For the sixth time during the 130th Maine Legislature’s second session, the House of Representatives and Senate met on March 9 to consider pending legislation.
The Senate finally dispensed with 24 pieces of legislation, including an emergency bill that allows lobster harvesting to begin at 4 a.m. in September and a bill that requires fireworks sellers to provide customers with a statement that local ordinances may prohibit or restrict their use.
The Senate also debated a motion to accept an ought not to pass report on LD 867, which would have put a five-year ban on mandating COVID-19 vaccines.
Sen. Lisa Keim (R-Oxford) spoke first in favor of the bill’s advancement, saying the legislation’s ban on mandated COVID-19 vaccines is “needed to preserve the right to informed consent, a bedrock principle of medical treatment and allow time to determine efficacy and long-term impact.”
She also claimed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both at the state and federal levels, have been “cherry picking” what data on COVID-19 are being provided to the public.
“Any mandate of the COVID-19 vaccine at this time is not only wrong but reckless to the credibility of government and public health policy,” Keim said.
Sen. Marianne Moore (R-Washington) also rose to speak in opposition to the ought not to pass motion, saying she strongly felt the choice to receive a vaccine should be an “independent” decision made between a person and their doctor, not a mandate necessary for a person to keep their job.
Sen. David Miramant (D-Knox) also spoke in opposition to accepting the ought not to pass report.
Other Senate Democrats, including Sen. Heather Sanborn (D-Cumberland) and Sen. Stacy Brenner (D-Cumberland) rose to speak in support of the motion to accept the ought not to pass report and to correct “misinformation” in a handout Keim provided to senators.
Sen. Ned Claxton (D-Androscoggin) also rose to speak to the bill and said that he shared Keim’s frustrations with how “insulated pharma is from liability” and has shared in the “pain of watching colleagues, friends lose jobs because they wouldn’t get vaccinated.” He added that he agrees the data on COVID-19 and vaccines is incomplete, but said “in terms of process improvement, we were on a burning platform and people made decisions based on the info they had.”
Claxton further said he is “frustrated the vaccine isn’t more efficient than it is, but it’s still really good at doing what it’s supposed to do, which is keeping hospitals from getting crushed.”
This, Claxon said, was enough for the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee to vote down the bill and was why he intended to vote to accept the committee’s report.
The motion to accept the HHS committee’s report passed by a vote of 17 to 13. The vote was mostly along party lines, with Miramant joining Republicans in voting against accepting the report.
During their March 9 session, the House of Representatives debated several pieces of legislation related to elections. The House debated divided reports on LD 1658, a bill that requires candidates for municipal offices in towns with a population of 30,000 or more people to submit registration and campaign finance reports with the Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices.
A majority of the committee’s members voted for an ought to pass as amended report, with an amendment that increases the amount of time municipalities have to post campaign finance reports. The minority report out of committee was an ought not to pass report.
Rep. William Tuell (R-East Machias) rose to speak in opposition to the bill, calling it a “carveout” for bigger towns and cities in the state.
Rep. Grayson Lookner (D-Portland) spoke in favor of the bill, saying it would ensure “Mainers know where their candidates and ballot initiatives receive their funding to run their campaigns.”
The motion to accept the State and Local Government Committee’ ought to pass report prevailed by a vote of 75 to 55. A subsequent vote to pass the bill to be engrossed also prevailed.
The House also voted to pass LD 1779, a bill that would regulate the possession of ballots and voting machines. The bill requires municipal clerks to retain custody of sealed ballot containers unless expressly authorized by law to transfer them to another entity. It also prohibits municipal clerks from transferring control of voting machines or devices unless expressly authorized by the secretary of state.
Democrats who rose to speak in support of the measure called it “proactive.”
Rep. Morgan Rielly (D-Westbrook) said that though the state hasn’t had a recent case of ballot tampering, it can’t wait until it is “too late to act.”
Republicans alleged the bill “centralized” municipal elections and gave control to the state.
The bill was approved along party lines, with Democrats and Independents voting for passage and Republicans voting against it.
The House also debated LD 1337, a bill that would allow municipalities to pass ordinances assessing fees against residential properties that are not full-time residences. The bill also requires any municipality that adopts such an ordinance to use the money it collects to increase the availability of year-round residential property and to improve its affordability.
Opposition to the bill was led by Republicans, who called the bill “socialist” and argued the bill was essentially a tax on snowbirds.
Democrats who rose to speak in support of the bill spoke to the “community cost” of vacant homes, which they argued limit the housing supply and raise the cost of housing, pushing out Mainers.
The motion to accept the Committee on Taxation’s ought to pass as amended report failed. A subsequent motion to accept the committee’s minority ought not to pass report was accepted.
The House was scheduled to vote on LD 344, a resolution proposing to amend the Maine Constitution to add language prohibiting sex-based discrimination. However, a motion from Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) resulted in the bill being tabled. If the bill passes with a two-thirds majority in both chambers, it would be put out to Maine voters to decide at the ballot box.