When the Legislature left town last week, it did so among confusion and a bevy of bills not acted on.

The sun was up by Thursday’s 5:30 a.m. adjournment. Legislators were exhausted and many were unhappy about the way the end-of-session crunch was handled.

This outcome may have been inevitable when a late budget amendment filed by House Appropriations Chair Melanie Sachs (D-Freeport) blew up a contentious but relatively quiet struggle over election year spending.

The now-notorious amendment took back half of the highway funding garnished from the General Fund and reduced a pension exemption for state workers. It roused immediate opposition from Gov. Janet Mills, who vowed a veto, pointing to the absence of a storm relief package she’d touted.

In the end, lawmakers got some of what they wanted. The storm relief, some $50 million, was amended to add $10 million for small business.

And lawmakers quietly rejected a $108 million savings account proposed by Mills and instead allocated it to additional spending. The “savings” made little sense since Mills had also proposed withdrawing the storm relief money from the existing “rainy day” fund.


Because the budget debate extended through the final day, only a handful of enacted bills “on the table” at Appropriations were funded, leaving more than 100 to die.

One pleasant surprise: a real bond package for the first time since 2019. It’s a mini-package of $65 million, with $30 million for trails, $25 million for research and development, and $10 million for community historic preservation.

The relevant bills were proposed by current and former Appropriations members, who have the perseverance to overcome long odds. The preservation bond is a tribute to retiring Rep. Sawin Millett, now 86, whose legislative service began in 1967.

Traditionally, Maine governors propose robust biennial bond packages, but Mills has not. Her predecessor, Paul LePage, blocked any bond he could, sometimes extra-legally, so one must go back to Gov. John Baldacci (2003-11) to find significant investments subject to voter approval.

A similar package today would have a current value of $400-$500 million. We could use one since even property-wealthy communities like Scarborough and Cumberland are turning down locally funded school bonds. School construction was once a shared responsibility between local districts and the state, but no more.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the lack of a vote on a “red flag” law that could have prevented the Lewiston massacre last Oct. 25, when 18 Mainers were senselessly murdered and another 13 maimed.


Police and Army officers are still feuding over who should have triggered the substitute “yellow flag” law offered by Mills in 2019. If, under “red flag,” family members could have petitioned a judge the shootings might not have happened.

Still, lawmakers enacted meaningful gun safety laws, including a 72-hour waiting period that could prevent many suicides. Mills was still considering those bills as of this writing.

Another notable bill moved Maine toward a public defender system for indigent criminal defendants after smaller steps were taken previously.

The Portland Sea Dogs should be able to stay put after the House reversed its opposition to the inevitable tax break all professional sports stadiums seem to demand.

The House also switched its stance so a sand dune created by human intervention won’t block construction of a wind turbine port on Sears Island — a project still facing many obstacles before construction can begin.

A typical “short session” — four months rather than six — rarely produces any signature changes in state law, let alone launch new programs to address new needs.


Even columnists have their favorites, though.

One measure I’ve long advocated, as readers may have noticed, is the National Popular Vote Compact that became law on the seventh try.

First introduced by former House Speaker John Martin in 2007 — joined by two other speakers, Libby Mitchell and Hannah Pingree — it passed by a one-vote margin in the House.

It will have no effect on the 2024 presidential election, since Michigan is the only other state still seriously considering it. If Michigan adds 15 electoral votes to Maine’s four, plus 10 provided by Minnesota last year, there will be 224 of the 270 needed to effectively choose a president by popular vote.

If that day comes, it will mark a sea change. No more swing states deciding elections; each vote will count exactly the same.

Perhaps after more than two centuries of allowing states to substitute for the voters, Americans could actually elect their president directly. Now that would be revolutionary.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, columnist and reporter since 1984. He is the author of four books, most recently a biography of U.S. Chief Justice Melville Fuller, and welcomes comment at drooks@tds.net.

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