Pot Moratorium Vote

Because the Legislature has failed to direct the LePage administration to adopt rules for the commercial cultivation, distribution and sale of recreational marijuana, the state has now passed the February 1 deadline that the Legislature set for itself to create an adult-use pot market. Last week, the Maine House defeated a bill (LD 1775) on a vote of 65-81 that would have extended the moratorium until April 18.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth), who chairs the committee in charge of developing rules for the new weed market, said extending the moratorium would help provide some clarity about the status of the law to anxious municipal leaders.

“We anticipate a bill coming back soon,” said Pierce. “But if we don’t have a short-term moratorium in place, we are unable to really protect our municipalities. The muncipalities are confused. They’re wondering what’s going on.” On Jan. 19, Garrett Corbin of Maine Municipal Association testified that the bill would be a “necessary safeguard” against people prematurely applying for recreational marijuana commercial liceneses and permits at the local level.

“If the statewide moratorium on commercial licenses expires on the date currently in statute ... on February 1, municipalities are likely to be faced with a flood of foot-in-the-door type applications,” said Corbin. “Even though both state and local licenses are required under the law, and the state is not expected to have its licensing operations in effect by that time, there are a host of legal uncertainties surrounding the proper municipal management of applications for local licenses.”

But speaking against the extension, House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport) said the two-and-a-half-month extension is not long enough, as the governor believes it will take nine months for his administration to adopt rules. The governor has also said he will need the Legislature to appropriate an additional $1.4 million to hire professionals to do the rulemaking.

“As we look at this bill, we do know that we do need to pass a law in order for rulemaking to happen,” said Fredette. “That’s essentially how this process works. There is no moratorium in effect and no licenses because we have no rules. Until April 18, I feel this puts us in a little bit of a box in order to pass another bill.”

The Joint Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation continues to work on a compromise for retail pot sales that LePage will accept. But that could likely mean merging the medical marijuana and the recreational use programs, which the marijuana caregiver community strongly opposes.

Meanwhile, with the moratorium ended, Corbin of the MMA says that towns and cities without moratoriums or prohibitions are in murky legal territory when it comes to whether they can prohibit adult-use marijuana establishments. “I don’t think that there’s a whole lot of concern that if the challenge went to court that the municipality would find itself on the losing side,” he said. “I think that there’s a good justification for not accepting applications so long as the state’s not accepting applications, but it’s very much a grey area.”

POT MORATORIUM — Roll call, midcoast legislators
House (65 Yeas, 81 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) N
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) N
James Gillway (R-Searsport) N
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) N
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) N
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y

Mandatory Harassment Training at the State House

The Maine House voted 120-24 and the Senate voted unanimously to pass a joint order to strengthen harassment prevention training at the State House. The measure would mandate that all members of the Legislature attend annual harassment prevention training at the beginning of each session. Prior to the rule change, the trainings were held only at the beginning of the first year of a two-year term and attendance was optional. House leaders said the new policy is needed to maintain a healthy workplace in light of several high-profile sexual harassment scandals in the past year.

“It has become abundantly clear that women have been silently suffering for decades in their places of work,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) in a statement. “Our State House should be a safe and welcome environment that holds itself to the highest standards of conduct. This joint order is an important part of the conversation that will lead to real change in the way our legislature prevents and responds to sexual harassment. I’m committed to continuing to work to foster safer environments in all workplaces.”

Rep. Paula Sutton (R-Warren) wrote in an email that she opposed the measure because she believes the current standards are working and so no changes are needed. Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) said she also opposed the new policy because many lawmakers already have to go through similar training at their regular jobs and the order doesn’t give them credit for that.

HARASSMENT TRAINING — Roll call, midcoast legislators
House (120 Yeas, 24 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) Y
Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) Y
Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) N
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) X
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (32 Yeas, 0 Nays):
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y
X = absent

Single-Payer Legislation

With the failure of the federal government to address the soaring costs of health care and prescription drugs, more and more states are looking into adopting a single-payer health care system that would guarantee health care coverage to everyone. Currently there are 17 states, including Maine, that are considering single-payer legislation, according to the group Healthcare-NOW.

On February 13, Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot Cty.) will present LD 386, which proposes to establish a universal single-payer health care system in Maine. According to a draft version of the bill — which will be heard by the Health and Human Services Committee — the measure would be based on Vermont’s single-payer law and other single-payer proposals submitted previously in Maine and Colorado. Republicans will likely oppose the bill, which will probably seal its fate, but Democratic leaders have also been hesitant to support single-payer.

