Efforts to expand access to health care, grow training and educational opportunities for Mainers and improve public safety are likely to dominate legislative debates at the State House in 2020.

Numerous bills focused on these issues were included among the 134 new measures that the Legislative Council accepted last week for introduction in the lawmaking session that starts in January. In addition to the new bills, lawmakers will have to take up about 500 other measures that were either held by Gov. Janet Mills or left over from this year’s session.

Only the titles of the bills have been submitted, and legislative staff will begin working with lawmakers to draft the actual texts of the measures. But even the titles have a hint of what a bill’s sponsor is seeking.

On the health insurance front, there are bills to set up a new state-run health insurance exchange program, expand dental care for children on Medicaid and curb the price of prescription drugs. Other bills look to help small businesses provide health insurance to their employees.

The Legislature also appears poised to react to a recent Farmington tragedy in which a firefighter was killed and six others and a maintenance manager were injured when a building that had filled with leaked propane from the heating system exploded. Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, said she was shocked to learn Maine has no regulation requiring natural gas or propane leak detectors or warning devices.

Reckitt said her bill will propose such a requirement for public buildings or multi-unit housing facilities, although she may also try to make the detectors a requirement in new home construction.

“I discovered from the fire marshal, who looked into it for me, that there isn’t (a) blessed regulation at all in the state about propane or natural gas detectors, and I said to myself, ‘That is really nuts,'” Reckitt said.

A bill that expands coverage for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program, requiring it to cover postpartum care, and another bill that would increase provider reimbursement rates based on inflation were also allowed in.

On the education front, one bill would establish a process for a school district to follow when it makes changes to its curriculum, and another would make it illegal to punish teachers by transferring them from one school to another. A third bill is aimed at helping school districts attract and retain school bus drivers in the face of a workforce crunch.

Other proposals for education would create incentives for school districts to buy all-electric buses and establish rules limiting how schools can discipline young children.

Another bill allowed in would permit retired police officers to be hired as school resource officers.

Also allowed in was a bill offered by Sen. Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, the Senate majority leader, that would create a student debt forgiveness program for first responders, home health care providers and public school teachers in an effort to retain and attract workers to those fields.

Rep. Kent Ackley, an independent from Monmouth, has a proposal to tighten the state’s Clean Election program. The bill would prohibit any candidate in the taxpayer-funded program from going to work for a consultant for at least three years after the election if the candidate paid the consultant more than $10,000 for campaign work.

Ackley’s bill stems from an incident in 2018 in which a Republican candidate for governor paid a consulting firm more than $100,000 and then went to work for the firm about a month after losing the primary election.

“Protecting the integrity of Maine’s Clean Election system is what this bill is about,” Ackley said. “Taxpayers should know that their tax dollars are spent wisely.”

Environmental concerns drive a bill sponsored by Rep. Jessica Fay, D-Raymond, that would prohibit the use of fireworks in the shoreland zone around lakes and ponds in Maine, in order to protect water quality.

Democrats, who control both chambers of the Legislature, touted the lineup of bills that were accepted for consideration, saying much progress had been made in 2019 but they still had more work to do.

“Our priorities include continuing our work on health care affordability and accessibility, for both Mainers and our small businesses, and moving forward policies that result in high-paying, quality jobs,” said House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport. “Mainers are counting on us to keep making progress, and we intend to deliver.”

Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, likewise said lawmakers still had plenty of work ahead.

“Maine families continue to struggle with the high cost of health care. Career technical education remains underfunded and undervalued as workforce shortages continue to grow in the trades. And access to high-speed reliable internet is out of reach for many rural communities,” Jackson said. “Fortunately, we have a plan to change the status quo.”

Republican leaders in the Legislature were less rosy in their assessment of the coming lawmaking session and complained that only a handful of bills they wanted to be heard were allowed in by majority Democrats.

Assistant Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, said the lopsided lineup of bills marked “a whole new level of ruthless, one-party rule in Augusta.”

“Democrats have thrown down the gauntlet and told the people across Maine that their opinions no longer matter,” Timberlake said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.