AUGUSTA — Lawmakers passed major bills this month, including a new tax on electronic smoking devices and liquids in the waning hours of the 2019 session with little fanfare.

Gov. Janet Mills Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The Maine Legislature passed over 50 bills in the early hours of June 20, and many are soon due for action from Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

Those range from bills to help the state’s popular craft brewing industry, to officially lowering the age of required school attendance from 7 years of age to 6. Lawmakers also dipped into Maine’s medical marijuana fund to pay for hunger relief bills, and directed the state to contract with nonprofits to address issues ranging from substance-affected babies to health insurance consumers.

Lawmakers also delayed action on bills addressing non-disclosure agreements and advance wagering on horse races to next year.

It was a busy session for lawmakers. Democrats who took control of the governor’s mansion and Legislature passed a bevy of bills this year, ranging from state Medicaid funds for abortions to ambitious renewable energy goals.



One of the last bills passed by lawmakers increased the tax on tobacco products other than cigarettes from 20 percent to 43 percent of the wholesale price beginning Jan. 2.

The legislation adds electronic smoking devices and liquids used in those devices to the definition of tobacco products. That’s expected to increase state General Fund revenue by nearly $16 million over the next two years.

The bill specifies that tobacco products don’t include adult use marijuana.

The legislation says if the cigarette tax is later increased, the tax on tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco will also be adjusted.

That bill also provides roughly $6 million each year to fund tobacco use prevention and cessation programs, as well as tobacco cessation medications and counseling for Medicaid recipients.



Lawmakers also worked until late to pass a bill crafted by Maine’s craft brewers and wholesalers.

Current Maine law defines a “small brewer” as producing fewer than 1,600 barrels of beer annually. Those that make more have to sign contracts with a wholesale distributor.

Democratic Rep. Louie Luchini called such contracts “rigid.” The new law increases the cap to 30,000 and makes it easier for breweries to exit distribution contracts.

Brewing company MillerCoors reported lobbying on the bill, which the Maine Brewers Guild called a huge win.

The law also allows small wineries to produce up to 3,000 barrels per year of hard cider, on top of 50,000 gallons of wine that’s not hard cider.



Most 6-year-old Mainers are already in school, but a new law will officially change Maine law to reflect that under a bill Mills signed Friday.

Groups representing Maine school boards and superintendents last year adopted resolutions to lower the required age for school attendance to age 6.

Maine is one of 13 states with compulsory attendance at age 7, according to Maine School Management Association Executive Director Steven Bailey. He said he hopes the law will spark debate about mandatory kindergarten attendance and expanding pre-kindergarten.


Lawmakers also passed a bill to require Maine utility regulators to evaluate a Democrat’s proposal to create a consumer-owned electric utility.

Rep. Seth Berry had proposed acquiring Central Maine Power and Emera Maine’s transmission and distribution systems. Lawmakers want the Maine Public Utilities Commission to contract with an independent consultant to evaluate Berry’s legislation and submit a report by Feb. 15.



Maine would ensure that individuals at homeless shelters for 30 days are eligible for General Assistance benefits under another bill passed by lawmakers.

The bill, whose cost is unclear, requires the state to reimburse municipalities 100 percent of such costs after a person has spent 90 consecutive nights at a shelter.


Lawmakers have made several tweaks to the state’s anti-discrimination law.

One new law, effective in September, would include “gender identity” to the definition of behaviors that constitute harassment. The legislation would also clarify that a leave of absence can be a reasonable accommodation for a disability in employment, and that individual employees can be liable for discriminatory behavior in some circumstances.


Meanwhile, the governor has yet to act on another bill to add “gender identity” to other state anti-discrimination laws, including civil rights protections.


Lawmakers recalled a bill they had sent Mills to take aim at nondisclosure agreements in the workplace.

The lawmakers then pushed the bill back into next year.

Democratic Rep. Thom Harnett’s bill would prevent employers from requiring employees to enter into a contract, settlements or severance with a nondisclosure agreement, if doing so prevents employees from discussing discrimination in the workplace.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce didn’t take a stance on the legislation, but said the original bill seemed “problematic” and could lead to unintended consequences.


Mills signed a bill Friday to restrict employers who prohibit employees from working in an industry or area after they leave. Employers will be barred from requiring noncompete agreements for employees making at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty level.


Another bill pushed back to next year would allow commercial tracks, off-track betting facilities and others to obtain a license to conduct a new form of gambling on horse races.

In what’s known as advance deposit wagering, bettors have to fund their accounts before being allowed to place bets. Such gambling is often conducted online or by phone.

License holders would have to send 4 percent of their income to the state’s Gambling Control Board.

This year, lawmakers passed legislation to allow online sports betting.

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