AUGUSTA — The Maine Legislature cranks again into gear when it convenes the second session of the biennium on Wednesday, with a concentrate on a number of key points, together with well being care, corrections, broadband entry and local weather change.
Lawmakers are poised to start out their work on stable monetary floor, with an estimated state price range surplus of near $120 million primarily based on the final income forecast in November.
“I think we are going to be absolutely looking at how we can bring people together, start with a clean slate and good conversations about what we invest in,” stated House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.
Any new spending or taxation would doubtless come within the type of a supplemental price range invoice that must be provided first by Democratic Gov. Janet Mills.
Mills, like Gideon, stated state authorities achieved loads in 2019 beneath Democratic management, however there was nonetheless a lot work to be performed.
“This coming session, I look forward to working with the Legislature to continue to tackle health insurance issues, to support quality early and adult education, to strengthen our economy and expand our workforce, and to protect Maine people from the impacts of climate change,” Mills stated in a written assertion. “By tackling these issues, Maine can and will continue to make progress for its people and future generations.”
Republican leaders stated they’d brace in opposition to pointless spending or including ranges of unsustainable debt, as an alternative specializing in key points, comparable to determining sustainable methods to pay for state street and bridge repairs with out frequently borrowing cash to do this work.
“We are not going to borrow our way into a good economy,” Senate Minority Leader Dana Dow, R-Waldoboro, stated. He stated Republicans would do their greatest to carry the road on taxes and wish to concentrate on sustainable infrastructure enhancements and workforce improvement however do it in a method that doesn’t pinch the state’s many small companies.
“House Republicans want to make it clear that Maine’s most pressing needs should come first,” House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, stated in a ready assertion. “Forecasted monies should fund needs, not wants. They should help people that are struggling with real-life needs right now. Maine’s most pressing needs include our roads, nursing homes, direct care workers and people with disabilities on waitlists.”
House Republican members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee warned that $76 million of the price range surplus within the income forecast are one-time monies, which is probably not obtainable on an ongoing foundation.
Like Dow, additionally they stated they wish to concentrate on funding freeway building and restore with out borrowing for it and with out elevating extra taxes, lamenting the state’s present $eight billion, two-year price range, which is 11 p.c greater than the state’s earlier price range.
“We then borrowed $105 million for transportation,” stated Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester. “We need to set priorities. Any additional spending of existing tax revenues should go toward true priorities that should have been included in the $8 billion budget.”
The budget-writing Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee has January public hearings already scheduled on a half-dozen borrowing or bonding packages value at least $200 million.
Among the payments are measures that will earmark $65 million for analysis and improvement for biomedical and biotechnology work targeted on serving to households coping with growing older, dementia and Alzheimer’s illness; $20 million for native meals processing services; $50 million for increasing business fishing and aquaculture infrastructure; and $50 million to assist analysis labs develop and add new gear and services.
All of the proposals additionally require matching funds from different public or non-public sector sources, and if handed by the Legislature would go to statewide referendum for voter approval.
HEALTH CARE, PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Democrats have vowed to proceed their efforts to cut back well being care prices whereas increasing entry.
Bills to be thought of embody proposals to arrange a brand new state-run medical insurance trade program, develop dental care for youngsters on Medicaid, and curb the value of prescribed drugs. Other payments look to assist small companies present medical insurance to their workers or present incentives to those who do.
Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, stated a invoice meant to offer medical insurance shoppers with a state-run medical insurance shopper safety advocacy workplace was additionally a top precedence.
“Information is power,” Jackson stated. “And anyone that feels like they can pull the wool over your eyes by just spouting off a bunch of stuff, these individual people who have no idea, these insurance people just tell them no. You know – deny, deny, deny and they can get nine out of 10 people to go away.”
Jackson stated Maine well being care shoppers want an advocate of their nook when they’re going up in opposition to the company medical insurance trade.
The payments search to develop on the accomplishments of 2019, when the Legislature and Mills moved ahead with funding for a voter-approved enlargement of the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, beneath the federal Affordable Care Act.
That enlargement, which was anticipated so as to add about 80,000 to the state’s well being care advantages program for low-income Mainers, to this point has solely seen about 40,000 new enrollments, however the quantity is anticipated to proceed to develop.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONS
A broad vary of felony justice and correctional points may even be a top focus of the Legislature.
The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee will hear Wednesday from Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty, who will transient the panel on department-related points, together with the standing of the Downeast Correctional Facility, youth recidivism charges and psychological well being remedy for incarcerated youth.
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has hearings deliberate within the weeks forward on quite a few payments. These embody revisiting state funding of county jails and an ongoing scarcity of forensic mattress house for these charged with or convicted of crimes who’ve psychological well being and substance use issues or who’ve been deemed incompetent to face trial by a court docket.
Lawmakers are contemplating a spread of coverage shifts to cut back the associated fee of housing prisoners, together with decreasing or eliminating bail necessities for lower-risk, nonviolent defendants and bettering packages that assist these leaving jail or jail reintegrate into society with housing, job coaching and well being care packages.
The state’s system for offering legal professionals to those that are charged with crimes however are unable to afford an legal professional, the Commission on Indigent Legal Services, can be anticipated to face extra scrutiny in 2020 within the wake of a report from the nonpartisan Sixth Amendment Center, which discovered the state’s system, the one one of its type within the U.S., could also be falling quick in offering sufficient authorized providers to these accused of crimes right here.
The report additionally drew into query how non-public attorneys who’re licensed to defend indigent shoppers are paid by the state and highlighted a scarcity of oversight in billing and fee practices by the state and the attorneys.
In December the Legislature’s watchdog Government Oversight Committee ordered its investigative arm, the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, to launch an investigation into the lately reformed fee.
Lawmakers may even contemplate a sequence of schooling payments, together with measures that create incentives for varsity districts to purchase all-electric buses and set up guidelines limiting how faculties can self-discipline younger youngsters.
Another invoice within the hopper would allow retired law enforcement officials to be employed as faculty useful resource officers.
Other payments will proceed a concentrate on greater schooling pupil debt. One measure, provided by Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, would create a pupil debt forgiveness program for first responders, dwelling well being care suppliers and public faculty academics in an effort to retain and entice staff to these fields.
Libby stated Democrats remained targeted on the standard and affordability of well being care, workforce improvement and the sustainable improvement of public infrastructure.
Libby additionally stated Democrats intend to redouble their efforts to enhance broadband and high-speed web entry for rural Maine, following a 2019 defeat of a bonding proposal that will have earmarked funds for that.
Instead of a bonding package deal, Libby stated Democrats would attempt to use state surplus funds for broadband enlargement, with a requirement for matching investments from the non-public sector. He stated in a gathering of Senate Democrats three weeks in the past there was broad assist for that strategy.
Libby stated Democrats had promised Mainers they’d develop entry to high-speed web.
“We want to try to make good on that commitment,” he stated.
Libby additionally rebuked Dow, the Senate Republican chief, on state debt, saying the present state price range included funds to cowl the debt service on the bonding payments that lawmakers did not ship on to voters in 2019. Republicans withheld their assist for bonds, which require a two-thirds vote by lawmakers, apart from these associated to roads and bridges, which had been authorized by voters in November.
“It is important people understand we are not talking about new money for bonding,” Libby stated. “The money is there, but Republicans are just not interested in getting that money out and into the ground for infrastructure improvement and economic development, so we are going to try a different way.”
Some of the Mills administration’s top environmental priorities through the 2020 session are anticipated to concentrate on a category of chemical compounds, generally known as PFAS, which can be inflicting well being issues in Maine and throughout the nation.
Commonly utilized in nonstick cookware and water-repellent materials in addition to firefighting foam, some varieties of PFAS have been linked to most cancers, thyroid issues, excessive ldl cholesterol and different well being results. States comparable to Maine are scrambling to establish PFAS contamination and regulate the chemical compounds as a result of federal businesses have been slower to reply.
The Mills administration is making ready a invoice to permit the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to order “responsible parties” to wash up PFAS contamination or to pay for the remediation. If enacted, the laws would give the division the identical authority it already has for a bunch of different contaminants, comparable to mercury.
But the Mills administration can be anticipated to introduce extra measures primarily based on the suggestions of a PFAS process drive that examined the difficulty for greater than six months.
That group’s suggestions included requiring all group water methods to check for the chemical compounds, mandating that fireside departments notify the DEP every time they use PFAS-laced firefighting foams, and a bond measure to assist the state cowl the rising prices of coping with contamination sizzling spots.
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