The painful memories of the 2017 state government shutdown that ruined that year’s July 4 weekend for lawmakers and state workers faded this year, as the Legislature completed its business, passed a budget and went home in time for fireworks and parades.

The budget impasse and government shutdown of two years ago over the holiday weekend was forced by then Gov. Paul Lepage, who refused to compromise and stormed out of a late-night Blaine House meeting in the hours before the shutdown.

Much has changed this year, as the first legislative session under Democratic rule ran smoothly, and much was accomplished. For the most part, the atmosphere was civil, with the pain and vitriol of the LePage years quickly receding from memory.

There were tough debates, as minority Republicans strained to use their diminished leverage to stall some measures, most notably bond issues that should be considered by voters in November and will probably require a return legislative session. But the atmosphere was one of negotiation and compromise, with newly elected Gov. Janet Mills working with legislators to adjust bills as they worked through the process, rather than brandishing a last-minute veto pen.

The Democrats get credit for the new tone under their control, and they passed much of their agenda, including expanding Medicaid coverage, and protecting abortion rights and providing those services under Medicaid.

One important health-care initiative brought the toughest battle of the session. A proposal to tighten vaccination requirements brought crowds to Augusta, many who objected to the changes. But the tighter vaccination rules, which eliminate religious and philosophical vaccination exemptions for kids entering school, was finally passed in response to lower rates of vaccination and recent increases in childhood illnesses.

One important bill, backed by Mainers in opinion polls, but perennially stalled in Augusta, finally passed this year. Although Gov. Mills was cautious about the Death with Dignity Act, her final signature on the measure adds Maine to the list of states that permit this option for people facing terminal illness. It carries safeguards, such as several written determinations by doctors, that should prevent its misuse.

But there are always some perennial proposals that stall in the Legislature. Gun-control efforts, as in past years, mostly fizzled as both Democrats and Republicans balked at gun restrictions and an energized gun lobby fought hard against them. Legislators also rejected a red flag law that would have allowed police officers to confiscate guns from people deemed a threat; it morphed into a compromise bill that linked gun confiscation to the traditional process of involuntary commitment after a mental health evaluation. And municipalities still can’t prohibit guns in their public spaces and polling places, since legislators rejected a bill from Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, that would have changed that rule.

A big change in Maine’s election system will allow voters to take part in a presidential primary on Super Tuesday next March, rather than using the caucus system – which was a disaster in 2016, with long lines and disgruntled voters. While Maine results may get obscured in the multi-state event, it will enable more voters to participate. And each party will have the option to allow independent voters to participate in their primary.

The biggest logjam as the Legislature wound down in late June was an impasse over bond issues, including a large bond for transportation spending. Republicans who wanted to decide the various bond items separately flexed their muscle, and the whole bond package was rejected.

Several of these laws may be up for reconsideration, as right-wing Christian groups and others are vowing to reject the new laws in People’s Veto campaigns. Papers have already been drawn at the secretary of state’s office for People’s Vetoes of the vaccination bill; taxpayer-funded abortion and the Death with Dignity Act will also be targeted, and others are expected.

But gathering the required 63,000 signatures and winning at the polls will be a tall order.


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