AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine lawmakers began their last scheduled day of legislative work Wednesday by hoping to tie up work on marijuana sales, renewable energy and online sports betting.
Lawmakers say they hope to finish their remaining work Wednesday, even if that means working into the night.
Several of the session’s biggest bills touch on issues long blocked under the previous Republican administration, from allowing pot sales first approved by voters in 2016, to hands-free driving, to boosting the solar industry.
The Legislature still faces decisions on several high-profile bills, including joining the growing number of states that allow online sports wagers.
Lawmakers have yet to pass rules and regulations to allow the sale of legalized recreational marijuana, though votes are possible Wednesday.
The state’s rules are designed to allow municipalities to opt in or out of allowing sales of adult-use marijuana, which voters legalized in 2016.
Maine could also ban adults from furnishing tobacco products to anyone under age 21 and prohibit drug manufacturers from illegally marketing and distributing opioid medication.
Another bill would prohibit drivers from “using, manipulating, talking into or otherwise interacting with a handheld electronic device or mobile telephone.” Maine would allow drivers to use such devices only in hands-free mode, and drivers would face a fine of at least $50 for the first offense and $250 for subsequent offenses.
It appears unlikely Maine will pass a bill to join states pledging to award Electoral College tallies to the national popular vote winner in presidential elections.
Legislation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of certain individuals also face long odds. The House and Senate on Tuesday voted down a Democrat’s bill to allow law enforcement or family members to ask courts to order the temporary surrender of an individual’s firearms if there’s probable cause.
But lawmakers may also consider a compromise bill.
Maine law allows officers to take a person into protective custody for a mental health evaluation. The compromise bill would require that person to surrender dangerous weapons if a medical practitioner decides such access is seriously harmful. Then a judicial hearing held within 14 days could extend those restrictions for one year.
SPENDING BILLS, BONDS
Legislators will decide which bonds to send to voters in November and how to dole out roughly $6 million in funds left over from budget negotiations.
Maine could borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in renewable energy, infrastructure, broadband expansion and workforce training under proposed bonds. Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has proposed $239 million worth of bonds, and voters could approve an initial $189 million in November.
Meanwhile, lawmakers have passed scores of bills that lack funding — include a switch from presidential caucuses to primaries.
Lobbyists representing nonprofits and advocacy groups are making the case for which bills to fund.
Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, says lawmakers must pass a $472,000 bill to continue soon-to-expire funding for therapy for up to 400 high-risk young people and their families.
ON GOVERNOR’S DESK
There’s still a pile of over a dozen bills on Mills’ desk, which she could veto, sign or allow to become law without her signature.
That pile has included a Student Loan Bill of Rights, an act to protect tribal fishing and automatic voter registration. Another bill would require pharmacies and commercial buildings to have automatic defibrillators by January.
Mills also faces decisions on legislation to prohibit profiling by law enforcement officers.
Lawmakers have passed several bills with a goal of encouraging more renewable energy development, a goal sought by Mills.
Supporters of a major solar bill say the legislation will lift the nine-person limit on new community solar projects while directing the Maine Public Utilities Commission to seek 375 megawatts of solar power by July 1, 2024, through competitive bidding.
The bill’s fiscal note says its eventual price tag of over $800,000 will be covered by increased assessments on transmission and distribution utilities, a cost that could eventually be passed onto customers.
Another bill that faces a final vote in the Senate would double the amount of renewable electricity sold in the state to 80% by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
The Legislature has also passed legislation directing state utility regulators to approve a long-term energy contract between Central Maine Power Company and the pending offshore wind project, Maine Aqua Ventus.