(Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
(Photo by Dan Kirchoff)

Legislature Moves Bills to Halt CMP Corridor

The Legislature could soon be headed for a showdown with Gov. Mills over Central Maine Power’s proposed New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission project. While Mills strongly supports the proposal, last week the Legislature voted on a number of bills that could throw a monkey wrench into the project.

The Maine House voted 83-59 and the Senate voted 32-3 to pass LD 1383, which would require CMP to first get approval from towns along the route of the transmission line before taking land by eminent domain. Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Pinny Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) said that the measure would ensure that the will of the people is not ignored when it comes to the construction of the proposed corridor.

“CMP should have to play by the same rules that any other for-profit entity does when they want to build something,” said Beebe-Center. “They should apply for the permits and, most importantly, work with town residents and officials and the community to get approval for construction, just like Walmart, Walgreens, a new gas station or a wind farm.”

But Rep. Deane Rykerson (D-Kittery) countered that the bill would effectively allow “a single community, 69 population, to veto a project that affects our whole regional grid and would lower electrical prices.”

The Maine House and Senate also voted to pass LD 1363, which would require two-thirds of municipalities along the route of the transmission line to approve the project. It would also prohibit state regulators from approving a high-impact electric transmission line unless the commission finds “significant tangible public benefits” will result from the project.

The House failed to garner enough votes to pass LD 640, which would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a review of the effect that the NECEC would have on greenhouse gas emissions. The measure would prohibit the department from issuing a permit for the project without taking into account the results of the review. While LD 640 passed with a simple majority, it needed two-thirds support to take effect immediately.

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LD 640 — CO2 Study (needed two-thirds vote)
House (74 Yeas, 65 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) N
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) Y
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Approves $43,100 to Investigate “Free Speech” Violations on College Campuses

Last week the Maine Legislature voted to spend $43,100 to direct the Attorney General’s office to review whether there have been any instances where students’ free speech has been violated on the campuses of the University of Maine, community colleges or Maine Maritime Academy. The proposal (LD 665) is an amended version of the “Free Right to Expression in Education Act (FREE),” model legislation developed by the far-right Goldwater Institute. The measure originally would have prohibited so-called “free speech zones” that restrict expressive activities to a particular outdoor area of campus as long as they don’t disrupt the functioning of the college.

The Arizona-based organization cites several situations in which conservatives have been banned from college campuses and shouted down by students for holding controversial viewpoints. A number of conservative University of Maine students spoke in favor of the original bill, although none of them mentioned a specific instance when their free speech rights were violated. Speaking in favor of the original bill last week, Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Bradley), who was protested by students for delivering an anti-immigrant speech at the University of Southern Maine in 2017, criticized UMaine for requiring students to ask permission before holding free expression activities on campus.

“The truth is that free speech in America is dying the death of a thousand cuts and not just on college campuses,” said Lockman in floor remarks.

However, a UMaine representative said in testimony that the bill is unnecessary because it wouldn’t change the university’s current policies. The representative noted that UMaine does designate specific areas for large events that could block roadways or exits. The U.S. Supreme Court has also ruled that colleges may prohibit speech that violates the law, defames specific individuals or threatens or harasses people.

House Votes Down $1.3 M to Investigate Vaccines

The Maine House last week rejected a bill (LD 1616) that would provide nearly $1.3 million to establish the “Vaccine Consumer Protection Program” within the Department of Health and Human Services to investigate deaths that are suspected of being caused by vaccines. The amended version of the bill would also have repealed a recently passed law that eliminates non-medical exemptions from mandatory childhood vaccines.

Testifying in support of the measure, Ginger Taylor of the group Maine Coalition for Vaccine Choice argued that “there is no vaccine safety infrastructure in Maine” and that health care providers “simply have no education on vaccine adverse events.”

However, medical professionals argued that the bill would duplicate federal efforts to address vaccine injuries, would be overly burdensome for providers and would mislead the public about the safety of vaccines. Nancy Beardsley, acting director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, testified that vaccines are “tested rigorously for safety and effectiveness prior to being licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are among the safest medical products in use.” Currently, parents can report vaccine injuries to the federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and Beardsley said the federal CDC requires all state immunization programs to designate staff to coordinate with VAERS and alert the federal agency to vaccine safety concerns.

She added that VAERS has received an average of 196 reports a year from Maine and, of that number, about 15.5 percent are reported as a non-adverse event, “meaning the patient did not have any reaction to the vaccine, and fall into the category of administration errors or medical errors.”

