The dome of the State House in Augusta (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
The dome of the State House in Augusta (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
Bill to Expand Access to Abortions Passes

The House and Senate voted on largely party lines last week to allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to perform abortion services. Reproductive rights advocates argue that there is no medical justification for Maine’s current state ban on allowing advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) to perform abortions and that it restricts access to the service for rural women because rural clinics only have nurse practitioners. Currently, there are only three health care providers in the state — in Bangor, Augusta and Portland — that provide abortion services.

During the public hearing on the bill (LD 1261) Kate Brogan of Maine Family Planning testified that her organization provides medication abortion at 17 of its health centers via telehealth even though they are staffed with fully qualified nurse practitioners, many of whom are trained in providing abortion care. In those cases, a nurse practitioner will conduct an examination to confirm whether the patient meets the requirements for a medication abortion. After that, the nurse practitioner connects with a physician via telehealth to authorize the dispensing of the medication to end the pregnancy.

“There is simply no medical reason to go through this complicated process, a process that can delay the procedure while MFP works to schedule an available physician, when a fully qualified and credentialed nurse practitioner is in the room and available,” wrote Brogan. “Advanced Practice Registered Nurses like the many who provide care at Maine Family Planning health centers are qualified and competent to provide abortion care, and in fact provide far more complex care every day.”

Brogan noted that APRNs deliver babies, insert intrauterine devices, provide miscarriage management, and perform intrauterine biopsies, which require the same skills as aspiration abortion. A 2013 study of nearly 11,500 abortion patients published in the American Journal of Public Health found that APRNs perform abortions just as safely as physicians. If the ban is repealed, supporters have said that the number of clinics offering the procedure would increase to at least 18 locations — including Rockland, Belfast and potentially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.

The vote has infuriated anti-abortion activists. In a floor speech against the bill, Rep. MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) argued from her experience undergoing surgery during a miscarriage to illustrate why she believes APRNs are not as qualified as physicians to perform abortions.

“My procedure was not considered risky at the time because I was already in active discharge with my baby who had died, yet my life was very much at great risk, and had I not been in the care of a specialist, I question whether or not I would be here today,” said Kinney. “Overall, this proposal will reduce health care for women, not increase it.”

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LD 1261 — Expanding Access to Abortion Services
House (74 Yeas, 58 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) Y
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) X
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (19 Yeas, 16 Nays):
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Votes to Create Electric Vehicle Subsidy

Last week, the Maine House voted 85-58 and the Senate voted 24-10 to pass a bill (LD 614) that will establish a state electric vehicle (EV) rebate program for vehicles under $50,000. Efficiency Maine would determine the amount of the rebates, which may vary by the size of the vehicle battery. Testifying in support of the bill, Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine argued that the state should incentivize the purchase of EVs as they pollute far less, contributing the same carbon pollution as a gasoline-powered car getting 107 miles per gallon. More than half of the state’s carbon dioxide emissions come from cars and trucks.

“As more Maine people, businesses and institutions choose electric vehicles, the reduction in overall fossil fuel consumption benefits Maine’s overall economy,” he wrote. “That is because most of every dollar spent on gasoline (by some estimates 85 percent) leaves the state economy. In contrast, Maine is a renewable-energy-rich state, with considerable in-state generation and the potential for even more.” He added that EVs can make the electric grid more efficient and lower electricity costs by taking advantage of unused capacity during off-peak hours. But Rep. Jeff Hanley (R-Pittston) countered in floor remarks that the free market should decide whether EVs are worth investing in.

“If electric vehicles are valuable, they will be bought,” he said, “but it is not the duty of this state to be funding this and the poorest people of this state, as usual, will pay taxes on everything they buy and own and the people with wealth will go and buy these cars.” The bill passed on a party line vote in the House, with Reps. Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) and Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) supporting it. Sens. Erin Herbig (D-Waldo County) and Dave Miramant (D-Knox County) voted for the bill, while Sen. Dana Dow (R-Lincoln County) voted against it.

House Votes to Restore Revenue Sharing

The Maine House voted 89-49 on party lines last week to fully restore revenue sharing to 5 percent from 2 percent. By state law, revenue sharing was scheduled to automatically rise from 2 percent to 5 percent in July, but LD 193 would require the state to fully restore it six months earlier. During the public hearing on the measure, municipal leaders testified to the challenges that communities have faced after the previous administration slashed the share of state tax revenue it was statutorily obligated to provide to towns and cities. As a result, many municipalities have been forced to raise property taxes and cut services.

