The Maine Legislature will vote this week on whether to override Governor Janet Mills’ veto of a bill to legalize sports gambling in Maine. In her veto message, Mills wrote that she is “unconvinced at this time that the majority of Maine people are ready to legalize, support, endorse and promote betting on competitive athletic events.” A number of states have passed laws legalizing betting on sports following a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a law banning it. The website Legal Sport Report estimates that sports betting has brought in over $140 million in revenue in the 12 states that have legalized it so far.

Mills argued that Maine should first examine the experiences of other states that have legalized sports gambling to determine the best approach for Maine.

“In addition, while legalized sports gambling may attract some revenue to state coffers, the same economic premise in theory would justify legalizing all forms of gambling — betting on the weather, spelling bees and school board elections, for instance,” she added.

A quick Internet search finds that online betting sites actually do offer odds on who will win the Scripps National Spelling Bee, including whether the winning speller wears glasses, has braces or is male or female. Rep. Jeff Evangelos (I-Friendship), who sponsored a bill last year to legalize sports betting, said that he shares Mills’ concerns regarding problems associated with gambling, but “that horse long ago left the barn.”

“Many people who struggle economically are nonetheless attracted to the worst bet in town, the Maine State Lottery, including its scratch tickets, where the chance of winning is near zero,” wrote Evangelos in an email. “At least in sports betting you have a 50-percent chance of winning, the best odds in town. The only positive thing I can say about the delay and then the Governor’s veto is this, thank you Governor Mills for the delay, you saved me and thousands of other Mainers a bundle because the Patriots lost!”

Committee to Take Up Microgrids Bill

On Tuesday, January 14, the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee could vote on a bill that would allow for the operation of microgrids in Maine.

A microgrid is a localized grouping of on-site electricity generators that is capable of operating in conjunction with the traditional electric grid or disconnecting from it and running autonomously as an electrical island. Microgrid operators can adjust how much power it takes in from the main grid depending on how much electricity prices fluctuate throughout the day.

Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), the bill’s sponsor, wrote in testimony last year that the goal of his proposal is to improve the reliability and resilience of Maine’s power grid to cope with severe weather events.

“Having several small, independent grids scattered throughout Maine would benefit all electricity customers by more efficiently allocating limited resources in a crisis,” he wrote. “It would also bolster emergency facilities like police and fire stations, town offices and hospitals.”

However, the major utilities have been skeptical of Devin’s proposal. Emera Maine lobbyist Jim Cohen said the company supports the concept of microgrids but expressed concern that the proposal would allow entities other than the investor-owned utilities to run microgrids.

“Given that the distribution of electricity is a public utility function in Maine,” wrote Cohen, “if entities other than utilities are allowed to distribute electricity and serve customers, does that mean duplicative poles and wires serving customers — i.e., poles and wires of the utility, and then poles and wires of the microgrid operator?”

Banning Insurance Companies from Making Kids Wait for Dental Care

Often dental insurance plans make patients wait up to a year after they purchase coverage before they will pay for certain procedures. On January 21, Senator Heather Sanborn (D-Cumberland County) will present a measure to the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee that would prohibit health insurance companies from imposing waiting periods for dental treatment for patients under 19 years of age. The proposal would exempt orthodontic treatment from the law.

Bonds for Convention Center, Correctional Facilities & More

The Appropriations Committee will consider a number of bond proposals to invest in various projects around the state on January 21. LD 341, sponsored by Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham), would ask voters to approve borrowing $150 million for the construction of a convention center in Portland.

Rep. Steve Stanley (D-Medway) will present a $100 million bond (LD 1333) to establish a fund to upgrade county correctional facilities. Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) will introduce LD 12, which would borrow $40 million for the design and construction of a new fish hatchery. And Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) will present LD 1885, which would borrow $4 million to repair and replace the Bureau of Forestry’s helicopters.

Supporting Newborns

On January 23, the Health and Human Services will consider a bill that would require MaineCare to reimburse the cost of pasteurized donor breast milk for infants if the mother is unable to provide sufficient amounts of her own breast milk and the medical provider says it is medically necessary to provide donor breast milk.

The same day, the committee will hear LD 1957, sponsored by Rep. Anne Carney (D-Cape Elizabeth), which would extend from 60 days to a year the period of time following delivery of a baby that a woman may be eligible for services under MaineCare.

Tax Credits for Businesses that Allow Telecommuting

Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland County) will introduce a bill (LD 1980) to the Taxation Committee on January 23 that would provide tax credits to businesses that allow workers to work remotely from home. If a business eliminates a remote position, it would lose the tax credit corresponding to that position. A 2016 U.S. Census survey found that Maine had the ninth highest number of full-time telecommuters in the country with 5.5 percent of people working remotely.

Banning Cellphones While Driving in Parking Areas

Last year, the Legislature passed a law making it illegal to talk on a cellphone or use a handheld electronic device while driving. On January 21, the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bill Diamond (D-Cumberland County), will come back with an amendment (LD 1901) to the law, which would prohibit the use of a handheld electronic device while driving in parking areas. The measure will be heard by the Transportation Committee.

