Banning Nicotine Liquid Containers

Electronic cigarettes will once again be a hot topic in the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Feb. 19. A proposal that is sure to outrage vapers is LD 551, sponsored by Sen. Mike Carpenter (D-Aroostook Cty.), which would ban the sale of nicotine liquid containers used in e-cigarette devices. The proposal would not ban e-cig cartridges that are pre-filled and sealed. Public health advocates point out that these e-liquids are harmful and potentially fatal if ingested by children or pets. However, cartridges are much more expensive than vaping with e-liquid and many people have quit cigarettes by switching to vaping.

On the same day, the committee will hear LD 508, sponsored by Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), which would require the Maine Attorney General to research the tobacco industry’s marketing tactics as well as ways that the state can curb the use of tobacco products and e-cigarettes among young people. The proposal would require the AG’s office to report its findings back to committee, which would submit a bill to address the findings.

Reviewing Professional Licensing Regulations

On Feb. 20, the Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee will consider a measure that would require state professional licensing and certification boards to research barriers to obtaining licensure and certification. LD 532, sponsored by Rep. Victoria Morales (D-So. Portland), would direct each board to report their findings back to the committee, which would be authorized to submit legislation concerning any potential changes to licensing and certification laws.

Critics argue that some occupational licensing requirements are unnecessary and create needless barriers for workers to secure employment. A 2015 report by the U.S. Department of Treasury, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the Department of Labor noted that a quarter of U.S. workers need a license to do their jobs, marking a five-fold increase since the 1950s. It pointed out that some of these regulations have improved health and safety standards, but the growth of these laws has also created a costly patchwork of inconsistent licensing regulations across the country. The report noted that one state regulates 1,100 professions, but fewer than 60 are regulated in all 50 states.

“Licensing an occupation means that work in that occupation is only available to those with the time and means to fulfill licensing requirements,” the report stated. “One study found that for a sample of low- and middle-wage jobs, the average license requires around nine months of education and training and $209 in fees. These requirements can be worth it if they provide real protections for consumers and workers, but because it limits which workers can enter a field, licensing necessarily excludes people who would work in an occupation if the barriers were lower.”

The report noted that fewer people entering these occupations means higher wages for those who secure a license, but lower wages for workers excluded from the license and higher prices for consumers.

Lead Contamination, Vitamin K for Infants

Also on Feb. 19, the HHS Committee will hear LD 153, sponsored by Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland Cty.), which would require schools to test their water for lead. It would also direct the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to establish rules setting lead levels, testing protocols, appropriate abatement and mitigation methods and public notification requirements. In addition, the proposal would give the state the authority to order that exposure to lead must be reduced until the elevated water lead levels are abated or mitigated.

The environmental groups Environment America and U.S. PIRG have flagged Maine as a state with “particularly corrosive water, which can dissolve lead from plumbing systems.” A 2016 USA Today Network investigation of Environmental Protection Agency data found that 26 Maine schools and childcares had “high levels of lead,” with one elementary school having 41 times higher than the agency’s “action level” of 15 parts per billion. House Republicans killed a similar bill to require lead testing in schools after LePage vetoed it last year.

The same day, Rep. Kristen Cloutier (D-Lewiston) will present LD 336, which would require Maine DHHS to file notice of the existence of an environmental lead hazard in the registry of deeds in the county where the contaminated property is located. The measure would then require the state to file notice when the department determines that the lead hazard has been eliminated.

And finally, the committee will hear LD 443, sponsored by Sen. Linda Sanborn (D-Cumberland Cty.), which would require physicians, midwives and nurses in charge of a birth to administer vitamin K to infants to prevent vitamin K deficiency bleeding in infants. The bill also would remove the religious exemption from the requirement that an antibiotic ointment be applied to an infant’s eyes at birth. The solution, known as Ilotycin, is administered to newborns to prevent neonatal conjunctivitis or “pink eye.”