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LD 1616 — Vaccine Investigation (motions to defeat)
House (82 Yeas, 58 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) Y
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (19 Yeas, 16 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) N
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Republicans Reject “Right to Food” Amendment

The Legislature voted last week to pass a measure that would enshrine the “right to food” in the Maine Constitution, but it failed to garner the two-thirds votes necessary to send it to voters for approval. LD 795 declares that individuals have a “natural, inherent and unalienable right to acquire, produce, process, prepare, preserve and consume and to barter, trade and purchase the food of their own choosing for their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.”

The measure further states that individuals have a “fundamental right to be free from hunger, malnutrition, starvation and the endangerment of life from the scarcity of or lack of access to nourishing food.” It would prohibit trespassing, theft, poaching or other abuses of private property rights, public lands or natural resources in the acquisition of food.”

Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop), the bill’s sponsor, said the amendment was necessary in order to make Maine food-secure. He cited a 2014 report co-authored by now-commissioner of Maine Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Amanda Beal, titled “New England Food Vision” that argues that, while 90 percent of the food consumed in New England comes from somewhere else, Maine could once again become the food basket of New England if it adopted policies to spur agricultural production.

But Rep. Gregg Swallow (R-Houlton) said the bill would ensure people who don’t work have a right to food.

“No person has a fundamental, inherent or unalienable right to another’s labor, which is where this could take us,” said Swallow. “This is tantamount to involuntary servitude as referenced in the 13th Amendment of the Constitution.”

The charge elicited an emotional response from Hickman, who is African-American. “With all due respect to the good representative from Houlton,” replied Hickman, “there is no way I would put in a Constitutional Amendment that would enact slavery in the state of Maine.”

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LD 795 — “Right to Food” Amendment House (93 Yeas, 47 Nays)
Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) Y
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) X
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (21 Yeas, 14 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Bill to Protect Tenants from Sexual Harassment Passes

Last week the Legislature unanimously passed a bill (LD 1097) aimed at preventing landlords from sexually harassing their tenants. During the public hearing on the bill, attorney Kathryn Childs of Pine Tree Legal Assistance said that sexual harassment in rental housing is fairly common and her organization has had clients who have faced ongoing verbal harassment, requests for sexual favors in exchange for rent, physical assaults and unwanted touching.

Under current law, tenants who have been subject to sexual harassment have no defense against a retaliatory action from a landlord. LD 1097 would ensure that they cannot be evicted for asserting their rights not to be harassed.

Bill to Bring Back Presidential Primaries Passes

On largely party-line votes, the Legislature voted to re-establish presidential primaries in Maine. The Legislature previously passed a law that would have done this, but it was not funded so it was automatically repealed. The measure came in response to a litany of complaints from voters who attended the 2016 caucuses and dealt with long lines and disorganization.

“Presidential primaries offer a more convenient and accessible voting experience,” said Sen. Louie Luchini (D-Hancock County) in a statement. “I believe primaries will significantly increase voter participation, strengthening our democracy.”

Legislature Votes to Ban Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

The Maine House voted last week to pass LD 955, which would ban offshore oil and gas drilling and exploration in Maine waters. The proposal was submitted in response to the Trump administration’s decision in 2018 to expand offshore drilling and exploration off the coast of Maine.

“The state of Maine has nothing to gain and everything to lose from offshore drilling. It would expose our economy, health and wildlife to significant new threats of oil pollution and seismic testing,” said Kristin Jackson of the Natural Resources Council of Maine in a statement. “We’re glad to see the Maine Legislature take this step in protecting our coastal economy and environment.”

New York and New Hampshire have passed similar measures. Nevertheless, Rep. Dick Campbell (R-Orrington) said he opposed the bill because it is “symbolic” as there are likely no hydrocarbon reserves in Maine or in Maine waters, according to the Maine Geological Survey.

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LD 955 — Ban Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling
House (96 Yeas, 45 Nays)

Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) Y
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) X
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (31 Yeas, 4 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Passes Automatic Voter System Bill

The Legislature voted last week on a bill (LD 1463) to direct the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to automatically register people to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses if they are eligible to vote. Upon receipt of the registration, election officials would then be required to issue a notice to the voter to allow them to choose a party affiliation or opt out of registering. If individuals fail to respond within 21 days, they are considered registered voters as long as they meet the qualifications to be registered as a voter.

The bill also would allow the state to designate other state agencies, as well as colleges and municipalities, to submit registration information to the bureau for inclusion in the central voter registration system. Finally, LD 1463 lowers the age at which a person may submit a conditional registration to vote and enroll in a political party, from 17 to 16.

Maine League of Women Voters and other progressive groups testified in support of the bill as a way to help more young people register to vote and to stay on the voting rolls.

