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PSN on June 16, 2008 - 7:37am
Overview: Maine lawmakers addressed a $190 million shortfall with unfortunate cuts to education and health care services for low-income and indigent Mainers, but fortunately continued to support the state's health care reform efforts. Lawmakers also passed a minimum wage increase from $7 to $7.50 over two years, strong protections for children from toxic chemicals, legislation to combine the state and county corrections systems while capping property taxes that will fund the new system at 2008 levels, and a model cable franchise agreement that municipalities can use to negotiate local video franchises.
Health Care Reform: Despite measurable success and continued efforts at compromise, Maine's first-in-the-nation 2003 Dirigo Health Reform initiative continues to be opposed by the health care industry and big business interests. With a Robert Wood Johnson study
of health insurance trends showing Maine's success in stemming the tide
of rising uninsured rates, and reforms saving the Maine health care
system more than $190 million over the past year, the Legislature took action to build on that success.
It enacted new funding for the public/private DirigoChoice insurance program - increases in taxes on soda, beer and wine, and a 1.8% premium assessment on all paid health insurance claims. DirigoChoice offers comprehensive health insurance to individuals and small businesses with sliding scale subsidies for enrollees with family incomes up to 300% of poverty. The funding replaces the controversial Savings Offset Payment, which is an assessment on health insurance claims that is directly proportional to system-wide savings in health care achieved by the Dirigo Health reforms.
The new funding is being opposed by business groups representing restaurants, grocers, and beer and wine distributors, who are circulating a petition to place a question on the November ballot that would overturn the new funding law. Working to oppose the override is a new coalition of health care groups, called Health Coverage of Maine and includes the American Cancer Society, the Maine Medical Association, and AARP.
Cable Video Franchising: Lawmakers passed a model cable franchise agreement (LD 2133) that municipalities can use to negotiate local video franchises. The legislation will smooth-out the franchising process, institute strong community and consumer protections, and specify the issues municipalities should negotiate. The legislation will make the local franchising process much easier, reducing the justification for a statewide franchising agreement, which would limit local power and hurt consumers. The legislation was supported by the Maine Municipal Association, PEG, Common Cause, Community Television Association of Maine, and the state public advocate office.
Toxic Toys: The state passed a toxic toys bill (LD 2048) that requires the continual testing of toys and other consumer products and requires the use of safer alternatives when available. The bill also allows the state to participate in an interstate clearinghouse to share information on toxics and promote safer chemical use.
Green Buildings: Lawmakers also passed a statewide uniform building and energy conservation code (LD 2257 ), which some believe will help spur redevelopment on many of Maine's depressed main streets and replaces rules that varied from town to town.
Other Bills Enacted: The State also created tighter drivers' license rules to meet the Federal REAL ID requirements, tighter legislative ethics rules requiring greater financial disclosure and allowing citizens to file ethics complaints, and authorized $160 million in bonds for roads and bridges.
The governor vetoed legislation designed to ease restrictions on gaming functions organized by non-profit and charitable organizations.
Citing budget constraints and concerns, the governor vetoed legislation that would have created a new state fund to attract venture capital and other investment to the state.
The governor also vetoed legislation that would have tightened the rules by which a person convicted of a sex crime needs to register as a sex offender. The legislation was designed to differentiate between dangerous criminals and individuals less likely to commit a new crime and was spurred, in part, from a state supreme court opinion that the state's sex offender law could be unconstitutional because it retroactively increases punishments for people who have already completed their sentence.