AUGUSTA, Maine — After a fight between Democrats and Republicans on the issue, the Maine Legislature on Wednesday gave itself one more day to finish business for 2022, giving more breathing room for measures that could have otherwise failed.
Some of the highest-profile bills of the year were tied up in the battle over timing. The Democratic-led Legislature has advanced more than $1 billion in bills that are sitting unfunded. Most of them are on track to die with just $12 million set aside for them in the spending package signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills on Wednesday.
That money will be split evenly between Democrats and Republicans for their priority bills. Legislators need to quickly figure out what will get funded before the session closes, with the budget committee set to meet on Friday to finalize their agenda.
After Senate Republicans killed efforts on Tuesday and Wednesday to extend the session by two days, House Republicans accepted a one-day extension from Democrats that was approved in both chambers. It gives nonpartisan staff more time to write amendments, but the tricky details of negotiating will need to be ironed out before lawmakers reconvene next week.
A few high-stakes measures are worth watching. Two bills concerning tribal rights in Maine, including a compromise bill between Mills and tribes giving them exclusive control over mobile sports betting, have been heavily lobbied. The governor’s office has indicated that she may veto her own bill if it goes to her desk alongside a broader sovereignty bill that she opposes.
Also in play is a $1.2 million proposal for Maine’s indigent legal services system, which faces a lawsuit alleging it is failing to provide adequate, constitutionally required legal defense and has consistently struggled to find lawyers to provide that service. No funding to improve the agency was included in the budget deal, leaving lawmakers to scramble for another option.
“What we are proposing is to meet the needs in underserved portions of the state,” said Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, a co-chair of the Judiciary Committee during a Wednesday press conference featuring those members.