“Studies show that young people are particularly burdened by barriers in the voter registration process,” wrote Al Cleveland of the Maine League of Women Voters. “According to the census, people aged 18 to 34 were registered at a rate of 64 percent in 2016, compared with 72 percent of citizens 35 or older. In 2012, 18- to 29-year-old nonvoters most commonly cited not being registered as their reason for not voting.”

The right-wing Maine Heritage Policy Center opposed the bill because it said the system would be a “step too far and opens up our elections to potential fraud and abuse.”

Senate Rejects Bill to Allow Grocery Stores to Open on Holidays

The Legislature failed to pass a bill (LD 15) that would permit municipalities to allow grocery stores with no more than 10,000 square feet to be open on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. A similar bill passed last session, but Gov. LePage vetoed it. The Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association said the current blue law discriminates against grocery stores because it allows other retailers to be open on holidays. But opponents said it would force employees to work on holidays instead of spending time with their families.

Bill to Allow Nonprescription Drugs to Be Sold in Vending Machines Passes

On largely party-line votes, the Maine House and Senate approved a bill (LD 37) that would allow nonprescription drugs to be sold in vending machines. Reproductive rights groups supported the bill as a way to make oral contraceptives used to prevent unintended pregnancies more available. Emergency contraception (EC), also known as the “morning after bill,” can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex but is generally taken 24 hours after to prevent ovaries from releasing an egg and preventing fertilization.

“Since 2016, emergency contraception has been approved to be made available without a prescription, on the pharmacy shelf,” said Kate Brogan of Maine Family Planning in testimony. “However, consumers have reported varying success rates in accessing EC at the pharmacy. Some pharmacies stock EC on the shelf, others refuse to stock it or keep it in a locked cabinet or behind the pharmacy counter. In the interest of increasing access to EC, colleges and universities across the country have made EC available in vending machines, easily accessible when school health centers are closed or when students are unable to get to local pharmacies or family planning health centers.”

But pro-life groups opposed the bill out of fears that minors would use the drug.

Legislature Votes Down Bill to Make It a Crime Not to Lock Firearms

The Legislature rejected a bill (LD 379) that would make it a Class E crime, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, to keep unlocked firearms in a house where a minor is present and the minor gains access to the gun and uses it. Rep. Vicki Doudera (D-Camden), the sponsor of the bill, noted that guns have killed 14,000 American youths in the last decade with more than a third of the deaths classified as suicides and 6 percent as accidents. She pointed to the death last year of an 8-year-old Oakland boy who died handling his father’s shotgun and the 2017 death of a 5-year-old Belfast girl who got ahold of her father’s handgun.

“The aim of this legislation is to keep Maine children safe, not to remove any Second Amendment rights,” said Doudera. “Gun ownership is part of the fabric of Maine, as well as our outdoor heritage, and reasonable, responsible gun owners abound. But with research showing that easily accessible, poorly stored firearms are associated with increases in both suicide and accidental deaths, we cannot ignore this clear risk. Like so many other states, Maine needs to take action.”

The National Rifle Association opposed the bill because it argued it could “entrap” law-abiding citizens who weren’t responsible for the placement of the gun, or did not own the gun, “such as a business owner who finds a gun abandoned in trash bins on his property and goes to call the police to report it, violates this law and is liable if a child finds the gun.”

“One-size-fits-all safe storage laws impair the ability of law-abiding Americans to access guns in the home to defend themselves and their families,” said Lauren LePage of the NRA.

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LD 379 — Lock Up Your Guns (motions to defeat) House (67 Yeas, 64 Nays)
Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) N
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) X
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) N
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) N
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) Y
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) Y
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) N
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) N
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) X
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) N
Senate (23 Yeas, 12Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Rejects “Stand Your Ground” Bill

The Maine Legislature shot down a measure (LD 533) similar to Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law that was used to defend the man who killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. LD 533 would permit the use of deadly force without a duty to retreat from a dangerous situation if the individual believes force is necessary to prevent death or serious bodily injury or to prevent a kidnapping, robbery, or gross sexual assault.

The NRA spoke in favor of the bill, arguing that “abiding citizens have the ability to defend themselves against violent criminals and their attackers” without fear of criminal prosecution. But the ACLU of Maine said the bill is unnecessary because Maine law already allows people the right to self-defense in their own homes. Meagan Sway, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine, argued that stand-your-ground laws jeopardize due process rights and encourage vigilante justice, often against people of color, without any legal consequences. She noted that since passage of Florida’s stand-your-ground law in 2005, the number of legally justifiable homicides has tripled, according to data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

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LD 533 — “Stand Your Ground” (motion to defeat) House (78 Yeas, 57 Nays)
Anne Beebe-Center (D-Rockland) Y
Scott Cuddy (D-Winterport) Y
Michael Devin (D-Newcastle) E
Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) Y
Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) X
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) N
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) X
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused