The Gun Rights Bills

The Criminal Justice Committee will once again hear a range of Republican bills to repeal a number of gun control laws on the books. On March 17, the committee will consider LD 44, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin Cty.), which would lower the age limit to carry a concealed firearm from 21 to 18. Last session, Brakey sponsored the so-called “Constitution Carry” bill that repealed the requirement that gun owners must take a gun safety course and apply for a permit before they can legally carry a concealed firearm. Brakey will also present LD 574, which would repeal the provision in law that requires gun owners to tell law enforcement that they are carrying a concealed gun when pulled over at a routine traffic stop. Another bill (LD 598), sponsored by Rep. Rich Cebra (R-Naples), would not only remove the requirement that a person who is carrying a concealed firearm inform law enforcement that they’re carrying a gun during a routine traffic stop, but also when being detained or arrested.

Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham) will introduce a measure (LD 9) that would prohibit any government agency from keeping a list or registry of privately owned firearms and their owners, with the exception of guns that were used in crimes. The bill appears to be in response to fears that last year’s universal background checks ballot measure would lead to the establish of a government gun registry.

LD 595, sponsored by Rep. Stacey Guerin (R-Glenburn), would prohibit law enforcement officers from ordering a subordinate officer to seize or confiscate a firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition in the possession of Maine residents except in cases where the gun was used in a Class A, Class B or Class C crime or if the law enforcement officer is assisting a federal law enforcement agency on a drug trafficking or organized crime case. Under the proposal, a police officer would be fined $1,000 for the first violation and $2,000 and up to 364 days in jail for the second violation. 

The Gun Control Bills

On the same day, Democrats will come forward with their own gun control initiatives. Rep. John Spear (D-South Thomaston) will present LD 351, which would allow municipalities to prohibit private citizens from carrying guns at municipal meetings and voting places. Rep. Dean Rykerson (D-Kittery) will introduce LD 352, which would require gun dealers to sell a gun lock with every firearm. LD 443, sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscatiquis Cty.), would allow municipally funded hospitals to prohibit guns in the buildings. Finally, Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) has submitted a bill that would require gun buyers to present proof of having successfully completed military firearms training or an approved firearm safety course to dealers before purchasing weapons. 

A Probation Reform Measure

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will also  take up a measure on March 13 aimed at revising the rules governing probation officers. LD 589, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot Cty.), would establish a special working group to review the function and mission of probation officers and make recommendations for potential legislation to update the laws and rules regarding probation officers and establish a licensing procedure for probation officers. 

In a memo, the bill’s author Stan Moody, who is the director of the Maine Prison Chaplaincy Corps, explains that the goal of LD 589 is to address the 56 percent recidivism in the Maine prison system. He noted that about 32 percent of inmates who are re-incarcerated  have violated the terms of their probation. Moody argued that their needs to be a more “objective process” for challenging the performance of probation officers, rather than simply an internal review, in order to ensure that recently released inmates are getting enough support in the community to help them stay out of jail or prison.

“All that stands between the community at large and high recidivism rates is a probation system with virtually no accountability to the public,” wrote Moody. “Local communities are left with the social burden for the high reentry failure rate — families disintegrated, social services strained and the compounding of a vast welfare culture. The only visible path to relieving this burden is a more community-conscious probation effort. Far too great a percentage of residents in our county jails are technical probation violators or bail violators who have surrendered their constitutional rights in exchange for release while awaiting trial. A movement toward community-consciousness by our corrections system would greatly help reduce overcrowding at our county jails.”

Equitable Rural School Funding?

Also on March 13, the Education Committee will hear a measure, LD 736, that would attempt to create a more equitable funding stream for rural schools by examining the funding of the most disadvantaged school districts and “determining how best to provide financial resources to better assist these school administrative units.” The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. David Woodsome (R-York Cty.), is a concept draft, so there are no details available on how it would accomplish its goal. On the same day, Rep. Stephen Stanley (D-Medway) will present LD 680, which would allow a spouse of a school board member to serve in a volunteer position in the school within the board’s jurisdiction as long as 2/3 of the board votes in favor. 

Some Liquor, Beer & Wine Bills

Over in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, lawmakers will consider a number of bills to ease the laws around the sale and consumption of liquor, beer and wine. Under current law, a brewery, winery or wholesaler is allowed to provide samples of up to nine gallons of beer and nine gallons of wine per year to a retailer. LD 415, sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Garrett Mason, would allow breweries, wineries and wholesalers to increase the allowable annual limit to 18 gallons of malt liquor and 18 liters of wine. The bill would also allow distillers to increase the annual supply of samples they provide to retailers from three liters to six liters of distilled spirits.