“Well-maintained roads, good schools, robust public works, parks, and libraries help people and small businesses plant deep roots in the towns and cities they call home,” wrote Sarah Austin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP). “When we underfund those services, it makes it harder for families and entrepreneurs to thrive.”

Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed budget would reduce revenue sharing to 2.5 percent in 2020, then raise it slightly to 3 percent in 2021, which would effectively shortchange communities by about $160 million over the two-year budget cycle, according to MECEP. Assistant House Republican Leader Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle) said his caucus opposed the bill because the measure is “too much, too fast” and it would disrupt current budget negotiations.

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LD 193 — Restore Revenue Sharing
House (89 Yeas, 49 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) Y
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) X
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

House & Senate Pass Toxics in the Workplace Bill

The House and Senate voted last week to require the Department of Labor to develop a framework for identifying hazardous chemicals used in the workplace along with safer alternatives to those chemicals. Rep. Mike Sylvester (D-Portland) said the intent of the bill (LD 1017) is to create a website where businesses and employees can enter a chemical name in a search engine and it would explain if it is harmful and how it should be handled. He said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration currently keeps documents about hazardous chemicals, but they are not very comprehensible to average people.

“We hear a lot in this building about small businesses that don’t have the resources to be able to find information or the employees to be able to wade through complicated documents,” he said.

Speaking for the Republicans, Rep. Dick Bradstreet (R-Vassalboro) argued that the DOL is not equipped to gather the information. No Republicans voted for the bill.

Legislature Passes Bill to Allow Loggers to Organize

The Maine House voted 83-54 and the Senate voted 21-14 on party lines to allow loggers and wood haulers to organize cooperatives to collectively bargain over the prices they receive for their labor. Currently, fishermen and potato farmers are allowed to form cooperatives, but woods workers are classified as independent contractors and are barred by anti-trust laws from organizing. LD 1459 would provide an exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act for woods workers.

“Maine loggers and haulers deserve the same collective bargaining rights as everybody else. They deserve fair wages, safe work environments and reasonable hours. For too long, Maine loggers and wood haulers have been taken advantage of by large landowners, who hold significant power over these workers and their ability to provide for their families,” said Senate President Troy Jackson, the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “This bill is about righting a wrong and giving Maine loggers and haulers control over their own lives.”

Six other states — West Virginia, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and California — have forestry exemptions for loggers and wood haulers. Jackson noted in a press release that 95 percent of Maine forests are privately owned, with 61 percent owned by private companies. Loggers and haulers from Aroostook County testified at a public hearing on the bill that these large companies exert tremendous power over them, forcing then to work long hours for low pay. The measure was strongly opposed by the landowners represented by the Maine Forest Products Council, which argued that agricultural marketing and bargaining cooperatives should only be allowed to negotiate the price of products, not harvesting and hauling services.

“By their very nature, agricultural marketing cooperatives are designed to market commodities produced by growers,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council in testimony. “One cranberry or ear of corn is much like another and can be efficiently sold by a cooperative. However, the cost of wood harvesting and hauling services varies considerably due to species, tree size, distance to job sites and markets, and a landowner’s silvicultural objectives.”

In full disclosure, the organization I work for is lobbying in support of LD 1459.

House Rejects Open Primaries Bill

The Maine House voted 89-45 to reject a bill (LD 211) that would allow unenrolled voters to vote in primary elections for party candidates. Under current law, in order to participate in party primaries, caucuses and conventions, unenrolled voters must register in a party and then wait 90 days to be able to unenroll again. Fifteen states have open primaries. Testifying in support of the bill, Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) noted that there are more unenrolled voters in her district and statewide than either Republicans or Democrats.

“That means the largest group of voters in the communities I represent are not currently able to participate in choosing general election candidates for elected office,” she said. “I support this bill because I believe they have the right to be a part of this process and should be allowed to vote for party candidates in the primaries.”

However, opponents argued that voters should have to enroll in a party if they want to choose the party’s candidates.

“A political party is merely a group of people who are like minded generally on certain issues [and] have decided to join together in order to elect people to implement policy. Big tent parties, no dues, no requirements to join,” said Rep. Chris Babbidge (D-Kennebunk). “You can have any philosophical background or attitudes that you want. And so the very small requirement that you at least join in order to tell the party who their candidate is is reasonable.”

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LD 211 — Open Primaries Motion: To Reject the Bill
House (89 Yeas, 45 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) N
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) X
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) N
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) N
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) Y
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) N
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) N
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) N
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused