Inside Augusta

Lawmakers debate name changes, liquor laws and local election procedures during Tuesday session

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Both chambers of the Maine Legislature convened on March 22 for the first of two scheduled sessions this week.

The Senate passed to be enacted seven bills and resolves, including one measure that makes permanent changes to the state’s liquor laws that were set to expire in September. In some circumstances, LD 1751 allows on-premises retailers and qualified distilleries to sell liquor for off-premises consumption and to sell cocktails for on-premises consumption.

Two other bills, including one to promote labor education within the University of Maine System, were placed on the special appropriations table. An additional bill was placed on the special study table.

The Senate also voted not to accept an ought to pass as amended report on LD 1337 from the Committee on Taxation. The bill sought to increase affordable housing by allowing municipalities to adopt ordinances imposing fees on residential properties not occupied by a permanent resident. 

The motion to accept the ought to pass as amended report failed by a vote of 31-3. The Senate instead accepted the minority ought not to pass report from the committee, effectively killing the bill.

The Senate also passed to be engrossed LD 1129, a bill intended to end the so-called “dark store theory.” According to Sen. Nathan Libby (D-Androscoggin), the bill attempts to end large retailers’ practice of asserting that municipal assessment of retail store property value should not reflect the size and nature of their buildings, but whether they are disused. 

Sen. Matthew Pouliot (R-Kennebec) rose to speak in opposition to the bill, saying it “attempts to solve a litigation issue through legislation” and automatically favors municipalities at the expense of property taxpayers’ rights.

The House of Representatives also passed to be engrossed a bill that would allow student athletes to profit from the use of their name, image, and likeness. 

By a vote of 78-56, the House also passed to be engrossed LD 1900. The bill stipulates that notice to change the name of an adult only needs to be provided to interested parties. An adopted amendment for the bill clarifies that a court cannot require public notice before approving a name change.

Democrats speaking in favor of the bill argued it would help protect the privacy of individuals fearing for their safety and wishing to undergo gender reassignment.

“When it comes to the deeply personal matter of a name change, Mainers deserve to have their safety and privacy protected regardless of whether they can prove a specific and explicit threat to their physical safety. The current requirement to publish notice in a paper offers no meaningful protection against fraud and yet badly compromises Mainers’ safety,” said Rep. Erin Sheehan (D-Biddeford).

Republicans objected to passage of the bill on the grounds that it could potentially complicate background checks and enable individuals to avoid fraud charges or flee past debts. 

“Determining a person’s identity is so important when conducting background checks and checking references for applicants for tenancy. Background checks are crucial for maintaining good order at the property and the safety and quiet enjoyment of those who live at the property or in the apartment building. At the end of the day, the landlord gets to go home but the tenants are stuck sharing a home with each other, which is why accurate background checks are so important,” said Rep. Amy Arata (R-New Gloucester).

“The major reason law requires publication of a name change is to prevent fraud by making a name change a matter of public record. Without a requirement to publish the notice, anyone can change their name to avoid debt, or fraud, or to defame others,” said Rep. Jennifer Poirier (R-Skowhegan).

The House also passed to be engrossed LD 859, a bill that permits municipalities to adopt different methods of determining elections, such as by implementing ranked-choice voting, if the change is made at a municipal meeting held at least 180 days prior to the election.

The motion to accept the bill’s ought to pass report was approved largely along party lines by a vote of 75 to 61, with Democrats supporting the bill and Republicans opposing it. 

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) said it would “simply give municipalities more options in municipal elections” and “does not require any municipality to do anything it is not already doing.” 

Berry also noted that the bill applies to non-charter municipalities. He stated that charter municipalities are already able to determine the methods of their elections and are not required to use plurality voting. Berry also said the League of Women Voters and Maine Citizens for Clean Elections support the bill and argued it would give municipalities more local control.

Republican opponents of the bill argued it would politicize local elections.

“Town meetings are respected traditions in many Maine communities. Make no mistake, LD 859 seeks to rewrite the rules for how these town meetings are conducted. By adopting the framework, we would enable political activists, some paid, some volunteer, to canvass the state and rewrite the rules of town meeting communities,” said Rep. Jonathan Connor (R-Lewiston).

“This bill for many people comes down to local control, but for many others it comes down to an expansion of ranked-choice voting. And while everybody has their own thoughts on ranked-choice voting, many of us come from parts of the state where it was not supported and where many of our communities all across rural Maine don’t believe we should be expanding it and politicizing, even more than they already are, our local selectman and school board races,” said Rep. William Tuell (R-East Machias). 

The House also passed to be engrossed an amended version of LD 1423.

The original bill doubled the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, from $2 per pack of 20 cigarettes to $4. The amendment, which was adopted by the House, requires minimum funding for the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program within the Department of Health and Human Services to match the amount of revenue collected on the sale of tobacco products, plus funds available in either the Fund for a Healthy Maine or other tobacco control programs recommended for the state, whichever is less. The amended bill no longer contains an increase in the tobacco tax. 

The bill will now be sent to the Senate for approval.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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