Last year, California’s Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved a single-payer bill before it could come to a vote. And although Vermont did pass single-payer in 2011, Democrats eventually abandoned it in 2014 because of the cost. Former Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a statement at the time that the plan’s proposed 11.5-percent payroll tax on businesses and the 9.5-percent tax on individuals’ income “might hurt the economy.”

However, in a 2017 analysis of California’s recent single-payer proposal, a team of University of Massachusetts economists and health experts found that while universal coverage would increase overall system costs by about 10 percent, it could also produce savings of about 18 percent. In an op-ed in the LA Times, the study’s lead researcher, Prof. Robert Pollin, noted that California spent about $370 billion on health care in 2017, but the cost of extending coverage to all California residents, including the uninsured and underinsured, would increase health care spending by 10 percent, to about $400 billion.

“That’s not the full story, though,” wrote Pollin. “Enacting a single-payer system would yield considerable savings overall by lowering administrative costs, controlling the prices of pharmaceuticals and fees for physicians and hospitals, reducing unnecessary treatments and expanding preventive care. We found that Healthy California could ultimately result in savings of about 18%, bringing health care spending to about $331 billion, or 8% less than the current $370 billion.”

Meanwhile, several progressive groups and unions — including the AFL-CIO, Democratic Socialists of America and the California Nurses Association — have been leading the charge on the national level to pressure Democrats to support a “Medicare for All” program. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All Act” has 16 co-sponsors in the Senate, including potential presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Over in the House, Rep. John Conyer’s single-payer bill, H.R. 676, has 120 co-sponsors, including Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. The same bill had only 49 co-sponsors in 2015. Last month the national pro-single-payer group Demand Health Care endorsed Democrat Jonathan Fulford in the upcoming primary for Maine’s Second Congressional District.

But as the Center for Responsive Politics reported last week, health care corporations that profit off the current system are a major barrier to enacting single-payer. As the organization reports, Senate Democrats who haven’t co-sponsored the Medicare for All Act received 146 percent more money on average from health insurance companies and 60 percent more from pharmaceutical companies than the Democrats who have signed on.

But if Congress ever does expand Medicare for all, it would be fulfilling the intent of Medicare’s architects, according to Max Fine, the last surviving member of President Kennedy’s Medicare task force. Following the failure of Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act last July, Fine told The Intercept that the US will eventually follow the lead of other wealthy countries that have adopted universal health care.

“Single payer is the only real answer and some day I believe the Republicans will leap ahead of the Democrats and lead in its enactment, just as did Bismarck in Germany and David Lloyd George and Churchill in the UK.”

Banning Gay Conversion Therapy

On Feb. 14, Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) will present LD 912, a bill to prohibit certain licensed professionals — such as physicians, psychologists and social workers — from practicing gay or gender identity “conversion therapy.” The aim of such treatment is to change an LGBTQ individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. While proponents, which include some religious fundamentalists, believe the practice is necessary because they consider it abnormal to be LGBTQ, conversion therapy survivors are increasingly speaking up about its harms.

In a Jan. 24 op-ed in the New York Times, survivor Sam Brinton, who works with the LGBTQ advocacy group The Trevor Project, recounted his harrowing experience with conversion therapy as a middle-schooler in the early 2000s. Brinton wrote that for years he endured sessions in which he was told that his sexuality was an abomination and that he would inevitably contract HIV and AIDS.

“But it didn’t stop with these hurtful talk-therapy sessions, wrote Brinton. “The therapist ordered me bound to a table to have ice, heat and electricity applied to my body. I was forced to watch clips on a television of gay men holding hands, hugging and having sex. I was supposed to associate those images with the pain I was feeling to once and for all turn into a straight boy. In the end it didn’t work. I would say that it did, just to make the pain go away.”

Fecteau said he isn’t aware of anyone doing conversion treatments in Maine, but he said many survivors are afraid to speak up about it. He cited a recent report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law that estimated that 20,000 LGBT youth in the US ages 13 to 17 will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before the age of 18. It also estimated that 57,000 youth will receive the treatment from a religious or spiritual advisor. However, Fecteau said that he did not include religious institutions in his bill because it could conflict with First Amendment religious rights. He noted that nine states have already passed laws prohibiting licensed professionals from practicing the treatment.

“For me it’s about ensuring that as more states take the step forward … and ensure that a state-issued license cannot be abused in this way, that we don’t become a welcoming place for conversion therapists to practice legally as they are pushed out of states that have prohibitions,” said Fecteau.