Putting Groundwater in the Public Trust

While potable water is currently plentiful in Maine, grassroots activists have expressed concerns that private corporations could one day control a large part of the state’s water supply as climate change dramatically increases the demand for water in drought-stricken parts of the world. On Feb. 19, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee (EUT) will hear a measure that would give the state more control over how that groundwater is used.

LD 197, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sylvester (D-Peaks Island), would impose a two-year moratorium on any new contracts with a public entity involving the extraction of more than 75,000 gallons of groundwater during any week or more than 50,000 gallons of groundwater on any day beginning in November 2019. The bill would also direct the state to convene a working group to develop the regulatory framework to establish the Maine Water Trust, which would be designed “to ensure a safe and plentiful drinking water supply” by regulating commercial water extraction under laws that establish the absolute control and dominion of the state over all of the groundwater supplies in Maine. The group would be required to report its recommendations back to the Legislature.

Impact on Nordic Aquafarms?

The LD 197 moratorium could potentially impact Nordic Aquafarms’ plan to draw millions of gallons of water for its land-based salmon farm in Belfast. NAF spokesman Ted O’Meara said the company is still reviewing the measure, but plans to have a representative attend the public hearing on the bill.

NAF is also watching LD 620, sponsored by Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast), which would allow 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 is either alone in the use of a body of water in combination with the aquaculture activity of any other land-based aquaculture operations using the same body of water.” It’s unclear how that risk would be determined. A public hearing has yet to be scheduled for that bill.

Electric Vehicle Rebates & Electricity Usage

The EUT Committee will also take up LD 614, sponsored by Henry Ingwersen (D-Arundel), which would provide $500,000 to fund a new electric vehicle rebate program. The proposal would provide a $2,500 direct rebate if the person meets certain eligibility criteria. The Taxation Committee will also hear Sen Justin Chenette’s (D-York Cty.) bill (LD 604) on Feb. 20 that would create a $300 EV tax credit plus $50 for each kilowatt-hour of battery capacity in excess of 5 kilowatt-hours up to a maximum credit of $1,500.

Rep. Walter Riseman (U-Harrison) will present a bill (LD 581) to the EUT Committee on Feb. 19 that would require utilities to provide information concerning the previous 24 months of the customer’s energy usage on monthly billing statements to allow customers to compare their usage. Central Maine Power is currently the target of a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company misled customers by telling them that their high electricity bills were due to higher electricity usage and not faulty meters.

Broadband, Emergency Alert & Smart Municipalities

Over in the Appropriations Committee on Feb. 19, Sen. Erin Herbig (D-Waldo Cty.) will introduce a bond measure (LD 354) that would provide $20 million for reliable high-speed Internet in rural underserved areas. Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) will also present a bond proposal (LD 295) to invest $100 million into high-speed Internet service for underserved rural areas. The same day, the committee will hear Rep. Drew Gattine’s (D-Westbrook) bill (LD 381) to borrow $20 million to replace Maine Public Broadcasting Corporation’s infrastructure that carries the emergency alert system.

Then Rep. Michael Brennan (D-Portland) will present LD 172, a $15 million bond that would help municipalities invest in smart-grid technology and infrastructure including broadband connectivity, connected sensors and data aggregation platforms; light-emitting diode lighting; adaptive traffic control signals; autonomous vehicle projects; electric vehicle infrastructure; and distributed power generation such as solar energy, battery storage and management systems.

Legalizing CBD Products & Indoor Hemp Production

After Congress voted to legalize hemp in the farm bill back in December, edible products containing hemp-derived cannabidiol, or CBD, exploded onto the market, with items such as CBD-infused baked goods, gummies and teas. While the FDA has approved CBD for treatment of epilepsy, it has also been marketed as a treatment for countless other maladies. However, earlier this month, Maine retailers received a letter from the state ordering them to remove edible CBD products from store shelves following a U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated in a press release that cannabidiol is not an approved food additive, according to the Portland Press Herald.

