During a joint session of the Maine Legislature on March 24, the Senate finally passed 15 pieces of legislation. The Senate also tabled a bill that would have allowed municipalities to implement ranked-choice voting in local elections, which the House of Representatives debated and advanced during its March 22 session.
Both chambers debated whether to approve moving a legislative concept draft, sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen (D-Cumberland), from the Committee on Judiciary to the Committee on Health and Human Services (HHS). Titled “An Act to Protect the Reproductive Rights and Freedoms of Maine People,” LD 811 is a concept draft without text. The bill summary says it “seeks to protect the reproductive rights and freedoms of Maine people.”
In the Senate, Republicans rose in opposition to transferring the bill to the HHS committee because no details about the legislation were available and because of the late date at which it was being re-referred to the HHS committee.
Alleging the bill would focus on family planning services, Republicans also argued Gov. Janet Mills’ supplemental budget included funding for this purpose and the bill was unnecessary.
Sen. Rick Bennett (R-Oxford) said the bill should go through the Legislative Council so the public knows the details of the legislation. His motion to indefinitely postpone the bill failed.
Breen said she’d “simply lost track of the bill” and that she had worked on amendment language, which she would have the Revisor’s Office post for public consumption.
The Senate voted 20 to 12 to re-refer the bill to the HHS committee. A subsequent motion by Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) to reconsider the vote failed.
Without debate, the House of Representatives also voted to re-refer the bill to the HHS committee. Following its passage, Rep. Michelle Dunphy (D-Old Town) requested a motion to reconsider referring the bill. The motion failed by a vote to 76 to 53.
The HHS committee subsequently scheduled a public hearing on LD 811 on March 25. Breen’s amendment would award an additional payment for sexual and reproductive health care providers for MaineCare patients. The rule would go into effect on July 1 and requires the Department of Health and Human Services to pursue federal matching funds to support the payment.
A bill affecting tobacco taxes continued to advance towards final passage during the March 24 session. Earlier in the week, the House voted to adopt and pass to be engrossed an amendment to LD 1423, which 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 original bill doubled the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, from $2 per pack of 20 cigarettes to $4. The tax was stripped from the bill by the amendment.
The Senate also voted to adopt and pass to engross the amended version of LD 1423. It will return to the House for a vote on final passage.
LD 1423 is not the only pending piece of legislation dealing with tobacco. LD 1550, a bill that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, still sits in unfinished business on the House calendar.
The legislature has also not yet voted on LD 1693, which creates a trust for funds the state receives from the tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to be used for tobacco prevention and control. The bill originally doubled the state’s tobacco tax and would have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, but these provisions were stripped from the bill in committee because they were already before the legislature in other tobacco-related measures.