House passes amendment to earmark part of sales tax

Lawmakers in the House approved a constitutional amendment Wednesday to direct a percentage of Maine’s sales tax to fund the state departments of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and Marine Resources.

The vote reversed two previous House votes that had fallen short of the two-thirds approval required for constitutional amendments. Wednesday’s vote was 99-47 to approve L.D. 563. Earlier in the day, the House voted 94 -53 in favor, falling short of two-thirds. Last week, a similar vote was 92-54.

Supporters of the measure said the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife is underfunded and needs the dedicated resources to protect the state’s recreational industries. Opponents said that constitutionally earmarking sales tax revenue is bad public policy, and that the Appropriations Committee should have as much flexibility as possible in composing the biennial budget.

The legislation would direct 1.2 percent of all sales tax revenue to the two departments, with 90 percent of that total directed toward Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and 10 percent going to Marine Resources.

The Senate has also given the bill two-thirds approval in an initial vote. Another will be scheduled. As a constitutional amendment, the legislation also needs approval in a statewide vote. 

Proposal would address bail in domestic violence cases

Monday’s triple murder and suicide in Dexter has prompted a legislator to propose legislation to address bail conditions in domestic violence cases.

Rep. Ken Fredette said he plans to file a bill next year to amend Maine’s Bail Code to require judges to consider instances of domestic violence when setting bail.

Police have called Monday’s killings in Dexter a case of domestic violence homicide. Domestic violence charges were pending against the man who killed his wife and two children, then himself.

Fredette, a Republican from Newport, said the laws need to be changed to protect people who are at risk of violence. Fredette wants to submit the bill during the session of the Legislature that begins in January.

In 2010, Maine recorded 5,117 domestic violence assault cases. 

Senate approves bill to ease access to medical marijuana

A bill that would ease access to medical marijuana in Maine is one step closer to passage, after approval Wednesday by the Senate.

The measure, L.D. 1296, was sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea. An amended version of the proposal would eliminate the requirement that patients register with the state.

The proposal would make changes to a lawmaker-approved version of legislation that began as a citizens initiative to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in Maine.

The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate. 

Group: Repeal attacks right to know about pesticides

The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association is criticizing the new law that eliminates what some consider redundant notifications of pesticide applications.

Associate Director Heather Spalding said the repeal signed Tuesday by Gov. Paul LePage is “an attack on people’s right to know about pesticides.”

The measure repealed a 2009 law requiring pesticide applicators to provide advance notice of aerial pesticide applications to those who list their property on a public registry. Proponents say a law in effect since 1998 already gives Maine citizens the right to be notified.

LePage said the existing law was less burdensome and did the same thing. He called the repeal “another example of good, commonsense regulatory reform.” 

State Planning Office staffer named economist for Maine

An economist with the State Planning Office has been named Maine’s top financial forecaster.

As state economist, Amanda Rector, 29, will analyze Maine’s economy for planning and policy purposes. She also will be the governor’s liaison to the U.S. Census Bureau, serve on the state’s Revenue Forecasting Commission and support the State Planning Office’s director on economic and tax policy issues.

Rector has worked in the State Planning Office since 2007 and was with the Department of Labor before that. She has degrees from Wellesley College and the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine. 

Legislature delays change to campaign contributions

A bill that would have permitted candidates in local elections to receive individual campaign contributions as large as $750 won’t take effect until Jan. 1, said Ben Chipman, an independent state representative from Portland.

Chipman fought for an amendment to L.D. 856 that will delay any changes to the campaign contribution law until after November’s elections.

The Senate and the House on Wednesday adopted the amendment to limit individual campaign contributions at $350 until January.

Chipman, who opposed any increase to the campaign contribution limit, said raising the limit to $750 during Portland’s upcoming mayoral race would not have been fair. If his amendment had not passed, the change to the contribution limit would have taken effect in September.

“From a fairness perspective, it didn’t make sense to change the rules in the middle of the game,” Chipman said.