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Much work remains after early Democratic legislative success

May 27, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has moved swiftly in its first months to pass a series of measures addressing Democratic priorities, including abortion access, pay equity, climate change and paid leave.

Democrats who won control of the Legislature and governor’s mansion used the power shift to expand Medicaid, adopt a pay equality law and begin promoting renewable energy.

But there’s still plenty of work to be done before lawmakers can adjourn in June. Lawmakers will soon debate the governor’s two-year $8 billion budget and determine which bills to fund.

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TO DO-LIST

Democratic Gov. Janet Mills is expected to soon sign bills that failed in past years, including proposals to ban so-called conversion therapy for gay minors and paid leave for employees.

Lawmakers face funding decisions on raising the minimum teacher salary to $40,000 and allowing state funding of abortions for Medicaid recipients.

A number of bills remain in committee, including a needle-exchange program and a push to require hands-free mobile devices for motorists.

Lawmakers are still hashing out potential compromises on gun control, online sports betting, broadband bills and workers’ compensation.

Lawmakers haven’t yet voted on a legal framework for marijuana sales, which could begin early 2020 or sooner.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

This month, Maine became the first state to ban single-use food and drink containers made from polystyrene foam, commonly known as Styrofoam.

Mills also signed legislation to repeal a former Republican Gov. Paul LePage policy that changed how solar owners were credited for energy sold to the grid. Another law sets a goal for Maine to come up with a plan to become a net exporter of energy by 2030.

Bills to ban single-use plastic bags and create a council tasked with expanding renewable energy are still pending.

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NATIVE AMERICANS

Tribal leaders and lawmakers are working together in hopes of easing long-simmering tensions.

Maine public schools and universities will soon ban the use of mascots and logos depicting Native Americans under a law Mills signed this month.

Maine also joined a handful of states that have renamed Columbus Day to honor indigenous people.

For their part, tribal leaders hope for progress on tribal gambling and domestic violence bills.

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PARTISANSHIP

With diminished power after the November elections, Republicans have been fairly quiet as Democrats pressed their agenda.

Republicans — joined by some Democrats — lost a battle to maintain religious and philosophical exemptions for vaccines when Mills signed a law on Friday eliminating them. The law will end non-medical vaccine opt-outs by 2021 for students at public and private schools and universities, including nursery school. Health care facility employees are also subject to the law.

But Republicans appear to have had some success.

They had enough votes to fight off some liberal goals from expanding Maine’s new ranked voting system to an amendment to explicitly outlaw sex discrimination.

All told, there’s a different tone after eight years with the outspoken LePage as governor. Lawmakers are trying to move away “from some of the personal attacks and focus on policy,” House Republican Leader Kathleen Dillingham said.

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BALLOT QUESTIONS-HEARINGS

Mills signed legislation last week calling for public hearings on citizen initiatives before they head to the ballot.

Currently, a citizen initiative heads to the ballot if lawmakers decline to pass it themselves. The new measure requires that certified initiatives receive a public hearing in front of a legislative committee. It says the Legislature can waive the requirement for a public hearing with a two-thirds vote of those present.

Maine already allows the Legislature to hold public hearings and work sessions on such initiatives.

But Republicans were concerned about a lack of hearings for ballot questions in recent elections.

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