Police & Fire

The lesser-known bills Maine lawmakers did and did not pass this year

By Billy Kobin, Bangor Daily News Staff

AUGUSTA — Mainers who are not lawmakers, legislative staffers or lobbyists may have still been asleep around 6 a.m. Thursday, April 18 when the Legislature took its final votes of the 2024 session.

Legislators took all day April 17 and the early hours of April 18 to pass an addition to the two-year state budget and settle a handful of lingering items before adjourning, though they will return to the State House to deal with any vetoes from Gov. Janet Mills.

Apart from debating and voting on high-profile proposals related to issues such as gun control in the wake of the Lewiston mass shooting and money to support infrastructure and businesses damaged by severe winter storms, the House and Senate also passed or failed to take up additional measures that may have flown under the radar for those who are not dedicated State House observers.

Here is a quick look at several things that did and didn’t make the cut.

Rent relief

It takes well more than one story to cover all facets of Maine’s housing crisis — and thankfully we have a reporter for that — but one issue that affects Mainers of all ages is the cost of renting.

Lawmakers included $18 million in the $10.4 billion budget for a two-year rent relief pilot program meant to assist everyone from single parents to Mainers with disabilities and students. It grew out of a bill from Rep. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, and other Democrats and will provide up to $800 a month for up to 4,200 low-income households that qualify.

Advocates noted nearly 6,000 Maine households faced eviction in 2023, most for non-payment of rent. That’s a 16 percent increase over the prior year. And 52 percent of Maine households with extremely low incomes pay more than half their monthly income to stay housed.

“Homes are everything — where we find safety, opportunity, and take care of our families,” Maine Equal Justice policy advocate Andrea Steward said, calling the pilot a “great big step toward solving our housing crisis.”

No more property tax cap. No new ‘Netflix tax.’

One bill that Mills already signed into law this month is a repeal of a 2005 statute she voted for as a state representative that limited the amount of property taxes Maine towns could collect. 

Then-Gov. John Baldacci had pushed for the cap that was tied to the growth of municipal property and Maine’s average personal income, and it received broad support at the time of passage. But supporters of this year’s bill from Sen. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, to repeal it said the limit had become outdated and confusing for municipalities to calculate.

The Maine Municipal Association and officials from places such as Bangor support the repeal, while Assistant House Minority Leader Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, said it would “limit the voices of our voters.” 

While most Democrats supported the repeal over GOP opposition, it was not a neat split. For example, Reps. Kenneth Davis, R-East Machias, and Mark Blier, R-Buxton, supported the repeal, while Democrats Sen. Mike Tipping of Orono and Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio of Sanford were among a few majority party members to oppose it.

Another proposal that did not advance this year was a Mills administration effort to add a 5.5 percent tax on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. Mills’ predecessor, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, had also tried to create a “Netflix tax.”

Though the Legislature’s tax committee initially approved it, the budget committee opted to not include it in this year’s spending plan. 

No votes on nurse ratios, flavored tobacco and child welfare department

Numerous bills introduced in past sessions looked like they would potentially move forward this year after clearing the Senate, but the House never took them up.

That included a proposal from Sen. Stacy Brenner, D-Scarborough, to establish minimum nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, an effort from Sen. Jill Duson, D-Portland, to ban flavored tobacco sales and a measure from Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, to separate Maine’s embattled child welfare office from the Department of Health and Human Services.

A gun-related proposal that received less attention also remained tabled in the House. The bill from Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Dover Foxcroft, would study the potential creation of a process in which Mainers prohibited from possessing firearms, such as due to non-violent felony convictions, could apply to have their gun ownership rights restored.

Recovery from substance use

One of the last things lawmakers approved early Thursday was $2 million in annual funding for more than 20 recovery community centers in Maine that offer peer support, harm reduction and other services to those with substance use disorders.

The centers will receive the money that comes from recreational marijuana tax revenue starting in July 2025, under the bill from Rep. Ambureen Rana, D-Bangor.

“These centers, many operating on shoestring budgets and hopes and dreams, make sure no one gets left behind on their recovery journey,” Rana said in a statement.

Identifying unknown human remains

Lawmakers sometimes try to make late budget additions related to various issues, but they often fail due to competing interests and opposition to last-minute changes.

One attempt this week came from Rep. David Boyer, R-Poland, with his proposal to require Maine’s chief medical examiner to use forensic genetic genealogy testing with DNA from human remains of individuals who have been unidentified for at least 45 days. But Boyer’s effort to add $100,000 to the budget for it during late-night votes failed in the House.

Get the Rest of the Story

Thank you for reading your 4 free articles this month. To continue reading, and support local, rural journalism, please subscribe.