As we come to the end of 2019 and prepare for the year ahead, it’s good to take stock of our successes from the past year. Here, for your reading pleasure, is an overview of state legislation we helped pass. This is the results of the hard work of thousands of Mainers who knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors to support candidates for state office who would move Maine forward and help the state begin the long road to recovery after 8 years of damaging cuts to health care, social services, environmental protections, workers’ rights, and racial and social justice protections. We invite you to peruse this partial list of new laws 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 129th Maine Legislature convenes for its second session after the first of the year. 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 the bills we championed. Find your legislators here. And we invite you to track new legislation in the second session of the 129th Maine Legislature, as well as bills that were carried over from 2019, in our Legislature Roundup.
- A ban on single-use plastic bags. LD 1532 bans most single-use plastic bags at retail stores in Maine beginning 2020. Each year, families in the U.S.use nearly 100 billion bags at an annual cost of $4 billion to U.S. retailers. The environmental toll is much higher. It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the plastic bags Americans use and 500 years or more for a single plastic bag to degrade in a landfill. The bill had the support of the Retail Association of Maine. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from Natural Resources Council of Maine.
- A Green New Deal for Maine. LD 1282 establishes an apprenticeship requirement for new electricity generation projects and requires the state to incorporate incentives for cost-effective electric and natural gas conservation projects in new school construction projects; and requires new school construction to incorporate solar panel installation. Many of the original elements of the original bill were incorporated into the governor’s climate action bill below. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Climate action bill. LD 1679, introduced by Gov. Janet Mills, will require an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in Maine by 2050. It also establishes a Maine Climate Council to revise the state’s Climate Action Plan and devise strategies to achieve the greenhouse gas emissions reductions and conversion to renewable energy sources. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from Natural Resources Council of Maine.
- No more foam food containers. LD 289 bans disposable food containers made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam by January 1, 2020. EPS, a plastic made from non-renewable fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals, isn’t recyclable in Maine. Maine is the first state to pass a statewide ban. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Sustenance fishing and clean rivers protections. LD 1775 establishes sustenance fishing as a “designated use” for tribal waters identified by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Maine’s four tribes: the Penobscot Indian Nation, Passamaquoddy Tribe, Houlton Band of Maliseets, and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs. Along with an upgrade of legal protections for more than 400 miles of rivers and streams, the bill also represents the most significant upgrade of clean water protections for Maine’s rivers in a decade. Read more from Natural Resources Council of Maine.
- Boost for solar energy. LD 1711 supports the growth of solar power and green energy jobs by accelerating the development of more than 400 megawatts of distributed solar power, which makes the electric grid more resilient and offers greater consumer choice. The legislation also expands the development of community solar farms, a cost-effective solution that would allow Mainers to buy into solar energy if they can’t place panels on their homes. Read more from the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
- Repeal of LePage’s rooftop solar panel tax. LD 91 eliminates “gross metering,” a Public Utilities Commission (PUC) rule that allows electricity utility companies to tax solar rooftop panel owners for the energy they generate on their own. The rule went into effect last year when Gov. LePage vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have blocked it. LD 91 replaces gross metering with the “net-energy billing” system used before the PUC rule went into effect. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Protecting Mainers’ Health Care. LD 1 makes patient protections in the Affordable Care Act state law, protecting them should Republicans repeal the federal statute. Under the new state law, insurers are required to cover essential medical services, such as mental health care and prescription drugs, and to cover people with pre-existing conditions and those over age 55 without charging them higher premiums. It also allows children to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Prescription drug reform. This package of 4 drug reform laws will reduce prescription drug costs for Mainers through a number of avenues, including reducing pricing transparency, creating a state-administered program to safely import prescription drugs from Canada at wholesale prices, and establishing a 5-member board to set payment rates on prescription drugs and require drug manufacturers to justify drug prices deemed excessive. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Expand access to safe, legal abortion services. While other states are restricting or banning abortion, Maine has passed two laws that expand people’s access to the legal medical procedure. LD 1261 removes barriers to rural Mainers seeking an abortion by allowing advanced practice clinicians (APCs), including physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses, to perform the procedure. LD 820 requires public and private health insurers that provide maternity coverage to also cover abortion services. It also removes the discriminatory process of denying abortion to low-income people on MaineCare by requiring the state to cover any costs not covered under the federal Medicaid program. The law exempts religious employers. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from Maine Family Planning or Planned Parenthood Maine Action Fund.
