Here’s a look at some high-profile bills passed during a session notable for a budget fight and shutdown.

The first regular session of the 128th Legislature will likely be remembered for the bitter fight over the state’s biennial budget – a fight that culminated in a three-day shutdown before a compromise emerged.

Lawmakers also spent a significant amount of time trying to rewrite or repeal four different referendum questions that had been approved by voters last November. This was unusual.

With just a few days remaining in the session, legislators have tackled some 1,600 bills submitted for consideration, but passed only 285 into law, or roughly 17 percent.

Most of those involved minor changes or additions to existing laws that likely won’t have much impact on the overwhelmingly majority of Mainers.

But as is typically the case for legislative sessions, a small number of bills accounted for the lion’s share of debate. Here’s a look at some of the most high-profile bills that passed:

MINING REGULATIONS

The passage of L.D. 820 ends a several-year battle over mining regulations that began when a Canadian company sought to loosen Maine’s overly restrictive rules to mine valuable minerals below Aroostook County’s Bald Mountain. It does many things, including banning so-called open-pit mining and other mining operations on public lands and prohibiting underwater storage of mine waste. It also requires mining companies to create a trust fund large enough to cover the costs of cleaning up or treating any environmental contamination on a site for at least 100 years after closure of the mine.

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill but it was overridden.

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION DELAY

This was the first bill that passed during the 128th Legislature. It delays implementation of parts of Maine’s marijuana legalization law, which voters approved in a November referendum. Specifically, L.D. 88 makes clear that marijuana is legal only for Mainers age 21 or older, prohibits the consumption of marijuana while a vehicle is in operation and delays the start of retail sales until February 2018, giving agencies more time to craft and implement rules governing the industry.

GORHAM-TURNPIKE CONNECTOR

This bill set in motion the planning and permitting process to build a 5-mile toll road connecting Gorham to the Maine Turnpike in Scarborough as a way to reduce traffic congestion in those communities.

LePage vetoed the bill, L.D. 905, and later proposed abolishing the Maine Turnpike Authority, but his veto was overridden.

MINIMUM WAGE

Last November, voters approved a referendum to raise the state’s minimum wage gradually to $12 by 2020. Some critics, though, worried about the elimination of the tip credit, which exempted employers, mostly restaurants and bars, from paying tipped workers the minimum wage. This bill, L.D. 673, restores the tip credit and allows employers to pay tipped employees half the state’s minimum wage. It was seen as a compromise for Democrats, who supported the wage increase, and Republicans, who had concerns about what it might mean for certain businesses.

NIPS

This bill, L.D. 1061, generated as much debate among lawmakers as any proposal, and that debate likely won’t end with its passage. The bill imposes a refundable 5-cent deposit on the miniature liquor bottles known as “nips.” It was drafted to help eliminate waste as more and more of these bottles were found on roadsides.

Gov. LePage vetoed the bill and it was overridden, but he has asked Maine’s liquor commission to end sales of miniature bottles, a move that could cost the state tens of millions of dollars in revenues.

RANKED-CHOICE VOTING

Last November, Maine voters approved a referendum allowing ranked-choice voting for statewide elections. Several bills and amendments were drafted in the 128th to either undo that law or make changes advised by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which found the parts of the law that applied to races for the governor’s office and Legislature were unconstitutional.

Under the ranked-choice system, voters would rank candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50 percent of the vote after the first count, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated. Voters who chose the eliminated candidate would have their ballots added to the totals of their second-ranked candidates, and the ballots would be retabulated. The process would continue until one candidate had a clear majority and was declared the winner.

A House bill would have left ranked-choice voting in state primary elections and those for Maine’s congressional seats, but not for legislative and gubernatorial races unless the Legislature approved a constitutional amendment to allow ranked-choice voting and voters ratified it. The Senate version, which had Republican and Democratic support, would have repealed the ballot law completely.

None of those bills proved successful so ranked-choice voting stays for now.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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