April/May 2006

By Ramona du Houx

Maine’s Governor John Baldacci celebrating a law making Moxie, a state drink. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The governor’s Pine Tree Zone expansions:

LD 192 (Rep. Moody) establishes a Pine Tree recreation zone for everything north and east of the Androscoggin River. Provides for loans and grants to assist small recreation-based businesses, to expand their businesses.

LD 1944 implements recommendations of the Washington County Economic Development Task Force. The bill appropriates $75,000 for local economic development priorities as well as creating Pine Tree Zone pilot programs for seasonal businesses, tourism, and resort development in Cutler.

LD 1955, an Act to Provide Emergency Regional Economic Development Assistance for Brunswick Naval Air Station. A Pine Tree Zone, known as The Military Redevelopment Zone, will be established for the Brunswick area to assist local businesses with the transition of BNAS’s closure. “The Military Redevelopment Zone will be the cornerstone of the economic redevelopment effort,” — Governor Baldacci. The zone will provide tax incentives to encourage relocation and growth of companies in the Midcoast region. “To have the area become a PTZ will save us tremendously in electricity costs alone,” said Martin Grimes of Harbor Technologies in Brunswick.

More business initiatives:

LD 1518 — Speaker Richardson’s law creates a specialized court to expedite business and consumer cases. By appointing judges to business and consumer cases, it frees up resources in the courts for criminal, family, and other cases, which remain a priority.

LD 169 — Rep. Moody makes it easier for small businesses to get resale certificates, and eliminates the requirement for yearly renewal by lowering the threshold for resale certificates to $3,000 of sales, down from $10,000 of sales. Small businesses had expressed their concerns about the resale certificates and this law addresses their worries.

High-speed internet expansion in rural areas of the state for economic development — LD 2080 (Rep. Pingree – the governor’s bill). The law designates ConnectME zones in areas unserved and underserved for broadband and wireless services. Allows reimbursement for taxes paid on the purchase of machinery and equipment to develop an advanced communications technology infrastructure in those zones. ConnectME is a program started by the governor last year to “connect all of Maine” by providing comprehensive cell phone connections — eliminating “dead zones” as well as improving access to the information superhighway.

LD 2056 phases out the Business Equipment Tax Reimbursement Program (BETR), making Maine more desirable for investment and small-business expansion.

Health care:

LD 1991 (Sen. President Edmonds) proposes that the state increase the rate of reimbursement to personal care assistants (PCAs) who provide services under the state’s consumer-directed personal care program for persons with disabilities who would otherwise be in nursing homes or other facilities.

Give consumers more health care information — LD 1987 (Rep. Makas). Chain pharmacies must provide retail prices of the 20 most-distributed prescription drugs in Maine and the retail price charged for a generic equivalent of that drug. The director of the Office of Health Policy is required to posts the list to a Web site.

LD 1021 — Assistant Majority Leader Duplessie’s bill will allow firefighters and police officers to buy into the Maine State Retirement System. The law also requires the state to contribute to the costs of the retirees’ health benefits.

Collecting Information about Employer-Based Health Coverage — LD 1927 (Sen. President Edmonds) — provides for detailed information from the Department of Health and Human Services on working people who qualify for MaineCare. Requires large employers to report to the Department of Labor the percentage of wages they spend on health care for their employees. The law begins the data collection of businesses that are taking advantage of Maine’s health-care system.

“I am very pleased this resolve has passed and has appropriate funding to begin a process toward fair solutions for health care in Maine. We need to understand how the employer health-care plan model might not be extending benefits as it has in the past.” Senator Edmonds concluded, “Good public policy requires good information, and we can begin to get some of that information with this bill.”

Encourage energy independence for Maine:

With gasoline prices hovering near $3 per gallon and energy a front-burner issue, the governor’s bill to encourage conservation and renewable energy passed with praise. The governor’s bill 2041 seeks a one-year reduction in Maine’s sales and use tax on biofuels such as ethanol and other fuels derived from living and renewable sources.

“LD 2041 is the most comprehensive, progressive energy, legislation that Maine has enacted in well over a decade. The bill will make Maine more energy independent, it will help to stabilize and reduce Maine homeowner’s and businesses’ energy bills, and it will help to address the looming threat of catastrophic global climate change,” said Governor Baldacci.

It gives a higher priority to conservation and energy efficiency when the Public Utilities Commission requests bids from companies to supply power for the standard offer for electricity users.

The legislation also sets a goal of increasing by 10 percent the state’s renewable power generation by 2017. The law creates a Maine Energy Council, which would study whether electricity industry restructuring is working.


Increasing Teachers’ Salaries — LD 1381 (Sen. Mitchell — the governor’s bill). Teachers’ starting salary in statute was set in 1987 at $15,500. The new law provides that the minimum is annually updated to reflect increases in the CPI.

“We have made great strides in supporting our teachers in a meaningful way that will bring new teachers to the table with increasing minimum salaries for starting teachers to $30,000 a year,” said Governor Baldacci.

The governor and legislators listened to students when proposed increases to their tuition hit the news. As a result a proposal to increase state spending on colleges and universities sailed through the Legislature — which amounts to $4.2 million to the university system and $1.6 million to the community colleges.

Protecting the people of Maine:

LD 1804 (Sen. Sullivan), the law requires out-of-state attorneys whose practices involve collections from Maine consumers to obtain a Maine debt collector license.

LD 1996, an Act To Prevent Unauthorized Practice of Immigration and Nationality Law (House Majority Leader Cummings). This measure seeks to inform immigrants in Maine communities of their rights and urges caution in seeking unqualified assistance in immigration and nationality law.

LD 2038 (Rep. Brautigam) makes it a crime to sell private consumer cell phone records, including information like text messages and contacts stored on phones. Maine is one of the first states in the country to close the federal loophole for cell phones.

LD 1778 (Sen. Perry), “The problem was brought to my attention when a child was abused by the boyfriend of a constituent who lived with the child,” said Perry. The law protects children by allowing the court to prohibit residence or contact with a parent who lives with a convicted sex offender.

LD 1938 requires the police to alert the victim that the abuser tried to buy a gun and was denied. FBI statistics from 2004 indicate 47 gun purchases were denied in Maine because the person was under an abuse order. That number was up from 23 the previous year.

“Jessica’s Law” (Rep. Gerzofsky), as the bill has been entitled, changes sentencing laws to recommend a 20-year prison sentence for first-time child sex offenders. The bill also mandates probation for life.

LD 1906 (Sen. Diamond), “Tina’s Law,” installs graduated periods of license suspension for persons with multiple license suspensions. Proposes graduated jail terms for persons who drive while their licenses are suspended, making our highways safer.

LD 2028 (Sen. Diamond) establishes a Computer Crimes Task Force. “Police were seizing the computers, but the evidence wasn’t being extracted. Consequently the most dangerous child pornographers were not being successfully prosecuted,” explained Senator Diamond. When a computer hard drive is confiscated by the police, it is taken to the Computer Crimes Task Force to be downloaded and have the evidence removed for prosecution. As of January, the task force had 80 hard drives waiting to be downloaded. By March, that number was up to 112.

“The most frustrating part is that without the necessary staff, the evidence literally sits 20 feet away from an empty desk,” commented Sen.Diamond. The Computer Crimes Unit will consist of six full-time positions.

Protecting Our Environment:

LD 2015 — “This remarkable endorsement by Maine’s legislators represents an important step forward in the effort to conserve Katahdin Lake, fulfilling Gov. Baxter’s vision.”

The $14 million Katahdin Lake purchase involves no public money, but legislation was needed because it involves the transfer of state-managed lots to the logging company that’s selling the Katahdin Lake land. The deal is designed to attach about 4,000 acres surrounding Katahdin Lake to Baxter State Park. Another 2,000 acres, where hunting and snowmobiling will be allowed, will be managed by the Maine Department of Conservation.

LD 1058 (Sen. Cowger) expands the requirements for labeling and disposal of mercury-containing items to button-cell batteries and batteries in certain novelty items.

LD 1792 (Sen. Martin) holds manufacturers accountable for introducing mercury thermometers into Maine and requires manufacturers to pay at least $5 for each mercury thermometer brought to a state collection site.

LD 1840 (Rep. Babbidge), is to improve the effectiveness of cell phone recycling. As a first step, the law directs the Department of Environmental Protection to report to the Legislature on the effectiveness of current cellular telephone recycling collection programs in the state.

LD 2043 (Sen. Cowger) reduces the existing mercury emission standard from 50 pounds per year to 35 pounds per year after January 1, 2007, and to 25 pounds per year after January 1, 2010.