Maine State House in Augusta (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
Maine State House in Augusta (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
House Passes Bill to Require Insurance to Cover Abortion Services

After a fiery debate last week, the Maine House voted 79-62 to pass a bill that would require MaineCare to cover abortion services for low-income people, and on May 14, the Maine Senate voted 19-16 to approve the bill. The bill faces further votes in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. LD 820 would also mandate that private health insurance carriers cover abortion services, with exemptions for employers who object to sponsoring coverage for abortions on religious grounds.

Gov. Janet Mills will likely sign the bill if it gets to her desk, as her administration testified in support of LD 820, stating that it would be a way to “ensure equitable access to abortion care for Maine people.” “Access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care is integral to a person’s physical, mental, and economic well-being,” said Molly Bogart of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in testimony. “We believe that every person in Maine has the right to make their own personal medical decisions and access sexual and reproductive health care when and where they need it. It is critical that everyone in this state has access to affordable, high-quality health care, including reproductive services, and that they can obtain them free from harassment, intimidation, and undue barriers to services.”

Bogart said the legislation will bring clarity to a current legal challenge to the state’s ban on allowing MaineCare to cover abortions. The federal Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion services.

Testifying on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, lobbyist Nicole Clegg said poor women have higher rates of unintended pregnancies, often because they lack health insurance coverage and adequate sex education.

“Lifting the restriction on abortion coverage could dramatically improve the lives of low-income people and help them attain their life goals and escape poverty,” she said.

The measure was fiercely opposed by conservatives who believe life begins at conception and abortion is murder.

“For years, through private conversations and now social media interactions, abortion proponents would declare in our exchanges, ‘if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. No one is making you get an abortion or pay for an abortion.’” wrote Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, in testimony. “If LD 820 passes, that certainly will no longer be the case.”

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LD 820 — MaineCare Coverage for Abortions, midcoast legislators
House (79 Yeas, 63 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 (I-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Cloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (I-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) X
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 Ban So-called Conversion Therapy

After another raging debate, the Maine House voted 91-46 to pass LD 1025, which will prohibit certain licensed professionals — such as physicians, psychologists and social workers — from practicing gay or gender identity “conversion therapy” on minors under the age of 18. The Senate later passed the measure unanimously. Similar measures were vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage, but now Maine is on track to become the 17th state to prohibit the practice.

“I look forward to signing it!” wrote Gov. Janet Mills in a tweet. “It is time for all LGBTQ people in Maine to know they are valued and respected.”

Sometimes referred to as “gay reparative therapy,” the treatment aims to change a person’s sexual orientation or sexual identity under the premise that being gay, lesbian or transgender is a defect or mental disorder that can be cured. But a number of openly gay lawmakers argued that it is a form of abuse that further stigmatizes LGBTQ people.

“[This bill is] about the kids, the teenagers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and need to know that their government doesn’t view them as broken,” said House Majority Leader Matt Moonen (D-Portland), who is openly gay. “I know many of them across this state are aware of this bill. They’re watching and waiting, anxious and stressed, perhaps holding their breath to see what we’ll decide. I look forward to showing them that their government knows that you cannot fix what is not broken.”

But conservative House members bitterly fought the bill, arguing that it is an affront to free speech and parental rights. MaryAnne Kinney suggested that conversion therapy can prevent teenagers from adopting lifestyles that will make them the target of bullying. She noted that she was bullied in school for wearing bright colors.

“Are the people who are encouraging a confused child to not believe biological facts helping their children?” Kinney asked in a floor speech. “We’ve seen a rise in child suicides from bullying from all this confusion. When I was a kid in school, I lost classmates to cancer, not suicide. Bullying occurred. I was the victim … because I was too colorful. I was called ‘Rainbow Bright.’”

Kinney said that if she had decided to harm herself when her classmates teased her about “being colorful” she might not have been able to promote “Color Day” in the Legislature, a day when legislators are encouraged to wear bright colors.

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LD 1025 — Ban Conversion Therapy, midcoast legislators
House (91 Yeas, 46 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 (I-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Cloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (I-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Earned Paid Time Off Bill Passes

The Maine Legislature overwhelmingly voted to pass LD 369, which will provide access to earned time off for 139,000 new employees who don’t currently have the benefit. The original proposal would have provided earned sick leave to people who work for employers with more than five employees, but Gov. Janet Mills amended the bill to increase the threshold to more than 10 employees and allow eligible workers to use the time off benefit for any reason. Under the amended proposal, an employee will be entitled to earn one hour of paid leave for every 40 hours worked, up to 40 hours in one year of employment, with accrual of leave beginning at the start of employment. If signed by the governor, it would take effect in 2021.

Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland County), the bill’s sponsor, noted that the bill provides earned paid time off to 85 percent of all Maine workers while exempting more than 40,000 of Maine’s 50,792 businesses. The measure received bipartisan support, as lawmakers knew that progressive activists planned to launch a citizen referendum if it failed in the Legislature. However, critics of the compromise point out that it preempts the authority of municipalities to enact their own earned paid sick leave laws, such as the more progressive proposal that failed in Portland last week.

