AUGUSTA — Lawmakers left a host of major issues on the table this week when the 2018 legislative session came to a tumultuous and partisan ending. But thanks to some parliamentary maneuvering, some of those issues could be revived when lawmakers return – likely early next month – to consider the governor’s vetoes.

Amid the last-minute activity prior to Thursday morning’s adjournment, House Democrats quickly killed a slew of bills offered by Gov. Paul LePage dealing with such controversial topics as voter ID, “sanctuary cities” and a training wage for young workers. But there are still dozens of bipartisan measures left unresolved, plus more than 120 bills already approved by the House and Senate that are awaiting decisions about whether they will receive funding. House and Senate leaders will have broad discussions about which bills to bring up, and which they allow to die on the legislative vine.

Here is a recap of some of the major issues debated in the Legislature this year, where they currently stand and their prospects going forward.


The biggest sticking point of the session, the Medicaid expansion initiative approved by voters last fall, remains in limbo less than three months before the state is supposed to begin covering an additional 70,000-plus adults. Gov. Paul LePage has insisted lawmakers must fund expansion without dipping into the state’s Rainy Day fund or using other “gimmicks.” His administration has also yet to take administrative steps to begin expansion. A budget package proposed by Democrats and supported by Senate Republicans – but not House Republicans – would provide $3.8 million next year to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to hire additional staff and cover the administrative costs of expansion. But that line-item in the budget package is one of the reasons for the legislative meltdown this week. Democrats plan to push again, so stay tuned.



Nearly 18 months after Mainers narrowly voted to legalize recreational marijuana, it’s still illegal to buy the stuff anywhere in the state unless you are an approved medical marijuana patient. The latest proposal to establish a heavily regulated and licensed retail sales system passed both chambers of the Legislature and is sitting on LePage’s desk awaiting a promised veto. The question is whether those veto-proof margins (112-34 in the House and 25-10 in the Senate) will hold. They didn’t last year.


The $6.8 million spending package endorsed by leaders of three of the four legislative caucuses – House and Senate Democrats plus Senate Republicans – includes $6.7 million for opioid addiction treatment. The proposal would help develop a statewide “hub-and-spoke” model that steers people struggling with addiction toward the treatment that best fits their needs. While the earmark enjoys bipartisan support, it awaits further action and its fate is likely tied to the other spending initiatives in the package, including administrative funding for Medicaid expansion.


One of dozens of bills stuck in legislative purgatory would allow police or family members to ask a judge to order someone deemed a clear threat to themselves or others to temporarily relinquish their guns. The bill, L.D. 1884, received a divided vote in committee earlier this week but has never been debated on the House or Senate floors. It’ll likely be up to legislative leaders to decide whether to take up the “red flag” bill, or others, when they return for a veto session.



It seems a time-honored tradition in the Legislature that bond bills to pay for road repairs, research and development and other initiatives get pushed until the very last minute when most other work is done. And such is the case this year, with more than $700 million in requests still on the table, including a package proposed by LePage. Normally, lawmakers agree on a two-year budget or a mid-budget supplemental spending plan before deciding how much money to borrow in the form of bonds. They are still fighting over the $68 million spending proposal, so bonds are up in the air as well.


A bill recently endorsed by a committee would unwind the graduation proficiency standards required by lawmakers just five years ago. Instead of being required to issue proficiency-based diplomas, schools could opt to revert back to the previous system of awarding diplomas based on completion of course credits. The bill, L.D. 1666, has yet to receive any floor debate, however, and is likely to be intensely controversial given the fact that school systems statewide have changed grading systems, class schedules and diplomas to meet the eight proficiency areas.


When the Republican-controlled Congress passed last year’s tax reform bill, it created a ripple effect on state taxation policies that are interwoven with the federal system. LePage’s original “tax conformity” proposal would have extended an estimated $111 million in tax cuts to Mainers through changes to Maine’s personal, business and estate taxes. With Democrats saying the governor’s proposal is too generous to the wealthy, the Legislature’s Taxation Committee has spent weeks trying to find middle ground. The issue is likely to come up during the veto session, but its fate could be tied to the outcome of other hot-button issues – including Medicaid expansion – during political negotiations.



House Republicans are, once again, insisting that a slowdown of Maine’s scheduled minimum wage increases must be part of any broader negotiations on a spending package. Under the ballot initiative approved by voters in November 2016, Maine’s minimum wage will rise from $10 to $11 an hour next January. Some businesses, particularly in rural Maine, said the sharp increase from $7.50 in November 2016 to $11 next January is too much for them to absorb. But House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said Thursday that slowing down the minimum wage increases was “never part of the negotiations” from Democrats’ standpoint, so don’t expect much movement.


The Downeast Correctional Facility – a 150-bed, minimum-security prison in Machiasport – is scheduled to close on June 30 unless lawmakers take decisive action to fund it. And so far, House Republicans have blocked all such efforts. LePage emptied the prison this winter and issued layoff notices to employees only to be told by a state judge that only the Legislature can fully close the facility because its existence is written into law. The administration responded by sending a handful of inmates back to the prison, along with a handful of guards.


Lawmakers, once again, took no decisive action to address the concerns that some among their ranks had raised about using ranked-choice voting in this June’s primaries. Two courts have now ruled that ranked-choice voting will be used this June, and Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has said his office is moving forward with implementing the system. There is a possibility that lawmakers will consider a last-minute bill to ensure that state police will be used to transport ballots to Augusta in the event that a ranked-choice tabulation is required, but that bill had yet to be finalized this week.



Without legislative action, the tax incentives offered to businesses through the Pine Tree Development Zone program will expire at the end of the year. Although controversial, the tax credits and sales tax exemptions are utilized by businesses that, in turn, make promises to create jobs. A bill to reauthorize the Pine Tree Development Zone program for three years has won bipartisan support, but it is among those caught in the partisan gamesmanship that stalled work in the final days. It is likely to come up during the veto session, however.


After weeks of emotional debate, the final proposal dealing with what’s known as “female genital mutilation” died on the House floor late Wednesday night despite Republican efforts to pass the bill. Supporters contend Maine needed a specific law to prohibit a harmful practice that is used on young women in some cultures, particularly in Africa. Critics of the bill point out federal law already prohibits such practices and there is no evidence of female genital mutilation occurring in Maine. Opponents also accused Republicans of attempting to using the issue to demonize immigrants from African countries where the practice is prevalent.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at:

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