- Support for spousal caregivers. LD 84 provides support caregivers of elderly or disabled family members by allowing spouses of Section 19 MaineCare recipients to be hired and paid as personal support specialists (PSS), something children and siblings are already allowed to do under current law. According to Disability Rights Maine, the legislation would address direct care staffing shortages and ultimately save taxpayer money by keeping disabled persons out of nursing homes. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Promote “good Samaritans” to save lives. LD 329 provides immunity from arrest for possession or use of scheduled drugs or drug paraphernalia for anyone experiencing an opioid-related overdose or anyone seeking medical attention for a suspected overdose victim. Forty states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation, known as “good Samaritan” or “911 immunity” laws. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Death with Dignity. LD 1313 allows adults with a terminal illness and less than six months to live to request a prescription for a lethal dose of medication. The bill requires individuals be declared free from depression or any other psychological impairment and not under coercion by family members or others. A request for the prescription must be made twice verbally and once in writing and to have the ability to take the medication on their own. The bill has other safeguards, including a 15-day waiting period and confirmation by two physicians that the individual meets the law’s requirements. Maine is the 8th state to pass a Death with Dignity law. Read more from Maine Death with Dignity.
- Protection from preventable childhood diseases. LD 798 eliminates all non-medical exemptions for childhood vaccinations, a policy recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Under the new law, physicians will determine whether a child’s condition warrants a medical exemption (current law limits medical exemptions to a list approved by HHS). Children with an existing individual education plan who have claimed a religious or philosophical exemption can continue to attend school and parents and physicians can set an individualized vaccine schedule. Read more in our Legislature Roundup and from Maine Families for Vaccines.
UPDATE 9/18: Unfortunately, anti-vaccine groups have reportedly collected enough signatures to add a “people’s veto” to the ballot in March to repeal LD 798, an evidence-based public health law passed earlier this year in Maine that strengthened requirements for childhood vaccines. The Secretary of State has 30 days to verify the signatures. If enough signatures are verified, we will be working with Maine Families for Vaccines, public health experts, health care providers and others to provide Mainers with factual information on vaccines before they go to the polls in March. And we are confidant that Mainers will reject the veto and support LD 798 to protect the most vulnerable Mainers from preventable childhood diseases.
RACIAL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
- A ban on conversion therapy. LD 1025 bans “conversion therapy”—also called “reparative therapy”—a widely discredited practice that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The legislation applies to counselors, doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and other licensed health care professionals. Many leading medical organizations oppose the practice, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association. Read more in our Legislature Roundup, from Equality Maine, or Maine TransNet.
- No more Indian-Themed Mascots. LD 944 prohibits a public school from having or adopting a name, symbol, or image that depicts or refers to a Native American tribe, individual, custom or tradition and that is used as a mascot, nickname, logo, letterhead or team name of the school. Read more in our Legislature Roundup and read testimony from Maulian Dana, Ambassador, Penobscot Nation.
- Indigenous People’s Day. LD 179 changes the Columbus Day holiday, observed on the second day of October, to Indigenous Peoples Day. The national move to change the date began in the 1970s. Since then, more than 100 cities and six states have since changed the holiday. A number of Maine’s cities have already made the change, including Portland, Bangor, Orono, Belfast, and Brunswick. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Justice for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse on tribal lands. Because of restrictions imposed by the Maine Indian Claims Settlement, tribal courts in the Penobscot Nation and the Passamaquoddy Tribe are not able to receive the benefit of federal laws designed to protect women from domestic and sexual abuse. LD 766 amends the Maine Indian Claims Settlement by transferring jurisdiction over tribal ordinance violations committed by either tribal members or non-members in accordance with federal law and grants the tribal courts the authority to set their own sentencing guidelines and specific criminal offenses related to violence against women as authorized by federal law. Read more in our Legislature Roundup and read testimony from Maulian Dana, Ambassador, Penobscot Nation.
- An end to the “gay and trans panic defense.” LD 1632 bans the use of the discriminatory “gay and trans panic defense” as a defense for physically assaulting or murdering someone. Perpetrators who use this defense claim that their victims’ sexual orientation or gender identity caused them to lose control and physically assault their victim. This defense was most notably used in the 1998 murder case of Matthew Shepard, who died after being beaten, tortured, tied to a fence and set on fire. The two men who murdered him used the “gay panic” defense to excuse their actions. The American Bar Association passed a resolution in 2013 decrying the defense, and four states have enacted laws similar to the one Maine has passed. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- Collective bargaining for loggers and haulers. LD 1459 will help increase pay for loggers and haulers by allowing them to negotiate collectively with landowners, mills, and other buyers, an option current law already provides for potato farmers and lobster fisherman. Loggers and wood haulers typically work extremely long hours for low pay and no benefits. Under current law, loggers and wood haulers do not have the ability to band together to negotiate for fair wages, safer working conditions, and better hours. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the Maine AFL-CIO.
- Support for earned paid leave. LD 369 requires businesses that employ more than 10 people for more than 3 months a year to offer their employees earned paid leave that they can take for any reason. Maine is the 11th state to enact a bill giving employees paid leave when they’re sick and the first with a law that specifically allows the earned leave to be used for any reason. The legislation covers 85% of Maine workers, who will accrue 1 hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the Maine Women’s Lobby.
- Retirement security for emergency dispatchers. LD 1395 allows local departments to cover dispatchers under a special 25-year state retirement plan, which is already available to law enforcement, fire fighters, EMTs and corrections employees. Departments that elect to cover their dispatchers with the more favorable plan would be responsible for paying increased employer costs associated with it. Read more from the Maine AFL-CIO.