Loosening Car Seat Regulations for Big Babies

Under current law, children under 2 years of age are required to be secured in a rear-facing car seat unless the child exceeds the weight limit for the rear-facing position. Those children are permitted to sit in a forward-facing position. On January 21, Sen. Scott Cyrway (R-Kennebec County) will present a bill (LD 1900) that would also provide an exception from the rear-facing seat requirement for children who exceed a manufacturer’s recommended height limit and for children who have a medical condition that necessitates a different child restraint system.

Powering Ferries with Renewable Power?

As the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels becomes more urgent to avert a climate apocalypse, one legislator is looking into the feasibility of purchasing electric-powered ferries. Last year, “E-Ferry Ellen,” the world’s largest all-electric ferry, made its maiden voyage to connect the island of Aerø to the rest of Denmark, according to Forbes Magazine. The ship, which boasts a 4.3 MWh battery system, is able to hold 30 vehicles and 200 passengers.

On January 23, Rep. Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) will present a measure (LD 1887) to the Transportation Committee that would direct the Maine Department of Transportation to consider alternative fuel sources, such as electricity from renewable sources, to power its ferry fleet. The bill would also require the department to do a feasibility study comparing the cost of electric-powered ferries to fossil fuel–powered ferries and to compare the costs of both fuels over the anticipated service life of the vessels as part of the new vessel procurement process.

Examining the Use of Adjunct Professors

In recent years, the University of Maine system has been gradually increasing the number of low-paid, part-time adjunct professors to reduce costs. According to the Maine Education Association, 40 percent of the teaching staff at the University of Maine are adjuncts, up 4 percent since 2009. Many of these instructors would prefer to work full-time as they are forced to travel many miles between campuses to teach courses in order to make ends meet. UMaine adjuncts are highly credentialed, but they are only paid between $2,900 and $3,900 per course, or roughly $17,000 to $32,000 per academic year.

Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) will present a measure (LD 1878) to the Education Committee on January 23 that would establish a special commission to study the use of adjunct professors at the state’s university and community college system. The commission would consider the creation of a career path for adjunct professors and then report its findings and recommendations back to the Legislature. In full disclosure, my employer, the Maine AFL-CIO, represents part-time faculty in the UMaine and community college system.

Prohibiting Open Weed Containers While Driving

The Criminal Justice Committee could potentially vote January 22 on a measure (LD 141) that would make it a traffic infraction to consume marijuana or possess an open container of pot in the passenger side of a vehicle while driving. The proposal would also make it illegal to place marijuana products in a container labeled by the manufacturer of the container as containing a nonmarijuana substance. The measure is based on the state’s open container law for alcohol.

Testifying in favor of the bill last year, Rep. Patrick Corey (R-Windham) said he submitted the bill out of concerns surrounding impaired drivers using marijuana.

“The best way to describe the need for this bill is to take the committee back to a time when we still had ashtrays in vehicles,” wrote Corey. “I like to say ‘if you can’t have an open beer in the cupholder, you shouldn’t have a joint in the ashtray.’”

During the public hearing on the bill, Lauren Stewart, Director of the State Highway Safety Office, urged the committee to instead apply a blanket ban on open marijuana containers in public, similar to the law on open alcohol containers, rather than just for vehicles.

Busting GoFundme Scammers

The Criminal Justice Committee will also take up a bill (LD 700) that would create a crime of “organized electronic theft” for people who commit two or more thefts using crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe. Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Kennebec County) sponsored the bill on behalf of Pittston mother Jennifer Hembree, who lost her daughter, Taby, in a tragic accident in 2017.

In testimony, Hembree wrote that her godson in California started a GoFundMe for the family but ended up withdrawing most of the money for himself. Although GoFundMe eventually refunded some of the money to the donors, it refused to pursue legal action against the embezzler.

“The worst part of this situation is that, while most would not disagree that this is morally reprehensible, it’s not criminal,” wrote Hembree. “We lost our daughter, our son was injured and someone we trusted used that to steal from other people, and he faced no consequences for what he did. It was easy money for him with no consideration for the hurt that he caused.”

However, John Pelletier of the Criminal Law Advisory Commission opposed the bill, arguing that the bill criminalizes conduct that already constitutes theft under the criminal code. He further argued that the bill was likely unconstitutional because it expands the extra-territorial jurisdiction of the criminal code by applying Maine law to any victim who is a “resident” of Maine, even if they are out of state when the crime occurs.

Prohibiting Door-to-Door Electricity Sales

In 2018, a number of Maine residents got a knock on the door from a man named Wyatt Struin who claimed to be an “auditor” for Central Maine Power. It was around the same time when many CMP customers were complaining about unusually high electric bills and the man allegedly told the customers that he wanted to make sure that they were not overpaying for electricity, according to a 2018 Bangor Daily News investigation.

However, it turned out that the man was actually a salesman for Electricity Maine, an electricity supplier notorious for charging customers hundreds of dollars more than the standard offer. According to the BDN, Struin would pretend to correct the high bill while getting the customer to agree to an electricity supply contract that cost 30 percent more.

On January 23, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) will present a bill to the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee that would prohibit door-to-door sales practices directed at residential consumers by competitive electricity providers like Electricity Maine.