AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature was rushing toward its adjournment late Tuesday as lawmakers scrambled to finish work on a host of bills, including finding funding for dozens of measures that didn’t get funded in the state’s next two-year budget.

Lawmakers on the budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee took a long series of votes, many of them split on 8-5 party lines, that provided funding for bills that do everything from providing $400,000 for scholarships for students seeking medical degrees to a measure that requires lead poisoning screenings for all children under 2.

The panel also unanimously agreed on a dozens of bills that either had no new costs to the state or were funded with revenue from special funds previously set aside in law.

Republicans on the committee were largely opposed to any spending outside of the next budget beyond the $6 million they had previously agreed to, but put forward a handful of relatively low-cost bills including ones that provide free hunting and fishing licenses for Gold Star families and a measure that would exempt pet food provided by food pantries from the state’s sales tax.

The Senate also unanimously approved a bill to exempt Gold Star families from vehicle registration fees. “This is a small change we can do to support these families and show our appreciation for their sacrifice,” Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, a sponsor of the bill, said upon its passage in the Senate.

Also still in the mix is a $238 million bonding package proposed by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.

Republicans on the budget-writing committee voted against the package Tuesday offering instead a lower borrowing package aimed only at repairing roads and bridges. Mills’ larger borrowing plan would also look to expand broadband access in rural Maine and provide funding for other economic development programs and infrastructure improvements.

The borrowing packages, which would need to be ratified by voters statewide, need two-thirds support of the Legislature to move forward.

Those competing borrowing proposals will likely go to the floors of the House and the Senate for consideration Wednesday. Also pending were bills that would allow cities and towns to provide noncitizens with General Assistance benefits while they await legal working papers or citizenship status.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said late Tuesday she remained optimistic the Legislature could finish its work by its constitutional adjournment date of Wednesday by midnight. To extend the session Gideon and her fellow Democrats would need the help of Republicans and a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to go overtime.

“Things are going very well,” Gideon said. “Everybody is working really hard and working together to race towards the finish.”

Gideon said State House leaders have been careful to keep the last-minute negotiations on track by meeting frequently to try to find common ground and move things forward even though it wasn’t always possible.

“It’s possible for us to finish us on time, but it’s very challenging for us to finish on time,” Gideon said. “Our approach to everything we have done has been to think about how we can just keep pulling people together to work towards the completion of things without drama and without fighting.”

Votes taken late Tuesday included ones rejecting an extraction tax for bottled water, approving sports betting in Maine and defeating a so-called “red flag” bill that would have allowed police to temporarily confiscate guns from a person deemed a danger to themselves or others with a court’s approval.

 


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