Maine State House (Photo: Alexius Horatius)
Maine State House (Photo: Alexius Horatius)

Electricity Tax

Six House Republicans, including Rep. Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro), switched their earlier votes last Thursday and backed the Maine Public Utilities Commission plan to charge electricity customers for the installation of new meters on the homes of solar users. The House failed by three votes to override the governor’s veto of LD 1444, which would have repealed the new meter requirement that allows Central Maine Power to tax owners of solar arrays for the power they produce and consume behind the meter. The bill would have also increased the number of customers who can participate in a community solar farm from 9 to 50 participants. In an earlier vote, two-thirds of the House voted to support LD 1444, but House Republicans were heavily lobbied by the LePage administration to switch their votes. The Senate voted 26-7 to override the veto.

Critics blasted the vote as a giveaway to CMP.

“For years, LePage has been railing against solar based on his perception that solar shifts costs onto other ratepayers,” said Vaughan Woodruff, owner of Pittsfield-based solar installer Insource Renewables. “With LD 1444 he turned that perception into reality by lobbying House Republicans to sustain his veto and, as a result, saddle ratepayers with millions of dollars of unnecessary metering costs. This vote isn’t going to slow down solar in Maine. In fact, I expect it to further drive sales. The unfortunate part of this result is that every system we install will cost ratepayers real money to pay for meters that few in this state support.”

CMP estimated that the new meters would cost $660 each, although the solar installers have put it at up to $1,500 for each meter.

The LePage/Central Maine Power Argument

In his veto letter, Gov. LePage said new language in LD 1444 “likely prohibits” the PUC’s new rule to allow CMP to reduce compensation to solar users. But even if the language is interpreted to allow the rate reductions, he argued, it “severely limits (or eliminates) the applicability of the new rules by allowing the reduction to apply only to the excess generation at the end of the month” and not also the power generated and consumed on-site.

In an emailed statement, Rep. Simmons did not address the new tax on electricity customers, but said he opposed the bill, despite voting for it earlier, because it would have expanded the number of meters on community solar farms. He said that solar producers use the grid to purchase power when the sun isn’t shining, so paying them higher rates forces other ratepayers to subsidize the cost of maintenance of wires, poles and other transmission and distribution infrastructure.

“A person living in Kittery, Jackman, or Rockland, etc., could own a piece of a large solar array in Augusta and yet receive none of the electricity from the solar array because they are not physically connected to the solar array,” said Simmons. “Under this bill, they would get all of their electricity from the grid, and at the same time, they could avoid paying their fair share for their use of the electric grid when they receive a subsidy paid for by non-solar customers on their electric bill.”

Solar advocates dispute CMP’s argument that other ratepayers are subsidizing solar users, pointing to a 2015 PUC-commissioned study which found that the value of solar is worth much more than the current retail rates. The study concluded that solar creates less air and climate pollution, makes the state more energy secure, and reduces the need to build more power plants and electrical infrastructure.

Fellow Republican Rep. Lance Harvell (R-Farmington) — a solar critic who serves on the Energy Utilities and Technology Committee — said that LD 1444 still allows the PUC to reduce compensation for solar producers, but it just gives “a little bit of a bump to community solar.”

“It’s a simple step forward,” said Harvell in a floor speech. “It gives some extra stability to the solar market, and I think it’s actually immoral to charge people to generate their own electricity.”

What’s Next for the Solar Tax?

With the PUC’s new meter rule moving forward unabated, consumers may have less ability to break their dependence on Central Maine Power, as the rules could end up preventing the sale of inverter technology that allows solar producers to store power from the sun in a battery, according to Westbrook-based Pika Energy. In the end, Dylan Voorhees of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says the vote is a “clear loss for all Maine businesses except for two: the for-profit monopoly utilities, Emera and Central Maine Power, who will see their own guaranteed earnings increase as they spend additional ratepayer money on unnecessary new metering equipment and billing system changes.”

“The PUC rule makes it harder for customers to choose solar, keeping all Mainers dependent on buying power from the monopolies and their increasingly expensive transmission system,” wrote Voorhees. “And, most disturbingly, the utilities will begin charging a ‘delivery fee’ on power that solar customers produce and consume on-site, power that never touches the electricity grid.”

