2021 was a remarkable year for the Maine Legislature. The majority of legislative business was conducted via Zoom, one of many changes Mainers faced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the first of the 130th Maine Legislature was also remarkable because of the number of laws passed that will directly improve the lives of all Mainers. With the help of nearly 20 volunteers (Mainers, one and all!) and in partnership with more than a dozen progressive advocacy groups, we tracked more than 60 bills during the first half of the 130th legislative session. See where these bills landed (and which ones are still in the works) in our Legislature Roundup Wrap-Up. We also submitted testimony on more than a dozen bills, which you can read here. invite you to peruse this partial list of some of the bills we tracked, as well as many others, and follow the links for more information and to see how your legislators voted. We didn’t win every legislative fight. And we’ll have our work cut out for us when the legislature reconvenes for the second half of the session in January 2022. But for now, we’re going to take a moment to celebrate these victories and to thank all of the legislators, advocates, Suit Up Maine members, and Maine citizens who helped make them a reality. We encourage you to write your legislators and thank them for their support of these bills (and their opposition to some pretty bad ones too!). Find your legislators here.
ELECTIONS AND VOTING ACCESS
- Improving elections and voting access. While many states worked actively this year to suppress the vote, Maine passed legislation to makes it easier and safer to vote. LD 1363 codifies many of the election reforms put in place in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic into state law, including the use of drop boxes and mandated curing of absentee ballots. LD 1575 allows college students in Maine to use their student ID to register to vote, protects the rights of nonpartisan election observers, and improves voter information. And LD 102 expands the length of time local elections officials can process absentee ballots.
- Making absentee voting more accessible. Mainers over age 65 and adults with disabilities will be able to sign up for ongoing absentee voter status in Maine under a new law passed this year. Eligible voters who sign up to receive an absentee ballot for all local, state, and federal elections without having to submit a request. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Online voter registration. Maine will soon join 40 other states and Washington, D.C. in offering online voter registration (OVR) for all eligible Mainers. Voters can register, enroll in a political party or change their party affiliation, and submit a name or address change, all online. ID requirements for registering online would be the same as those for registering in person. OVR offers a number of security protections to prevent fraud, reduces the risk of voting roll errors, and reduces registration costs. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Corporate contributions ban. A new law passed this year imposes a ban on corporate donations to candidates for state office and legislator-controlled PACs. The legislation applies to for-profit companies, partnerships, non-profit organizations, and professional associations, ensuring that corporations can’t use political contributions to manipulate the legislative process and tip the playing field in their favor on issues of tax incentives, consumer regulation, and workers’ rights. The law takes effect in 2023. Learn more from the League of Women Voters of Maine or in our Legislature Roundup.
- Learn about more victories for democracy in the 2021 Legislative Scorecard from Democracy Maine.
RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
- Honoring Maine LGBTQ+ veterans. Before 1993, U.S. service members who engaged in homosexual conduct were likely to receive discharges that were “less than honorable,” denying them access to full VA benefits, such as the GI Bill and health care coverage, that they should otherwise have received under state law. New legislation in Maine will provide a pathway to a discharge upgrade for Maine veterans who were less than honorably discharged solely on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Learn more from EqualityMaine or in our Legislature Roundup.
- Increasing racial equity in legislation. Beginning in January, legislators can request a report on how some proposed legislation might create new or deepen existing racial disparities in Maine. The reports will be part of a pilot project to determine the best way to implement “racial impact statements,” one of several recommendations in a 2020 report from the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Maine Tribal Populations. Racial impact statements will function much like existing environmental and economic impact statements, which are already in use by legislators as they consider proposed bills. Learn more from the Coalition on Racial Equity or from our Legislature Roundup.
