to 325 percent of FPL ($67,535 for family of three). It would also remove the three-month waiting period for enrollment in the program following the loss of health insurance or coverage under an employer-based plan. Carney’s bill would also expand eligibility for the program to persons 19 and 20 years of age and to noncitizens under 21 years of age. Finally, the proposal would repeal the mandatory asset test and premium payments for Cub Care.

On the same day the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hear LD 132, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Brooks (D-Lewiston), which would repeal a LePage-era law that allowed insurance companies to charge higher premiums to older people and people living in rural areas. The Affordable Care Act overrode the law, but Democrats have been trying to reinstate state consumer protections in case Congress or the Supreme Court repeals the ACA.

Making College Affordable

On May 2, Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox County) will present a bill (LD 155) to the Education Committee that would prohibit colleges from charging student fees unless the institution uses a standardized financial aid offer form developed by the Commissioner of Education. The bill directs the state to develop a standard format for financial aid offers to students and specifies that the form must clearly identify each student fee to be paid to the college.

On the same day, the committee will hear LD 860, sponsored by Rep. Michael Brennan (D-Portland), which would provide free tuition at community colleges for Maine students. The Maine Community College System would be required to include in its biennial budget the estimated cost of the “No-cost Tuition Program.” Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick) will then present LD 1538, which would require that rates of compensation for Maine Community College System staff be the same at every community college in the system.