NRCM,  Conservation Law Foundation, ReVision Energy, and the Industrial Energy Consumers Group are currently challenging the PUC rule at the Maine Supreme Court, and the case will likely be decided in the coming months.

LD 1444 Veto Override— Roll call, midcoast legislators
House (97 Yeas, 52 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) N
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) N
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (26 Yeas, 7 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) N

Marijuana, Microgrids, Medicaid, the Minimum Wage


House Approves Marijuana Regulation Bill

Two-thirds of the Maine House and Senate voted this week to set up the licensing and regulatory structure for the cultivation, production and sale of adult-use marijuana for people over 21 years of age. The vote Tuesday follows a previously unsuccessful attempt to implement the voter-approved 2016 marijuana legalization referendum, which Gov. Paul LePage vetoed last fall. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.

“While everyone made some compromises, this bill provides the guidance our cities and towns, law enforcement and families deserve, and I’m optimistic lawmakers can work together to pass this legislation and avoid a further extended period of uncertainty,” said Rep. Teresa Pierce (D-Falmouth), House chair of the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, in a statement.

LD 1719 makes a number of concessions to conservatives. It reduces the number of mature pot plants an individual can possess for personal use from six to three; bans marijuana bars; removes a provision that shared tax revenue with municipalities and prohibits marijuana store licensees from selling recreational marijuana and medical pot out of the same facility. The measure also slaps a 20-percent tax on adult-use pot and puts the Department of Administrative and Financial Services in charge of enforcement and administration of both medical and recreational pot. Opponents of the bill split between those who thought it was too conservative and prohibitionists who simply oppose legalization.

House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport), who is running for governor, said he opposed the bill because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

“So it begs the question, from my perspective, given the constitutionality of the federal law. If the citizens were to do a referendum to legalize heroin, do we then have an obligation to make the heroin law a better law?” said Fredette.

Rep. Owen Casas (I-Rockport) said he voted ‘No’ on LD 1719 because it repealed the provision that shared tax revenue with municipalities, which he argued would take away the incentive for towns to allow marijuana businesses. He said he also did not support scaling back the number of plants an individual can possess.

“My equation was simple. When you take six and you minus three it equals ‘I’m not voting for your bill’,” said Casas. “You cut in half what the citizens approved for them to be able to grow for themselves, and that just went way too far.”

Others opposed moving the regulation of medical marijuana from the Department of Health and Human Services into the Department of Administrative and Financial Services out of concerns that the latter department doesn’t have any knowledge about medicinal marijuana.

LD 1719 — Roll call, midcoast legislators
House (112 Yeas, 34 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) N
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) N
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
James Gillway (R-Searsport) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) Y
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) Y
Abden Simmons (R-Waldoboro) Y
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (24 Yeas, 10 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

Committee Passes Medicaid Expansion Funding

Last week, Gov. Paul LePage ignored a deadline to file the paperwork necessary to expand MaineCare coverage for 70,000 Mainers by July 1. But on Tuesday, the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee voted 9-4 to pass LD 837, which would provide $3.4 million to fund 103 new state positions and technology upgrades to allow the new law to move forward. The bill now goes to the Legislature for a full vote.

“Thousands of Mainers cannot afford to wait any longer for the health care they need to be and stay well,” said Appropriations Committee House Chair Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) in a statement. “While I’m disappointed that this Administration continues to obstruct and ignore deadlines clearly laid out in law, our committee continues to do our work and appropriate the funds when they are necessary.”

An analysis by the Maine Center for Economic Policy estimates that Maine has already foregone more than $1.3 billion in federal funds by refusing to expand Medicaid. And every day the state ignores the voter-approved law, it loses $876,000 in federal money and hospitals incur $600,000 in uncompensated care.

At the public hearing for the bill on Monday, Donna Wall of Lewiston, 60, testified about her own experience being uninsured and unable to afford private insurance working full-time as an unpaid caregiver for her three adult sons with autism. Wall said she lost her Medicaid coverage after her two sons turned 18 two years ago and tries to make ends meet by going out at 2 a.m. every day to deliver newspapers. She said she has slipped and fallen twice while on her route, injuring her tailbone and ribs and breaking every bone in her ankle.

