Inside Augusta

What issues will Maine Democrats resurrect in 2021?

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With Maine’s 2020 statewide general election behind us, it’s time to look ahead to the first regular session of the 130th Maine Legislature. While Democrats will continue to control both chambers of the legislature in 2021, the composition of the House and Senate will look slightly different.

Democrats gained one seat in the Senate last week and now hold a 22-13 majority while Republicans took 11 seats in the House, narrowing the Democrats’ advantage in the lower chamber to 80-67. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, remains the state’s chief executive until 2022.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats met last week to elect their legislative leadership for the upcoming term. Senate Democrats unanimously re-selected Sen. Troy Jackson to serve as Senate President while Sens. Nate Libby and Eloise Vitelli will serve as majority leader and assistant majority leader, respectively. Libby and Vitelli held these same posts in the 129th Maine Legislature.

House Republicans re-elected Kathleen Dillingham to serve as minority leader and selected Rep. Joel Stetkis to serve as assistant leader. Rep. Stetkis is taking over for Harold “Trey” Stewart III, who is moving to the upper chamber after defeating incumbent Sen. Mike Carpenter in the District 2 Senate race.

What issues will be among Maine Democrats’ top priorities next session? Since the legislature never convened again after adjourning in March due to the coronavirus, a number of their top bills died on the vine. It’s likely many of these same priorities will be introduced as new legislation in the upcoming session.

Among them will be LD 900 from the 129th Legislature, titled, “An Act To Expand the Rights of Public Employees under the Maine Labor Laws.” This bill would give public employees the power to strike in Maine. This includes municipal and county employees, state and legislative employees, university, academy and community college employees, and judicial branch employees. The only public employees not covered by the law are those “whose duties include protecting public safety.”

The bill received a divided report out of the labor committee just days before lawmakers adjourned in March, but Democrats will have the votes to push it across the finish line in the upcoming session if they choose.

LD 1410 is also likely to be resurrected next year. This bill would create a paid family and medical leave benefits program. Democrats succeeded in creating a statewide paid leave program in the 129th Legislature, one that allows Mainers to take paid leave for any reason, but it’s unlikely they will stop there. Now they will turn to adding this new unfunded mandate on all employers, in addition to general paid leave, amidst the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic and Gov. Mills’ response to it.

LD 1646, championed by Rep. Seth Berry, should also make a return in 2021. LD 1646 amounts to a forcible takeover of Central Maine Power and Versant Power (formerly known as Emera Maine). If the two companies do not agree to sell their transmission and distribution assets to the state, the state would seize them through eminent domain, establishing a “consumer-owned utility.”

This acquisition is sure to be a financial boondoggle for Maine ratepayers. The only question that remains is whether Democrats as a whole are poised to take action or if Rep. Berry is the only politician serious about the issue.

It will also be interesting to see if Maine Democrats want a redo on LD 816, a bill that failed in the 129th Legislature. LD 816 would bind Maine’s four Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Currently, Maine is one of two states that does not award all of its Electoral College votes through a winner-take-all scheme.

Instead, two of our four Electoral College votes are awarded to the winner of the statewide popular vote while the other two are awarded to the popular vote winner in each congressional district. The bill failed in 2019 because key Democrats voted against it. Will they do the same in 2021?

Finally, the coming year will reveal what appetite exists among Maine Democrats to rein in Gov. Mills’ emergency executive power. The governor and her administration have owned Maine’s response to the coronavirus pandemic from the start. Some Democrats, including Sen. Libby, were critical of Mills’ approach in the early days of the pandemic.

Are they open to reforming emergency executive power, or will they act to shield the governor from further criticism?

We’ll learn more when the legislature convenes in December to seat its new members and to elect the remaining leadership positions, as well as a new secretary of state.

About Jacob Posik

Jacob Posik, of Turner, is the director of communications at Maine Policy Institute and the editor of The Maine Wire. He formerly served as a policy analyst at Maine Policy. Posik can be reached at jposik@mainepolicy.org.

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