Maine House Chamber in Augusta (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
Maine House Chamber in Augusta (Photo by Dan Kirchoff)
“Death with Dignity” Bill Passes by One Vote

After several failed attempts over the years, Maine may finally be on the cusp of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. On June 3, the Maine House voted 73-72 to pass LD 1313, which would authorize physicians to prescribe medication to end the life of people with terminal illnesses if they request the assistance. The Senate earlier voted 19-16 to pass the measure.

Under the proposal, the patient must make one written and two oral requests and receive a second opinion from another physician before they can be prescribed the life-ending medication. The measure would require the physicians to assess the patient for depression or other mental health conditions that may impair their judgment. If the physician believes the patient’s judgement is impaired, the patient would be required to undergo psychological examination to determine whether they are mentally competent to make the decision.

During the public hearing on LD 1313, physicians and family members of terminally ill patients testified on both sides of the issue. Molly Harish of Camden, a registered nurse with experience in oncology, wrote about her experience caring for patients with terminal cancer dying drawn-out, painful deaths.

“It is not for me to say whether those patients would have wanted to make use of a death-with-dignity law,” she wrote to lawmakers. “But I hope that you will vote in favor of LD 1313 and give me, and the current and future sufferers of terminal, incurable, painful, miserable illnesses, the right to choose a more peaceful way of dying.”

Before her death from colon cancer in 2017, death-with-dignity advocate Eva Thompson of Camden spoke of her first-hand experience dealing with a terminal illness.

“There is nothing I can do about the situation I’m in,” she told the group Maine Death with Dignity, according to a press release. “But it would be a huge relief to know that I have some control over how the ending goes. I will know when I have suffered enough. It should be my choice to die quickly and painlessly when I decide the time is right.”

However, some disability rights advocates expressed fear that the law could be misapplied to people with disabilities, while others speculated that it would allow patients to simply give up on end-of-life care. Mary Nicholas, a retired physician from South Thomaston, recounted her experiences caring for her sister, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and her mother who suffered a stroke at the end of her life.

“Absent from these discussions is the great blessing that comes to a person who takes care of someone toward the end of life. Life is more than math,” she wrote. “The forgotten part in these discussions is about happiness. This is something beautiful. Something that can’t be bought, something that can’t be injected or ingested. It’s something that is prescribed for all of us.”

The measure now heads to the governor’s desk. Currently, six states — Vermont, Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado and Hawaii — have doctor-assisted suicide laws on the books.

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LD 1313 — “Death with Dignity”
House (72 Yeas, 68 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) N
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) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Passes Internet Privacy Bill

The Maine House and Senate voted last week to pass LD 946, which aims to protect the privacy of internet users by preventing internet service providers (ISPs) from selling or sharing a customer’s personal data without their permission. The bill is currently awaiting action by the governor.

“If we send a letter in the mail, we would never expect the post office to say to us, ‘The contents of this letter belong to us, and we can sell it to whomever we want.’ But that’s exactly what big internet companies are doing right now,” said Sen. Shenna Bellows (D-Kennebec County), the bill’s sponsor, in a statement. “Your internet service provider shouldn’t be able to sell your most personal information without your consent. I’m so thrilled all my colleagues in the Senate on both sides of the aisle stood with me today, to say we don’t tolerate our privacy being violated for profit.”

The measure would require ISPs to obtain the consent of customers before selling, sharing or giving away their personal data or information. ISPs, led by the Maine Chamber of Commerce, argued that the bill should also apply the same standards to Facebook and Google.

“By applying rules to some companies doing business online like Internet Service Providers and not others (e.g., websites, social media platforms, data brokers and others), LD 946 will create greater consumer confusion and undermine consumers’ confidence in their online activities – a risk to the continued growth of the digital economy,” the Chamber wrote on its website. “This doesn’t make any sense. Mainers need comprehensive privacy protections that give them — not online companies — control of their own data, everywhere they go online.”

However, Rep. Seth Berry (D-Bowdoinham) — House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee — said in floor remarks last week that while the bill is “imperfect,” if the Legislature tried to address every problem it would never be able to address even part of any problem. He said the bill will provide Maine with the best privacy laws in the country.

House Votes to Ban Minors from Using Tanning Beds

The Maine House has passed a measure (LD 1297) that would prohibit children under 18 from using tanning beds. Unlike in past years under the LePage administration, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention testified in favor of the bill, noting that using UV tanning facilities increases the likelihood that young people will develop skin cancer later in life.