- Protecting transgender rights. Lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected three anti-trans bills that primarily targeted trans women and youth. The measures would have banned trans girls and women from emergency shelters in Maine and from competing in girls’ and women’s sports in all Maine schools and colleges. The bills were part of a national attack on transgender rights and were supported mostly by out-of-state hate groups. In addition to the defeat of anti-trans legislation, the Legislature also passed a number of bills that expand trans rights, including legislation to protect incarcerated trans people by guaranteeing their right to gender-affirming housing and search practices in Maine’s prisons and jails and a bill to allow for a new birth certificate when someone changes their gender marker. Another bill clarified that the Maine Human Rights Act bans discrimination based on gender identity. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup and from MaineTransNet and EqualityMaine.
HEALTH CARE AND REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
- Expanded dental care for 200,000 Mainers. The biennium budget passed this eyar included funding to expand Medicaid to cover preventive, diagnostic, and restorative dental services for more than 215,000 low-income adults in Maine. Studies suggest dental disease was the most common reason for ER visits for Mainers age 15-44 who receive MaineCare or who are uninsured, and Maine was only one of 10 states to provide emergency-only dental care to adults in the program. Before funding was included in the budget, legislators had pressed for expansion of dental services in a bill that passed unanimously in both chambers. Learn more from Maine Equal Justice or in our Legislature Roundup.
- Making health care work for more Mainers. A package of new laws will help reign in health care spending, provide emergency access to insulin, and increase drug pricing transparency. LD 120 will create the Office of Affordable Health Care, an independent, nonpartisan legislative office charged with creating evidence-based solutions to address the rising cost of health care and limit the amount of annual cost increases. LD 673 creates an “insulin safety net program” to provide emergency insulin to all Mainers who need it who don’t have health insurance, a prescription, or can’t afford the cost of the drug. Maners could receive a 30-day supply from a Maine pharmacy for no more than $35. LD 686 will increase transparency in drug pricing by requiring the Maine Health Data Organization to publicly post information they’ve collected from drug manufacturers about plans for price increases each year. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Extending postpartum care. The supplemental budget passed in July included funding to expand MaineCare coverage for postpartum care to 12 months after childbirth, up from the previous limit of just 60 days. The funding will provide coverage during a critical period after delivery, when significant pregnancy-related health challenges such as pelvic floor disorders, pelvic organ prolapse, or a separation in the abdominal wall can occur. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Expanding health care for more Mainers. Legislators introduced a bill this session to restore MaineCare coverage to all Mainers regardless of immigration status. Although that bill was carried over until the next session, a part of it was included in the supplemental budget passed in June. Under that budget compromise package, all pregnant people and those under age 21 are eligible for MaineCare and Children’s Health Insurance Program benefits, regardless of immigration status. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup and from Maine Equal Justice.
- Defeat of anti-abortion bills. Republicans introduced a record number of bills to limit or ban abortion care in Maine, all of which were overwhelmingly defeated in the Legislature. The measures would have allowed insurers to discriminate against low-income people who sought abortion care; required health care providers to give patients inaccurate and misleading information about so-called “abortion pill reversal;” require a 48-hour waiting period before a person could receive an abortion, and subjects patients to unnecessary medical procedures; and mandate burial or cremation for fetal tissue following miscarriage or abortion. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Defeat of anti-vaccine bills. Four bills that would have gutted or outright repealed Maine’s strong public health vaccine law were killed this session. The law, which was passed in 2019 and goes into effect in September, eliminates non-medical vaccine exemptions for public and private schools and expands the number of health care providers who can approve medical exemptions to children who need them. The law was upheld by nearly 75% of Maine voters in March 2020 when an anti-vaccine group tried to repeal the law via a people’s veto. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Efforts to study and prevent gun violence. Legislators passed two bills this session that seek to promote gun safety. One measure, LD 759, amends the state’s child endangerment law to include unauthorized access to a loaded firearm by a child under the age of 16. Safe storage bills such as this have been passed in 27 other states and have been shown to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths. The second bill, LD 1392, requires the Maine CDC to produce an annual, public report on injuries and deaths from firearms in Maine, with specific information about homicide, domestic violence incidents, accidents, suicides, and victim age. The data will be used by public health researchers and policy makers to formulate strategies and new legislation to decrease gun violence. Both laws went into effect without the governor’s signature. Learn more from the Maine Gun Safety Coalition.
