Bills to Amend Opiate Prescribing Laws

In recent months, people suffering from chronic pain have suddenly discovered that they won’t be able to receive the same level of medication that they’ve relied on for years due to a state rule change that requires doctors to taper down opioid pain medications. The new Department of Health and Human Services rules, which mandate that people suffering from chronic pain must be tapered down to 100 MME (morphine milligram equivalent) per day by July 1, are part of an effort to combat the opiate addiction epidemic. 

However, last month Rockland roofer Eric Wass and lobster buyer Brian Rockett of Owls Head filed a lawsuit against  the state arguing the rules discriminate against people with chronic pain and constitute a violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act beacause the rules fail to make “reasonable accommodations” for them. 

“The tapering that has already been required of claimants has caused them significant bodily harm and will render them unable to work and participate in basic life activities due to unabated chronic pain experienced in absence of adequate pain medication,” wrote attorney Patrick Mellor in a  March 27 letter to DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew. 

Next week, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee will take a stab at solving the controversy with a measure to amend the new tapering rules. On April 20, Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot Cty.), who is a physician, will present LD 1031, which would allow “reasonable exceptions” to the prescriber limits on pain medication for people with urgent medical needs. Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscatiquis Cty.) will also present a bill (LD 232) that would increase the allowable prescription limit of opioid pain relievers from 30 days to a six-month supply to accommodate people who will be out of the country at the end of the 30-day period. 

Automatic Voting System Bill Gets a Hearing

On April 18, the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal and Legal Affairs Committee will consider a measure that would create a system to automatically register eligible people to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses. Currently, six states and the District of Columbia have automatic registration, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The organization states that implementing such a system could add up to 50 million people to the voter rolls if expanded across the country. Supporters of the bill argue that the system would be a more reliable way to update voter rolls.

LD 1232, sponsored by Assistant House Democratic Leader Jared Golden (D-Lewiston), would require the Department of the Secretary of State and Bureau of Motor Vehicles to electronically store the documentation provided by applicants for driver’s licenses or nondriver identification cards. U.S. citizens who are residents and of voting age would then be added to the central voter registration system unless they choose to opt out. 

Handicapped Parking, Towing, Driving ATVs on Public Roads & Reduced Traffic Fines for Low-Income People

On April 18, Rep. Christina Riley (D-Jay) will present a bill (LD 1250) to the Transportation Committee which would require police to enforce disability parking restrictions on public property as well as private property open to public use. The measure would allow a court to suspend up to half of the fine for violating the disability parking law and impose a “nonmonetary sanction” to educate the offender about accommodating people with disabilities. Under the proposal, all fines would be sent to the municipality where the violation occurs. Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham) will also present a measure (LD 1251) to require towing services, when they tow an illegally parked vehicle, to notify the owner of the car of the need to retrieve the vehicle and pay the fees or risk losing title to the vehicle. The towing companies would have to waive the charges if they fail to notify the owner in a timely fashion. 

The Transportation Committee will also hear LD 1252, sponsored by Rep. Danny Martin (D-Sinclair), which would let people drive all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on public roads as long as the operator is licensed and has insurance and the ATV is registered and meets safety equipment standards. The proposal would prohibit riders from taking ATVs on roads with posted speed limits of more than 50 miles per hour. It would also allow municipalities and towns to adopt ordinances to restrict or ban ATVs from public ways in order to protect public safety. 

Also in the Transportation Committee, Rep. Mick Devin will introduce a bill (LD 1310) that would allow people who have lost their licenses due to unpaid traffic fines to be eligible to have their fines reduced in order to reinstate their licenses. Devin said one of his goals is to help low-income people who receive multiple fines and ultimately lose their licenses because they can’t afford to fix their cars or pay the fines.

Human Trafficking

House Speaker Sara Gideon will present LD 1277, which would require applicants for commercial driver’s licenses to complete a nationally recognized training program on preventing human trafficking in the trucking industry. Under the proposal, which will be heard by the Transportation Committee, the state would issue each trucker a wallet-sized card outlining signs of human trafficking and how to report it. 

On April 19, the Criminal Justice Committee will hold a public hearing for LD 1261, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond (D-Cumberland Cty.), which would create a new crime, that of enticing a minor to engage in prostitution. It would also create a crime for arranging travel for sex tourism and would stiffen penalties for purchasing sex with a minor. While there are no official estimates of the number of sex trafficking cases in the U.S., a 2015 report by the firm Hornby Zeller estimated there are roughly 100,000 to 150,000 women and children being sex-trafficked every year.

