Crowds gathered at Maine’s State House on Thursday for two events: a rally against a bill that would eliminate restrictions on late-term abortions, and a public hearing for a bill that would create a 12-week paid family and medical leave program funded by a new payroll tax.
The “Speak Up for Life Rally @ the State House 2.0,” is the second rally this month led by State Rep. Laurel Libby (R-Auburn) against Gov. Janet Mills and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross’ (D-Portland) proposed bill LD 1619.
Speaker Talbot Ross’ bill, “An Act to Improve Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Laws,” would allow abortions to be performed after the viability of the fetus if a licensed physician, a physician assistant, or an advanced registered nurse “determines that it is necessary.”
Currently, physicians in Maine are prohibited from performing post-viability abortions except when it is necessary to “preserve the life or health of the mother.”
LD 1619, which has broad support among Democratic lawmakers, would allow abortions up until birth at the discretion of the physician, physician assistant, or advanced registered nurse.
When LD 1619 had a public hearing on May 1, pro-lifers turned out en masse to testify against the proposal, setting records for State House attendance.
The opposition to the bill was so large that Democratic committee chairs reduced the allotted speaking time for pro-lifers in order to shorten the length of the hearings.
Rep. Libby shared a promotional video to her Facebook in advance of Thursday’s Speak Up for Life Rally.
“No need to prep testimony or be there for 24 hours, but we do need hundreds of people to show up and make it clear that Maine says ‘No’ to late-term abortion,” Libby said. “The Democrats are hoping that we’ve fallen asleep. Let’s show them that we’re wide awake and we mean business.”
Libby spoke to supporters at her rally outside the State House on Thursday, with signs reading “Kill the bill, not the baby,” “LD 1619 too extreme!!” and “All Babies Lives Matter.”
Democratic leadership have yet to schedule the work session for LD 1619.
Precisely when the bill will be back in front of the committee is a closely guarded secret, as Democrats are trying to avoid giving Maine’s pro-lifers ample lead time to organize another massive demonstration.
Paid 12-week family and medical leave bill has public hearing
Also happening Thursday in Augusta, Maine’s Labor and Housing Committee will held a public hearing on LD 1964, a bill sponsored by Sen. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick) and Rep. Kristen Cloutier (D-Lewiston).
LD 1964 proposes the implementation of a new payroll tax in order to fund a 12-week paid family and medical leave benefits program.
The payroll contribution to the benefits program would be no more than 1% of wages, and would be shared between employers and employees.
Employers with less than 15 employees would be exempt from paying their share of the payroll contribution to the program.
The bill would require payroll contributions to begin January 1, 2025 and benefit claims to begin processing on January 1, 2026.
While hundreds of pro-lifers gathered in Augusta, the Maine People’s Alliance (MPA) posted pictures showing tens of people turning out to support the new payroll tax.
The MPA, a left-wing nonprofit group funded primarily through dark money contributions from outside of Maine, has partnered with the Maine Women’s Lobby (MWL) and Democratic lawmakers to push for the new program.
In 2022, the MPA opened a joint ballot initiative effort with the MWL to bring a referendum question as early as November 2023 on whether Maine should establish a new payroll tax to fund mandatory paid family and medical leave.
MPA and the MWL are just two of many left-of-center groups in Maine funded by a powerful Washington, D.C.-based consulting and “dark money” group called Arabella Advisors.
Sen. Daughtry’s LD 1964 would accomplish through the legislature what the parallel ballot initiative aims to accomplish by going direct to voters.
Sen. Mike Tipping (D-Orono) is the Chair of the Labor and Housing Committee which presided over Thursday’s hearing on LD 1964.
According to Sen. Tipping’s income disclosures, he currently is employed by MPA.
Tipping’s senatorial campaign was endorsed by the MPA, according to his own campaign site and and the MPA Facebook page, which calls him a “friend and colleague.”
Quincy Hentzel, President and CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, submitted testimony for Thursday’s hearing in opposition to the paid family and medical leave bill.
Hentzel said that the Chamber of Commerce’s opposition to LD 1964 was not inevitable, but that “there seemed to be little inclination” to resolve core concerns and issues raised regarding the proposed paid leave program.
The Chamber of Commerce’s top concern was the “impracticality of extended employee leave,” especially for small businesses and those with employees who have highly specialized skills and certifications.
“Maine is a small business state, and the proposed benefit level and leave duration would undeniably undermine the operational capacity of many businesses,” Hentzel said.
Other issues raised included the low threshold of just 12 months employment to be eligible for paid leave, and that the eligibility can be extended to “any individual with whom the covered individual has a significant personal bond that is like a family relationship, regardless of biological or legal relationship.”
Rep. Joshua Morris (R-Turner) also submitted testimony against the paid leave program.
“This bill is a new tax on Maine workers and businesses,” said Rep. Morris.
“At a time when everyone is struggling with rising prices and inflation, we should not be adding to that burden by taking more money from their paychecks weekly for a program that they may never use,” he said.
Ahead of Thursday’s public hearing, LD 1964 enjoyed wide support among Democratic lawmakers, though Gov. Janet Mills has yet to comment on the proposed legislation.
UPDATE: Governor Janet Mills’ Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Operations Elise Baldacci has testified neither for nor against LD 1964 in Thursday’s public hearing.
Baldacci explained in her testimony that more fiscal analysis of the proposal needs to be done, and that while Gov. Mills understands the need for paid leave, she also sympathizes with the concerns of Maine’s small business owners.