With headlines focused on the pending investigation of embattled Gov. Paul LePage, it’s time to step back and review some other issues and say farewell to some key bills that were doomed by this Legislature.
The Legislature is by nature conservative, and as an institution is uncomfortable in the role of change agent. Several bills that would have made a big impact on Maine’s culture went down to defeat.
Foremost among these was the plan to legalize recreational use of marijuana backed by two Portland representatives, Democrats Diane Russell and Mark Dion, the former Cumberland County sheriff. The bill would have sent the issue of legalization to voters, and if passed would have included a system of taxation and regulation. Backers argued that it was a better choice than the uncertain results from two legalization initiatives now underway.
The idea that you should pass the bill to forestall the possible problems of a ballot initiative did not sway some legislators, including Rep. William Tuell, D-East Machias, who reminded colleagues that “we don’t know what the voters are going to do.”
The bill was defeated in the House by a more than 2-1 margin, 98-45, and was rejected by many local Democrats, including Janice Cooper of Yarmouth, Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick and Sarah Gideon of Freeport.
Voters may decide the issue in November 2016 if one or both of the two initiatives get the required signatures. If both get the signatures and appear on the ballot, it could yield a confusing result.
Also doomed for the moment is a proposal by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, that would have profoundly changed end-of-life medical care. The so-called “right-to-die” bill would have given a patient diagnosed with less than six months to live the option to obtain life-ending drugs from a physician.
In a thoughtful discussion on the Senate floor, many speakers shared their experiences with end-of-life decisions, but the bill lost by one vote. It had passed the Democrat-controlled House by a close 76-70 vote that ran mostly along party lines. This is probably an issue that will eventually pass, but legislators aren’t quite there yet.
A bill aiming to boost Maine’s lagging vaccination rate by requiring parents to consult with a doctor before opting out was defeated when the House failed to override the governor’s veto by a slim five-vote margin, with 19 members absent. Among local legislators missing from the vote were Reps. Michael Timmons, R-Cumberland, and Scott Hamann, D-South Portland. House Majority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, was also absent.
The perennial effort to clear the way for a casino to benefit Maine’s Indian tribes also failed. A bill to create a Casino Development Commission to consider proposals for a casino in Aroostook or Washington counties won handily in the House, but failed by two votes in the Senate.
The Senate vote did not go along party lines, and local legislators were split on the issue. Voting against LD 1446 were Senate Democrats Cathy Breen of Falmouth and Justin Alfond of Portland; Anne Haskell of Portland voted to pass the bill.
There are still some vetoes to be considered and much of legislators’ attention will be on the investigation of LePage. But with legislative business mostly complete, this column will be on hiatus until later in the summer to consider other political and statewide issues, including upcoming referenda.