Maine State House (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
Maine State House (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
Bear Hunting, Turkeys & Landowner Relations

On Feb.11, there will likely be a lively discussion in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee over a bill (LD 337), sponsored by Rep. Peter Lyford (R-Brewer), that would establish a spring bear hunting season. As the last two bear-baiting referendum campaigns have shown, bear hunting continues to be an extremely controversial issue in Maine politics and this bill will certainly be no different. The committee will also hear Sen. Dave Miramant’s (D-Knox Cty.) bill (LD 275) to double the bag limits on wild turkey and LD 321, sponsored by Rep. Dennis Keschl (R-Belgrade), which would provide $300,000 for an IF&W program to improve and maintain relationships between landowners and hunters.

Liquor & Gambling for Veterans Organizations

Over in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee on Feb. 11, Rep. Mike Sylvester (D-Peaks Island) will introduce LD 11, which would allow veterans organizations to sell liquor to the general public if the group has a valid license and is located on an island or in a municipality with fewer than 5,000 residents. VLA will also consider LD 353, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Skolfield (R-Weld), which would waive license fees for game-of-chance tournaments conducted by veterans’ organizations.

VLA to Hear Election Reform Proposals

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will also consider a number of bills to reform the election system on Feb. 11. Sen. Justin Chenette (D-York Cty.) will present LD 361, which would prohibit legislative candidates from running political action committees (PACs). Rep. Kent Ackley (C-Monmouth) will introduce LD 211, which would allow unenrolled voters to vote in primary elections without having to enroll in a political party.

LD 202, sponsored by Rep. Holly Stover (D-Boothbay), would increase (from 3,200 to 6,000) the number of contributions a Clean Elections candidate running for governor can collect from voters. LD 218, sponsored by Rep. Dick Campbell (R-Orrington), would prohibit Clean Elections candidates from collecting contributions within 250 feet of a voting place. And finally, on Feb. 13, Rep. Joshua Morris (R-Turner) will present LD 294, which would require that citizen referendums include fiscal impact statements.

Indigenous Peoples Day

The State and Local Committee will once again take up a proposal (LD 179) to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day on Feb. 11. A similar measure passed the Maine House but died in the Senate last year. According to Smithsonian Magazine, the holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus’ arrival originated with an annual Italian-American heritage festival in San Francisco in 1869 and Italian Americans and the Knights of Columbus successfully lobbied President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress to make October 12 a national holiday in 1937. President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making the second Monday in October the official date of the holiday in 1972.

However, Native Americans and others view Columbus not as the explorer who “discovered” America, but as a tyrant who tortured and mutilated the natives of Hispaniola. Currently, six states and several municipalities — including Bangor, Belfast, Brunswick, Gouldsboro, Orono and Portland — already observe Indigenous Peoples Day.

GW’s Law & Another LePage-Inspired Bill

Montville farmer GW Martin and former Rep. Brian Jones of Freedom will once again be heading back up to Augusta on Feb. 11 to argue their case for a law requiring that new federal rules should be vetted by the Legislature first. Martin says he first became familiar with how new federal laws can be made without Congressional or state legislative oversight after the US Department of Agriculture handed down new rules requiring stricter regulation of raw milk 10 years ago. Maine regulators soon followed suit by changing the state’s own milk rules and penalizing unlicensed raw milk producers.

Dubbed “GW’s Law,” LD 285, sponsored by Rep. Stan Paige Zeigler (D-Montville), would compel state agencies to give the Legislature a chance to review new federal rules before they are implemented. Martin argues that allowing unelected federal agency regulators to make rules without state oversight relinquishes rights under the 10th Amendment of the Constitution, which states that “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This will be the second time this bill has been heard by the State and Local Committee.

And although Gov. Paul LePage is finally gone, Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) wants to make sure that no future governor abuses his power by blocking commissioners and agency officials from providing information to the Legislature as the former governor did for years. On Feb. 11, the State and Local Committee will take up LD 257, which would prohibit the governor from limiting access to department commissioners and other executive branch personnel when the Legislature is seeking information necessary for its work.

Vaping in School & Loosening Tobacco Regulations

On Feb. 12, the Health and Human Services Committee will take up a proposal (LD 152), sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland Cty.), that would prohibit nicotine vaping devices in schools. According to a 2018 study by the US Food and Drug Administration, the number of high school students who used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days rose 75 percent since 2017 to about 3 million, according to the New York Times. Two Republicans will also present bills aimed at providing exemptions to the law banning smoking in public places. LD 416, sponsored by Rep. John Andrews (R-Paris), would allow eating establishments to permit smoking in a designated outdoor eating area if no one under 21 years of age is allowed in. LD 343, sponsored by Rep. Matt Harrington (R-Sanford), would allow tobacco stores to be licensed as cigar lounges where people could smoke cigars as long as cigarette smoking is banned and no food is served.