- Defeat of dangerous “stand your ground” legislation. Lawmakers rejected LD 1138, a “stand your ground” bill that would have allowed people to use lethal force with a gun outside of their home if they perceived that they were in danger, even if they could avoid that danger by retreating or by use of non-lethal force. Studies show that “stand your ground” laws don’t reduce crime or violence, but actually increase it. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Ban “forever chemicals.” A new law will ban the use of toxic “forever chemicals” called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in carpets, rugs, and fabric treatments by 2023 and eliminate them in almost all other products by 2030, unless the Department of Environmental Protection indicates their use is unavoidable. PFAS are used in cookware, food packaging, firefighting foam, and textiles and contribute to a number of human health issues, including kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and decreased fertility. Learn more from the Environmental Priorities Coalition and our Legislature Roundup.
- Protecting the pollinators. Legislation passed this session will ban the outdoor residential use of certain types of neonicotinoids, insecticides known to harm and even kill important pollinators such as bees and butterflies. While other states have passed similar legislation, Maine’s bill goes further by including licensed applicators such as landscapers, gardeners and pest control businesses in the ban. Honey bees have been declining worldwide in recent years, and studies suggest that neonicotinoids are at least partly to blame. Learn more from Environment Maine.
- First-in-the-nation law to divest from fossil fuels. In June, Maine became the first state in the country to pass a law requiring that the state divest from fossil fuels. Under the legislation, the state treasury and the public employees’ pension fund must sell any holdings in coal, petroleum, natural gas and related products by 2026. Youth-led climate action groups in Maine led the fight to pass this legislation. Learn more from Maine Youth for Climate Justice and Maine Youth Climate Strikes.
- Shifting recycling costs from taxpayers to producers. Maine became the first state in the nation to enact legislation that will shift recycling costs from consumers to the producers of packaging materials. Under the new law, companies that create packaging waste must cover the cost of collecting and recycling cardboard boxes, plastic containers and other packaging materials, as well as for disposing of nonrecyclable packaging. The income generated will be used to support recycling efforts in local communities that have long relied on taxpayer dollars. Learn more from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
- Learn about more environmental victories, including the creation of a “green bank,” funding for Land for Maine’s Future, in the Maine Legislature in 2021 from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
SUPPORT FOR MAINE CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
- Feeding all Maine schoolchildren. A supplementary budget passed in July includes funding to feed all Maine school children breakfast and lunch, regardless of their ability to pay. Maine is one of the first states to fund universal school meals, in one advocates called one of the “most historic and impactful” policies to address child hunger in the state. Maine has the highest child hunger rate in New England, with 1 in 5 children regularly experiencing food insecurity. Before the pandemic, 44% of school children in Maine were eligible for free school meals, and officials expect that number and child food insecurity to increase as a result of the pandemic. The decision to include the funding in the budget followed near-unanimous passage of legislation to provide universal school meals. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Paid family and medical leave. A commission created by a new law passed this session will study options for a paid family and medical leave (PFML) system in Maine and draft a plan to implement it. Mainers provide more than $2 billion in unpaid caregiving every year and 1 in 7 low-wage workers in Maine have lost their jobs due to an illness, injury, or family caregiving needs. PFML is popular nationwide and in Maine, with 75.5% of Mainers in favor. LD 1559, recently signed into law in early July, will provide recommendations by January 2022. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Expanding child care in Maine. A new law will help expand child care for working families in Maine by creating a pilot project modeled after an existing program in Somerset County. The law will increase the number of child care slots in Maine by creating up to 5 pilot child care programs sponsored and led by stakeholders in the communities they serve to provide comprehensive, high-quality care for at-risk children under age 6 who are not in kindergarten. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Help for Maine children living in poverty. Between 2010-2019, more than 18,000 Maine children lost access to the federal Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program, a result of policies enacted under former Gov. Paul LePage that required the state to strip TANF aid from entire families if just one parent fell out of compliance with program requirements. This year, legislators unanimously approved a measure to repeal that “full family sanction” penalty, allowing children in a household to continue to receive assistance, terminating benefits only for the parent who is out of compliance. Learn more from Maine Equal Justice or in our Legislature Roundup.