“To date, I am $62,000 in medical debt,” said Wall. “Knowing that Medicaid expansion is the law and will be implemented on July 2 is a huge relief for me and my family. I will no longer have to fear going outside and getting hurt and being burdened with more debt. I can focus on caring for my kids.That is what July 2 means to me and 70,000 other Maine people. We are anxious to stop rationing insulin and other life-saving medication. We are looking forward to having the peace of mind of going to the doctor and taking steps towards better health. We know what happens when we don’t get the cancer screening or preventive care we need, and so July 2 means everything to us. It is not an exaggeration to say for many of us our lives depend on it.”

Minimum Wage, Tide Pods & Condom Snorting

The Maine House narrowly defeated a bill to slow down a scheduled increase in the minimum wage on a vote of 75-72. Under current law, the minimum wage is gradually scheduled to increase from $10 per hour to $12 per hour in 2020. LD 1757 would have slowed down the increase so that the $12 minimum wage took effect in 2022. The Maine Senate, which passed the bill 19-16, stripped out an earlier provision that would have established an $8 per hour “training wage” for workers under 18 years of age. Rep. Martin Grohman (U-Biddeford), a former Democrat who is running for Congress, argued that the delay is necessary for smaller rural businesses that say the increase is too much, too fast.

“I think in here we all have the same goals, we want employees to make more money, but in order for employees to make more money, employers have to survive,” said Grohman in a floor speech April 8. “And I think by spacing out this proposal over four years instead of two we make it easier for them to do that.”

Rep. Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) said the minimum wage increase delay would help prevent children from abusing household products. “Kids are eating condoms or sniffing condoms, eating Tide Pods,” said Hawke. “I would think that we’d want to keep them working instead of giving them more to do.”

But Rep. Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) argued that delaying the minimum wage would flout the will of the voters who passed the minimum wage referendum in 2016.

“Maine people, all 420,892 of them, a majority in 13 out of our 16 counties, said Yes to that very question. Maine people knew what they were voting for.”

All of the midcoast Democrats and Rep. Owen Casas (I-Rockport) opposed the bill and all of the midcoast Republicans supported it.

House Defeats LePage’s Anti-Wind Bill

The Maine House voted 89-56 to defeat Gov. LePage’s bill (LD 1810) to eliminate most designated sites for expedited wind permitting in the Unorganized Territories (UT) except for a portion of Aroostook County. The measure would have reverted to the pre-2008 law, which required wind companies to go through a more complex rezoning process at the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC), which oversees the UT, before applying for a separate environmental permit at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The bill would also have required wind developers to go through a visual impact assessment to determine a project’s impact on the scenery for up to 15 miles away from the site, rather than eight miles away, as it’s mandated in current law.

LePage submitted the bill in January after he issued an executive order calling for a moratorium on new permits for wind projects. The executive order, which the Conservation Law Foundation is challenging in Superior Court, states that the benefit of wind turbines is “uncertain” because wind turbines create noise and can affect the scenery and property values, among several other concerns. At the time, the governor wrote that the state “cannot afford to damage our natural assets in ways that would deter visitors from returning to Maine.”

But environmental groups and wind energy companies argued that the bill would kill investment in renewable energy at the expense of the environment. Jeremy Payne of the Maine Renewable Energy Association wrote that the wind permitting process is already thorough enough.

“Once an application is deemed complete, DEP has 185 days to approve or deny a project (unless the applicant agrees to place a hold on the 185-day clock), and then finally the appeal process begins. We understand that every single project approval has been appealed. Once the appeal time is added to the pre-development work, investors may not get a final answer until their capital has been at risk for between five and seven years. This is hardly expedited.”

Payne said he was also “puzzled” that the LePage administration was suddenly concerned about the visual impact wind turbines would have on tourism in western Maine since LePage supports Central Maine Power’s New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), which proposes to build a 145-mile transmission line that would cross 1,100 acres of wetlands and potentially Canadian linx and Atlantic salmon habitat.

LD 1810 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
Motion: Defeat the Bill

House (89 Yeas, 56 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
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) Y
John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y

House Passes Bill to Allow Towns to Build Microgrids

The Maine House voted 76-65 on Monday to pass a bill that would allow municipalities to create their own local power grids. LD 257, sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), would direct the Maine Public Utilities Commission to consider proposals from towns to construct and operate the localized grouping of on-site electricity generators if the PUC finds it is in the public’s interest. The bill faces further votes in both the House and Senate. 

