Maine’s newly elected Legislature will convene for the first time on Wednesday to face a list of big issues, including a budget for the next two fiscal years.

And lawmakers won’t have much time to savor pomp and ceremony before facing their first big decision: passage of a long-awaited emergency heating and energy assistance package to help struggling Mainers this winter.

Over the last few weeks, Gov. Janet Mills has been negotiating with incoming legislative leaders from both parties, even though they won’t be sworn in until Wednesday and haven’t established any standing committees. The goal is to produce a bipartisan heating and energy relief package ready for a floor vote on day one.

Mills will need the support of two-thirds of the Legislature for her energy relief proposal to take effect immediately so struggling Mainers can receive financial assistance to deal with the high cost of heat and electricity this winter. On Friday, her office announced that negotiations would continue over the weekend.

Republican House and Senate leaders said they’re pleased that Mills and her staff have included them in negotiations and hope that it’s a signal of things to come as they tackle other important issues this session, including the budget, housing, workforce challenges, energy policy and concerns about a lack of legal representation for people who cannot afford an attorney.

“We’ll see how this first test goes,” Senate Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, said in an interview Thursday. “It’s also a good opportunity to set the tone here, come together, and assure people we can work together on important things when it really matters.”


The session begins as Republicans are still reeling from a disappointing election cycle in which inflation, high energy prices and a relatively unpopular Democratic president were expected to produce Republican gains here and nationally. Instead, Democrats held on to the Blaine House, maintained the party’s 22-13 hold on the Senate and gained a seat in the House of Representatives, giving them 82 of the 151 seats.

Stewart said Republicans are looking to shape policy and blunt any progressive initiatives even though they are in the minority.

“The role of Republicans is to make sure our voices are heard and to try to limit any really extreme, far-reaching things from the far left and to try to take some of the sharper edges off of things,” he said. “Hopefully we can make some compelling arguments to our friends on the other side of the aisle that, even though we’re the minority, we still have some good ideas.”

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, said he’s looking forward to putting aside any hard feelings from the bruising campaign season, when Republicans tried to link him to the unpopular defund-the-police movement, so lawmakers can work to improve health care and prescription drug prices, increase housing access and help people struggling to keep up with inflation and high energy costs.

“We’re doing something on the very first day of the Legislature that is trying to help people and hopefully that sets a tone for all of us,” Jackson said. “There’s no time to waste. And there really is no time to let ideological differences get in the way.”

Incoming House Minority Leader Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, said he has met and had several conversations with Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, a Portland Democrat who has been chosen as the incoming House speaker. He has also had discussions with Mills and her staff. The early tone gives reason to be optimistic, he said, especially with regard to the heating and energy assistance proposal.


“Republicans want to participate and I feel like we’re potentially getting an opportunity to participate very early on,” he said of the energy aid negotiations. “It’s not something that’s just being rolled out with a press conference without us. We have been involved in it early on, so I’m very optimistic about the way this could go, and I’m very hopeful for the people of Maine.”

Faulkingham also expects House Republicans to focus on energy policy. Although he didn’t offer specifics, he and other Republicans are critical of renewable energy, opposing offshore wind farms and criticizing the rapid expansion of solar farms.

Talbot Ross did not respond to interview requests last week.

Mills said in a written statement that she has spoken with all four legislative leaders and looks forward to working with them, even though policy disagreements are inevitable. She said the energy assistance package is her top priority, followed by economic development, workforce issues, the housing shortage and addressing high energy prices, while also maintaining investments in health care and education.

“I believe there is a real opportunity for us to set aside partisanship, reach consensus and deliver good public policy for Maine people during the upcoming session,” Mills said. “There is no shortage of work to do, but I look forward to working with the Legislature over the coming months to get it done.”

Here’s a look at some of the issues likely to be taken up by lawmakers.



The biggest single issue facing the incoming Legislature will be crafting a new two-year budget.

The current two-year budget is $8.4 billion, but a strong revenue forecast could prompt calls for increased spending.

Revenue forecasters are predicting that there will be a $283 million surplus in the current fiscal year. At least some of that is expected to pay for the heating assistance plan. But they also are predicting another $489 million in additional revenue over the next biennium.

The revenue forecast is bound to attract calls from Democrats for additional spending and perhaps new programs.

But House Republicans have other ideas. Faulkingham conceded that reducing income tax rates probably won’t happen with Democrats in control, but said Republicans will continue to advocate for the return of any surplus to taxpayers.


“If we keep collecting revenue that’s in excess of what the government needs, it’s our objective to return that tax revenue to the people, because people are struggling,” he said. “We want to return as much of that as possible so people can get relief from their energy bills.”