- Budget supports schools and families. The supplemental budget passed in July restores state revenue sharing with the state’s towns and cities and finally meets the state’s legal obligation to fund 55% of school budgets in accordance with a referendum passed by voters nearly a decade ago.
- Avoiding eviction through mediation. New legislation will create a program to encourage mediation between tenants and landlords to avoid eviction, as well as ensure more legal guidance for tenants in eviction proceedings. About 5,300 evictions were filed in 2019 in Maine and although that number declined during the pandemic due to federal and state eviction moratoriums, the figures are expected to increase once those bans are lifted. Intervening before eviction occurs is key to reducing hardship for families, and mediation has been an important tool in achieving better outcomes. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
- Decriminalizing needles. New legislation passed with unanimous support eliminates criminal penalties for possession or trafficking of hypodermic apparatuses and syringes. Prior laws in Maine made possessing 11 or more syringes punishable by up to 364 days incarceration and a $2,000 fine and imposed felony charges for selling, bartering, trading, or exchanging even one syringe for something of value, punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The new legislation could encourage participation in the state’s syringe service programs, which seek to reduce the risk of infectious disease and overdose, and connect participants with supports like targeted case management, peer support, substance use disorder treatment, and food and housing assistance. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Drug Sentencing Reform. In Maine, the amount of narcotics that trigger felony trafficking charges is far lower than in most other states and, in many cases, low enough that many users face harsh consequences for possessing amounts typical of personal use. New legislation will bring Maine in line with other states by amending the law so that drug trafficking charges can’t be levied based simply on the amount of drugs someone has on them. Learn more from the ACLU of Maine or in our Legislature Roundup.
- Reforming an unjust cash bail system. Between 60-80% of people in Maine jails are awaiting trial, many simply because they can’t afford the cash bail set by the courts. Legislators passed a law this session that addresses this by eliminating cash bail for most Class E misdemeanors, which account for 41% of arrests in Maine and include such offenses as public drinking, disorderly conduct, and petty theft. Cash bail systems disproportionately disadvantage Black people and often lead to longer jail or prison time for defendants who can’t afford bail who are more likely to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. Learn more from the ACLU of Maine and in our Legislature Roundup.
- A limit on “no-knock warrants.” New bipartisan legislation will limit no-knock warrants to situations where police or people in surrounding areas might be at risk of death or bodily harm if police were to announce themselves and would require a judge to verify these conditions before issuing a warrant. It also requires officers on an entry team to wear a police uniform and activate body-worn cameras if required by their department. Learn more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Facial recognition software ban. A new law in Maine imposes the strictest regulations on the use of facial recognition technology in the country, limiting its use only for law enforcement purposes. Under the law, police may request a facial recognition search from the FBI and Bureau of Motor Vehicles databases with probable cause, but those requests will be tracked. The law stipulates that a facial recognition match doesn’t constitute probable cause to make an arrest and allows for people to sue if they believe the law was violated. Learn more from the ACLU of Maine.
SUPPORT FOR MAINE WORKERS
- Unemployment reform. New legislation will address the problems created by Maine’s outdated state unemployment insurance system, which was unable to adequately support Mainers who found themselves out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill will modernize the unemployment system, increase supplemental unemployment for dependent children for the first time in 30 years, create a new peer workforce navigator program, and provide a pathway for partial unemployment benefits. Learn more from the Maine AFL-CIO and from our Legislature Roundup.