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The abortion-rights bill that just squeaked through the Maine House of Representatives last week is set for a series of climactic votes on Tuesday.
It will begin in the Senate, where Democrats are expected to pass it, before another high-pressure vote in the closely divided lower chamber. For now, it looks like those who will not be there could be a major factor.
No-shows: During a Monday vote on a gun background check expansion similar to one rejected by voters in 2016, the House was down to 137 of its 151 members. Republicans were missing eight of them. Democrats only got the bill through 69-68, meaning just one more Republican could have derailed it.
One of the Republicans who was gone on Monday, Rep. Shelley Rudnicki of Fairfield, was also absent for Thursday votes on Gov. Janet Mills’ bill to allow doctors to perform abortions past Maine’s current viability cutoff. It has prompted a showdown with Maine’s anti-abortion right.
Rudnicki cited family plans in a social media post that blamed Democrats for drawing the legislative session out past the previously scheduled adjournment date last week. Behind the House glass during a series of arduous roll-call votes, Republican lawmakers were grumbling about the two absences on their side as Democrats passed the abortion bill 74-72.
But the majority party has also had some problems. They had three absences for that vote, including Reps. Mana Abdi of Lewiston and Anne Perry of Calais, two of the seven Democrats who did not co-sponsor Mills’ bill. They were back for votes on Monday and will be among the members facing the most pressure if they are in their seats when the measure returns.
State of play: Five Democrats — Reps. Bill Bridgeo of Augusta, Michel Lajoie of Lewiston, Kevin O’Connell of Brewer, Joe Perry of Bangor and Bruce White of Waterville — voted against the abortion bill last week. They give Republicans some cushion if Democrats don’t peel off. Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, a progressive who nearly derailed the measure with a late amendment last week, was on the fence until the end and will be a wild card on Tuesday.
On the background check bill, Republicans are likely to be bailed out by the upper chamber, which has been spiking gun-control bills under the leadership of Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. Mills could also veto it. Republicans have no such backstop on abortion, where Jackson has already pledged to pass the bill during the day on Tuesday.
What’s next: The governor will sign the bill if House Republicans and anti-abortion Democrats cannot bring it down.
Absences routinely come at the end of a long legislative session, and it is the job of leaders to tamp them down or otherwise manage them. But the stakes here are higher than they usually are, so keep one eye firmly on the lawmakers who are not in the chamber.