AUGUSTA (AP) – Young snowmobilers will be required to wear safety helmets if a bill that received final Senate approval on Tuesday is signed by Gov. John Baldacci.

The bill applies to snowmobile operators and riders who are under 18 years old. It surfaces after a record 15 snowmobile deaths in Maine this past season. The bill is a trimmed-down version of an earlier measure that called for more restrictions on all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile use.

Earlier this session, lawmakers increased ATV registration fees, which were already scheduled to rise from $12 to $17 per year. The newly enacted state budget raises those fees from $12 to $35 per year.

Senators on Monday took up a bill to tack another $3 on to the total, bringing it to $38. Money raised by that final increase would go to trail maintenance and other ATV programs.

Former UMaine president to head dairy study panel

AUGUSTA (AP) – Former University of Maine President Fred Hutchinson will head a 20-member task force that will study ways to preserve Maine’s foundering dairy industry.

Gov. John Baldacci on Tuesday said Hutchinson will head the newly formed Task Force on the Sustainability of the Dairy Industry.

The study is among steps being taken to provide short- and long-range assistance to Maine’s dairy industry.

Three of the 20 task force members will be legislators. Others include representatives of the dairy industry, farm agencies and others knowledgeable about the industry.

Baldacci has already signed legislation to provide $725,000 in emergency aid to dairy farmers, who say the end of a federal price-support program has sent milk prices sinking to a 20-year low.

Baldacci also wants to offer up to $3 million in subsidy payments to dairy farmers from October through next January. Administration officials say federal funding is one possible source of the subsidies.

But the governor has said he would veto a bill calling for milk-handling fees if it reached his desk.

Bill seeks pre-election submission of campaign material

Eds: LD 1027

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – Candidates in Maine elections would have to turn over to state officials late campaign mailings and tapes of automated phonecalls if a bill that received initial approval in the House of Representatives on Tuesday becomes law.

Supporters said the proposal would discourage negative and attack mailings late in the campaign. They said the purpose of the bill, which was approved by a 76-59 vote, is to make the material available to a candidate’s opponent.

But opponents branded the bill as an unconstitutional breach of First Amendment rights.

“This is a very bad bill,” said Rep. Kevin Glynn, R-South Portland.

It would require candidates and political action committees that make automated phone calls or distribute mass mailings in the two weeks before an election to provide transcripts of the calls or copies of the mailings to the state Ethics Commission.

The commission also enforces campaign finance laws.

House rejects bill to shrink size of Legislature

Eds: LD 310

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) – The Maine House on Tuesday rejected a bill to shrink the size of the Legislature.

Supporters said Maine’s Legislature, with 186 members in both chambers, is the nation’s 10th-largest even though Maine is one of the smallest states.

They said taxpayers would save $1 million per year by reducing the Legislature to 132 members, 99 in the House and 33 in the Senate.

But opponents contended that Mainers are getting a good bargain with the state’s present, part-time Legislature.

The proposed constitutional amendment would need a two-thirds vote of approval in order to be sent to voters. But 89 House members voted against the bill to 47 for it. The bill was sent to the Senate.

AP-ES-05-06-03 1804EDT

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