Next week Republicans will present another litany of bills to restrict access to food and housing assistance to low-income families. On Thursday, April 27, Rep. Deb Sanderson (R-Chelsea) will once again attempt to prohibit legal non-citizens, most commonly African refugees fleeing violence and persecution, from receiving General Assistance to pay for food and housing while they wait for their work permits to be processed. In 2015, Republicans nearly eliminated the program but failed to, after LePage forgot to veto a bill to restore funding. If passed, Sanderson’s bill (LD 480) will leave thousands of new Mainers homeless. The measure will be heard by the Health and Human Services Committee in Room 209 of the Cross Building at the State House in Augusta.

On the Democratic side, Sen. Troy Jackson (D-Aroos-took Cty.) will introduce LD 1070, which would ask the federal government to waive time limits for so-called able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) receiving food stamps in areas with high unemployment. Rep. Scott Hamann (D-South Portland) will also present LD 689, which would make any household below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, or $44,863 for a family of four, eligible for food supplement benefits. The committee will also hear LD 1302, sponsored by Rep. Colleen Madigan (D-Waterville), which would provide financial assistance to welfare recipients for vehicle repairs, registration and inspection when needed for their employment. 

Insurance Coverage for Lyme Disease Treatment

Last year, the number of Lyme disease infections in Maine hit an all-time high of 1,464 cases, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. On April 25, the Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hear LD 1417, sponsored by House Republican Leader Ken Fredette (R-Newport), which would require insurance carriers to provide coverage to diagnose and treat Lyme disease.

Anti-Psychiatric Hospital Privatization Bill

Back in January, Gov. Paul LePage vowed to build a privately managed psychiatric facility to house patients with severe, persistent mental illness who have been found not criminally responsible for their crimes, despite protests from Democrats that he would need legislative approval first. Although the governor still has not announced a specific plan, Democrats fear it could end up in the hands of a private corrections corporation. On April 25, Rep. Charlotte Warren (D-Hallowell) will present a proposal (LD 1296)  that would prohibit the privatization of state correctional facilities and forensic hospitals that provide psychiatric services to the correctional system and the Maine court system. The Criminal Justice Committee will hear the bill.

Online Drug Offender Registry

Alt-right darling Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst) will present LD 1333, which would create an online drug offender registry, to the Criminal Justice Committee on April 25. Under the proposal, which would be structured like the state’s sex offender registry, anyone convicted of trafficking methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or hallucinogenic drugs would be forced to provide their name, date of birth, a photo, address and place of employment to be displayed on a state website for the anyone to view. Members of the public would be able to sign up for an email notification to inform them when a registrant moves into their neighborhood. Registrants would be required to notify law enforcement agencies whenever they move, change jobs, enroll in school, or travel out of the country. Registrants would also be required to pay a $25 registration fee. 

A Softer Approach to the Drug Epidemic

On April 28, the HHS Committee will hear a proposal to provide immunity from drug prosecution for people who report a drug overdose. LD 1326, sponsored by Rep. Karen Vachon (R-Scarborough), would also repeal the law that makes posession of a hypodermic needle a crime. The bill would provide $75,000 for a needle exchange program and $50,000 per year to distribute the drug overdose antidote naloxone through community-based drug prevention programs. The committee will also hear LD 107, sponsored by Rep. Patricia Hymanson (D-York), which would repeal the 24-month limit on MaineCare coverage for Suboxone, an opioid replacement used to treat people with addictions. 

Finally, Rep. Karen Gerrish (R-Lebanon) will present LD 1186, which would direct the Department of Health and Human Services to create a resource guide for alcohol and drug abuse treatment, prevention and recovery programs that would be available online and searchable by location and by services provided.