Current law allows retailers to conduct taste testings on the licensee’s premises as long as the licensee stocks at least 125 different labels of wine or 100 different labels of beer. LD 544, sponsored by Rep. Maureen Terry (D-Gorham), would remove the minimum stock requirement. LD 657, sponsored by Sen. Rodney Whittemore (R-Somerset Cty.), would allow liquor stores in small towns with seasonal populations to carry fewer spirits in stock than they are currently required to carry.  Finally, Rep. Stephanie Hawke (R-Boothbay Harbor) will also present LD 339, which would allow for the direct shipment of wine in bottles that are smaller than 750 milliliters. 

Another Stab at the Bottle Bill

On March 13, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee will consider yet another bill to weaken the bottle deposit law. LD 683, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry (R-Arundel), would phase out beverage containers 46 ounces and greater in capacity from the bottle redemption laws starting in December. The measure would also require manufacturers of certain refillable containers and distributors of certain nonrefillable containers to pay a $0.005 fee  per beverage container delivered for sale or distribution during any month until 2022. All of the revenue from the fee would be deposited into the Maine Solid Waste Management Fund for use by the Maine Solid Waste Diversion Grant Program.

Zero-Emission Vehicles

Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin Cty.) has submitted a measure to direct the state to revise state rules concerning zero-emission vehicles to reflect current market conditions and to determine ways that the state can meet emission reduction goals by procuring zero-emission vehicles for state transportation fleets. Maine  has already met its first target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels and has set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In 2013, Maine decided not to participate in an eight-state effort pledge to get 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles on roadways by 2025, according to the Portland Press Herald. 

Doctor Scholarships

On March 14, the Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee will hear LD 503, which would continue funding the Finance Authority of Maine’s Doctors for Maine’s Future scholarship program. The program provides scholarships for medical students who enroll in a qualifying Maine-based medical school program. Currently, Tufts University School of Medicine Maine Medical Center Program and the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine participate in the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship Program, according to FAME’s website. Medical providers have long raised the alarm of the desperate need to find doctors to practice in rural Maine. In recent years, Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport has lost 13 primary care physicians and continues to face challenges in recruiting doctors, according to Coastal Healthcare Alliance CEO Mark Fourre.

Rabbit Food Sovereignty Bill

On March 14, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will be hearing a measure (LD 175) to allow rabbit breeders to sell uninspected rabbit products off the farm, at farmers’ markets, by delivery to customers’ homes, to members of community supported agriculture (CSA) farms with which the rabbit producer has a direct marketing relationship, to locally owned grocery stores and locally owned restaurants on the condition that the farm slaughters 1,000 rabbits annually. 

In the past several years, the Legislature has considered numerous so-called “food sovereignty” bills that would exempt face-to-face sales of farm products from state food safety laws. Several towns in Maine have passed food sovereignty ordinances, which have been ruled unenforceable by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court. At the state level, local food activists have continued to pressure lawmakers to loosen food safety restrictions, arguing that they are too costly and onerous for small farmers to comply with. Opponents worry that food sovereignty measures would leave Maine’s local food system susceptible to food contamination, put federal funding for Maine agriculture in jeopardy and put farms that adhere to the regulations at a competitive disadvantage. 

Drug Rehabilitation for Jails

On March 15, Sen. Justin Chenette (D-York Cty.) will present a proposal (LD 377) to the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that would create a special grant program to establish a drug rehabilitation and treatment program for jails. The grants would provide partial funding to counties that are planning to build or convert a portion of their jail facilities for use as residential drug rehabilitation and treatment facilities. Approximately 85 percent of jail and prison inmates are involved with substance abuse, according to a 2010 report by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. The report found that alcohol and drugs were factors in 78 percent of violent crimes, 83 percent of property crimes, and 77 percent of public order, immigration or weapons offenses and probation/parole violations.

Stripping Legislators of Health Benefits & Retirement

Rep. Brad Farrin (R-Norridgewock) will present a measure (LD 17) that would eliminate state retirement benefits and post-retirement health benefits for legislators. Maine legislators receive a salary of $14,074 for the first year of their two-year term, and $9,982 for the second year, along with $38 a day for lodging, or mileage and tolls in lieu of housing, and $32 per day for meals when the Legislature is in session. The bill will be heard by the Appropriations Committee on March 14.

Scrutinizing Standardized Testing

In the past several years, parents, teachers and students have been increasingly critical of the overuse of standardized testing in schools. Critics of standardized testing argue that the tests don’t provide an accurate measure of student achievement, take up too much valuable classroom time and unfairly tie teacher evaluations to test scores, which, according to various studies, are often linked to the economic background of the students. A 2013 Gallup poll found that fewer than 25 percent of parents surveyed believed that increased testing has helped local public schools. 