In a floor speech, Devin argued that microgrids improve the resiliency of the grid because they are capable of operating in conjunction with the traditional electric grid or disconnecting from it and running autonomously as an electrical island.

“As weather events become more frequent and more extreme, we’re going to need to keep trying new ideas if we want to make sure everyone’s lights stay on,” said Devin. “Over the long run, this could even lower our electric bills.”

Currently, microgrids are mostly smaller-scale projects confined to university campuses, research facilities and military installations. But with improvements in smartgrid technology and the cost of distributed energy resources, such as solar panels, demand-response systems, smart appliances and battery storage devices plummeting, communities are beginning to consider microgrids.

Midcoast Green Collaborative founder Paul Kando, who helped write the bill, testified that allowing towns to combine solar energy and battery storage will help to “counterbalance” the intermittency of renewable power and reduce carbon emissions. Advocates note that microgrid operators can also adjust how much power the microgrid draws in from the main grid depending on how much electricity prices fluctuate throughout the day. When the demand for power is high or grid power is cheap, it can draw electricity from the main grid. When demand is low and its solar panels are producing more electricity, it can sell power back to the grid. Devin pointed out that microgrids can potentially lower electricity costs because they reduce the need to build out more expensive power lines and other transmission and distribution infrastructure.

But Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) urged his colleagues to oppose the bill and cited a 2000 law that forced utilities like Central Maine Power to sell off their generation assets.

“Now we have a bill that tries to end run that decision,” said Wadsworth. “This bill allows a utility of up to 10 megawatts or about 7,000 members to own its own generation. I thought we didn’t want that. What’s next? A bill to allow CMP to buy their dams back?”

Microgrids — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (76 Yeas, 65 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
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) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Motion: Defeat the bill
Senate (15 Yeas, 20 Nays)

Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty) Y

House Kills “Anti-Sanctuary City” Bill

The Maine House voted 76-65 to reject LD 1833, which would have forced local law enforcement agencies to act as immigration agents and round up immigrants believed to be in the US illegally. Speaking in favor of the bill back in March, Major Chris Grotton of the Maine State Police said the agency supported the bill because it would allow government entities to work cooperatively with federal authorities.

“This cooperative effort is designed to accomplish our most basic goal — keeping our country, state and citizens safe. In the aftermath of a tragedy it is a frequent criticism of government that information was not shared, efforts were not coordinated, and opportunities to prevent deaths or injuries were missed,” said Grotton. “Often this is the result of an inability or unwillingness to share information, collaborate or coordinate efforts, which results in a failure to connect the dots.”

But civil libertarians and immigrant rights groups opposed the bill out of concerns that it would lead to police racially profiling people perceived to be “foreign” and would undermine the trust between the immigrant community and police, making non-citizens less likely to report crimes or provide evidence.

“This bill is exactly the opposite of what we need in Maine,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director at ACLU of Maine. “It will make immigrants feel scared and unwelcome. It will compromise the ability of law enforcement to do their jobs. And it will undermine the Constitution by promoting racial profiling and unlawful detention.”

Francine Garland of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence said that the bill would have made immigrants afraid to report cases of domestic violence for fear that they would be reported to immigration agents. She cited a 2017 survey, conducted by a coalition of groups including the National Network to End Domestic Violence, which found that 78 percent of immigrant survivors of domestic violence feared going to the police for help. She pointed to the national news story of an undocumented woman who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents at a courthouse in El Paso, Texas, where she was seeking a protective order against her boyfriend in Feb. 2017.

“We have already seen cases where Mainers have been in court for matters unrelated to their immigration status, and ended up detained and deported,” said Garland. “lt is our belief that if LD 1833 becomes law, it will have a chilling effect on New Mainers accessing help from the courts and police, reversing decades-long efforts to increase trust and access between survivors and the justice system.”

