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Lawmakers closing in on final deals on budget, housing and utility accountability measures

With only three days left in the 130th Legislature’s second session, both the Senate and House of Representatives held sessions on April 18. The bodies continued to advance legislation introduced during the previous week’s session.

On April 15, LD 2010, a bill to provide electricity rate relief to medium-use commercial customers, sponsored by Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook), was tabled pending enactment in the Senate.

Also on April 15, the Senate advanced LD 1195, a bill that allocates 5% of revenue earned through the gross sales and excise taxes on adult use marijuana to municipalities where the revenue was generated. An amendment to the bill, which the Senate voted to adopt, would also allow municipalities to receive reimbursement for qualifying expenses related to their efforts to opt-in to licensing adult use marijuana facilities. The reimbursement would come from a fund created by the bill.

Sen. Matthew Pouliot (R-Kennebec) spoke in opposition to the bill. Pouliot said he was supportive of revenue sharing but said he believes the legislature has multiple programs for municipalities and should “stay on that course.”

Sen. Ben Chipman (D-Cumberland), who rose after Pouliot to speak in support of the bill, said that some municipalities have not opted in to marijuana licensure, creating a “black market” in some areas of the state. Chipman further said that because the bill’s program is optional, he believes it will help eliminate that black market.

Chipman also offered a floor amendment, which the Senate adopted by a vote of 20 to 13. It was sent to the House in non-concurrence. The House adopted the amendment before passing the bill to be enacted under the hammer on April 18.

By a vote of 21 to 13, the Senate also voted to enact the bill on April 18. It will now be sent to Gov. Janet Mills’ desk for approval. 

On April 15, the House of Representatives advanced several bills, including one that would implement recommendations made by the Commission to Create a Plan to Incorporate the Probate Courts into the Judicial Branch, and another that would regulate the use of biometric identifiers in the state.

Both bills were debated by the Senate on April 18. The Senate voted to adopt a different amendment to LD 1945, the bill that deals with biometric identifiers. The Senate voted to adopt an amendment that replaces the bill with a resolve establishing a commission to study and make recommendations about the use of biometric identifiers. The bill was returned to the House in non-concurrence and was tabled.

On April 15, the House also voted 85 to 50 to enact LD 1911, a bill that would prevent the spreading of sludge on agricultural land without being tested for the presence of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS). Both chambers debated the bill in sessions earlier in the week.

For the bill to become law, the Senate needs to vote on final enactment. The bill did not appear on the chamber’s calendar on April 18.

LD 1959, legislation brought forth by Gov. Janet Mills to promote energy utility accountability, was introduced in the Senate on April 18 and tabled, pending acceptance of one of three separate reports from the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

The Senate on April 18 also tabled LD 2003, a bill intended to increase the state’s affordable housing supply. During Friday’s session, the chamber voted to advance the bill following approximately half an hour of debate that saw more than a dozen legislators rise to speak for and against the bill.

Sen. Stacey Guerin (R-Penobscot) rose to speak against the bill, saying it would “undo decades of local planning and decision making relating to development and planning.”

“No one legislator can understand the bill’s impact on each community in the state, as each town has their own individual profile,” Guerin continued. 

Sen. Craig Hickman (D-Kennebec), a member of the Commission to Increase Housing Opportunities in Maine by Studying Zoning and Land Use Restrictions, which made the recommendations that formed the basis of LD 2003, spoke in support of the bill. 

Hickman spoke to criticisms of the bill, which requires municipalities ensure their ordinances “affirmatively further” the federal Fair Housing Act, claiming it will open Maine towns up to federal lawsuits. 

“When I joined this commission, it was very clear to me that we had a lot of work to do to make sure that here in Maine, where the affordable housing crisis is alarming, that we would do everything that we could to ensure that all people, all of our people, old or young, urban or rural, from Fort Kent to Kittery, had access to affordable, safe housing as a basic, fundamental human right,” said Hickman.  

“There are studies in here that reject every claim against the bill,” Hickman continued, referencing the report produced by the housing commission. 

HIckman also urged lawmakers to reject the arguments of the Maine Municipal Association (MMA), which opposed the bill. Hickman said the MMA, which supported the majority of the housing commission’s recommendations, pulled a “bait and switch” with the bill.

After debate, the Senate voted 20 to 13 to advance the bill. On April 18, the House voted 77 to 57 to enact the bill. It was placed on the special appropriations table in the Senate pending final passage the same day.

On April 18, the House voted to recall from the governor’s desk LD 906, a bill that would allow the Passamaquoddy tribe to place land in trust in order to provide for drinking water supply. 

Over the last week of legislative work, Mills has signed a number of bills finally passed by lawmakers into law. 

On April 7, Gov. Mills signed into law LD 859, which allows municipalities to use ranked-choice voting in local elections.

On April 14, Mills signed LD 1996, an emergency bill that provides funding for the highway fund and other state government expenditures, and LD 2031, an emergency bill that allows outdoor stadiums and pool halls to sell spirits.

Photo: Royalbroil, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons