The state House of Representatives on Thursday voted in support of hiring an additional five restaurant inspectors to help ease an inspections backlog of an estimated 1,400 establishments.

The Democrat-controlled House voted virtually along party lines, 79-68, in support L.D. 715, “Resolve, Directing the Department of Health and Human Services To Hire Health Inspectors. The proposal is sponsored by Rep. Janice Cooper, D-Yarmouth, who cited a Maine Sunday Telegram investigation of the backlog in restaurant safety inspections.

Rep. Kevin Battle, of South Portland, was the only Republican to support the bill, which was officially introduced as a resolve.

The cost of hiring the new inspectors would be paid through an increase in licensing fees paid by restaurant owners.

The bill, which was voted out of the Health and Human Services Committee in a 7-6 party-line vote, now moves to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is likely to receive a cool reception.

The Maine Restaurant Association has opposed the proposal because it would increase fees on restaurant owners, which supported a fee increase in 2011 so the state could upgrade its computer systems. The association agrees that more inspectors are needed, but would prefer the additional costs be paid for out of the general fund.

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