AUGUSTA, Maine — A panel of Maine legislative leaders considered nearly 300 bills on Thursday and decided which ones will receive consideration during the 2024 session.
Lawmakers proposed 283 bills that were reviewed by the Legislative Council, a 10-member panel of top lawmakers. Only measures deemed an emergency can be considered during next year’s shortened session that runs between January and April.
Only 57 of them made it through, including two gun-related bills in the wake of the Lewiston mass shooting. Here are five other interesting decisions the council made.
Banning paramilitary training camps
The council voted unanimously to advance a bill from Rep. Laurie Osher, D-Orono, that would prohibit “unauthorized military training” or paramilitary training camps like the one a neo-Nazi had been developing in rural Penobscot County.
The proposal from Osher won out over similar bills from Rep. Grayson Lookner, D-Portland, and Sen. Joe Baldacci, D-Bangor, that came in response to neo-Nazi leader Christopher Pohlhaus building a training ground in Springfield. Last month, Pohlhaus sold the property.
Some residents and watchdogs believe the neo-Nazi and his followers are simply moving into the shadows, with supporters of a paramilitary training camp ban arguing it is needed to protect against similar activity in the future.
Mandating sexual harassment training for constitutional officers
The council advanced a bill from Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris, to require Maine’s three constitutional officers — the secretary of state, attorney general and treasurer — to complete a sexual harassment training course.
Andrews said he had Attorney General Aaron Frey in mind with his bill. Frey, a Democrat, admitted in early April he had been in a romantic relationship since last year with an employee he supervised, apologizing for what he called an “error in judgment” for the supervisory set-up.
An independent investigation into Frey’s relationship came out in June and largely found no fault with how Frey handled the situation. But Republicans have criticized the attorney general for his relationship. Andrews said Thursday he hopes his bill helps Maine avoid another “scandal.”
No ban on homeless camp clearings
Rana proposed a ban on clearing homeless encampments as well as a second measure banning camp clearings unless residents are provided with alternative housing options.
Lookner wanted to stop cities from enacting moratoriums on emergency homeless shelters and also proposed establishing sanctioned areas for emergency encampments, with “appropriate” state agencies required to cooperate on identifying those areas.
No changes to the Aroostook transmission line
Several bills affecting the Aroostook Renewable Gateway project — a transmission line that will run from a new wind farm in northern Maine to the regional grid in Kennebec County — did not advance Thursday.
Although lawmakers and Gov. Janet Mills approved the project earlier this year, various town boards and residents have argued it would encroach on private properties and also criticized the Legislature for OKing it before developers publicized the potential route.
One proposal from Sen. Chip Curry, D-Belfast, would have prevented the use of eminent domain to build the transmission line. The council voted 5-4 to pass it, but advancing measures to 2024 takes six “yes” votes. The council was down one member Thursday with the absence of House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor.
Similar bills from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers on eminent domain or requiring the examination of alternative routes also failed to advance, along with a resolve from Rep. Steven Foster, R-Dexter, that would have required the Legislature to reconsider approval of the Aroostook Renewable Gateway project.
Late member’s bill cannot get considered
A more somber moment Thursday occurred when the council made it to a bill from the late Rep. Lois Galgay Reckitt, D-South Portland, to require porn websites to verify visitors are at least 18 years old.
But the council could not vote on the bill because Reckitt died late last month. The champion of women’s rights was 79 years old, and legislative staff noted Thursday that a different lawmaker would have to sponsor a similar bill in order for Reckitt’s porn-related proposal to receive consideration.