“Skin cancer rates are trending up in Maine and nationally. Melanoma incidence in Maine accounts for 5.3 percent of all new cancer cases,” wrote Nancy Beardsley, the agency’s acting director. “Maine CDC believes that prohibiting the use of indoor UV tanning facilities by people under the age of 18 will help reduce the risk of skin cancer in Maine’s youth and therefore supports LD 1297.”

Current law prohibits children under 14 from using tanning beds and parents must sign a consent form for children ages 14 to 17 who want to use the facilities. LD 1297 would also require that tanning facilities post a notice regarding the health risks associated with tanning. Republicans opposed the bill because they said it would interfere with parental rights. In a floor speech last week, Rep. Beth O’Connor (R-Berwick) argued that tanning beds are “good for children” who have psoriasis or acne.

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LD 1297 — Ban on Minors Using Tanning Beds
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) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (26 Yeas, 9 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 Cap on Number of Charter Schools

The Maine House and Senate voted last week to pass LD 307, which would permanently cap the total number of charter schools in the state at 10. The measure, which is awaiting action by the governor, would also direct the Maine Charter School Commission to develop a process to revoke an underperforming charter school’s charter. Currently, the state spends about $27 million on nine charter schools, including two for-profit online charter schools that suck up $4 million each in public funds.

Testifying in support of the bill, John Kosinski of Maine Education Association noted that while using standardized tests to evaluate schools is a flawed metric, two of Maine’s nine charter schools have some of the lowest tests scores in the state. Cornville Regional Charter School and Acadia Academy are the 4th and 5th worst performers in Maine, with 21 percent of Acadia students proficient in English and only 22 percent of Cornville students deemed proficient, compared to the statewide average of 50 percent.

“Given the investment our state is making in these schools, the MEA feels it is in everyone’s best interest to focus the attention squarely on the charters we currently have open, rather than continue to expand more schools,” said Kosinski. “LD 307 would allow the Charter Commission to really focus its work on advancing the quality and performance of the current charters, especially given the limited capacity and resources of the Commission.”

Travis Works, the executive director of Cornville Regional Charter School, defended the record of his school, noting that 80 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, nearly a third need special-education services and many of the students were previously homeschooled.

“Eliminating a free choice from parents makes Maine Charter Schools even more exclusive,” wrote Works. “It will reward those that enrolled early and those future families will be limited to only the school in their ZIP code, homeschooling, or becom[ing] a drop-out. The reality is that, unless a parent has the resources and money they have a limited amount of choices.”

The Legislature previously passed a bill capping the number of students who can be enrolled in for-profit, online charter schools.

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LD 307 — Limiting Charter Schools
House (81 Yeas, 59 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) N
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) N
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (26 Yeas, 9 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Backs Bill to Study Universal Basic Income

The Maine House and Senate voted last week to establish a committee to study the feasibility of creating a universal basic income system in which all Mainers would receive periodic direct cash payments from the state. A number of progressive advocacy groups — including Maine Equal Justice Partners, Preble Street, Goodwill Industries Northern New England, Maine Family Planning and Maine AFL-CIO (my employer) — testified in support of the measure as a way to provide income security to poor and working-class Mainers in the face of an uncertain economic future.

University of Maine philosophy professor Michael Howard, the national coordinator for the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network, noted in testimony that jobs are being threatened by automation and many current jobs are part-time and precarious. He pointed out that global economic growth is slowing as the majority of national income goes to the wealthy and the earth’s environment can’t sustain unlimited growth. Therefore, he reasoned, workers will need some kind of income support for the new economy.

“A UBI is a regular cash payment that goes to every legal resident, regardless of means test or work requirement,” wrote Howard. “There is one clear example of this, Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). This is an annual payment, averaging a little over $1,000, that goes to every Alaskan, including children. It is funded from interest on a sovereign wealth fund, created from royalties paid by oil companies for the right to exploit the oil on Alaska’s North Slope. It is very popular, has reduced poverty and inequality in Alaska, and has not resulted in a decline in work effort.”

He pointed out that when a program is universal — such as Social Security, Medicare and Alaska’s PFD — it is more politically popular and more likely to be adequately funded over time. But Rep. Dick Bradstreet (R-Vassalboro), the ranking Republican on the Labor and Housing Committee, opposed the bill because he said the committee would likely come up with a recommendation that would “result in the transfer of hardworking Mainers’ income into an enormous, permanent welfare system.”

