AUGUSTA — State House leaders were stingy on Friday as they largely rejected dozens of bills being given a second shot at inclusion in the legislative session that convenes in January.

Shot down were bills that ranged from a proposal to expunge old marijuana possession crimes from Mainers’ criminal records to a measure that prohibits ballot questions or people’s veto votes from being held during presidential primaries.

The 10-member Legislative Council also rejected a bill to allow the state to borrow up to another $50 million for an ongoing renovation of the Maine Correctional Center in Windham. In addition, they voted down a measure that sought new regulations for vehicles used by funeral homes when transporting the deceased.

The panel did agree to allow about 20 bills to move forward, including one measure that would create a death benefit for volunteer and part-time firefighters killed in the line of duty. That measure, sponsored by Rep. Kent Ackley, a Monmouth independent, was prompted by the death of a Farmington firefighter in a propane gas explosion in October, Ackley said.

Legislative staff will publish a final list of bills accepted next week.

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, also will be able to bring bills for consideration once the full Legislature reconvenes in January. Mills is also holding about 30 bills sent to her in 2019 that she has yet to sign or veto but will have to take action on when the Legislature returns.

On one 6-4 vote, the council approved a bill Friday that would require the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to estimate, study and control emissions from petroleum oil tank farms in South Portland following an ongoing controversy and federal lawsuit over the farms and their impact on the air quality in surrounding residential neighborhoods.

“This an ongoing issue impacting the public health in South Portland and its surrounding communities and we must not delay this important work,” Sen. Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, told the council as she spoke on behalf of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-South Portland.

Also allowed in was a bill, offered by Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, that seeks to create incentives for employers who allow their employees to work remotely from rural parts of the state. Chipman said the measure was meant to help bolster the economy in rural  Maine, which could benefit from an influx of well-paid workers.

But the council, made up of six Democrats and four Republicans including the minority and majority leaders in both parties and the speaker of the House and the Senate president, frequently splint along party lines. Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers, largely had their way, prompting Republicans to protest a lack of bipartisanship.

“When the average Mainer sends their representative to the State House, they don’t expect their representative, because they voted for the wrong party, to be suddenly silenced for the next legislative session,” said Assistant House Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle. “And that is, in effect, what has happened here throughout this whole process.”

But Democrats also rejected a large number of bills from members of their own party Friday or sided with Republicans to cause tie votes and effectively kill bills.

One of those, offered by Rep. Mike Brennan, D-Portland, would have expanded internet privacy protections put into state law in 2019 that prohibit the selling of data by internet service providers to include so-called “edge providers” of services like Google and Facebook.

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said she voted against the measure not because she didn’t believe Google and Facebook should be constrained from brokering in private customer data, but because the state could not regulate interstate commerce under federal law.

“We are not able to regulate that,” Gideon said. “That is something that needs to be done federally.”

Also rejected Friday on a 5-5 tie vote was a bill offered by Rep. Victoria Doudera, D-Camden, that would have created a new child endangerment crime when an adult allowed a child to have unsupervised access to a loaded firearm. Doudera said the bill was not about gun regulation but about protecting child welfare.

 

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