LD 1833 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
Motion: Defeat the Bill

House (76 Yeas, 65 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Owen Casas (I-Rockport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) Y
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) Y
Paula Sutton (R-Warren) N
Karl Ward (R-Dedham) N
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y

Bill to Weaken the Citizen Initiative Process Fails

The Maine House fell just shy of the two-thirds votes necessary to send a Constitutional amendment to voters to revise the citizen initiative process. The same bipartisan bill passed the House with two-thirds support last June, but didn’t make it to a vote in the Senate. LD 31 would have required that the signatures on a citizen petition consist of voters from each of the state’s two congressional districts, and that the number of signatures from each congressional district be not less than 10 percent of the total votes for governor cast in that congressional district in the previous election.

The bill was one of several Republican-sponsored proposals to make it more difficult to put a measure on the ballot, in order to prevent future referendums like the four liberal ballot measures that passed in 2016. Speaking in favor of the bill, Assistant Republican Leader Ellie Espling (R-New Gloucester) said the amendment would make the citizen initiative process more fair for all Mainers.

“I do think it’s a valid process, but needing some changes,” said Espling. “I think it’s important that we send this out to the people so that they can have a voice on how they would like to see the process potentially changed.”

But Rep. Janice Cooper (D-Yarmouth) said she opposed the bill because referendums are adopted on a statewide basis so it shouldn’t matter where in the state the signatures come from. “We are all Mainers in the end and each vote counts the same,” she said.

A number of Democrats in the midcoast delegation changed their votes from an earlier vote on LD 31 last year. Reps. John Spear (D-So. Thomaston) and Walter Kumiega (D-Deer Isle) voted ‘Yes’ last year, but voted ‘No’ this year. Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) voted ‘No’ last year, but supported it on Tuesday.

LD 31 — Roll call, Midcoast Legislators
House (92 Yeas, 55 Nays)

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

Bill to Restore Child Abuse Prevention Program Passes

The Maine House voted unanimously Tuesday to continue funding Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC), a $2.2 million child abuse prevention program that was recently established in Rockland.

“In the past three months, we have been witness to two tragic deaths of children at the hands of child abusers,” said Rep. Beebe-Center (D-Rockland), the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “Why on earth would we be cutting well-respected programs and jeopardizing the lives of even more children? I’m thankful for the bipartisan support of this legislation and shared determination to restore successful services that protect our kids.”

The decision to end the program came to light following the deaths of Kendall Chick of Wiscasset and 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy of Stockton Springs, who were allegedly victims of child abuse.

Last month, the LePage administration announced that it would end CPPC in September because it is “redundant” and there are other child abuse prevention programs. CPPC is a national program that brings together state agencies, schools, local officials, nonprofits, churches and law enforcement to support families “before they face crises.” The goal of the program, according to its website, is to “intervene more rapidly and effectively when abuse and neglect occur.” CPPC works with about 45 different partners to identify parents at risk of either losing their children or going through hardships and helps to support them. LD 1874 would prevent the Department of Health and Human Services from eliminating the program until January 31, 2019, in order to give the next governor’s administration time to evaluate the program.

Bill To Help Women Access Contraceptives Passes

The Maine House voted 77-65 and the Senate voted 17-16 to pass a bill (LD 1063) to help women and teenage girls struggling with substance use disorders access contraceptives. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Scott Hamann (D-So. Portland), provides $120,000 for public outreach about the program for women in drug treatment, in jails and prisons and experiencing homelessness. All the midcoast Democrats and Rep. Owen Casas (I-Rockport) voted for the bill and all of the midcoast Republicans in attendance voted ‘No.’

Speaking in favor of the bill on April 3, Hamann noted that 952 babies were born exposed to drugs in 2017. He said many of these women weren’t intending to start a family, but they are likely unaware that they qualify for long-acting, reversible birth control devices under MaineCare, even if they are uninsured and not Medicaid eligible.

“The limited family planning benefit helps these women avoid unintended pregnancy,” said Hamann. “The program improves the health of women and their families, reduces the rates of abortion and unintended births and saves Maine millions of dollars in MaineCare and other public benefits.”

According to a 2011 study published in the journal Substance Abuse, about 86 percent of pregnancies among pregnant opioid-abusing women surveyed were unintended compared to 31 to 47 percent in the general population. As the Maine Sunday Telegram reported last month, 4-year-old Kendall Chick, who died allegedly at the hands of her grandfather’s fiancee in December, was born drug affected and had been removed from her birth parents’ custody when she was very young. The Legislature will have to appropriate funding for the bill before it heads to the governor’s desk.