On March 15, the Education Committee will consider LD 573, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin Cty.), which would direct the Maine Education Policy Research Institute to conduct an audit of standardized testing in school districts to analyze the amount, cost and usefulness of standardized testing. The bill would require the institute to issue a report on its findings along with recommendations for future legislation to the Legislature next year. The Maine Education Policy Research Institute, a state-funded program co-directed by the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine, was established to study Maine education policy for the Legislature. 

Banning Evictions for Tax Liens

The Judiciary Committee will also consider a measure (LD 536) sponsored by Rep. Lester Ordway (R-Standish) that would prohibit courts from ordering a sale of property to satisfy a lien on the property if the owner is still living there. The issue of people being evicted from their homes was amplified earlier this year when Gov. LePage blasted a decision to evict an elderly couple from their home in Albion for not paying their property taxes. LePage has promised to submit legislation to prevent future evictions of elderly people in poverty, but LD 536 is a “by request” bill, which means that the legislation was requested by one of Ordway’s individual constituents. 

Wild Game Dinners, Sunday Hunting, Amish Hunters 

Under current law, military veterans with a service-connected disability can obtain a complimentary license  to fish, trap and hunt. On March 16, the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will consider a bill (LD 275) that would provide free hunting, trapping and fishing licenses to nonresident disabled veterans who hold hunting and fishing licenses in other states. For about the billionth time, IF&W will also consider yet another Sunday hunting bill. LD 424, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Pierce (R-Dresden), would allow hunting on five Sundays for each of the seasons for bear, moose, deer and wild turkey in coastal wildlife management areas, on public land, and on private land of 5 acres or more with the landowner’s permission.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo Cty.) is once again backing a measure (LD 426) to allow Amish hunters to wear red because their religion forbids them to wear blaze orange. In 2015, Thibodeau submitted a similar measure, pointing out that Amish believe that orange is “too flashy” and noted that there are three Amish communities in Maine —  Smyrna, Fort Fairfield and Unity. 

“The fine for hunting while not wearing orange can be no less than $100 and no more than $500,” wrote Thibodeau in 2015. “I don’t believe that it is right to fine someone based on their religious beliefs. Though hunter safety is of the utmost importance, I do not think that wearing red versus orange poses a greater risk to the hunter, or others hunting in the area.”

However, the Department of Health and Human Services opposed the measure, stating that hunters have become accustomed to seeing other hunters wearing fluorescent orange, and there is “no common definition or standard for hunter red which can be clearly measured for law enforcement purposes or for consistency amongst hunters who would be required to wear it.”

The department said that fluorescent orange has been mandatory since 1973 and has contributed significantly to the decline of two-party incidents since then. 

LD 556, sponsored by Rep. Gary Hilliard (R-Belgrade), would prohibit the destroying, tearing down and defacing of property posting signs by hunters and would result in a one-year suspension of hunting licenses for those found guilty of violating the law. LD 587, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saviello (R-Franklin Cty.), would allow hunters to sell game meat at a “wild game dinner,” which it defines as “a single event where meat from a lawfully taken animal is cooked and sold to persons at the event for immediate consumption.” It is currently against the law to sell or barter bear, deer, moose, or wild turkey meat. 

Shooting from Cars and Boats

The IF&W Committee will also hear LD 693, sponsored by Rep. Joel Stetkis (R-Canaan), which would weaken the law that prohibits hunters from shooting from a vehicle or motorboat. The measure would allow people to hunt migratory waterfowl from a motorboat; would permit paraplegics and single or double amputees to shoot from a parked vehicle; and would also allow people to shoot from a motorboat as long as the propeller isn’t in motion. The bill would also allow hunters 21 years of age and older and soldiers over 18 years of age on active duty to have a cocked and loaded firearm in a motor vehicle or in a trailer hauled by a vehicle. 

Electricity Price-Gouging Bills

Maine restructured its energy markets to prohibit transmission and distribution utilities from generating electricity 20 years ago, which paved the way for competitive energy providers (CEPs) to sell power to electricity customers. In recent years, the number of CEPs — like Electricity Maine, FairPoint Energy and XOOM Energy — have increased, many of which offer variable rates. Customers who don’t choose a CEP receive the Standard Offer, which is set by auctions held by the PUC. CEPs have come under fire in recent years for charging much higher rates than the Standard Offer. Last year, an investigation in the Bangor Daily News revealed that hundreds of thousands of Maine electricity customers who received service from CEPs would have paid $20 million less if they had just stuck with the standard offer from the utility. 

