Bills passed by the Maine Legislature during its recently convened special session have begun making their way to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk. As of June 22, Mills has signed over 300 pieces of legislation.
The new laws, which go into effect 90 days after receiving Mills’ signature, cover everything from changes to the tax code, environmental regulations, healthcare, campaign finance and elections, and occupational licensing.
Many of the bills address shortcomings in the law’s ability to help residents during emergencies, which was highlighted by the pandemic.
Several emergency pieces of legislation, which go into effect immediately after being signed, are aimed at the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 emergency.
On May 27, Mills signed LD 1700, an emergency bill that provided a spending plan for federal funds allocated to Maine by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
The bill created the American Rescue Plan Audit, Controller and Program Management program, which will manage and oversee the one-time allocation of funds from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund, created by ARPA. The program is housed within the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. The bill allocates $1,000,000 to this program for the 2020-2021 fiscal year and $2,000,000 for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
The bill also created the American Rescue Plan Economic, Workforce and Innovation Program, which will manage and oversee the one-time allocation of funds from the Federal Expenditures Fund, also established by ARPA. The funds are to be spent on preliminary programs, metrics, and assessment tool development for economic development, innovation and workforce programs. The program is housed within the Department of Economic and Community Development. The bill allocates $800,000 to this program for the 2020-2021 fiscal year and the same amount for the 2021-2022 fiscal year.
Governor Mills outlined a more detailed plan for spending the $1.13 billion in ARPA funds Maine received in her “Maine Jobs and Recovery Plan.” This is included in the supplemental budget, on which the legislature has yet to hold a vote.
Another emergency bill, LD 791, signed by the governor on June 22, makes changes to the state’s laws on the practice of telehealth or telemedicine.
In March 2020, Mills issued several executive orders that made it easier for medical professionals who held licenses in good standing in other states, or who had previously held a license in good standing in Maine, to obtain emergency licenses to practice medicine during the COVID-19 emergency. She also enabled medical license holders, or those who obtained temporary licenses through these means, to practice telehealth or telemedicine for all “medically necessary services.”
LD 721 puts into place certain measures that enable telemedicine to be offered through MaineCare after the state of emergency ends on June 30.
The law updates definitions of telehealth in Maine law, allows patients using MaineCare services to provide verbal, electronic or written consent to telehealth and telemonitoring services, and removes restrictions on the kind of technology that can be used to provide telehealth services.
LD 721 stipulates that a health insurance carrier must provide coverage for telehealth as long as the healthcare provider is acting within the scope of their license and the rules of standard practice adopted by the licensure board that issued the provider’s license. It also bans carriers from restricting the prescription of medicine through telemedicine for some providers.
LD 721 is not the only bill that seeks to make permanent changes to law necessitated by the pandemic.
LD 32, signed by Mills on June 22, makes it easier for the public to attend and participate in remote meetings held by public bodies.
The law authorizes municipal, county, and school boards to adopt policies allowing members to participate remotely in public proceedings. It also applies to Maine’s public universities and other regional boards and commissions.
Under the new law, each member of a body participating in a remote public meeting must be able to hear and speak to all other members, and attending members of the public must be able to hear all members. All votes taken must be roll call votes.
If a body determines the public can participate in a public proceeding, they must notify the public when the meeting is to take place and inform them how to participate remotely. If the proceeding is also being held in-person, the body must also tell the public how to attend.
Mills also signed LD 683 on June 22, which allows the boards of directors of nonprofit corporations to adopt guidelines and procedures for remote meetings, remote participation by members, and remote voting.
Other significant laws recently signed by Mills include LD 1666, which requires the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to establish and operate a state-wide, multi-use online energy data platform that natural gas and electric utilities customers can use to find information about their usage.
The law allows the PUC to hire an outside entity to create and operate the platform. The costs of creating and operating the platform are to be paid by the ratepayers of natural gas utilities and investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities. The PUC is to determine the amount to be assessed on an annual basis and the utilities are to collect the money.
The law also requires that investor-owned natural gas and electric utilities participate in data sharing, while consumer-owned utilities may elect to participate in data sharing. A bill that would have created a consumer-owned utility that had the power to buy out Versant Power and Central Maine Power was recently tabled in the House of Representatives.
The governor also recently signed LD 1053, which allows the PUC to approve a petition to construct and operate a new microgrid if doing so would be in the public interest, and LD 99, which requires the state of Maine divest itself of all assets invested in fossil fuels by January 1, 2026.