Republicans are looking to influence budget negotiations, even though Democrats could move quickly and enact a continuing budget with a simple majority – as they did in 2020 before adding bipartisan changes later that session.

Jackson said he hopes to have a bipartisan budget, but wouldn’t rule out a budget passed only by the Democratic majority if it seems like Republicans are fixing for a fight that could shut down state government. He said he doesn’t have much desire to spend additional money on new programs and would like lawmakers to consider using the surplus for financial assistance.

Budget negotiations will get into full swing after Mills releases her two-year proposal next month. That proposal will be reviewed by the powerful Appropriations Committee, which can change the proposal before sending it to lawmakers and then back to the governor. Budget negotiations can be long and drawn out, with a spending package often not finalized until late in the session.


Addressing the state’s housing shortage is also expected to be at the top of the policy list this session. Democratic leaders, Jackson and Talbot Ross announced on Thursday the creation of a Joint Select Committee on Housing that will be tasked with examining ways to increase affordable housing and help those struggling to afford their current housing.


The select committee, consisting of three senators and 10 representatives, is expected to work its way through a list of 18 recommendations put forward by a special study group that met over the fall. Those recommendations include investing $60 million in affordable housing, looking for state-owned land to offer for housing development, enacting pro-tenant provisions in rental housing laws and changing the state’s General Assistance program to provide more aid.

In a news release, Jackson and Talbot Ross mentioned an impending “humanitarian crisis” that could follow the loss of federal rental assistance, which has been used to keep people housed during the pandemic. Federal funding paying for hotel rooms for people who would otherwise be homeless, including asylum-seekers who are unable to work because of federal laws, is also expected to expire this winter.


Throughout the campaign, Democratic candidates repeatedly said abortion was on the ballot in November – a message primarily aimed at potential new restrictions that could be enacted by Republicans if they took control of the Blaine House or Legislature.

Although Democrats maintained control over both, don’t expect the issue to disappear completely.

Mills and some state lawmakers have said they are interested in offering a constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion rights in the state, if needed. She said in the summer that her office was looking into whether that right is already enshrined, and hasn’t provided an update since.


Women had a constitutional right to abortion under the U.S. Constitution for nearly 50 years, until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, allowing states to set their own abortion policies.

A state constitutional amendment would guarantee that right in Maine, regardless of which party is in power. Abortion access seemed to have motivated Democrats to turn out for the midterm elections, and Republicans struggled to articulate their stance on the issue.

Mills has said she supports the current law, which allows a women to have an abortion up until viability, usually 22 to 24 weeks, or later when the life of the mother is at risk.

Some people are advocating for expanded access to abortions.

Nicole Clegg, Planned Parenthood’s senior vice president of public affairs, told the Press Herald in October that she would like to see access expanded to allow for abortions to occur after the viability has closed in cases of rape or incest, or when medical tests reveal a fetal anomaly likely to result in the baby’s painful death shortly after birth.

Clegg said on Friday that advocates are considering their options.


“I don’t have specifics at this point, but we will be focused on potential proposals to protect access for Mainers and people traveling to Maine, and clinicians,” she said.


Last session, the Legislature passed a sweeping bill that would have given Maine’s four tribes the same rights and powers as 570 other federally recognized tribes. The bill would have enacted changes to a pair of 1980 agreements that settled tribal claims to two-thirds of the state, which delivered $81.5 million to the tribes and allows the state to treat tribal nations like municipalities.

Even though it passed both legislative chambers, the bill was never sent to Mills, who had threatened to veto it but supported a different bill that gave tribes exclusive rights to offer online sports betting. Instead, the bill’s nominal costs were never funded in the supplemental budget and the bill died.

The sponsor of that bill was Talbot Ross, who will lead the House chamber. Since Mills has said she would consider targeted, negotiated changes to the settlement agreements, one would expect additional tribal proposals to come forward in the next two years, especially after an outpouring of public support last year.



Two separate efforts to ensure that workers can take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to recover from an illness or to care for a sick family member are expected to move forward.

A special commission appointed by the Legislature is finalizing its work on a proposal for the upcoming session.

And progressive activists, including the Maine People’s Alliance and the Maine Women’s Lobby, are gathering signatures for a November 2023 referendum to enact a paid family leave policy.

Under the ballot initiative, employers and employees would each pay a 0.43% payroll tax to fund the program, generating hundreds of millions per year. People claiming benefits would typically receive 75% to 90% of their weekly income, depending on how much they earn.

Mills has not officially backed any specific proposal, but she supported forming the commission and devoted an additional $300,000 in general fund money to an actuarial analysis of potential impacts, according to a spokesperson.

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