Maine Meat Labeling & Raising Wildlife

Rep. Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) will present a bill (LD 351) to the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee on Feb. 12 that would prohibit meat from being labeled with a certified “Maine” trademark or advertised as “Maine-raised” unless the animal was actually raised in Maine. Pluecker, who is an organic farmer, says that often meat is labeled as being from Maine even if it isn’t raised in Maine.

The committee will also hear LD 355, sponsored by Sen. Russell Black (R-Franklin Cty.), which would exempt wildlife that is domestically raised, hybridized or genetically altered and specifically used for farming or ranching or agritourism activity from the prohibition on keeping wildlife in captivity. Rep. Thomas Skolfield (R-Weld) will also introduce a measure that would move the state Bureau of Parks and Lands from the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

School Bus Safety

The Transportation Committee will hear three bills designed to improve bus safety on Feb. 12. LD 166 and LD 344, sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome (R-York Cty.) and Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington), would increase the penalty for overtaking a school bus when the bus is stopped with its red lights flashing from a $250 minimum fine to a $500 minimum fine for the first offense. LD 166 would also increase the driver’s license suspension from 30 days to 60 days for a second offense, while LD 344 would levy a fine of at least $1,000 and a suspension of a driver’s license for not less than 30 days for a second or subsequent offense occurring within five years of the first offense.

The committee will also hear LD 458, sponsored by Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland Cty.), which would require drivers to yield the right-of-way to a transit bus traveling in the same direction if the transit bus has signaled and is reentering the traffic flow from a bus stop or shoulder of the roadway.

Banning Cars on the Intertidal Zone

The town of Lincolnville requested that Rep. Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) submit a measure (LD 290) that would prohibit people from driving in the intertidal zone except to launch or retrieve a watercraft, to engage in an activity that requires the use of a motor vehicle and for which any necessary state or local permits have been obtained, or if the vehicle is an authorized emergency vehicle. Under the proposal, which will be heard by the Marine Resources Committee on Feb. 12, people who violate the law would be subject to a civil fine, but it would be considered a Class E crime, punishable by up to six months’ incarceration and a $1,000 fine, for repeat offenders.

Requiring Landlords to Clean Up Meth Labs

On Feb. 12, the Judiciary Committee will take up a bill aimed at cleaning up methamphetamine labs. LD 89, sponsored by Anne-Marie Mastraccio (D-Sanford), would require landlords renting out properties that have been used to manufacture meth to ensure that they have been decontaminated and tested in accordance with US Environmental Protection Agency standards. The bill would also compel landlords to inform potential tenants if the property has been used for a meth lab.

Anti-Telemarketer-Area-Code-Spoofing Bill

Over the past few years, telemarketing scammers have increasingly used a technology that allows them to disguise their number as a local area code to trick people into picking up the phone. Known as “spoofing,” or the “neighbor scam,” this tactic was used in nearly 57 percent of all phone scams surveyed by the anti-spamming company Hiya last year. The company encourages people not to pick up calls from unknown numbers, even if they come from a local area code, and to report those numbers to the FCC.

On Feb. 12, Sen. Justin Chenette (D-York Cty.) and Rep. Ryan Tipping (D-Orono) are taking it a step further with a pair of bills (LD 277 and LD 348) that would make it an unfair trade practice for a telemarketer to misrepresent their phone numbers when making a solicitation. LD 277 would also prohibit telemarketers from using prerecorded or artificial voices. Both bills will be heard by the Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee.

School Renovations & Historical Buildings

The Appropriations Committee will consider a number of bond proposals aimed at fixing up schools and rehabbing historic buildings on Feb. 12. LD 469 and LD 148, sponsored by Richard Farnsworth (D-Portand) and Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland Cty.), would borrow $50 million to recapitalize the School Revolving Renovation Fund to provide funds to schools for renovation and capital repairs. The proposal would help provide upgrades to school facilities to accommodate prekindergarten space needs.

The committee will also hear LD 126, sponsored by Rep. Deane Rykerson (D-Kittery), which would borrow $2 million to capitalize the Historic Preservation Revolving Fund for the purpose of acquiring significant historic properties for resale and rehabilitation. Rykerson will also present a measure (LD 423) to borrow $5 million to preserve historic properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places as part of the commemoration of the state’s bicentennial.

Increasing Fees for ATV & Lake Craft Registrations

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will hear a pair of bills that would increase fees for ATVs and boats on Feb. 13. LD 212, sponsored by Rep. Danny Martin (D-Sinclair), would increase ATV registration fees from $33 to $45 for annual registrations for residents; from $53 to $65 for 7-day registrations for nonresidents; and from $68 to $80 for one-year registrations for nonresidents. The funds would be dedicated to the ATV Recreational Management Fund, which is used for maintaining ATV trails.

