Maine Lawmakers Face Budget Crisis
The newly-elected Maine legislature is facing a daunting budget crisis and difficult decisions about where and how much to cut back on state services and whether to raise taxes to close the gap, but that doesn't mean that other issues won't be receiving some legislative attention as well. New bills on a variety of subjects have already been drafted or discussed publicly, and many more will be written and submitted by legislators for consideration before cloture in mid-January.
Normally, bills must be submitted by mid-December. The later due date for this session is an attempt by legislative leaders to allow House and Senate members to consult one another and combine or modify their proposals where possible, hopefully cutting down on the number of bills and saving some money.
Here are a few proposals that are already being discussed in the Maine press:
Electing the Attorney General
The recent selection of a new Attorney General by the legislature has provoked renewed calls for a more inclusive process for filling the posts of constitutional officers. Now, Democratic Representatives Mike Carey, Emily Cain and Senator Phil Bartlett are proposing a constitutional amendment that would provide for the selection of Maine's Attorney General and Secretary of State through a general election. Carey clarified his reasoning in a recent Sun Journal Op-Ed.
GrowSmart Maine, a non-profit championing sustainable economic development, has proposed a "Communities for Maine’s Future" bond program to invest in Maine's urban infrastructure. The group argues that this spending is neccessary even with the looming budget deficit.
"We're pitching these bonds as an economic stimulus package, similar to the ones under discussion at the federal level," wrote Christian McNeil, the group's communications director, when I emailed him about this concern. "Maine can't deficit spend like Washington can, but we can sell bonds. These economic development bonds in particular have a proven track record of delivering over ten dollars of economic activity for every public dollar invested."
Access to Birth Control
Republican Senator Doug Smith is considering submitting another bill aimed at changing Maine law to restrict the ability of Maine teens to access birth control and other reproductive health services without their parents' consent. He submitted a similar, unsuccessful measure last year, and has the support of the Maine Family Policy Council (the far-right group formerly known as the Christian Civic League) and the Catholic Diocese of Portland.
The Family Planning Association of Maine isn't waiting for the bill to be submitted before working to organize public sentiment against such a measure. They're holding a series of forums around the state for doctors, parents and teens to discuss the importance of access to reproductive healthcare.
Rep. Bryan Kaenrath, a Democrat from South Portland intends to submit a bill to extend the maximum period between mandatory vehicle safetly inspections from one year to two. This week's Bollard contains a lengthy feature on the reasoning behind the proposed change.
Same-sex marriage has been a hot topic recently, with groups of religious leaders in Maine lining up on both sides of the issue. A GLBT newspaper reports that "Equality Maine believes the political landscape is favorable to passing a bill next year" and quotes Betsy Smith, the group's executive director as saying "We have a pro-LGBT Senate, we have a pro-LGBT House, and we have a pro-LGBT governor." The group and its allies will have to make a decision within the next few days on whether or not to go ahead with a bill.
Even if a same-sex marriage law passed the legislature, it would likely be the target of a people's veto campaign. This is an issue that will likely be on the front burner for quite a while.