Last week our team offered a preview of the First Session of the 130th Maine Legislature based on a list of preliminary bill requests submitted by lawmakers before closure. The Revisor’s Office on Monday began releasing some of these bills as official legislative documents, giving the public a clearer picture of what issues lawmakers will debate in 2021.
The first 40 bills of the legislature were released by the Revisor’s Office on Monday, beginning with LD 1, “An Act To Establish the COVID-19 Patient Bill of Rights”, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson and co-sponsored by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau. The bill requires health insurance carriers in Maine to provide coverage for COVID-19 testing, treatment and immunization at no cost to consumers. It also authorizes pharmacists to administer COVID-19 vaccines, allows some health care professionals other than a physician to prescribe drugs to patients during a state of emergency and permits telehealth services to be delivered to Maine consumers audio-only by telephone.
LD 2, “An Act To Require the Inclusion of Racial Impact Statements in the Legislative Process”, sponsored by Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, would require a “racial impact statement” to accompany some legislation considered by lawmakers, at the discretion of the legislative committee of jurisdiction. The bill defines racial impact statement as “an assessment of the potential impact that legislation could have on historically disadvantaged racial populations.”
The bill would allow a committee of the legislature, or a legislative task force, to request information related to the racial impact of proposed legislation. Once requested by a legislative committee, a commissioner or director of a state agency must provide to the committee the data, analysis and other information necessary to prepare the statement. The second half of the bill requires the Legislative Council to study and determine the best method for establishing a permanent process for including racial impact statements on proposed legislation.
Understanding the impact of a proposed bill on various demographics is undoubtedly valuable information for lawmakers to consider when conducting the people’s business. However, it’s hard to see how this bill, in its current form, wouldn’t be used as a political tool in the interim. Until the Legislative Council studies (and then the whole legislature adopts) a process for regularly including these statements with proposed legislation, I anticipate they will be used selectively and only by the party in power.
A request for a racial impact statement must be made by a legislative committee before a department or agency commissioner is required to prepare one. Whichever party controls the legislature (and thus the legislative committees) can decide which bills will be accompanied by a racial impact statement and which ones won’t. Under this arrangement, only the bills for which the party in power wants the public to focus on their racial impacts will include one of these statements. I wish this weren’t my first assumption after reading LD 2, but in this era of political partisanship, it seems like the most likely path forward.
The first bill to reform emergency executive power and the process by which the governor declares and renews a state of emergency was also released Monday. LD 14, “An Act To Require a Two-thirds Vote To Extend a State of Emergency”, sponsored by Sen. Matthew Pouliot, does exactly what its title states. Under the bill, a state of emergency declared by the governor may not be renewed unless an extension is approved by a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Had the law been in place in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Mills would have needed the legislature’s approval to renew in April her initial state of emergency declared in March 2020.
Among the other bills released by the Revisor’s Office on Monday are a bond for maintenance and improvements to Maine’s National Guard facilities, a bond to build a new dormitory at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics and a measure to eliminate the plastic bag ban enacted by lawmakers in the 129th Legislature.
More bills will be released in the coming days and weeks as the legislature prepares to begin its work in earnest. A list of all the bills released by the Revisor’s Office to date this session can be viewed here.