October 31, 2013

Maine Medicaid expansion among 100 bills on table next session

Lawmakers will also debate pesticides in medical marijuana and a proposal to overhaul the troubled MaineCare rides program.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- The Legislature will take up at least 100 new bills in its next session, including proposals to expand Medicaid insurance for low-income Mainers, overhaul the troubled MaineCare rides program, lengthen the penalty period for a prior drunken-driving conviction and lift bans on select pesticides in medical marijuana cultivation.

click image to enlarge

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer: The flower of a variety of marijuana plant that Ron Fousek calls Train Wreck. Fousek started growing medical marijuana about a year ago. He now serves five patients and works about 30 hours per week cultivating the marijuana. Photographed on Monday, January 31, 2011.

Bill Highlights for 2nd session

Sen. President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, has a bill that would change how the state distributes federal anti-poverty education funds to local schools.

 

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, has a bill that would expand MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid health insurance program, to over 60,000 low-income Mainers through the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, is proposing pilot program that could allow Maine college students to borrow interest-free tuition money from a state fund, then pay back the fund over the next 24 years by giving a pre-determined percentage of their work wages.

 

Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, has a remake of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal earlier this year mandating school boards to adopt policies that allow military recruiters on campus.

 

Rep. Timothy Marks, D-Pittston, has a bill that could increase the likelihood of a felony charge for repeat convictions for operating under the influence.

 

Lawmakers will also consider a bill by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, that would beef up a rent and property-tax credit program adopted in June but criticized for providing significantly less relief to low- and middle-income residents than the program it replaced.

Senate President Justin Alfond, D-Portland, will have a chance to advance a bill that would change the way the state distributes federal anti-poverty education funds to schools.

The list, approved Wednesday by the Legislative Council, is expected to grow as lawmakers whose proposals were rejected appeal those decisions in November. Additionally, Gov. Paul LePage and state agencies can submit bills during the session that begins Jan. 7. The governor’s authority to introduce bills virtually at will likely means new life for Republican proposals that were rejected by the Democratic majority, including two welfare reform bills sponsored by House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport.

The council, composed of the 10 legislative leaders, considered nearly 400 bill titles during a four-hour session at the State House. The proposals that made the cut run the gamut, including education funding, tax exemptions, natural gas development and changes to health care laws. While some of the proposals are tailored to narrow constituencies -- one would reduce the number of members on the Stonington Sanitary District Board -- others may play into the 2014 election, including Eves’ proposal to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act.

Eves’ bill will be Democrats’ third attempt to expand Medicaid during the 126th Legislature, prompting Republicans who oppose it to say the latest proposal violates a rule preventing duplicative legislation. Democrats are confident they have a way -- and the votes -- to get around that provision.

Republicans say Mainers want welfare reform, meaning they will continue their public push for Fredette’s bill to require welfare applicants to show that they have applied for at least three jobs before even qualifying for cash assistance. Currently, welfare recipients must show that they’re looking for work to continue receiving benefits.

With Democrats in the majority and LePage in the governor’s office, Medicaid expansion and Fredette’s bill face challenges. But getting roll call votes on the bills may be as important to the parties as passing them.

Electoral considerations may have been a factor in the Legislative Council’s decision to allow a bill by Rep. Michael Devin, D-Newcastle, to require schools to allow firefighters, police and military recruiters to wear their uniforms on campus. The bill is similar to a military recruiter bill that became a flash-point last session. The bill was poised to pass but ultimately failed after Democrats accused Republicans of using a proposal already mandated in federal law to cast them as anti-military. Many Democrats saw political jeopardy in opposing the bill, a sign that Devin’s proposal may sail through next year.

Other proposals include a proposal by Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, to lift restrictions on select pesticides in the growing of medical marijuana. Details of Saviello’s bill are not yet public, but the proposal is related to a case this year in which four of the state’s eight medical marijuana dispensaries were fined $18,000 by the Department of Health and Humans Services for using pesticides on plants.

The Portland Press Herald, after requesting an analysis from the Maine Board of Pesticides Control, found that five of the nine pesticides the growers used contain active ingredients that are safe for many uses and federally approved for tobacco.

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