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LD 369 — Earned Paid Time Off, midcoast legislators
House (94 Yeas, 45 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 (I-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Cloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (I-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Rejects MaineCare Work Requirement

The Legislature rejected a bill (LD 981) that would have implemented former Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to impose work requirements as a condition of receiving MaineCare. The proposal would have eliminated MaineCare coverage for any so-called “able-bodied” adult recipients who fail to work, volunteer, or attend school or a work training program for at least 80 hours a month. It would charge MaineCare recipients premiums of up to five percent of their incomes. Back in December, the Trump administration approved LePage’s waiver request to implement the Medicaid work requirements, but Gov. Mills decided not to implement them. In a letter to lawmakers, Pearl Washburn of Appleton expressed a common sentiment among Republicans who support the bill.

“We have too many elderly and disabled people here who CAN’T work, and CAN’T sustain themselves, to be charging us taxpayers to support those who CAN work,” she wrote. “Let’s put our dollars towards helping those who need it the most — NOT to able-bodied adults who have no dependents!”

Opponents said the policy has caused thousands of low-income people to lose health care coverage in states where it has been tried. When Maine implemented work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), only 275 (4 percent) of the 6,866 people who lost their benefits for failing to meet the mandate actually found employment. In Arkansas 18,000 people lost health coverage due to work requirements, and less than 1 percent newly reported working because many already were.

“Evidence from both Maine and Arkansas shows that work requirements do not produce the increases in employment that proponents claim,” wrote Chris Hastedt of the low-income advocacy group Maine Equal Justice Partners. “but they do result in the loss of critical food and health benefits that work to prevent hunger and adverse health consequences among people with very limited incomes.”

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LD 981 — MaineCare Work Requirements, midcoast legislators
House (83 Yeas, 57 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 (I-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Cloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (I-Warren) N
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (20 Yeas, 13 Nays):
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) E
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Maine House Passes Bill to Review For-Profit Colleges

Last week, the Maine House voted on party lines to pass LD 103, which would direct the Department of Education to conduct a review of for-profit colleges and universities to determine whether adequate educational standards are being met. If the for-profit college is not meeting the standards, the state would be authorized to revoke the degree-granting authority of the college. For-profit colleges, like their nonprofit counterparts, would also be required to report various metrics including how much money is spent on instruction, graduation rates, loan status of graduates, employment status of graduates, and the design and implementation of student support services.

A 2012 U.S. Senate investigation found that for-profit colleges depend on taxpayer dollars for nearly all of their revenues, yet they overspend on advertising and CEO salaries. A study authored by the Center for Responsible Lending and the Maine Center for Economic Policy found that the median debt level for graduates of a Maine for-profit college is more than $21,000 for a two-year program, compared to less than $11,000 for a community college graduate. It also found that just 44 percent of Mainers who borrow for for-profit college make the payments. However, Assistant House Republican Leader Trey Stewart (R-Presque Isle) said his caucus opposed LD 103 out of concerns that it would put “a greater level of regulation and burdens” on trade schools.

Climate Adaptation Bill Passes House

The Maine House voted 100-36 last week to pass a measure that would direct state agencies to prepare for sea level rise. LD 563 would also allow groups of coastal towns and cities to adopt growth management programs that include sea level projections and make a coordinated plan for addressing the effects of sea level rise.

Testifying in support of the bill, Nick Battista of the Island Institute noted that while there are 452,000 Mainers living on the coast, 75 percent of those communities have fewer than 3,500 people.

“Making a significant, statewide investment in our coastal communities’ ability to incorporate the impacts of sea level rise into their regular planning processes will help leverage the efforts of local leadership to increase the resilience of our coastal populations, and the working waterfront on which they rely,” wrote Battista. “As our oceans continue changing, the increased financial impacts of sea level rise, storm surge, and flooding will only accelerate. Now is the right time to create the policy space in which communities can effectively plan for their future.”

But Sherman Hutchins (R-Penobscot), who voted against the bill, questioned whether sea level rise is really a serious issue.

“I think the tide does rise twice a day. It has for years and years and years,” he said. “And the amount of extra rise is not measurable in my opinion.”

Senate Passes Bill to Require a Greenhouse Gas Study on CMP Transmission Project

The Maine Senate voted 30-4 last week to pass LD 640, which would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a review of the effect that Central Maine Power’s proposed New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project would have on greenhouse gas emissions. The measure would prohibit the department from issuing a permit for the project without taking into account the results of the review.

Some environmental groups are skeptical about whether the proposed 146-mile electrical transmission line, which aims to bring Quebec hydropower through Western Maine to Massachusetts, would actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as CMP claims. Nick Bennett, staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, referred to findings in a report on the failed Northern Pass project, which would have brought Québec hydropower through New Hampshire. The site committee wrote that no greenhouse gas emissions would be realized if Hydro-Québec simply diverted power from New York and Ontario to New England and it was “unclear” whether the company would do that or not.

Bennett also pointed to Hydro-Québec’s own statement to the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities that there would be “no construction risk related to the generation resources which are already in service... Because no new hydroelectric generation projects will be required, there will be no incremental environmental impacts from hydroelectric generation as a result of this Proposal.”

However, Thorn Dickinson of Avangrid Networks, CMP’s parent company, insisted that the project would reduce greenhouse gases and cited studies commissioned by CMP and the Public Utilities Commission backing up this conclusion. He argued that Hydro-Québec has plenty of capacity to meet the demand from New England without taking energy away from other markets.

“In this instance, LD 640 would introduce what clearly seems like a political agenda into a regulatory proceeding on a specific project very late in the game,” Dickinson said. “That should be alarming to anyone doing business in Maine, because it sends the signal that you cannot necessarily count on fair treatment or a predictable regulatory process when you decide to invest in our state.”