On October 25 the Legislative Council met to consider bill requests for the 130th Maine Legislature’s upcoming second session.
The Maine Constitution limits the business the legislature can consider in the second session to budgetary matters, legislation called for by the governor, emergency bills, legislation referred to committees for study and report during the first regular session and legislation that comes from direct citizen initiatives.
In order to be considered during the second session, bill requests must receive affirmative votes from six of the Legislative Council’s ten members. The body is comprised of legislative leadership from both political parties and chambers of the legislature.
In total, the council screened 330 bills, accepting 107 into the second session and tabling four proposals to be considered at a later date.
Among the legislative requests considered by the council were several Republican-sponsored attempts to repeal or invalidate the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers.
LR 2413 would have ended the public health emergency declared by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) declared on July 1, which gives the agency authority to issue the emergency rule requiring health care workers to be inoculated against COVID-19.
Several bill requests focused on protecting medical autonomy, including LRs 2147 and 2148, which were intended to give Maine residents the right to make their own health care choices regarding vaccination.
LR 2149 would have removed the state’s existing vaccine mandates and prohibited the state from further mandating vaccines. LR 2162 would also have repealed the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
LR 2150 would have prohibited mandatory vaccines and stipulated that immunology testing for antigens sufficiently determines whether a person is immune to COVID-19. All of these Republican-sponsored measures failed by 4-6 votes along party lines.
Other health care-related bill requests that received approval from the legislative council included LR 2307, which requires the DHHS to inform hospitals located in the same county as a nursing facility about the nursing facility’s impending closure if it notifies the DHHS of its plans to close. The bill would require DHHS to provide notice to hospitals about the closure of a nursing facility within two business days of the department being informed of the facility’s closure. The agency would also be required to inform hospitals in adjacent counties if they are within 25-miles of a closing nursing facility.
The Legislative Council also approved a bill request intended to address burnout among nurses and improve patient care. The council rejected a Republican-sponsored bill request that would have waived certificate of need requirements for nursing and long-term care facilities during a state of emergency declared by either the governor or the DHHS.
Other legislative requests were focused on education, including a number of bills focused on school administration, funding formulas and the state’s publicly-funded colleges and universities.
One of the bill requests that failed would have prevented public schools from establishing masking requirements. Another would have mandated school children receive the COVID-19 vaccine if they were eligible.
The council rejected LR 2442, which would have required public schools to list the learning materials and activities used for student instruction during the most recent school year on a publicly-available website.
LR 2419, which was also rejected by the council, would have amended state laws to expand access to school choice during a state of emergency, as well as amend laws related to virtual public charter school enrollment and the grade levels these institutions are allowed to serve.
Several bills related to occupational licensing failed to receive the council’s approval, including a bill that would have attempted to address healthcare worker shortages in the state by allowing medical school graduates to be licensed as assistant physicians.
The council also rejected LR 2371, a bill which would have removed the requirement that applicants to some of the state’s professional licenses provide evidence they have “good moral character.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) recent ruling that affects lobster fishermen was also the subject of several legislative requests screened by the council.
The council rejected LR 2270, which would have required the Department of Marine Resources to report the most cost-effective actions for fishermen affected by the NOAA rule to the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources, and to make recommendations about how to help those affected through regulation. They also rejected a bill that would have created a legal defense fund for the lobster industry.
The council approved LR 2313, which would create a state grant program to help offset losses from the seasonal closure of Lobster Management Area 1, which is part of NOAA’s rule. A federal judge recently suspended implementation of the closure while legal challenges to the rule are pending.
Bills that were rejected by the Legislative Council can be appealed at a subsequent meeting. Bills approved by the Legislative Council will be considered by the legislature when it convenes for its second session.