A new crop of Maine lawmakers is at work and so are the state’s lobbyists and advocates, leading to another batch of more than 2,100 bills being considered in 2023.
The list of bill titles was released on Saturday, giving us a wide look at the priorities and pet issues at the State House. They run the gamut from Maine’s biggest problems to celebrating a chocolate-and-potato candy.
Here’s our guide to the proposals.
Dozens of bills address pressing issues from the child welfare system to Maine’s housing crisis.
There are countless issues facing the state. A few were present in nearly every campaign last November, including the housing affordability and the opioid crisis. Lawmakers in Augusta are also eyeing the child welfare system for more fixes.
On housing, Democrats are floating bills to eliminate rental fees, proposing borrowing to fund new projects and one aims to reduce discrimination in housing applications. Others are looking at culling zoning restrictions after the passage of a landmark reform bill last year, including one from Rep. Traci Gere, D-Kennebunkport, to hasten approval of housing developments.
Another high-profile issue is child welfare, especially after the death of a 3-year-old in Edgecomb on Christmas morning. On top of a previously announced bill from Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, to designate an inspector general with subpoena power to oversee the system, Baldacci wants to address the shortage of direct care workers for children. Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, is trying to separate the child welfare office from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.
Several bills also attempt to reduce drug use and alleviate its negative effects, including some by Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, who has gone public about losing his daughter to an overdose. His bills would both increase penalties for crimes involving opioids and aim to increase treatment in Maine.
Republicans shy away from abortion limits but lean into other hot-button conservative issues.
It has never been easier to restrict abortion in Maine after the Supreme Court allowed states to ban the practice last June. But after many anti-abortion members ducked the issue during the 2022 campaigns, we only counted two bills from Republicans seeking to restrict abortion rights.
There are several proposals related to the teaching of gender identity in schools on the heels of a conservative wave of such bills across the country. One from Rep. Katrina Smith, R-Palermo, would prohibit school officials from using a transgender student’s preferred pronouns without parental consent. Others would seek to ban methods of teaching about race in schools.
Republican lawmakers are also trying to guard against more COVID-19 vaccine requirements, with Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn and Rep. Joseph Underwood of Presque Isle put in bills to stop the state from requiring them in public schools, something Gov. Janet Mills has said she does not support.
All of these bills face uphill slogs in the Democratic-controlled Legislature, but they show some of the areas in which Republicans are mapping out fights.
The top two Democrats in the Legislature have different priorities.
It is the last legislative session for the two most powerful Democrats in the State House, and the major differences between Senate President Troy Jackson and House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross and their constituencies are easy to see in their long lists of bills.
Jackson, a labor Democrat from Allagash, has a whopping 80 bills in, with many of them addressing local issues including road upgrades on U.S. Route 1 and Route 11, aiding a new transmission line and establishing an Aroostook County drug court. He is also continuing past efforts, including a version of a “Buy American” bill that Mills vetoed in 2021.
Talbot Ross, the state’s first Black speaker, is focused on sweeping issues, particularly around civil rights. After running point on a sweeping tribal sovereignty measure last year that was opposed by Mills, she is looking to pass a state version of a bill championed by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District that would allow tribes here to benefit from future changes in federal law. She is also floating several criminal justice and prison changes.
There are 30 constitutional amendments proposed after one passed easily.
In just more than 200 years, the Maine Constitution has been amended only 175 times. Only seven of those have come since 2002. Many of them are rote fixes, but lawmakers succeeded in assembling a bipartisan coalition that led to voters passing a “right to food” in 2021.
The new Legislature looks buoyed by that success. The 30 amendments proposed this year are six more than were initially floated two years ago. Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, a force behind the right-to-food change, is looking for three new rights — to health care and “bodily autonomy” and also to be “free from hunger.”
Democrats are looking to shield abortion rights using new amendments, including one from Rep. Sophia Warren, D-Scarborough, who also wants to enshrine a right to a “healthy environment.”
Republicans are in on the action as well. Along with a bill to establish a “parental bill of rights,” something former Gov. Paul LePage discussed on the 2022 campaign trail, Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, wants to change the Constitution to allow the popular election of constitutional officers.
Lawmakers want to celebrate a Maine treat, change the flag and make it easier to consume cannabis.
You don’t get to 2,100 bills without some nonessential ones making it into the pile, although that is always in the eye of the beholder.
If Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco, gets her way, there will be a “Maine Needham Day” in honor of the chocolate, potato and coconut treat. At least three bills want to promote the 1901 Maine flag featuring a simple tree and star on a white background. Two would replace the current military-style flag with it, although one from Brakey conditions it upon voter approval.
Lawmakers also want to make it easier for us to tap into our vices. Rep. Lynne Williams, D-Bar Harbor, wants to bring Maine into the nascent cannabis cafe industry by allowing people to use the drug more like alcohol on the premises of stores.
Speaking of alcohol, it also features prominently in a number of bills. One bill would allow wine clubs to be able to ship canned wine to Maine. Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, also would make BYOB a little easier with his bill titled “An Act to Allow a Restaurant to Serve a Bottle of Wine to the Person Who Brought the Bottle.”