The state House of Representatives on Thursday voted in support of hiring an additional five inspectors to help ease a backlog of overdue inspections on an estimated 1,400 establishments.

The Democrat-controlled House voted virtually along party lines, 79-68, in support L.D. 715. The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who cited a Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of the backlog in restaurant safety inspections.

Rep. Kevin Battle, of South Portland, was the only Republican to support the bill, which was officially introduced as a nonbinding resolve.

The cost of hiring the new inspectors would be paid through an increase in licensing fees paid by restaurant owners. Current fees range from $100 to $500 per year.

The bill, which was voted out of the Health and Human Services Committee in a 7-6 party-line vote, now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate.

The state employs 11 inspectors who must examine summer camps, hotels, public pools and tattoo parlors as well as eating establishments. The state inspects 5,700 facilities per year.

The Maine Restaurant Association has opposed the proposal because it would increase fees on restaurant owners, who supported a fee increase in 2011 so the state could upgrade its computer systems. The association agrees that more inspectors are needed, but would prefer the additional costs be paid for out of the general fund.


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