The Maine Legislature hasn’t met all together since the day they were sworn into office in December. However, Legislative Committees have started to meet and hold committee orientations and introductions and some committees have started having public hearings on bills referred to their committees.

The first controversial matter between Republicans and Democrats was over mask mandates.

But since then, the governor and legislative leaders have cracked down somewhat on the mask wearing policy. The Legislative Council, a committee that includes 10 legislative leaders from both parties, voted unanimously to ban spit shields but still allow various plastic face shields as an alternative to cloth masks. Under the new policy, lawmakers who choose face shields must wear the kind that wrap around the sides of the face and fully cover the mouth and nose.

Legislators are gearing up to balance the needs of employers and employees. The most contentious issues at the moment are the state budgets and whether to eliminate state taxes on Paycheck Protection Program relief money that businesses received during the pandemic. Governor Mills is trying to figure out how to reduce state taxes on the Paycheck Protection Program loans that businesses received during the pandemic. Under federal law, the loans aren’t taxed, but they are taxable under state law.

Governor Janet Mills released an $8.4 billion biennial budget proposal that avoids making deep cuts to balance the budget in large part because of emergency short-term federal funding provided in the stimulus bill passed by Congress in December. While the proposal does provide some additional funding for Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nursing homes, addiction treatment and services for adults with disabilities, the overall budget is largely flat-funded.

Looking Ahead

Legislative committees will be holding public hearings on a number of bills involving election reform, voting rights, labor rights and racial justice. On February 8 in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau (D-Biddeford) will present LD 148, which would allow voters to request that election clerks automatically send them absentee ballots for every election.

On the same day, Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox County) will introduce a Constitutional Amendment (LD 10) that would apply ranked-choice voting to elections for governor, state senator and state representative.

The Labor and Housing Committee will hear a bill proposed by, Rep. Amy Roeder (D-Bangor) on February 10, LD 225, would require employers to pay employees their unused earned vacation pay when they leave employment.  On the same day, the committee will hear LD 99, sponsored by Rep. Maggie O’Neil (D-Saco), which would require the state to divest itself of investments in the fossil fuel industry. Former Rep. Brian Jones (D-Freedom) sponsored a similar bill in 2014, the bill died in committee.