Coverage for Contraceptives

The Insurance and Financial Services Committee will hear a bill to mandate health insurance coverage for contraceptives on April 18. LD 1237, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McCreight (D-Harpswell), would mandate coverage for a 3-month-supply of contraceptives for the first visit and a year’s supply on subsequent visits. The coverage would be required without imposing out-of-pocket costs on the patient. At least 26 states have laws requiring insurance companies to cover Food and Drug Administration–approved contraceptives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Expanding Charter Schools in Maine

Charter schools have been extremely controversial since Gov. LePage first signed the bill authorizing up to 10 publically funded, privately managed educational institutions to operate in the state. Supporters argue that private charter school operators can be more innovative than traditional public schools and that some charters meet the needs of students with special needs better. Opponents express concerns that charters drain funding from public schools, are not accountable to taxpayers and are no better, or are even worse, than traditional schools. There are currently nine charter schools in Maine, but Senate Republican Leader Garrett Mason (R-Androscoggin Cty.), who sponsored the original charter school legislation, has submitted a bill (LD 1158) to remove the current limit of 10 schools that the state is allowed to authorize. The Education Committee will hear the bill on April 18.

Banning Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Ox Pulling

Rep. Russell Black (R-Wilton) has a proposal (LD 548) to require that animals entered into pulling events, most often at state agricultural fairs, have an ear tag or microchip implant for identification purposes. The bill would also allow the Commissioner of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to impose a two-year suspension from competition for a person found to have used performance-enhancing drugs on an animal in a pulling competition. The current suspension is for less than two years. The bill will be heard by the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee. 

Empowering Animal Shelters

A few weeks ago, Gov. LePage sent out a press release announcing that he was pardoning a dog named Dakota who was sentenced to be euthanized by a Kennebec County District Court after it escaped and killed a neighbor’s dog.

“I have reviewed the facts of this case, and I believe the dog ought to be provided a full and free pardon,” said LePage.

As it turned out, LePage was notified of the four-year-old husky’s situation by a board member of the Waterville Humane Society, who argued that Dakota was a “model animal” and that the dog behaved badly because it had been mistreated by its former owner. On April 18, the ACF Committee will hear a measure that would empower animal shelter to take a more active role in taking care of cruelly treated animals or to cause them to be “disposed of humanely.”

Neonicotinoid Pesticides

The impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on wildlife, particularly honeybees, has been an intensely debated topic in the agricultural world. While some studies have implied a link between mass bee die-offs (also known as colony collapse disorder), other researchers have disputed the findings, pointing to other factors like mites, parasites and environmental distress. On April 18, Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle) will introduce a bill to the ACF Committee that would require that any seed, plant or plant material solid in the state that has been treated with neonicotinoids to be labeled. Labels and display signs would provide a warning that neonicotinoids “have been found to harm nontarget organisms, including bees and other pollinators.” The bill would also restrict the sale of neonicotinoids to vendors that sell restricted-use pesticides, and would only allow certified applicators, farmers and licensed veterinarians to use the product.

Mental Health for Veterans, Credit for Casino Customers

On April 19, Veterans and Legal Affairs (VLA) Committee will hear a bill to set up a mental health program for military veterans. LD 1231, sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden (D-Lewiston), would direct the Bureau of Maine Veterans’ Services to station a social worker at each of the bureau’s field offices to coordinate and provide direct mental health care to veterans. The proposal would also appropriate $1 million to provide grants to providers of mental health services to veterans. 

On the same day, Rep. Nathan Wadsworth (R-Hiram) will present a bill (LD 1253) that would allow casino operators to extend credit to certain qualified customers. The VLA committee will also hear LD 1255, sponsored by Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick), which would direct the state to create a special “early childhood education lottery game,” which would be used to fund preschool programs.  

Ranked-Choice Voting 

Although Maine voters passed the Question 5 ranked-choice voting referendum last year by a margin of 52-48 percent, the matter is being challenged in court. The new law could face legal problems, as the Maine Constitution requires that winning candidates receive a plurality of votes, while Question 5 requires a majority, as ballots are retallied to come up with two finalists. The new voting system may require voters to approve a Constitutional amendment before it can be implemented. But in the meantime Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville) has a bill (LD 1256) that would set up a special task force to implement ranked-choice voting in Maine. LD 1256 would require the task force to come up with recommendations for rules and changes for the Legislature to consider next year. 