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LD 1324 — Universal Basic Income Study
House (77 Yeas, 62 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) N
Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) Y
Jeffrey Hanley (R-Pittston) X
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) N
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate (21 Yeas, 13 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Legislature Passes Single-Use Plastic Bag Ban

The Maine House and Senate voted to enact a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. LD 1532, sponsored by Rep. Holly Stover (D-Boothbay), would prohibit retailers from using single-use plastic bags, but would allow them to charge 5 cents for recyclable paper bags. The Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association has opposed previous efforts to ban plastic bags, but this year it supported the bill in order to provide its members with “consistency” given the patchwork of bag laws that have passed in 22 municipalities, including Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Damariscotta and Newcastle. Sarah Lakeman of the Natural Resources Council of Maine noted in testimony that over a quarter of Maine’s population already lives in municipalities with bag laws, with eight more considering ordinances.

“It’s clear: Maine people want to discontinue the unlimited distribution of thin single-use plastic carryout bags at stores,” wrote Lakeman. “These policies are a direct response to the critical environmental issue of plastic pollution. It’s time for a strong and consistent statewide policy on single-use plastic carryout bags.”

Not surprisingly, the plastic-bag industry opposed the bill, arguing that plastic bags are more environmentally friendly than paper bags when considering the life cycles of the two products. However, Lakeman countered that the industry cherry-picks life-cycle data in order to “confuse people and distract from the fact that their thin plastic bags are polluting our oceans and killing wildlife at a rapid pace.”

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LD 1532 — Plastic Bag Ban
House (91 Yeas, 52 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) X
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 (24 Yeas, 11 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) N
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) Y
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

House Rejects Bill to Override the Electoral College

The House has rejected a measure that would have required the state to join an interstate compact designed to bypass the Electoral College. LD 816 would require Maine to pledge its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the popular vote. If passed, Maine would join 14 states and the District of Columbia in the National Popular Vote compact, comprising 172 electoral votes. The legislation would trigger member states to cast their votes to the popular-vote winner, provided that states totaling at least 270 electoral votes have joined the compact. The measure previously passed the Senate.

Speaking against the measure, Rep. Dick Pickett (R-Dixfield) said that the Electoral College was “meant to protect minorities” and “not just minorities of color, but all minorities.”

“Some think our democracy is floundering,” said Pickett. “If it is, it is floundering not because we have a constitutional republic with an electoral college but because we have a growing population of people that do not understand or comprehend that direct democracy only represents the tyranny of the majority.”

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LD 816 — National Popular Vote
House (66 Yeas, 76 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) X
MaryAnne Kinney (R-Knox) N
Ann Matlack (D-St. George) Y
Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) N
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) N
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

House Passes Bill to Require Cable Companies to Offer à la Carte Channels

The Maine House and Senate have voted to pass a measure (LD 832) that would require cable companies to offer subscribers the option of purchasing cable channels individually, rather than as a package. Rep. Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship), the bill’s sponsor, said that he submitted the bill for people who are forced to purchase cable TV packages that include dozens of channels that they have no interest in watching. He cited an FCC survey that found the cost of an expanded basic cable package has more than doubled since 1995.

“Finally, consider the plight of a senior citizen on fixed income, who would like to watch sports or classic movies,” wrote Evangelos in testimony. “Living on Social Security of $800 per month, the cable subscription that includes NESN, ESPN, and Turner Classic Movies currently costs approximately $100 per month factoring in the digital adapter, high-definition box and taxes. That amounts to almost 12.5 percent of that senior citizen’s income, effectively pricing them out of the market. For this reason, many people go without television.”

Evangelos noted that the FCC has stated that there is no federal law that prohibits cable companies from offering channels or programs on an à la carte basis. Nevertheless, Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum cable, threatened legal action in testimony if the bill goes into law, insisting that there is a federal preemption on such a law. Charter Communications lobbyist Melinda Kinney said that Maine would be the first state to enact a law mandating cable pricing or television lineups and said that cable companies are being unfairly targeted while satellite and streaming service providers are not included in the proposal.

“In conclusion, based on the federal law preemption and the fact that the way consumers get their video content has dramatically changed with more options now than ever before,” wrote Kinney, “introducing a bill that targets one provider in a very competitive marketplace places an unfair disadvantage to an industry that invests heavily in Maine.”