“Marsy’s Law”

On Feb. 12, the Criminal Justice Committee may vote on “Marsy’s Law,” a constitutional amendment that would create a “Victim’s Bill of Rights.” The proposal (LD 1168), which was held over from last session, would enshrine a number of new rights in the Maine Constitution for victims of crime, including rights regarding notification of public proceedings at which the victim has a right to be heard and the right to confer with the prosecution and the right to receive prompt and full restitution. The measure would also require a court to grant a victim’s request to provide a remedy for violations of the victim’s rights, including the appeal of a sentence. The amendent is based on a California amendment promoted by billionaire Henry Nicholas, whose sister Marsy Nicholas was stalked and murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 1983.

At the hearing for the bill last year, Beverly Warnock, executive director of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children, argued that families of homicide victims feel that the perpetrators have more rights than the victim’s loved ones.

“It is very sad that a family who is dealing with a homicide that has happened to them feels betrayed by the justice system because they are not notified about what is happening with the case of their loved one,” wrote Warnock. “Crime victims should no longer feel like the ‘outsiders looking in on what was their loved one’s lives,’ but must feel that their voices are being heard and validated throughout the criminal justice process. With the additional support of Marsy’s Law in Maine … and the protection and enforcement of crime victims’ rights, victims and survivors may once again feel that they are being protected, respected and have empowerment, knowing that their rights will balance with the same as the accused.”

However, ACLU of Maine opposed the bill on grounds that it would overburden the criminal justice system and clog proceedings with “unnecessary third-party involvement.”

“The ACLU of Maine believes that victims of crime deserve meaningful justice,” wrote ACLU lobbyist Oami Amarasingham in testimony. “In order to ensure such justice can be delivered, we must have a criminal justice system that is fair, prompt, and adequately resourced. LD 1168 will not accomplish these goals. Maine’s criminal justice system is already overburdened and under-resourced, and the additions in this constitutional amendment could result in lengthy litigation to determine the balance between the victim’s rights and the defendant’s rights, along with significant increased spending in the prison system, much to the detriment of other important community needs.”

Fee on Electric Vehicles

As Maine struggles to pay for roads while gas tax revenues are dwindling, lawmakers are considering whether to raise taxes on electric and hybrid vehicles, which use less fuel and therefore pay less in gas taxes. On Feb. 13, the Transportation Committee will hear LD 1806, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry (R-Arundel), which would impose a $150 annual surcharge on hybrid cars and $250 annual registration fee on battery-electric vehicles. The revenue would be dedicated to the Highway Fund.

Last year, the Legislature tabled a similar bill (LD 1149), sponsored by Transportation co-chair Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham), which would impose a $200 surcharge on the registration of hybrid motor vehicles, battery-electric motor vehicles and hydrogen-fuel-cell motor vehicles as well as increase the gas tax and tack additional fees onto license examinations, temporary license plates, nondriver identification cards, issuance of duplicate registrations, titles, licenses and nondriver identification cards and transfers of registrations. In justifying the hybrid- and electric-vehicle fees, McLean argued that road funding from the gas tax has been declining due to improved fuel efficiency standards and the LePage administration’s 2011 repeal of a law that indexed the gas tax to inflation.

“Due to these factors and more, the MaineDOT states in their work plan that we need $160 million every single year just to keep up with basic maintenance,” wrote McLean. “Every year this deficit becomes deferred maintenance, and we incur more risk and lost opportunity with this growing deferred maintenance. There is no way to cut it — this is going to cost money. But the reality is that our lack of investment has already cost us in lost economic opportunity and social costs. Traffic congestion, pedestrian and driver safety, damage to vehicles from bad roads, businesses that don’t have easy access to market — all of these and more cost our economy millions of dollars every year.”

While McLean disputed the argument that the fees would dampen the economic incentive to purchase hybrid and electric vehicles because the fee is less than the money saved on fuel, Natural Resources Council of Maine Clean Energy Director Dylan Voorhees disagreed. He further argued that the fees are inconsistent with the state’s commitment to decreasing the burning of fossil fuels, as two-thirds of Maine’s petroleum consumption is from transportation.

“In general, fuel economy is starting to increase after years of stagnation, although increased miles traveled have meant this has not translated into less total consumption,” wrote Voorhees. “If changes in vehicle fuel economy can be detected in gasoline consumption or tax revenue, it is not due to the several hundred electric vehicles now on the road, but to the increased fuel economy with normal gasoline cars and trucks.”

The Department of Transportation reiterated the governor’s staunch opposition to increasing the gas tax, but expressed support for the hybrid- and electric-vehicle tax.