Curve ball

A bill that would have allowed for same-sex gyms and health clubs ultimately was defeated last week in the Legislature after a surprising rally in the Senate.

The bill, known in the halls as the “Curve bill” because all the support seemed to come from the popular Curves health clubs, initially passed 18-16 in the Senate only to be defeated 98 to 46 in the House.

Five Democratic senators gave their support to the bill, including Sen. Dennis Damon of Hancock and Sen. William Diamond of Cumberland. Republican Senators Richard Rosen of Hancock and Karl Turner of Cumberland voted against the bill.

“Are we going to go back to separate but equal facilities?” asked Sen. Lynn Bromley, D-Cumberland, who was shocked members of her own party had voted against the majority recommendation not to pass the measure. “This is a slippery slope.”

Bromley said she personally called nine Curves health clubs to see if any men had ever tried to work out in the clubs, which market to women.

“None of them ever even had a man walk in the door. There is no problem,” said Bromley, who believed the issue was made up as a marketing ploy.

Sen. Turner said he believed the proposal would turn back the clocks to a time when discrimination was allowed.

“We’ve crossed that line decades ago,” he said, and in order to protect equal access, “what’s good for the goose is now good for the gander.”

When the bill returned to the Senate after the House defeat, senators who had supported it let it go without debate.

Sen. Diamond said, “I thought it was a harmless bill. If they want to have their own place, let them have it.” He said he didn’t protest the bill’s defeat in the end because “it was not that big of a deal.”

Political suicide?

Democrats were relishing the roll call vote in the House last week when 17 Republicans voted against a bill that would increase health insurance benefits for retired teachers. It passed 123 to 17, with 11 members absent.

“You were handed a gift for your next election,” said Majority Leader Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, at a Democratic caucus meeting after the vote.

What Cummings was predicting was the wrath of the teachers union in the state – the Maine Education Association – representing 25,000 people.

The bill would increase the state’s contribution for health insurance for retired teachers from 40 to 45 percent. The problem is there is no money for it, and in all likelihood it will die at the end of session.

Republican representatives voting against the bill included George Bishop of Boothbay, Stephen Bowen of Rockport, Richard Cebra of Naples, Harold Clough of Scarborough, Robert Crosthwaite of Ellsworth, Darlene Curley of Scarborough, Jonathan McKane of Newcastle and John Robinson of Raymond.

Curley said she knew her vote would attract the MEA, but it was the fiscally responsible thing to do. Curley and Bowen sit on the Appropriations Committee, which ultimately must kill the bills that are not funded.

“This is the right bill at the wrong time,” Curley said. “Our state is broke.”