- Other labor victories. The Legislature also passed bills to improve healthcare for retired firefighters and first responders, raise standards in the construction industry, improve unemployment insurance, raise standards for utility mergers and sales, and other labor legislation. Read more from the Maine AFL-CIO.
- Internet privacy. LD 946 blocks Internet service providers (ISPs) such as AT&T, Verizon, or Spectrum, from using, disclosing, selling, or giving access to customer personal information without the customer’s permission. The protections are needed after Republicans in Congress voted in 2017 to rollback consumer protections that would have blocked this practice at the federal level. As a result of that federal law, ISPs can store and sell information about customers’ Web browsing history, app usage, location information, and more to third parties, such as advertisers. The new Maine law blocks that practice in the state. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from ACLU of Maine.
- Other consumer rights victories. Several key consumer protections bills made it through the Legislature this session, including bills to protect tenants who’ve been sexually harassed by landlords, remove land-installment contracts out of land-lord tenant law, repair credit reports of domestic violence survivors, and other legislation related to home mortgages and foreclosures. Read more from Maine Equal Justice.
- A ban food shaming in schools. LD 167 bans “lunch shaming,” the practice of publicly shaming children with unpaid food bills. Under the legislation, schools are prohibited from publicly identifying students who have unpaid accounts and requires them to communicate only with parents or guardians about unpaid bills. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the Maine Education Association.
- Safer school buses. LD 1679 requires all Maine school buses to be equipped with a crossing arm that extends 8-10 feet from the front of the school bus, forcing students to walk at least 10 feet in front of the bus and reducing the risk that students will be struck while walking in front of the bus. Read more in our Legislature Roundup.
- A student bill of rights. LD 995 protects Maine borrowers from predatory practices with a “Student Loan Bill of Rights.” The legislation includes rules to prevent student loan servicing companies from abusing or misleading borrowers and creates a new “Student Loan Ombudsman” in state government who will have the power to help Mainers resolve their problems with these companies. Read more from the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
- Defeated a hate-group sponsored education bill. LD 589 would have required the State Board of Education to adopt rules banning public school educators from discussing political or religious issues or other controversial topics in the classroom, including climate change and systemic racism. Teachers who violated the law could be fired. The bill was defeated. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the ACLU of Maine.
- Defeated book banning in schools. LD 94 would have revised an existing state “obscenity law” that prohibits the dissemination of “obscene” material to minors by removing the exception for public schools. The bill would have threatened students’ and educators’ intellectual freedom and would have left schools vulnerable to criminal prosecution if educators choose texts some consider inappropriate under the obscenity statute. The bill was defeated. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the ACLU of Maine.
- Automatic voter registration (AVR). LD 1463 automatically registers eligible voters when they receive or renew their Maine driver’s licenses or nondrivers’ IDs at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or when they interact with other approved state agencies, such as MaineCare, unless they decline to be registered. AVR replaces the state’s outdated paper-based system with a modernized electronic system and also allows Mainers to pre-register to vote at age 16. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the League of Women Voters.
- Presidential primaries for Maine. With the passage of LD 1626, Maine will move from a party-run presidential caucus system to a state-run presidential primary system, effective with the 2020 primaries in March. Widespread problems with caucuses in 2016 hindered voter participation across parties, and a primary system will result in larger turnout. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the League of Women Voters.
- Defeated voter ID bill. LD 322 would have required Maine voters to present a photo ID in order to vote, a measure Republicans have tried to pass at least 10 times since 1995. In 2012, an Elections Commission convened by the Legislature and Secretary of State recommended against voter ID, which disproportionately affects younger voters and people of color. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from ACLU of Maine.
INCOME EQUALITY AND POVERTY
- Expanded earned income tax credit (EITC). Maine’s EITC is a refundable tax credit for low-income workers, and two bills passed this year will build and expand the credit. LD 1671 will more than double the credit for working families and expand eligibility to working, independent 18-24 year olds without children. It uses revenue generated from closing a loophole of the Maine Capital Investment Credit (MCIC). Another bill, LD 1491, sets up a working group to study ways to build the EITC and develop a strategy to allow for tax credits to be distributed periodically rather than as one lump sum. Read more in our Legislature Roundup and from the Maine Center for Economic Policy.
- Lifting Mainers out of poverty. The “Invest in Tomorrow” bill package takes significant steps toward helping Maine families living in poverty. LD 1774 (LIFT 3.0) and LD 1772 (STEP) eliminate “benefits cliffs” for MaineCare, SNAP, and TANF programs, remove the “gross income test” for TANF, and expands training and educational opportunities for parents. Read more from Maine Equal Justice.
- Building pay equity. LD 278 prohibits employers from asking about a prospective employee’s salary history before a job offer is made. Research suggests that basing future pay on past salaries only perpetuates wage gaps for women, people of color, and people with disabilities, and a 2018 study found that Maine women earn 82 cents for each $1 men earn. Read more in our Legislature Roundup or from the Maine Women’s Lobby.