Two of three major bills aimed at helping Maine’s tribes were still up in the air late Tuesday as lawmakers scramble to finish their work before the end of the session.

Wednesday is the statutory adjournment date for the 130th Legislature, but lawmakers were seeking an extension of up to two days. Such a request would need to receive two-thirds support in each chamber.

A bill to give the Passamaquoddy Tribe more control over its water supply was recalled from Gov. Janet Mills’ desk and changed by both chambers on Tuesday to address the governor’s concerns, even though it passed with enough support to overcome a veto. It also withstood a last-minute attempt to weaken the bill in the Senate.

A broader bill to restore sovereignty to Maine’s tribes is sitting on the special appropriations table, where its estimated $44,650 cost next year will be analyzed. The bill is opposed by Mills and does not appear to have the two-thirds support needed to overturn a veto.

And the Senate voted 23-11 late Tuesday night in support of a compromise bill offered by Mills that would grant tribes exclusive rights to mobile sports betting and change certain tax laws. But not before several attempts were made to change the bill.

Sen. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, tried unsuccessfully to remove the mobile sports betting provision from the bill so lawmakers could debate and vote on that separately, with a goal of expanding access beyond the tribes.


And Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, tried unsuccessfully to make the bill more in line with a previous sports betting bill that is languishing on the appropriations table, arguing that the tribes would benefit more economically.

But the Senate rejected both of those proposals. Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cape Elizabeth, said the original bill was about tribal economic self-determination and allowing the tribes to raise additional revenues to support tribal governmental services like education, health care and infrastructure.

Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic, speaks during the morning Senate session Tuesday at the Maine State House in the Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“You’re taking away the promise of economic self-determination,” Carney said in opposition to Chipman’s motion, “and you’re replacing it with making the (Wabanaki) Nation once again dependent on others for income.”

The Senate did adopt an amendment from Sen. Joseph Baldacci, D-Bangor, that would allow Hollywood Casinos to offer in-person sports betting at its casino, rather that the harness racing track a few blocks away. The bill already included in-person sports betting at Oxford Casino and harness racing tracks.

The Passamaquoddy water bill had been passed by both chambers, but was recalled from the governor’s desk to make changes to address jurisdictional issues raised by Mills and other opponents.

The bill essentially grants the tribe the right to drill new wells on its property without being subject to an extraction ordinance passed by the town of Perry after several residents experienced water problems when the tribe drilled a well for a new school.


The original bill would exempt the non-tribal Passamaquoddy Water District from municipal property taxes, allow the Passamaquoddy Tribe to add two parcels of land to its territory and allow the tribe to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set higher water quality standards than currently required by the state.

Amended versions passed in the House and Senate on Tuesday would make it clear that the tribe’s jurisdiction over water quality does not extend beyond its territory and that the tribe does not have jurisdiction over the water district, a non-tribal entity that also provides water to Perry and Eastport.

Sen. Marianne Moore, R-Calais, tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill further, seeking to remove the tribe’s ability to add the two parcels to its territory without getting the approval of the town of Perry, which she said would stand to lose $2,700 a year in property taxes.

“I feel the town of Perry should have a say,” Moore said.

That measure failed, 22-12.

The governor’s proposal would make other limited changes, such as removing state sales taxes from certain goods and services produced and consumed on tribal territories or giving the revenues from those taxes to the tribes, and lifting state taxes on incomes earned by tribal members on their reservations.


That bill cleared the House in a 81-53 vote, with seven Republicans in support and five Democrats opposed.

The fate of the broader tribal sovereignty bill appears dim, however, since Mills has proposed her own compromise bill. Her administration also opposes a bill before Congress, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, to allow Maine tribes to benefit from any new federal laws passed to benefit tribes.

The sovereignty bill is one of more than 200 bills, costing more than $1.5 billion, awaiting a slice of only $12 million in funding before heading to the governor’s desk.

Maine’s tribes have fewer rights than all of the 570 other federally recognized tribes in the United States because of the settlement acts, a pair of federal and state laws passed in 1980 to settle a tribal land claim to two-thirds of the territory of the state of Maine. Under the agreements, tribes in Maine are treated more like municipalities than sovereign nations.

The broader sovereignty bill, which incorporates the recommendations of a special task force formed to look at changing the 1980 agreements, would greatly enhance the tribes’ powers over land use, natural resources, environmental measures, taxation and other matters on tribal land.

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