Taxing Fantasy Sports

Sen. Roger Katz (R-Kennebec Cty.) has a bill to require people operating fantasy contests, like fantasy football, to register with the state and pay a registration fee based on 10 percent of annual gross revenue they bring in, or up to $5,000. Fantasy football is an online game in which contestants play managers of virtual teams and compete for a percentage of the betting pool. LD 1320, which will be heard by the VLA Committee on April 18, would also prohibit fantasy contest operators from competing in the contests; would require the outcome to be based on more than just a score or point spread of a single game or contest; and would bar leagues from using high school or college players as well as athletes and sports officials who could impact the outcome of the game. 

Exempting Pension from Income Taxes

On April 19, Rep. Robert Foley (R-Wells) will present LD 16 to the Taxation Committee, which would provide a 100-percent income tax exemption for retirees 70 years of age and older. Under current law, Maine provides a $10,000 deduction for pensions and completely exempts military retiree pensions and Social Security benefits from income taxes. Gov. LePage has long argued for completely eliminating income taxes on all pensions. Also, Rep. Stephen Stanley (D-Medway) will introduce a bill (LD 1246) that would provide a property tax exemption for land that is crossed by a recreational trail, such as those used for snowmobiling, hiking or ATV use.

Student Loan Assistance

The Taxation Committee will also hear a measure to provide an additional exemption for student loan payments. LD 1123, sponsored by Sen. Mark Dion (D-Cumberland Cty.), would increase the maximum deduction from $2,500 to $5,000. The proposal would also increase the modified adjusted gross income thresholds for the phase-out of the deduction by $15,000 for taxpayers filing as single individuals and $30,000 for individuals filing a joint return.

Meanwhile, over in the Education Committee on April 19, Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin Cty.) will present LD 1290, which would provide to a teacher up to $12,500  for student loan forgiveness in order to match up to $5,000 awarded the teacher under the federal teacher loan forgiveness program. The measure would provide up to $12,500 to the teacher at a ratio of $12.50 in state funds for every $5 in federal loan forgiveness benefits that the teacher receives.

Studying Business Ownership by Racial Minorities

On April 19, the State and Local Committee will consider a bill (LD 1309) sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) that would set up a special commission to study business ownership by racial and ethnic populations and the wealth gap in the state. 

On the same day, the committee will hear LD 1295, sponsored by Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin Cty.), that would establish a Procurement Review Board to review and approve or reject all requests for proposals, bids, contract renewals and changes to existing contracts for the State’s procurement of supplies, services, construction and capital improvement leases valued at $1 million or more. State contracts have become a hot-button issue as the LePage administration has made it a priority to privatize, with little legislative oversight, as many services as it can.

Drinking Water and a Tourism Fund

The Labor, Commerce and Economic Development Committee will hear a bill to treat contaminated private drinking wells on April 19. LD 1263, sponsored by Sen. Joyce Maker (R-Washington Cty.), would provide $500,000 to treat contaminated wells, and directs Maine State Housing Authority to distribute $300,000 to organizations and agencies to identify at-risk individuals in homes with contaminated wells and to connect them with resources. The measure would also appropriate $200,000 to assist eligible low-income homeowners in purchasing well water treatment systems.

The committee will also hear LD 1306, sponsored by House Democratic Leader Erin Herbig (D-Belfast), which would create a special fund to provide grants to communities to promote tourism and events.

Shoreland Zoning Mandate

April 19 is “shoreland zoning day” in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee. ENR will hear LD 684, sponsored by Rep. Lydia Blume (D-York Beach), which would increase the vegetation buffer requirements from 75 feet to 150 feet in certain areas within the shoreland zone. It would also remove provisions in law that allow grandfathered parcels of land to have smaller vegetative buffers.

Blume will also present LD 1096, which would impose other shoreland zoning regulations. It would increase the maximum per-day penalty for violating municipal land use laws from $2,500 to $5,000 and the maximum per-day civil penalty for a specific violation of a municipal shoreland zoning ordinance occurring within an area zoned for resource protection from $5,000 to $10,000. It would also mandate that municipal shoreland zoning ordinances require an applicant for a development permit within the shoreland zone to provide preconstruction and postconstruction photographs of the shoreline vegetation and development site. Finally, the measure would require that the state provide more training to code enforcement officers in the technical and legal aspects of code enforcement.

Substituting Computer Language for World Language 

On April 19, the Education Committee will hear a bill to allow high school students to show proficiency in a computer language to satisfy the world language requirement for graduation. LD 1288, sponsored by Sen. Jim Dill (D-Penobscot Cty.), would also a provide $1 million per year to purchase a student information system that tracks student proficiency, grades and other information to link with the Department of Education’s student information system.

