What the Legislature did and didn’t do this year
With the Maine Legislature inching closer to adjourning for the year, it’s a good time to update constituents on what my colleagues and I have achieved and what work remains unfinished.
While there have been many flashy headlines out there playing up partisan conflict, most of the major bills we passed this year had unanimous or near-unanimous support.
This month we passed several funding measures with broad bipartisan votes that make critical investments in families and Maine’s workforce.
We boosted pay for the direct care workers who care for seniors and people with developmental disabilities and autism. This will alleviate the workforce crisis in both areas, improve the quality of care for some of Maine’s most vulnerable citizens and help more working people get ahead.
We also allocated funding to shrink many of the Health and Human Services waitlists. Now, many vulnerable Mainers, like those with intellectual disabilities, will have faster access to the services they need to live a more independent life.
Lawmakers closed a gap in the school funding formula, preventing potential property tax increases and ensuring that all Maine students, including special education students, will have a better chance to get a quality education. And, in a victory for our children’s health, we restored funding for several school-based health clinics around the state.
We closed a similar funding gap that put Maine’s county jails at risk so that county law enforcement officers could continue to do the excellent work they do keeping us safe.
We created a fund to help low-income families remove lead from their homes, which is important because we have the oldest housing stock in the country. Even a small amount of lead poisoning can harm a child and change the course of his or her entire life.
After two years of hearing input from the public and careful negotiations and deliberations, the Legislature passed a measure to implement the voter-approved referendum legalizing recreational marijuana. There was a major emphasis on protecting local control and making sure the law change could co-exist with Maine’s existing medical marijuana program, which has helped many patients.
We had mixed results when it came to battling the opiate crisis. The task force we formed to address this devastating issue worked for over a year to recommend bipartisan legislation. Unfortunately, only some of those recommendations made it into law. On the positive side, we increased access to evidence-based treatment, strengthened drug courts, improved support for law enforcement and made it easier for the state to access federal treatment and recovery dollars.
While the voter-approved expansion of MaineCare is the law of the land, the governor continues to refuse to enforce the law, despite multiple court rulings directing him to do so. The expanded coverage will save all of us money, create more jobs and – most importantly – make sure more of our neighbors are covered and have the chance to get ahead. If you believe you are one of the 70,000 Mainers who are newly eligible to be covered, you should go ahead and begin to sign up. The law is on your side.
There are two major bond proposals on the governor’s desk as I write this – one to upgrade our university system and our community colleges and a second to improve roads, bridges, culverts and other infrastructure badly in need of repair. Both bonds will lead to more jobs, and the education bond especially will help more Maine students get the skills they need to land a good paying job and raise their families here in Maine. Should the bonds make it out of the Legislature, you will have the chance to vote on them this November.
Additionally, we are getting closer to reaching an agreement to honor the will of the voters when it comes to supporting our Clean Elections system, which reduces the amount of corporate money in Maine politics and gives more political power back to you. We are also making headway on deciding what parts of last year’s federal tax changes we will apply to Maine’s tax code. We have been working hard to make sure we pass something that keeps more of the tax burden on those who can most afford it – not middle class families.
Finally, I was proud to protect voter-approved minimum wage increases and champion consumer protections that crack down on predatory debt collectors and hold power companies accountable when their billing systems overcharge electricity customers.
I’m excited about what we accomplished when we worked together. My promise to you is that I remain as committed as ever to addressing the issues that matter to you.
It continues to be an honor to serve you and our community. Please feel free to reach out if I can be of assistance.
Rep. Roland “Danny” Martin, D-Sinclair, is serving his fifth term in the Maine Legislature, having served two terms in the Senate and three terms in the House. He co-chairs the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee and also serves on the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee.