Maine Democrats returned to Augusta Wednesday with high hopes, having taken full control of the Legislature and the Blaine House after spending eight years in the wilderness under Gov. Paul LePage. As of Monday, lawmakers had submitted 2,041 bills, which include all of the legislation former Gov. Paul LePage shot down and more — from raising income taxes on the wealthy and fully funding education and municipal revenue sharing to gun control measures and renewable energy policies. Gov. Janet Mills delivered on her promise last week when she signed an executive order to implement Medicaid expansion following a year of LePage’s repeated attempts to obstruct the voter-approved law.

“More than a year ago, the people of Maine voted to expand Medicaid. Today, my administration is taking the long-awaited steps to fulfill their will,” said Mills in a statement. “I am directing my administration to begin implementing Medicaid expansion as quickly and as efficiently as possible so that we can help more Maine people access the health care they need.”

But the elation Democrats felt watching Mills’ historic inauguration last week can’t last forever and there will likely be many battles ahead between the governor and the liberal wing of the party. Right off the bat, lawmakers pushing bills to reinstate the 3-percent tax on wealthy households to fund education will have to contend with Mills’ pledge not to raise taxes. And on Tuesday, Mills made clear to reporters that she’s not interested in revisiting universal background checks for firearms purchases.

“The people have already spoken on background checks, and I think they spoke pretty loud and clear,” Mills told WMTW. “Thirteen out of 16 counties voted against background checks. That’s a significant thing to me.”

That’s just one of about 50 bills submitted by Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) this session. Unfortunately, we don’t have nearly enough space to cover all of the bills sponsored by midcoast legislators in this issue and we still haven’t reached Sen. Dana Dow and Reps. Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland), Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) and Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) for further clarification on their bills. Therefore, this will be the first installment of two articles covering legislation sponsored by local lawmakers.

Funding Education & Revenue Sharing

Reps. Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) and Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) are hoping to fully restore municipal revenue sharing to 5 percent after Gov. LePage cut it by 60 percent six years ago. Under the proposal, revenue sharing would be funded retroactively to 2013 and would be paid for using funding from the current budget surplus.

“Our towns were short-changed $105 million in the current fiscal year,” said Evangelos. “We ended the year with a $126 million surplus, which is just sitting there doing nothing while mom and pop are sitting at home on fixed incomes seeing their property taxes go up $100 or $200. That’s what’s subsidizing LePage’s tax cuts for the rich. It’s just shameful.”

By law, revenue sharing is also set to automatically increase from 2 percent to its statutorily mandated rate of 5 percent in July 2019. Currently 45 percent of revenues come from property taxes, 31 percent from income taxes and the remaining 24 percent from the sales tax.

Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.), Pluecker and Evangelos are also putting in a bill to fully fund the state’s share of the cost of K-12 education at 55 percent, as a 2004 voter-mandated law requires. Currently, it’s only funded at 50.14 percent, and in 2017 the Legislature overturned a voter-approved law to meet the 55-percent target by levying a 3-percent surtax on annual incomes over $250,000. The group hasn’t yet figured out a funding mechanism for the bill, but Evangelos says he is open to taxing the wealthiest households. Miramant has also sponsored legislation that would allow service-center communities to levy a 1-percent local option sales tax to pay for infrastructure costs.

“I think if we up the revenue sharing and get 55 percent for schools, this would be less of an issue,” he said, “but because those aren’t assured, this could help places like Rockland.”

Energy & the Environment

Gov. Mills has made transitioning from fossil fuels a key priority of her administration, and local legislators have submitted a number of renewable energy bills. Miramant has one bill that would lift the 10-meter cap on community solar farms and another that would require utilities to purchase renewable energy, with the exception of hydro power, at certain prices.

“So if someone produces an excess [of power], instead of losing it … [the utilities] will be required to buy it at 50 percent of what it costs to buy fossil fuel-generated power,” he said.

Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) has submitted a bill titled “An Act To Establish a Green New Deal for Maine,” which appears to be modeled after New York Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious proposal for massive public investment in green jobs. But Maxmin was unavailable for comment about what her bill does. Miramant has also sponsored a measure aimed at Central Maine Power’s proposed 145-mile transmission line that would bring Quebec hydro power through western Maine to Massachusetts. The bill would prevent utilities from using eminent domain for projects that don’t benefit Maine.

“[CMP’s project] is going to take power through Maine but it won’t benefit Maine,” said Miramant. “As a state we recognize the damage that hydro electric does, and we set a cap on how much of our renewable energy portfolio can be hydro, so we’re not going to break that just to allow the power from Quebec because they’ve been very destructive to their environment. They just figured that they could dam up everything they had up there and we’d buy all the power.”

Rep. Bill Pluecker is hoping to bring back a law that required commercial pesticide applicators to notify neighboring residents within a certain number of feet before spraying. Under current law, neighbors who live or work within 500 feet of an area treated with pesticides must request notice from farmers. In 2009, the Legislature passed a mandatory notification law, but it generated tremendous backlash from pesticide applicators, particularly apple growers, and LePage and the Republican-led Legislature repealed it in 2011.

The Nordic Aquafarms Bills

Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) has submitted a number of bills aimed at Nordic Aquafarms (NAF)’s controversial land-based salmon farm proposal in Belfast. One of her proposals would direct the University of Maine, the Atlantic Salmon Commission and the state Bureau of Resource Management to evaluate the impact of industrial effluent and other pollutants on fish populations. Another bill would create stricter licensing standards and monitoring requirements for land-based aquaculture.

“I’m sure the analogy has been used before about building the plane while you’re flying it, and it seems that there are not enough rules and regulations around an industry that is fairly new,” said Dodge.

Dodge has also submitted a measure that would create new standards for sampling mercury contamination from the former Orrington Holtrachem site and the disposal of dredged materials. Dodge did not respond to a question about this bill, but opponents of the NAF project have argued that there is mercury contamination where the salmon farm’s discharge and outfall pipe will be buried. While the company’s environmental consultants say they have found no contamination at the site, Maine Lobstering Union attorney Kim Ervin Tucker has argued that the company’s mercury sampling techniques are not up to par. Dodge is also sponsoring legislation to renominate Penobscot Bay for the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, which helps “protect and restore the water quality and ecological integrity of estuaries of national significance.”

Putting the Intertidal Zone Under State Ownership

Rep. Jeff Evangelos is hoping to settle long-simmering legal battles over tidal flat access by submitting legislation that would clarify that the state owns the intertidal lands. For years, clammers, wormers, seaweed harvesters and others have battled with shorefront landowners over the right to access tidal flats, as Maine’s Supreme Court ruled in its landmark “Moody Beach” decision in 1989 that the area between the mean high tide and mean low tide mark is owned by the upland property owners and not the public. Evangelos says that wealthy landowners are abusing the law.

“120 years ago we had the industrial revolution and the wealthy people — the Rockefellers, the Wyeths and others — moved up to Maine and they bought their chunk of the coast. And they looked out the window and they said, ‘Isn’t that quaint? There’s someone out there clamming. Let’s go get a paint brush.’ And they painted. But in the last 30 years, Daddy Warbucks has moved in on our coast, buying up a lot of it. They look out the back window and they say, ‘Get off my land!’”

Under a colonial-era ordinance, the public can still access the land for “fishing, fowling and navigation,” and so the courts interpret what constitutes those activities in order to settle each shoreland-access dispute on a case-by-case basis. In 2017, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a group of Washington County property owners who filed a lawsuit to prevent seaweed harvesters from removing rockweed from their intertidal zones. The Nova Scotia-based seaweed company Acadian Seaplants has since appealed the case to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Paid Leave & Business Development Bills

Sen. Erin Herbig (D-Waldo Cty.) has resubmitted her bill to create a paid family leave program. The policy would be similar to the unemployment system in that it would be funded by an employee payroll tax. Self-employed people and employers with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt from the program, but they could opt in if they want.

“The lack of paid leave is a barrier for people who just had children to get back to work, but we’re also seeing now with our aging community in our state that people are having to leave the workforce to take care of aging parents,” said Herbig. “This is a way to keep them engaged.”

Herbig has also submitted several bills to help small businesses access skilled workers. One of her bills would create a tax credit for apprenticeship programs, as she says training new employees has become cost-prohibitive for some businesses. Herbig has also put in legislation to invest in training for electricians, plumbers and nurses in the midcoast in partnership with the community college system and UMaine’s Hutchinson Center. She noted that the closest place to get such training is in Bangor. And for Front Street Shipyard, which has dozens of job openings, the closest job training site is in Arundel.

“You can’t expect a working person with kids to drive to and from Bangor every day,” said Herbig. “That’s too much of a barrier if they’re taking time away from their work and family. But if we can do it in conjunction with the community college and the University of Maine to have it here, I think you’d see a lot of people who would be able to take that step.”

In addition, Herbig is proposing a $20 million bond to invest in high-speed internet for rural parts of the state. She estimates that of the 10,000 doors she knocked on in Waldo County during her recent campaign, 40 percent of the residents do not have access to reliable high-speed internet. She said the bill is important because so many people use the internet for their education and employment and the private sector isn’t making the necessary investment.

“I don’t have internet at my house,” she added. “We run off of Verizon hot spot.”

Addressing Unjust Convictions & Police Shootings

Rep. Jeff Evangelos has sponsored a pair of criminal justice reform bills in response to a number of high-profile criminal cases. He said he is working with the Innocence Project on a measure that would create what he described as a “better standard” for having post-conviction matters reviewed. The other bill would establish a fund to compensate people who are unjustly incarcerated. Evangelos cited the case of Anthony Sanborn who was freed from prison in 2017 after spending 27 years behind bars for the 1989 murder of 16-year-old Jessica Briggs. Although Sanborn’s conviction was not overturned, the court reached a deal to let him out after a key witness recanted her testimony and a defense attorney uncovered evidence that the authorities withheld evidence and allegedly coerced and threatened witnesses.

“Maine’s post-conviction review is some of the narrowest and most difficult for an injustly incarcerated person to get through,” said Evangelos. “Basically, unless you can produce absolute and overwhelming DNA evidence, you’re going to sit in prison even if you’re innocent. Anthony Sanborn is the poster child for what went wrong in Maine’s justice system.”

Evangelos is also putting in a bill to create an independent review board for police-involved shootings. Currently, the Maine Attorney General’s Office reviews incidents of police killing people to determine whether they are justified or not, but critics have questioned whether the review process is working, since the AG’s office has never found a shooting to be unjust out of the over 150 incidents it has investigated since 1990.

“If the Attorney General’s office was playing baseball, we’d be making a billion dollars because they’re batting a thousand,” said Evangelos. “They never strike out. We have never ever held a police officer accountable for a shooting in Maine.”

Revising the Islesboro Ferry Ticket Rate

Sen. Erin Herbig and Rep. Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) are sponsoring legislation to reverse a dramatic increase in ferry ticket prices to Islesboro. Islesboro residents and people who commute to the island for work have been up in arms over the DOT’s new ticket fee structure, which levies a flat rate for all of the islands. While the prices for the other islands stayed relatively the same or went down, the ticket prices for Islesboro, which is the closest island to the mainland, went up 100 percent. Currently, a round-trip ticket for a passenger is $11 and $30 for a vehicle. The Maine State Ferry Service says the price increase is helping to offset the taxpayer contribution to the service, but residents say it’s making it unaffordable for working people to live on the island.

“I’m working closely with residents of Islesboro and others on this bill to create a ferry fee structure that is fair for all,” said Doudera. “While this bill addresses an immediate concern, I feel hopeful that a new [DOT] Commissioner will re-evaluate the fee structure with fresh eyes.”

Legalizing Sports Betting

Rep. Jeff Evangelos is hoping to take advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a law that banned sports betting. The bill would have Maine join five other states that have legalized gambling on sports.

“This could be a very big deal, because Maine people love to gamble on sports, and it’s going to generate quite a bit of money,” he said.