On April 27, Gov. Janet Mills signed LD 2003 into law. The bill was finally passed by the legislature on April 25, the final day of the session.
Mills was joined at the signing ceremony, held in Augusta, by House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford), who sponsored the bill, and Sens. Matt Pouliot (R-Kennebec) and Craig Hickman (D-Kennebec).
Supporters of the bill have positioned it as a way to address Maine’s housing shortage and increase the state’s supply of affordable housing. Provisions in the bill require the state to produce regional housing goals, create the Housing Opportunity Program within the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to support the development of low- and moderate-income housing through new ordinances, and require certain municipalities to allow the building additional units on lots zoned for single family homes.
“States all over the country are struggling with housing shortages, and Maine is no exception. Today we are taking action in an entirely new way to grow our housing supply to meet demand. We’re seeing rising home and rent costs impacting families from Aroostook County on down. I believe that with this legislation, Maine will be on the forefront on solving this crisis,” Fecteau said.
Critics of the bill argue that requiring municipalities to adopt ordinances erodes local control. They also say the provisions allowing the DECD to establish statewide housing production goals will create an inefficient system where the department acts as the master central planner for the state, resulting in unmanageable growth for municipalities and leaving them vulnerable to lawsuits since the bill requires the ordinances adopted to “affirmatively further” the federal Fair Housing Act. The bill also allows municipalities to adopt ordinances to regulate short-term rentals to meet the housing goals established by the state, which opponents say infringes on private property rights.
“While successive amendments have taken into account some of the concerns we expressed in our initial testimony on LD 2003, we believe the reference to federal policy and opening the door to local overregulation of short-term rentals are incompatible with the goal of spurring a local culture of growth across Maine,” said Nick Murray, director of public policy at Maine Policy Institute.
The same day, Mills also signed LD 201, which extends the expiration date of the Maine Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit. It also extends to 2030 the date by which the Maine State Housing Authority must report on a portion of the credit related to affordable housing.
Between April 15 and April 27, approximately 50 bills and resolves have either been signed by the governor or become law without her signature.
On April 15, Mills signed LD 1894, a bill that creates a registration process within the Public Utilities Commission for consumer-owned public utilities looking to provide broadband and other Internet services, into law.
On April 17, Mills signed LD 1446, a law that clarifies municipal authorities are able to issue concealed handgun permits and directs the Bureau of State Police to convene a stakeholder group to review the state’s laws related to issuing concealed carry handgun permits. LD 1857, a law requiring the attorney general to direct the judicial branch to give scheduling priority to cases involving the murder of individuals under the age of 18, also became law without the governor’s signature.
Mills signed LD 1913 on April 18, an emergency bill creating the Electric Ratepayer Advisory Council and directing it to make recommendations to the Public Advocate about how to help Mainers afford electricity rates. She also signed a bill that clarifies the Maine Food Sovereignty Act applies to plantations and unorganized territories on the same day.
On April 20, statutorily set to be the legislature’s last day of the second session, Mills signed a number of high-profile pieces of legislation, including LD 906, which gave drinking water rights to the Passamaquoddy Tribe, and LD 1911, which prevents waste from being spread without being tested for the presence of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).
The same day, Mills also signed the supplemental budget into law. A bill that the legislature passed, recalled from the governor’s desk, amended, and passed a second time also became law with Mills’ signature on April 20. The bill, LD 1758 prohibits the Department of Health and Human Services from requiring licensed mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment facilities to obtain written consent from patients during a public health emergency. Instead, they may obtain consent by written, verbal or electronic means.
Also on April 20, Mills signed a bill that creates a rate reform system for MaineCare, a bill that makes it illegal to knowingly obstruct the entrance of a hospital or healthcare facility, and a bill that allows individuals working in certain trades that require professional licensure to obtain licensure by endorsement.
A bill that creates a dispute resolution board for loggers, which the Maine Department of Labor originally testified against, became law without the governor’s signature on April 26.
Lawmakers will return to Augusta on May 9 to deal with any vetoes issued by the governor in response to the legislature’s work in its final days session.