House passes bill to end same-day voter registration

In a final vote Thursday, the House passed a Republican-backed bill to eliminate same-day voter registration and prohibit absentee voting in the two business days before elections.

The party-line vote was 72-65.

Maine is one of eight states that now allow same-day registration, and it consistently ranks near the top nationally for voter turnout.

Republicans say L.D. 1376 is aimed at easing the Election Day burden on municipal workers and helping to prevent voter fraud. Democrats said it would disenfranchise voters.

The Senate voted 18-17 on Wednesday to pass the bill in a preliminary vote. The Senate must vote again for final approval.

Panel votes not to increase funding for Efficiency Maine

The Legislature’s Appropriations Committee voted late Wednesday not to increase funding for Efficiency Maine, as Democrats had hoped.

Numerous businesses and several environmental organizations had urged lawmakers to boost funding for the program over the next two years, from $28 million to $52 million. That’s the portion of Efficiency Maine’s budget that is supported by a surcharge on electricity bills for nearly all ratepayers — the primary source of funding for the program.

Without the additional revenue, the agency will not be able to reach its goal of providing $840 million worth of energy savings for consumers over the next three years, said directors of Efficiency Maine.

Gov. Paul LePage and GOP lawmakers opposed the increase because it would raise electricity rates. 

House approves bill to study abolishing Land Use panel

In a party-line vote Thursday, the House gave preliminary approval to a GOP bill that would establish a study group to examine abolishing the state’s Land Use Regulation Commission.

The vote was 75-65.

The commission regulates land use in the unorganized counties, a land mass more than three times as large as Connecticut but with a population of only 9,000 people.

Republicans say that LURC has become an obstacle to economic development and that land use planning should be done at the county level to give residents more input.

Republican leaders originally planned to eliminate LURC but lacked the votes in the Legislature. Instead, they proposed the study group, which would make recommendations to the Legislature in January.

Its 13 members would be appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry, and House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland.

The members would include landowners, county officials and a few interest groups, including representatives of sportsmen and the tourism industry.

Democrats say they want to reform the commission rather than abolish the commission. They opposed the bill because they feared that the study group would be packed with people who are determined to abolish LURC. 

Senate backs bill to allow workers to keep guns in cars

The Senate voted 19-15 Thursday to approve a bill that says an employer may not prohibit an employee with a valid concealed-firearms permit from keeping a gun in a locked car at work.

The vote on L.D. 35, sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, followed House approval on Wednesday.

Supporters say that individuals’ right to bear arms outweighs the rights for business owners, and that many hunters leave weapons in their vehicles during hunting season.

Opponents say businesses should have the right to set policies regarding guns on their properties.

More House and Senate votes are needed before the bill is finalized. 

Law will allow patients to opt out of online database

A new law will let about two-thirds of Maine’s population choose whether to keep their medical records on an independent computer database.

A compromise bill that quietly worked its way to enactment requires that Maine residents whose medical records are stored in the HealthInfoNet database get an opportunity to opt out of the system. The nonprofit HealthInfoNet is a secure electronic system in which complete medical records are stored, enabling health care providers to share medical data.

Complete medical records are available to doctors no matter where someone needs medical attention.

The compromise bill settles differences between those who were concerned about people being enrolled in the system without their knowledge and those who wanted to expand HealthInfoNet’s scope.