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LD 832 — Cable à la Carte Requirement
House (94 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) Y
Genevieve McDonald (D-Stonington) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
Senate Motion to Defeat (14 Yeas, 21 Nays)
Dana Dow (R-Lincoln Cty) Y
Erin Herbig (D-Belfast) N
Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty) N
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused

Bill to Ban Toxics in Food Packaging Passes

The Maine House and Senate voted last week to pass LD 1433, which would ban the sale of food packaging containing phthalate chemicals and authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to prohibit the sale of food packaging containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAs. Proponents of the bill note that PFAs — which are often used in frying pans, microwave popcorn bags and food packaging like compostable plates and bowls — have been linked to cancer, hormonal changes, thyroid abnormalities, birth defects and a range of other health conditions. PFAs also can leach into groundwater supplies when they are disposed of.

Testifying in support of the bill, dairy farmer Fred Stone of Arundel said that his family farm was contaminated after he spread fertilizer containing PFAs in sewer sludge. He said that he used the substance because the state said it was a good soil amendment and it would help save the town on disposal fees. However, in 2016 water tests revealed that his water well contained high levels of PFAs, which caused high levels of the toxic chemicals in his cows since they had drunk the water.

“At great cost and effort, we have been struggling to produce clean milk since, but have been unable to get the milk to meet the state’s standard,” said Stone. “What does my story have to do with food packaging, you ask? While the PFAs contamination on my farm most likely came from sludge, food packaging is also a source of contamination.”

The Maine Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill out of concerns that it would hurt jobs. All the midcoast Democrats and independents in attendance voted to support the bill while both midcoast Republicans opposed it.

House Votes to Repeal Medicare Savings Asset Test

The Maine House voted 87-54 last week to repeal the asset test required to qualify for the Medicare Savings Program, which helps low-income elderly Mainers purchase prescription drugs. The program currently covers over 333,600 Medicare recipients and nearly 242,000 Mainers using Medicare prescription drug benefit plans. Under current law, individual seniors are not eligible for the program if they have more than $50,000 in liquid assets and couples are not eligible if they have more than $75,000.

Testifying on behalf of the left-leaning Maine People’s Alliance, attorney John Brautigam noted that these programs are designed to help Medicare recipients pay the substantial out-of-pocket fees for health care and prescription drugs.

“The Medicare savings program helps, but the current constraints of that program mean that many still are not able to afford the care they need, or are forced to spend down savings that provide their only buffer from complete economic despair,” wrote Brautigam. “Asset tests are a persistent barrier that leaves many eligible persons without the benefit of the Medicare Savings Program’s cost-sharing. For the Medicare Savings Program, we believe the income tests will ensure that the benefit is targeted at those most in need, and that no asset test is warranted.”

Conservatives opposed the bill out of concerns that it would make eligible some seniors who don’t need it.

Legislature Passes Renter Protection Bill

The Maine House and Senate voted unanimously last week to pass LD 308, which would authorize municipalities to increase the notice landlords must give renters to terminate tenancy from 30 days to 60 days. It would also increase from 45 days up to 75 days the notice that a landlord must provide to increase the rent of a residential tenant. The measure is now headed for the governor’s desk.

House Passes Bill to Prohibit Police from Jailing Drivers for Refusing Blood-Alcohol Tests

The Maine House also voted 93-47, and Senate unanimously voted last week, to pass LD 762, which would clarify that refusing to submit to a blood-alcohol test without a warrant is not grounds for imposing a mandatory minimum jail sentence and is not admissible as evidence at a hearing or trial. The bill would continue to allow law enforcement to compel motorists to take breath tests and would retain penalties for refusing to take them. Supporters of the bill say the measure is meant to put Maine law into compliance with a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that police may not draw blood without a warrant.

“Under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, all persons have a right to privacy from the government unless the person has affirmatively waived that right by freely, knowingly, and voluntarily consenting to state intrusion,” said Meagan Sway, policy counsel for the ACLU of Maine in testimony. “Chemical tests of a person’s blood or urine are searches under the Fourth Amendment that may not be conducted without a search warrant unless explicit and unequivocal consent is given by the person or there are exigent or emergency circumstances and there is probable cause.

However, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles opposed the bill because it said blood tests are the only way to detect whether a driver has drugs in their system.

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LD 762 — No Jail for Refusing Blood Alcohol Test
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) Y
Bill Pluecker (U-Warren) Y
Holly Stover (D-Boothbay) Y
Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) Y
U= unenrolled; X = absent; E = excused