A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
The 2022 election put Democrats in full control of Augusta for the third consecutive legislative term, with Gov. Janet Mills’ victory putting the minority party in the political wilderness again.
So far, we have only seen or heard about only a sliver of the 2,000 bills that lawmakers are expected to submit during the 2023 legislative session. Among them are Republican priorities old and new. Some of them have taken precedent on the right during the COVID-19 pandemic even if they were proposed before.
A good example of that is a measure from Sen. James Libby, R-Standish, which would eliminate public schools from an exception to Maine’s prohibition on the dissemination of obscene material to minors. Exemptions for libraries and private schools would remain. It comes on the heels of a national conservative movement against books described as sexually explicit but often discuss LGBTQ and racial issues.
This bill is nothing new. It was also proposed in 2019, when the American Civil Liberties Union chapter here described it as a censorship measure that would chill discussion of arts and literature. At that time, the sponsor billed it as a measure to protect children from being confused or re-traumatized. Despite an amendment proposal, it was rejected unanimously by a committee.
Other old ideas are back on the table as well. Republican senators are seeking to remove the 100-megawatt cap on hydropower projects considered renewable by the state, a goal of Paul LePage during his time in office. Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, has a voter ID proposal, joining a fraught debate over a policy idea that a study from last year found does not provide the benefits that Republicans suggest nor the drawbacks that Democrats argue about.
Vaccines are also a priority for certain members. Rep. Gary Drinkwater, R-Milford, wants to undo a 2019 law by restoring religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccine requirements in schools and certain health care settings. That law easily survived a people’s veto during the presidential primaries of 2020, just before the first documented COVID-19 cases reached Maine.
Another proposal from Rep. Joseph Underwood, R-Presque Isle, would bar the state from adding COVID-19 vaccines to that list of mandated shots. Mills said in an October debate with LePage that she did not support mandating them in schools at that time. A similar bill that sought to ban mandated COVID-19 vaccines for five years failed mostly along party lines last year.
While history shows us that Republicans stand little chance to advance any of these priorities, these early proposals show the political fights ahead with Democrats. These issues will be important in future campaigns as the minority party tries to map a course back to a majority. It is going to take some doing.