In response to widespread anger from consumers and hemp producers about the decision, Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop) has submitted a bill (LD 630) that would clarify that edible CBD products are legal for sale in Maine. The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will hold a public hearing on the bill on Feb. 19.

“I’ve been on the phone for the better part of the last three days doing my best to keep Maine hemp farmers, food producers and retailers from losing their shirts, and maintaining the people’s access to the foods of their own choosing,” wrote Hickman in a Feb. 3 Facebook post. “I have drafted legislation that I believe will provide a resolution to the hemp-derived CBD in food and food products problem within the state. If all goes well, we will quell the anxiety, anger, panic and confusion in short order.”

On the same day, Rep. Chris Johansen (R-Monticello) will present LD 523, which would allow for the indoor production of industrial hemp.

Signature Gathering, Tax Increases & Clerk Quotas

On Feb. 20, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will once again hear a number of Republican bills to make it harder to put citizen referendums on the ballot. LD 499, sponsored by Stacy Guerin (R-Penobscot Cty.), would prohibit referendum petition circulators from being paid based on the number of signatures collected. But the proposal would allow for them to be paid a salary or fee as long as it isn’t based on a certain number of signatures. The committee will also hear LD 252, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin Cty.), which proposes a constitutional amendment that would prohibit citizen initiatives from imposing any new or increased taxes.

The same day, Rep. John Schneck (D-Bangor) will propose a measure (LD 514) that would require that a third of municipal election clerks be of one major party and a third of them be from the other major party. The bill would allow for 34 percent of the clerks to be selected without regard to party enrollment.

Letting Teachers Negotiate Over Education Policies

On Feb. 20, the Labor and Housing Committee will take up a bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sylvester (D-Peaks Island), that would allow, but not require, school districts to negotiate with teachers over educational policies. The same day, Rep. James Handy (D-Lewiston) will introduce a bill (LD 300) that would require school districts to provide hourly workers with the option of receiving pay over a period of 12 months or shorter. The measure would also provide that if a school day is canceled due to a snow day, the district would be required to pay hourly workers for the hours not worked for up to 40 hours per school year.

Good Samaritan Law, Informing Police & Meth Labs

Rep. Barbara Cardone (D-Bangor) has resubmitted a bill (LD 329) that would provide immunity from arrest or prosecution for people who seek medical assistance for someone experiencing a drug overdose. The proposal, which will be heard by the Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 20, would effectively prevent these “good samaritans” from being arrested for possession of drugs or paraphernalia if they report an overdose. Recovery advocates and the ACLU supported similar bills in past sessions, but Gov. LePage vetoed them, arguing that the best way to get people off of drugs is to throw them in jail. Testifying on behalf of the ACLU in 2017, lobbyist Oami Amarasingham argued that drug addiction should be treated as a medical condition and not as criminal behavior.

“Good Samaritan laws … serve the important purpose of protecting people who do the right thing,” wrote Amarasingham. “...Currently, people who witness overdoses often fear calling for help because they worry about the repercussions.”

Maine is the only state in New England, and one of only two on the East Coast, that does not offer some sort of immunity for people who report a drug overdose, according to the Portland Press Herald.

On the same day, Rep. Matthew Harrington (R-Sanford) will once again present a bill (LD 342) that would make it a Class D crime, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine, to fail to notify law enforcement officers that one possesses a hypodermic needle. Harrington, who is a police officer, argued last session that law enforcement officers have a 1 in 50,000 chance of being killed by a firearm, but a 1 in 3 chance of being wounded by a needle. “These needle exposures typically happen when an officer does a search of a suspect and can be life changing,” Harrington wrote. “It’s estimated that roughly 60 percent of intravenous drug users have hepatitis C.”

But testifying on behalf of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, defense attorney Walter McKee argued that the bill has constitutional problems because it would require a person to potentially disclose information to a law enforcement officer that they are in possession of something that may be a crime.

