Despite Democratic control of the Legislature and the governorship, divisions on display ever since Paul LePage steered the Maine Republican Party hard-right in 2010 erupted often during the legislative session finally concluded on July 19.

LePage’s prospective return to run once more for governor, after 18 months as a Florida resident, can’t have promoted compromise. But it’s the inertia caused by legislative term limits, eliminating any long-term experience, that continues to dog lawmakers trying to craft complex, ground-breaking legislation.

Yet two bills meeting that description were enacted to meet important public needs. In both instances, achievements by legislatures long gone seeded the ground.

The first was a comprehensive, first-in-the-nation law called “Extended Producer Responsibility” that dramatically expands manufacturers’ financial contributions to waste disposal programs, as was previously done for a range of difficult-to-dispose-of products, including pharmaceuticals, mattresses and paint.

It came in large part as a response to China’s sudden decision in 2015 to stop importing plastic waste, previously transported in enormous quantities from the U.S. Since then, recycling programs have struggled against the tide of waste.

L.D. 1541, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski, D-Ellsworth, in essence puts the onus back onto those producing the products. The sweep of the new law is breathtaking.


According to a New York Times report, a similar bill nearing passage in Oregon would assess manufacturers 28% of increased disposal costs. Maine’s would make it 100%.

And in Oregon, the legislation would make industry representatives key players on a task force charged with implementing the new law; Maine will keep things mostly in-house.

Dozens of states are considering similar laws, which work well in Europe. In Ireland, plastics and paper recycling increased from 19% to 65% through such a law.

Maine’s recycling rates remain well below 50%, despite state mandates that they increase.

Why was Maine willing to be the pioneer? It has a long tradition of leadership.

Maine passed one of the nation’s first “bottle bills” back in 1976, mandating deposits on beer and soda bottles — five years after Oregon.


Maine leapfrogged Oregon in 1989 by expanding the law to include wine, spirits, water and juice bottles — for a time, dramatically reducing containers in the waste stream. About half the “bottle bill” states have undertaken similar expansions.

Industry fought the Maine bill hard, but lost; one alternative floated, though not actually proposed, was whether a national bottle bill might be an acceptable substitute.

Municipalities, whose budgets pay most of the costs for waste disposal, do not always see their positions vindicated, but did this time.

Though bipartisanship has definitely declined since 1989 — there was only one Republican vote in favor in each chamber — the reason Democrats, including Gov. Janet Mills, were emboldened to act was Maine’s recycling ethic, combining thrift and environmental responsibility. That much hasn’t changed.

The other notable bill was a property tax relief program for seniors and those with disabilities. L.D. 1638 was sponsored by Sen. Donna Bailey, D-Saco, a former probate judge who administered estates where people had literally been “taxed out of their homes” through inability to pay rising assessments.

As governor, LePage tried to “solve” the problem by forbidding municipalities to issue tax liens, which was no solution at all; it would have simply transferred escalating costs to other property taxpayers. Lawmakers appropriately said no.


Instead, the new law revives a program in effect during the first McKernan administration, from 1989-91.

Instead of shorting towns and cities, the state acquires the tax lien and allows residents to keep their homes during their lifetime. The lien is then repaid through an assessment on the homeowner’s estate, similar to what MaineCare does to recoup costs of nursing care for those near the end of their lives.

It requires cash up front, but the state has plenty of that at the moment, and eventually the state gets most of it back. Although the original program lasted just two years, the last tax lien taken by the state was discharged only in 2018.

This bill got broad support, as well it should, with both House and Senate enacting it without recorded votes.

In addition to solving a perennial, knotty problem, it also relieves pressure on selectmen and councils to keep taxes low across the board because some residents on fixed incomes struggle to pay. In that respect, it’s a true “good government” measure.

One cautionary note: The earlier program lapsed when state finances collapsed during the 1991 recession, gutting worthy programs on a wholesale basis. Most have never returned.


Prudent fiscal management will be necessary far into the future to ensure that this piece of history doesn’t repeat itself.

Douglas Rooks has been a Maine editor, commentator, reporter and author since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love.” He welcomes comment at:






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