AUGUSTA, Maine — The Democratic-led Maine Legislature reversed course Thursday on vehicle inspection and pet food fee hikes that had been on track for passage.
The proposals came out of late-breaking bills that the administration of Gov. Janet Mills had initially worked with lawmakers on. They became late-breaking sources of tension after the Democratic governor said she would veto the inspection hike and after Republicans hammered the pet food bill while record-high inflation drives price increases.
A bipartisan majority of the House voted last week to raise maximum inspection fees from a maximum of $12.50 to $25. Two days later, Democratic majorities in both chambers sent a measure to Mills’ desk hiking annual per-product fees paid by pet food manufacturers from $80 to $100 to increase animal welfare funding.
Mills issued a veto threat after the inspection measure advanced. On Thursday, the Senate moved to kill that bill and recall the other one from the governor’s desk.
Spokespeople for the governor did not respond to a Thursday question on her reason for the latter move, but Sen. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, who sponsored the animal welfare measure, said Mills had indicated opposition to raising fees. Lawmakers could advance another version that would send more state budget revenue to the animal welfare fund, he said.
The inspection bill from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, came out of a working group formed as part of an earlier Republican bill looking to exempt new vehicles from inspections for two years. The group, which included members of the Maine State Police, endorsed the higher fee in part due to a desire to fund the implementation of an electronic inspection system.
It passed the House easily in a 96-39 vote, with 26 Republicans joining all but five Democrats to advance it before it was effectively stopped by Mills’ veto threat.
Mills’ agriculture department endorsed an earlier version of the animal welfare bill after it was unveiled in January, citing costs of animal welfare investigations that have tripled in the past two years. The Maine Republican Party hammered the bill as a “pet food tax hike” as it advanced. The estimated annual increase of $279,000 would have amounted to pennies for most consumers if passed onto them by manufacturers.