“There is nowhere else in Maine law that provides such an affirmative requirement of mandatory disclosure that a person may be committing a crime,” he wrote. “Certain types of possession of a hypodermic needle are in fact a crime and is always a crime when that hypodermic needle contains even trace amounts of illegal drugs.”

He added that the bill is unnecessary because police routinely ask when frisking a suspect if they have any needles or objects that could cause an injury, and if they lie and the officer gets stuck with a needle, it could be the basis of an assault-of-an-officer charge under current law.

And finally, Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford Cty.) will present LD 449, which would impose a mandatory four-year minimum prison sentence for operating a methamphetamine lab.

Responding to Call Center Layoffs

In the past few years there has been a rash of call center layoffs. Last year, LL Bean dropped Barclaycard as its credit-card vendor and switched to Citibank, and early this year Barclaycard announced it would be closing its Wilton call center, laying off 227 people. Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) will present a bill (LD 201) to the Labor and Housing Committee on Feb. 20 that would require call center owners to provide 120 days’ notice to the state when relocating a call center. Those who fail to notify the state within 120 days would be subject to a daily fine of $10,000. The bill would also require the Commissioner of Labor to create a list of employers who have relocated a call center to a foreign country. Under the proposal, any employers who appear on that list would be ineligible for a state grant, loan or tax benefit for five years and would be required to pay back the unamortized value of a state grant, loan or tax benefit previously issued to the employer. The bill would also require that call center work for state agencies be performed in Maine.

Worker Data, SS Numbers & Job Application System

Also on Feb. 20, Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) will present a measure (LD 480) to the Labor and Housing Committee that would require certain employers, including state agencies, to annually submit wage data reports regarding employee gender, race and ethnicity to the Maine Human Rights Commission.

The same day, the committee will also hear LD 305, sponsored by Rep. Tiny Riley (D-Jay), that would prohibit employers from requesting a Social Security number from a prospective employee on an employment application or during the application process. The bill would still allow employers to request the number for the purposes of a substance abuse test or preemployment background check. It would not prohibit them from requesting the number for any reason after an applicant is hired. And finally, the committee will hold a public hearing for LD 168, sponsored by Rep. Bettyann Sheats (D-Auburn), which would direct the Maine Department of Labor to create a universal job application system for use in the state’s career centers.

Vehicle Taxes & Property Tax Breaks

On Feb. 20, the Taxation Committee will take up a bill (LD 43), sponsored by Rep. Rich Cebra (R-Naples), that would amend the Maine Constitution to require that all sales- and use-tax revenue from the sale of motor vehicles and related sales be dedicated to the Highway Fund for capital improvements to roads and bridges. The committee will also hear LD 560, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), under which state residents don’t need to be a resident for a whole year before qualifying for a homestead property tax exemption.

Meals on Wheels & the SNAP Asset Test for Seniors

Sen. Linda Sanborn (D-Cumberland Cty.) is hoping that the federal government will waive the asset test requirement as a condition of receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), or food stamps, for people 60 years and older. In 2015, the LePage administration requested that the feds allow the state to compel SNAP recipients to disclose assets such as bank accounts, snowmobiles, ATVs, RVs, boats, jet skis, campers, motorcycles, second homes or properties, and second passenger vehicles. Applicants with assets over $5,000 in value are deemed ineligible for the program.

At the time, low-income advocates pointed out that the reason Maine did away with its asset test in the mid 2000s is because the program was extremely complex, time consuming, difficult to administer and prone to errors. The Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a national group that opposes asset tests, points out that the policy restricts people’s economic mobility by forcing them to “spend down” savings in order to get short-term assistance.

Sanborn’s bill (LD 474), which will be heard by the HHS Committee on Feb. 20, would not only exempt seniors from the asset test, but it would also direct the state to develop a pilot project to provide home-delivered meals to people who are over 60 years old and who are homebound or at risk for readmission to a health-care facility. The measure would also eliminate the waiting list for home-delivered meals to homebound people over 60 who who cannot prepare meals and do not have others available to prepare meals for them.

Rep. Ann Matlack (D-So. Thomaston) will also present a bill (LD 472) that would fund Meals on Wheels and establish a working group to research ways of reducing barriers to accessing food and identify a funding stream to provide meals for homebound individuals.

Polystyrene Ban, Requiring Reusable Food Ware

On Feb. 20, Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) will present a bill (LD 289) to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee that would prohibit the sale and distribution of disposable food containers made of polystyrene foam. Environmental groups have long supported banning polystyrene because it takes hundreds of years to biodegrade and often ends up littering the environment. Rockland recently enacted a polystyrene ban and Camden’s will take effect in April.

The same day, Rep. Deane Rykerson (D-Rykerson) will present a bill (LD 505) to the ENR committee that would require restaurants and food vendors to serve food in reusable food ware and not single-use containers. LD 505 would require that take-out food can only be served in recyclable or compostable disposable containers, for which they must charge a fee to the customer.

The Seth Carey Law

On Feb. 21, Rep. Joshua Morris (R-Turner) will present a measure (LD 540) that would require that only lawyers admitted to practice law in Maine may be elected district attorney. It would also prohibit attorneys who have had their law licenses suspended during the previous 10 years from being elected or appointed district attorney.

The latter part of the bill appears to be directed at former district attorney candidate Seth Carey of Auburn, who refused to drop out of the DA race last year despite having his law license suspended for alleged sexual abuse against a woman. Carey eventually lost to incumbent Democrat Andrew Robinson. In December a superior court judge found the Auburn Republican violated rules of professional conduct by engaging in unlawful sexual contact and tampering with a witness and his law license was suspended for three years, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Firing Teachers for Talking Politics in the Classroom

Rep. Larry Lockman, who has recently moved from Amherst to Bradley, has submitted a bill (LD 589) that was lifted word-for-word from model legislation drafted by an organization flagged as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. LD 589, which will be heard by the Education Committee on Feb. 21, would direct the State Board of Education to draft rules prohibiting teachers “from engaging in political, religious or ideological advocacy in the classroom or from introducing any controversial subject matter that is not germane to the topic of the course being taught.” Under the proposal, teachers would be forced to undergo three hours of training to educate them on the rules every year and if they repeatedly violate them they would be fired.

Lockman told WVOM radio on Monday that he submitted the bill because he had heard anecdotally that a teacher told 12-year-old boys that “only men can be sexists and that only white people can be racist.” He said he had also heard that teachers in other states have promoted Islam and made “negative remarks” about Christianity by connecting the “Judeo-Christian ethic” to “the enslavement of Africans and the exploitation of indigenous peoples.” Lockman acknowledged that it could be difficult to prove that a particular political agenda is being promoted in the classroom, but that students could provide the evidence by recording their teachers.

“If you think about it, since the beginning of public education in the United States, it’s been assumed that in a democracy teachers should teach children how to think, not teach them what to think,” said Lockman. “But now we have progressive teachers, administrators, textbook publishers and they’re pushing to ensure that children as early as kindergarten practice ‘correct thinking’ on subjects, whether it’s racial guilt, gender identity, illegal immigration or other controversial issues. So simply put … this code of ethics would forbid teachers from endorsing candidates as part of their classroom instruction, from introducing controversial material not germane to the subjects being taught and generally from using their classrooms as bully pulpits for political, social or religious advocacy.”

The model legislation, known as the “K-12 Code of Ethics,” was created by right-wing extremist David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, which is focused on “the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values.” Horowitz has described Muslims as “neo-Nazis,” declared that college faculties are “dominated by communists and pro-terrorists” and has called Black Lives Matter “a racist hate group.” Southern Poverty Law Center describes Horowitz as “a driving force of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black movements.”