Lawmakers save lead paint program, school clinic funding, but not hearing aids

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AUGUSTA — By a lopsided margin, legislators agreed Monday to override a veto that threatened to derail a new lead abatement initiative that proponents said will pump hundreds of thousands of dollars into efforts in Lewiston and Auburn to remove dangerous lead paint in old houses.

The $4 million proposal is part of a $41.6 million spending measure that also provides money to help school-based clinics, the fight against opioid abuse and more. It passed the House 139-4, while the Senate backed it 32-1.

“Lawmakers took an overwhelming bipartisan vote to protect Maine kids,” state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, said in a prepared statement.

Golden, who pushed the lead program, said that dealing with lead “costs Maine communities millions of dollars each year. And that doesn’t even begin to account for the human toll, costs that cannot truly be measured.”

The new program, which the Maine State Housing Authority will administer, is meant to help landlords deal with lead paint before children are threatened. Existing programs have generally provided assistance only after a cleanup order is issued.

Golden, who is running for a U.S. House seat in the 2nd District, said, “The best and most cost-effective way to address the problem is to prevent it in the first place.”

LePage did not oppose the lead program. His veto was part of a last-minute press to convince lawmakers to slow the growth in the minimum wage.

Lewiston and Auburn are among the hardest hit communities in the state in dealing with lead paint.

Another program pushed by a Lewiston legislator, Rep. Jim Handy, a Democrat, ensures funding for school-based clinics that he said “provide a vital service to kids in communities around the state.”

“I’m glad that legislators on both sides were able to come together to override the veto and restore this funding,” Handy said.

The House failed to override a veto of another bill pushed by Handy that would help Mainers buy hearing aids.

His measure, which LePage opposed, would have required health insurers to pay up to $6,000 for a pair of hearing aids, starting in 2020. Its 83-59 vote in the House fell short of the two-thirds required to overcome LePage’s veto.

“The governor and House Republicans have demonstrated how low they are willing to go for corporate interests,” Handy said. “Thousands of Mainers lost today when access to hearing aids could have made a profound impact on their social, family and work lives.”

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