A newly elected Legislature will assemble in Augusta this week, but there is still unfinished business left over from Election Day, mostly resulting from the referendum questions passed by the voters.

We’re not talking about Gov. Le-Page’s weird, unsubstantiated concerns about the “integrity (and) accuracy” of Maine’s ballot counting procedures, which, by all evidence, are entirely reliable. But passing laws by referendum when they haven’t been debated and amended means that there are rough spots that need to be smoothed over.

That doesn’t mean ignoring the will of the voters, though, and the different questions require very different responses. When reviewing marijuana legalization, lawmakers should apply a quick fix; when they look at a high-income surtax for school funding, they need to do a deep dive; and when they are looking at the law that increases the minimum wage, they should do nothing at all.

Assuming that Question 1, an act to regulate marijuana like alcohol, survives an ongoing recount, this issue will be the subject of a dispute that will play out for months, if not years. Even though marijuana is illegal under federal law, the Obama administration tolerated its distribution and use in states that passed laws permitting it, as long as it was well regulated. But with new policymakers at the Department of Justice, that could change quickly.

What won’t change is something that opponents of the referendum said was a flaw in the bill that went before the voters on Nov. 8 – the unintentional legalization of marijuana for people under age 21. Maine Attorney General Janet Mills argued forcefully that the bill the voters passed would eliminate the existing statute that barred minors from possessing and using the drug. It was an argument that likely led to the referendum’s close finish at the polls.

There is no reason for the Legislature to wait for the federal government to work out its policy on legalization before fixing this hole in the law, if it does in fact exist. Whether they supported the referendum or not, no one wanted to make it easier for children to have access to drugs. This should be high on the new Legislature’s agenda.


Question 2, the 3 percent surtax on income over $200,000 to raise money for schools, will not be so simple to address.

This proposal was vigorously opposed by the governor, who said he would address it in a tax reform package that would dramatically decrease income tax rates for the highest earners before the 3 percent surtax was applied.

There is clearly a need for legislative action, but it’s no quick fix. It’s safe to assume that everyone who voted in favor of Question 2, and many who voted against it, want to see the state spend more on K-12 education. The referendum was a response to previous Legislatures that ignored the state’s commitment to pay 55 percent of education costs, which had been mandated by a previous referendum.

The referendum proposed a way to meet that goal, but if legislators and the governor can come up with a different mix of revenues to carry out the voters’ mandate, they should do it. And the Legislature should consult the public and look for a way to distribute the newly raised money that would be more equitable but still adhere to the spirit of the referendum.

The easiest job for the new Legislature comes with Question 4, which increased the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour: They should do nothing.

As passed by the voters, the new law lifts the minimum wage from $7.50 an hour to $9 on Jan. 1, and increases it $1 per year until it reaches $12 an hour in 2020. After that, the minimum wage would be tied to inflation. The bill also phases out the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, who are now paid only $3.75 an hour by their employers, with the expectation that they make the minimum or more in tips.

This has been the subject of histrionics by some in the restaurant industry, including some waitstaff in high-end restaurants, who say it undermines a system that works. It’s even drawn criticism from the governor, who claims, again with no evidence, that voters didn’t understand that tipped workers would be affected by the law. That is nonsense.

Question 4 received 55.5 percent of the vote on Election Day, doing well in every region of the state. The “Yes on 4” vote exceeded Hillary Clinton’s state-winning tally by 63,000 votes. Nearly 10,000 people cast a vote either for or against the referendum but did not mark a ballot for president. The voters have spoken, and it’s clear what they said.

Businesses and servers will have three years to figure out how to adapt to this new set of rules. The Legislature doesn’t have to do anything yet.

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