AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers worked through the early morning hours Thursday as they scrambled to complete action on a number of important and contentious issues before adjourning the 2019 legislative session just after 6:45 a.m.

The Legislature managed to finish its work on a range of bills that do everything from tacking a new tax onto vaping devices to switching Maine back to a presidential primary vote in March of next year. But they failed to reach agreement on how much the state should borrow to fix highways and bridges or build out a lagging broadband network. These were key infrastructure improvements that Gov. Janet Mills had asked them to send to voters for approval this fall.

Mills’ proposed bond package, which was endorsed by the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, includes: $105 million for road, bridge and infrastructure repair; $50 million for research and development, expanding broadband and fishing/farming infrastructure; $65 million for wastewater treatment projects, renewable energy and the Land for Maine’s Future program; and $19 million for career and technical education or child care.

Republicans insisted they wanted separate votes on each of the four packages and not a single bill with all of the borrowing included. They said they were concerned that the state was taking on too much debt, after passing a tw0-year budget of close to $8 billion.

But Democrats held fast and resisted a last-ditch effort by Republicans to vote on just the transportation bond.

“We do realize that transportation infrastructure improvements will help soften the negative impact that additional regulations and unsustainable spending passed by Democrats this session will have on our economy,” House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, said in a prepared statement after adjournment. “We offered an avenue to ensure we are able to get a mutually agreed upon bond package for roads and bridges out to voters.”

Mills also worked through the early morning hours, signing dozens of bills into law, including one making racial profiling by police a crime.

The Democratic governor also briefly addressed lawmakers in both chambers and thanked them for their work. Her appearance resurrected a long-standing tradition that had been largely abandoned by her predecessor, Republican Gov. Paul LePage.

“Remember why you do this work,” she said, after noting the long hours lawmakers were putting in. “You do it for all the people of Maine.”

Democratic leaders said they expected that Mills will call them back for a special session later this summer to try again to pass a bond package, but Mills made not mention of that in her short address.

Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, said Democrats were disappointed the Legislature could not move the bond package forward, given it also included $5 million for Maine’s 27 career and technical education high schools scattered around the state.

“Today we failed to fund a comprehensive, powerful bond package that would have provided important investments in Maine’s economy, infrastructure and environment,” Fecteau said, also in a prepared statement following the vote. “We have not had a bond for CTE  in 21 years, and now we are delaying financing once again. CTE centers need equipment upgrades and capital improvements to better serve our students and communities, and we are depriving them up the funds they deserve. These bonds were important, and we failed to act.”

The flow of bills between the House and the Senate came to a standstill around 11:20 p.m. Wednesday, when Senate Republicans refused to join in a move to extend the lawmaking session – a vote that had to be taken by midnight. Moments later Republicans agreed to the extension on assurances from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that the Senate would work through the night trying to finish all the Legislature’s remaining business.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, the Senate’s assistant minority leader, asked Jackson if he would keep his promise that the session wouldn’t be dragged on for several additional days and would finish Thursday.

Jackson said he would allow votes on “every possible piece of legislation that I can.”

Earlier in the night, the House voted 124-15 to continue working into Thursday morning, easily clearing the two-thirds majority needed under the state’s Constitution to extend by a day.

During the day Wednesday, lawmakers completed work on a host of bills and sent them to Mills for her signature. One measure would make Maine the latest state to legalize sports betting. Another would add Maine to the states holding presidential primaries on “Super Tuesday” next March rather than using a caucus system to vote for party nominees.

But lawmakers were tied up over other issues, which pushed the session beyond midnight, Wednesday’s statutory adjournment date.

Among other bills that were passed into law late Wednesday or early Thursday were measures to establish the rules for the sale of recreational marijuana and to increase reimbursement rates for the state’s ambulance services. Lawmakers also gave approval to a bill that would allow police to take guns from a person in “protective custody” if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

Also approved was a bill to form a working group to study and recommend improvements for mental health services.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, was backed by the state’s sheriffs association, among other advocates, who have said county jails are increasingly filled with people who need help and not simply confinement.

Breen, who introduced the measure in May, is the parent of a child with mental illness.

“I have seen firsthand how inefficient and ineffective our existing system of mental health services can be,” Breen said in a prepared statement following the vote. “It’s time we make sure we’re investing our energy and money where it will best help Mainers in need.”

The measure is aimed at developing recommendations on how the state can best shift its resources to community-based services to improve early interventions to help people before they are in a crisis situation.

 


Comments are not available on this story.