On March 16, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will consider a pair of bills that will provide some protections for CEP customers. LD 259, sponsored by Rep. Norman Higgins (R-Dover Foxcroft), would prohibit a competitive electricity provider from charging a residential consumer a rate for generation service that is higher than the rate charged for standard-offer service. LD 240, sponsored by Sen. Jim Hamper (R-Oxford Cty.), would prohibit CEPs from continuing generation service to a consumer beyond 12 months without annual express consent from the consumer. 

Restoring the Schooner Bowdoin

Rep. Kim Rosen (R-Bucksport) is hoping, with LD 89,  to provide some funds to restore Maine’s “official vessel,” the schooner Bowdoin. Built in 1921 for Arctic exploration, the Bowdoin is currently used for Maine Maritime Academy’s Vessel Operations and Technology Program, which takes the schooner up and down the Eastern Seaboard. According to author Viriginia Thorndike, the explorer Donald Baxter MacMillan hired the Hodgdon Brothers of East Boothbay to design the vessel and New Bedford, Massachusetts, shipbuilder William H. Hand to build it. MacMillan launched the Bowdoin from East Boothbay in 1921, from where he and and his crew sailed to Baffin Island to overwinter. The Appropriations Committee will hear the bill on March 16. 

Another Initiative to Weaken the Citizen Referendum 

For the third time this year, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will hear yet another round of bills to weaken the citizen initiative process. LD 89, sponsored by Rep. Garrel Craig (R-Brewer), would require that a citizen initiative petition contain signatures of at least 15 percent of the registered voters in each county. Under current law, petition gatherers need 10 percent of the total statewide votes in the last gubernatorial election, which is about 61,000 signatures. The resolution would also require the Secretary of State to hold at least one public debate on proposed ballot referendums in each state senatorial district “at which the full text of the measure and any amended form, substitute or recommendation of the Legislature must be read aloud in its entirety.”

Exemptions from Weight Limits

On March 17, Senate President Mike Thibodeau will present a bill (LD 444) that would increase from 10,000 pounds to 26,000 pounds the upper registered gross weight limit of vehicles that may have disabled veteran or special veterans registration plates. Thibodeau’s bill is the third in a series of proposals this year to provide exemptions to weight limits. A few weeks back, the Transportation Committee heard Rep. MaryAnne Kinney’s (R-Knox) bill to exempt trucks hauling animal bedding from posted road restrictions and another bill that would have exempted vehicles carrying perishable products from the weight restrictions. 

Public Transit & Pedestrian Safety & Dog Passengers

The Transportation Committee will also hear LD 500, sponsored by Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.), which would allow municipalities to partner with each other to form transportation corridor districts with the purpose of creating a mechanism to fund public transportation as well as access to passenger rail, ferry, bus, bicycle and pedestrian facilities and routes at transportation station areas and in downtown areas. Under the proposal, the participating municipalities would be allowed to set up a district board of directors and to borrow money issue bonds for district projects.

The committee will also consider LD 584, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin Cty.), which would establish a special fund to be used for pedestrian safety improvements, including lights, paint, signs, speed bumps and reconstruction of intersections. The measure would allow municipalities to apply to the fund for grants, which would  provide up to two-thirds of the cost of a pedestrian safety improvement project.

Once again, the Transportation Committee will consider the perennial bill (LD 623) to revise the car inspection law to require inspections once every two years rather than once a year. Finally, Rep. James Handy (D-Lewiston) will present LD 624, which would require that dogs be tethered or harnessed when riding in the passenger seat of cars to prevent injuries in the event of an accident. The bill would also prohibit drivers from allowing dogs to ride in the front seat between an occupant and the steering wheel or between an occupant and the dashboard. Law-enforcement dogs would be exempt under the proposal. 

Joint Committee Hears the Marijuana BABLO Bill

Back in January, Gov. Paul LePage nearly killed a bipartisan bill to fix a drafting error in the recreational marijuana legalization referendum that inadvertently allowed children to legally smoke pot because he insisted that it include money for enforcement and that it switch oversight of the program to the Bureau of Alcohol, Beverages and Lottery Operations rather than the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. The governor argues that BABLO is better suited to regulate marijuana because it has more tax and law enforcement authority than ACF, which is exactly why many legalization proponents are against it. 

On March 17, the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation will consider LD 243, which would make BABLO the licensing authority for retail sales and cultivation of recreational cannabis rather than ACF. It would also appropriate $1.6 million to cover the cost of rule making and other duties related to the regulation of  the cultivation, distribution and sale of retail marijuana.