Rape Kit Legislation

On April 19, the Criminal Justice Committee will hear a pair of bills regarding laws governing forensic examination kits that are used to gather evidence of a sexual assault. LD 1219, sponsored by Sen. Kim Rosen (R-Hancock Cty.), would allow the kits to be used for crimes other than gross sexual assault. LD 1128, sponsored by Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick), would establish an 11-member committee to study the processing of evidence from sexual assault test kits and make recommendations for potential legislation to address the issue.

Putting County Jails Under State Control

For years, the LePage administration and counties have fought over funding for jails. Ten years ago, the state capped the amount of jail funding that local property tax payers must come up with and required the state to pay the difference. However, jails have since struggled with cost increases, and the LePage administration has often refused to provide more funding, arguing that the state should have more authority over managing the jails. In the past, according to the Bangor Daily News, the governor has said that he doesn’t care who runs the jails but whoever does should pay for them. On April 19, Sen. Diamond will call his bluff with a bill (LD 1266) that would put county jail facilities under state control. Earlier this spring, the Legislature also heard a bill that would allow counties to raise the property tax cap to bring in more revenue.

The “Right to Hunt & Fish” Amendment Returns!

The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the Humane Society of the United States will once again face off over a proposal to enshrine the right of Mainers to hunt and fish in the Maine Constitution. In the past four years, the Legislature has defeated similar measures, which are aimed at preventing future citizen initiatives that regulate hunting and fishing. Hunting rights groups are hoping to prevent referendums like the anti­­-bear baiting referendums from 2004 and 2014 from ever going to the voters again. LD?11, sponsored by Rep. Steve Wood (R-Greene), states that the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest game and fish “may not be infringed, subject to reasonable laws and rules to promote wildlife conservation and management, to maintain natural resources in trust for public use and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing.” The amendment also states that “public hunting and fishing are a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will hear the bill on April 20.  

Honey Sovereignty Bill

The Agriculture, Conseveration and Forestry Committee has heard several so-called “food sovereignty” bills to exempt face-to-face sales of poultry, dairy, rabbit meat and canned goods from regulation. And on April 20, the committee will hear its first honey sovereignty bill. LD 1167, sponsored by Sen. Amy Volk (R-Cumberland Cty.), would  exempt raw honey producers and sellers from state licensing and inspection requirements, provided that the raw honey is both extracted and sold within the state.

Divesting from the Dakota Access Pipeline

One of President Donald Trump’s first acts was to sign an executive order to expedite the approval process for the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. Trump’s executive order also rescinded a decision by the Obama administration to halt the project by refusing to approve an easement that would allow the proposed pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. DAPL, a 1,172-mile underground oil pipeline that would bring domestically produced sweet crude from North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, has been the target of intense protests by Native American tribal members fearing the plan will cause water contamination. 

On April 21, the Appropriations Committee will hear a measure (LD 981), sponsored by Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland Cty.), that prohibits the state treasurer from depositing funds in any bank that is providing funds, extending credit or financing the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. The measure would also require Maine’s Public Employees Retirement System to divest its holdings in any corporation or company that is constructing or funding construction of DAPL. 

Big Tax on Hybrid Vehicles

On April 21, the Transportation Committee will again hear a bill to tax hybrid vehicles as a way to make up for falling gas tax revenue to maintain the roads. LD 1226, sponsored by Sen. Ron Collins (R-York Cty.), would impose an annual registration fee of $250 on hybrid vehicles and $350 on electric vehicles instead of the annual $35 fee imposed on other passenger vehicles. The proposal would also require municipalities to spend revenue they collect from excise taxes on transportation projects within their municipality. And it would divert from municipalities to the Highway Fund the excise tax collected on trucks and truck tractors that haul trailers.

Raising the Age to Buy Cigarettes & E-Cigs

Last year, the City of Portland passed an ordinance to raise the legal age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21, and Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscatiquis Cty.) is hoping the state will follow suit. LD 1170, which will be heard by the Health and Human Services Committee on April 21, would increase the age to purchase tobacco and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21.

Surrender Your Firearms Bill

On April 21, the Criminal Justice Committee will hear a bill that would authorize a court to order an individual to temporarily surrender firearms and ammunition when it has been proved that the person poses a danger of causing personal injury to him/herself or others. LD 1175, sponsored by Sen. Mark Dion (D-Cumberland Cty.), would allow a law enforcement officer or a family or household member of the person to file a temporary emergency gun violence restraining order that expires in 21 days. Under the proposal, the court would hold a hearing to determine if a restraining order is necessary. Not surprisingly, gun rights groups have vowed to fight the measure.