City maintenance workers Ryan Sullivan, left, and Brian Cogill wade along Portland Pier after measuring water depth on the flood-prone street in March 2018. Maine lawmakers will consider $50 million in state borrowing to help coastal communities prepare for rising sea levels.

The Maine Legislature is back to work and already has 25 bills moving through the process, including one that would ask voters to support a $50 million bonding package meant to help coastal cities and towns prepare for rising sea levels.

The bonding bill is the first in 2019 to address climate change, an issue that Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has said would be a priority for her administration. Mills made a rousing call to action on climate change during her inaugural speech Wednesday night.

The bill would require two-thirds support in each legislative body, meaning minority Republicans would have to join majority Democrats to send the measure to voters.

A federal report released in November suggested Maine and the rest of New England will be seriously affected by ongoing climate change, rising sea levels and warming ocean temperatures. Nationally, the report suggested climate change will cost the U.S. more than $500 billion a year by the end of the century.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, a former Portland mayor, has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, but it will go before the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee for consideration before being taken up by the full Legislature.

“The governor shares the goal of protecting Maine’s coasts from rising sea levels, which are threatening our economy and the livelihood of families and communities,” Mills spokesman Scott Ogden said in a written statement Thursday. “She will carefully review this legislation, monitor actions taken by the Legislature, and seek input from the coastal communities that would be most impacted by this bond.”

Other bills aimed at reducing the state’s use of greenhouse gas-producing fuels or expand renewable energy development, especially solar, also are expected.

“I think there will be a number of efforts to move the ball on preparation for climate change,” said Pete Didisheim, a senior advocacy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the state’s largest environmental advocacy group. He said the sea-level bond would be competing with other borrowing proposals, but it helps restart the conversation on climate change, which was largely silenced during the LePage administration.

“We’ve had eight years of neglect in really engaging in conversation and planning for climate change,” Didisheim said. He said environmental groups like his were heartened by Mills’ promise to focus on the issue.

Beyond the 25 bills referred to committees as of Thursday, some 2,000 or more are in the works as the Revisor’s Office of the Legislature processes legislation sponsored by lawmakers. The deadline for legislators to submit bills was Monday, but additional measures could be accepted under emergency provisions.

As governor, Mills has the authority to submit bills anytime the Legislature is in session.

Other measures being referred to committees include controversial topics such as a proposal to require MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, to provide coverage for legal abortion services.

The legislation, sponsored by state Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, would require the state to pay for services that the federal government is prohibited from funding.

Also in the mix are bills that would exempt small nonprofit organizations from the state’s sales tax, make vehicle inspections on new cars valid for two years, prohibit the use of electroconvulsive therapy in some instances, and allow grocery stores up to 10,000 square feet in size to be open on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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