The committee will also hear LD 235, sponsored by Rep. Walter Riseman (U-Harrison), which would increase fees for lake and river protection stickers that are required for all motorboats, personal watercraft and seaplanes operating on inland waters. The proposal would increase fees by $8 for resident motorboats and $10 for nonresidents in 2020; by an additional $2 for residents and $5 for nonresidents beginning in 2022; and by another $2 for residents and $5 for nonresidents in 2024. The funds would be used to prevent, eradicate and manage invasive aquatic plants and nuisance species. Rep. Jessica Fay (D-Raymond) will also present a bill (LD 339) to make it a civil violation tp leave a watercraft unattended in open water.

On the same day, the IF&W will hear LD 442, sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscatquis Cty.), which would prohibit ATV riders from driving over 15 miles per hour within 50 yards of a stream or pond, unless the ground is frozen and sufficiently covered with snow.

Misusing a Child’s Identity

On Feb. 13, the Health and Human Services Committee will hear a bill (LD 129) that would direct the state to adopt rules to protect children from having their identities misused for “household, business or commercial purposes.” The measure, sponsored by Rep. Mark Byrant (D-Windham), directs the Department of Health and Human Services to review the information and refer it to the state attorney general if the department determines that the child’s identity has been misused.

After School, Visually Impaired News & Sunscreen

On Feb. 13, the Education Committee will consider a bill (LD 395) that would bar school districts from prohibiting students from attending outside-of-school enrichment activities unless the student is failing to meet the academic standards of the district. The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham), would also prohibit school districts from restricting school employees from involvement in the activities unless the enrichment opportunity interferes with a student’s ability to meet the school’s academic standards or is sponsored by a corporate or other entity that is inconsistent with district policies.

The Education Committee will also hear Sen. Cathy Breen’s (D-Cumberland Cty.) bill, LD 441, which would allow students to possess and apply sunscreen. Some schools have begun banning sunscreen over concerns that it can cause allergic reactions in some students. The committee will also consider LD 375, sponsored by Rep. Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle), which would require wood biomass heating systems to be considered for use in newly constructed schools. House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) will introduce a bill (LD 382) that would allocate funding to the Maine State Library to provide access to the National Federation of the Blind’s news network for blind and visually impaired persons.

Paid Sick Leave Bill

The Labor and Housing Committee will take up a measure on Feb. 13 that would require employers with more than five employees to provide paid sick days. The proposal, 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. Proponents of paid sick days argue that a law is needed because so many people are forced to choose between recovering from an illness or taking care of a sick family member and going to work. Supporters also point out that workers without paid sick days are more likely to go to work, spreading colds and flu to coworkers and customers. Nearly 90 percent of restaurant workers don’t have a single paid sick day, according to Center for American Progress. Currently, 10 states, the District of Columbia and 33 other jurisdictions have paid sick leave laws.

Childcare Centers Charging for Vacation Days

On Feb. 13. Rep. Michael Perkins (R-Oakland) will present a bill to the Health and Human Services Committee that would prohibit nursery schools and childcare facilities from charging fees for any period of time when it is closed because the provider is on vacation. The measure would also prohibit the state from reimbursing providers for any period of time when the provider is closed for vacation. The committee will also consider LD 238, sponsored by Rep. Richard Farnsworth (D-Portland), which would require childcare facilities to provide an outdoor play area with at least 45 square feet of usable space per child.

Food Shaming, Personal Finance & Cursive Writing

The Education Committee will once again hold a public hearing on legislation that would prevent schools from “food shaming” students who haven’t paid their school lunch bills on Feb. 13. LD 167, sponsored by Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast), would require public schools to provide meals to every student who requests one regardless of the ability to pay for it or failure to pay for school meals in the past. The measure would also prohibit public schools from punishing or stigmatizing students solely because of their inability to pay for a meal or because of payments due for previous meals. It would also require the school to communicate about the student’s meal debts directly to the parents rather than to the student. A similar proposal passed the Legislature last year, but Gov. LePage vetoed it.

The bill came in response to news reports, including a 2017 New York Times article, about the trend of schools shaming and humiliating students who can’t afford to pay for lunch. In one case, cafeteria workers in Pennsylvania threw a young girl’s lunch in the trash in front of the other students when a cashier discovered she had an unpaid food bill. In another case in Alabama, school employees stamped “I Need Lunch Money” on the arm of a child and a Utah elementary school threw away the lunches of about 40 students with unpaid food bills. A 2014 US Department of Agriculture report revealed that the practice is very common, with nearly half of all school districts using some form of shaming to force parents to pay bills. 

The committee will also hear LD 470, sponsored by Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick), which would require school districts to provide at least one hour a year of traffic safety education to students in grades 2 to 12. On Feb. 14, the Education Committee will hold a public hearing for LD 160, sponsored by Sen. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec Cty.), which would add personal finance instruction to the Maine Learning Results. On the same day, the committee will consider LD 387, sponsored by Rep. Heidi Sampson (R-Alfred), which would require schools to teach cursive handwriting beginning in grade 3. Many schools have removed cursive instruction from the curriculum but in recent years states have been passing laws to mandate it.