AUGUSTA — Maine lawmakers began the final days of the 2013 session by pushing through a slew of bills Monday while they await Republican Gov. Paul LePage's decision on the state's budget and a proposal to expand health care coverage.
Lawmakers gave the first nod Monday to legislation to prohibit insurance companies from hiking rates based on where someone lives and as well as a bill to block the government from collecting cellphone messages or conversations without a warrant.
But while the Democratic-controlled Legislature moves through the final bills of the session, two key questions remain: whether LePage will accept or veto a $6.3 billion, two-year state budget that includes temporary tax increases and a bill expanding Medicaid to more Mainers under the federal health care overhaul.
Lawmakers sent the measures to LePage's desk Thursday night, but spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said Monday that there is still no word on what action the governor will take. LePage has said he won't sign a budget that includes tax increases and has already vetoed a broader Medicaid expansion bill.
The governor has 10 days to look over legislation before has to act or it goes into law without his signature, which means lawmakers could go home Wednesday with those two issues still up in the air.
Democrats are urging the governor to act quickly. Assistant Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said that lawmakers will return after the session is over to attempt to override the vetoes with a two-thirds vote in each chamber, if necessary.
"It's going to end up costing taxpayers more money to have to bring us back based on the governor's inaction, which is disappointing," he said.
"If he's going to veto it, he can veto it. He can have his symbolic moment instead of dragging it out."
Bennett said the governor has expressed that he plans to take the time to look over the legislation. She said he needs time to take a close look at the changes lawmakers made to the lengthy budget proposal.
But as lawmakers wait to see if they'll return to the Capitol after the session ends, they did move forward some significant legislation Monday:
- INSURANCE RATES: The House gave initial approval to a bill that reverses a provision of a law enacted last session that allows insurance companies to determine rates based on where someone lives. Supporters say insurance rates for rural residents have skyrocketed since the law went into place, which has hurt small businesses. But opponents worry that it will eliminate the incentive that hospitals and providers have to be more efficient while raising rates for people living in cities.
- CELLPHONE PRIVACY: The Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill that prohibits a government entity from collecting cellphone messages or conversations with a warrant, unless it's an emergency or the owner has given their consent. The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate.
- CAREER AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION: The Senate gave initial approval to a bill that will create a program allowing students pursuing a career and technical education to get some of their college credits while they're still in high school. Starting in their junior year, students could earn credits that count toward both their high school diploma and a secondary education degree, which supporters say will save them both time and money.