Bettors, beano players, smokers, snowmobilers, law breakers, spammers and gubernatorial candidates take note: Health care, the budget and taxes weren’t the only issues of the 121st legislative session.

AUGUSTA – All bills signed into law will take effect on Sept. 13, unless they were emergency measures or had a specific startup date. Here are some highlights of the first year of the 121st legislative session:

The outdoors

Fishing (passed): It will be illegal to introduce a non-native fish to a body of water. The governor’s bill says that when a fish is caught, it must be killed immediately or returned to the water where it was caught. The exceptions are bait fish and smelt. The goal is to keep new fish out of Maine lakes and ponds that could pose threats to existing fish.

Snowmobiling (rejected): Concerned about a higher number of snowmobilers dying on the trails from excessive speed, inattention and alcohol, legislators proposed a host of changes. All were rejected, however, except one to mandate helmets for those under 18 when riding trails funded by the Department of Conservation. Also, registration fees were raised by $3, from $30 to $33 for Maine residents and $65 to $68 for nonresidents.

ATVs (rejected): A number of proposals to raise the age of riders, increase violation penalties and mandate education were introduced regarding all-terrain vehicles, but they were rejected. The proposals came about because of a rift between ATV users and landowners. Gov. John Baldacci instructed the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to look into the problem and report back with recommendations. The cost of ATV registrations was increased to match snowmobiles. Registration fees will go from $17 to $33 for residents, $35 to $68 for out-of-staters.

Beer and golf (rejected): A proposal to allow golf courses to serve alcohol on the greens from mobile carts was carried over to 2004. Beer and other alcohol on the greens is illegal in Maine. The proposal is considered a perennial one.

Gambling

Bingo breaks (passed): A bill to allow beano and bingo workers to play the cards of a player taking a rest room break was passed over complaints from State Police that it could increase complaints they would have to investigate. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Patrick, D-Rumford, does not apply to high-stakes bingo games run by federally recognized Indian tribes.

Electronic slot machines (passed, but veto expected): Up to 200 electronic slot machines at five of Maine’s off-track harness racing betting (OTB) parlors were approved by the House and Senate. Gov. John Baldacci, saying gambling is not the answer to Maine’s economic woes, has threatened to veto. Considering the strong votes of 112-29 in the House and 24-6 in the Senate, it’s not clear whether lawmakers would override the governor’s veto. Off-track betting parlors are located in Lewiston, Bangor, Sanford, Waterville and Brunswick. The bill, LD 1361, would also allow commercial horse tracks first dibs on future OTBs.

Casino referendum (passed): Two gambling referendums were approved for this November: One seeks voter approval for a $650 million Indian-owned casino in Sanford, the other is a request for slot machines at Bangor Raceway. Last year legislators were poised to reject tribal casino legislation, as they did in the early ’90s. To get around a rejection by lawmakers, casino proponents collected ample petition signatures from the public to place the question on the ballot. The votes by legislators to send the questions to referendum were routine.

“Gray” video lottery (carried over): A proposal to allow nonprofit veterans and fraternal organizations to have up to five video lottery machines was carried over to next year. Baldacci said he would veto that bill if it reached his desk. Now, so-called “gray” machines exist in some nonprofit organizations, even though they’re considered illegal.

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Consumer protection

“Opt-in, opt-out” (rejected): A proposal was rejected that could have led to businesses being required to get permission from customers before disclosing personal information to other businesses. If approved, the proposal would have put the issue before voters in a referendum. Currently, financial companies may share customer information unless the customer says no. The consumer-protection idea was rejected out of fear it would harm Maine businesses.

Spam restrictions (passed): Anyone sending unsolicited junk e-mail, or spam, will have to identify themselves and give recipients a way to tell the sender to stop sending unwanted e-mail.

Environment

Global warming (passed): In the next year, the Department of Environmental Protection is to recommend how Maine can lower emissions and reduce global warming. A component of that plan will likely involve motor vehicles, since they are the leading source of carbon dioxide emissions in the state. The plan is being lauded as first-in-the-nation legislation responding to the threat of climate change.

Junked computers (passed): In an effort to prevent toxics from getting into the environment, the DEP will develop a plan to collect and dispose of junked computers by January 2004. Computer monitors will be banned from landfills and incinerators effective January 2006.

Arsenic-treated wood (passed): The sale of arsenic-treated wood for decks, play sets and other uses will be banned after April 2004.

Liquidation harvesting (rejected): A bill to discourage the practice of cutting all trees off a tract of land for the purpose of development – so-called liquidation harvesting – was rejected. However, a governor’s bill that described the practice as a threat to the forest industry and rural communities was passed. It directs DEP to come up regulations to reduce liquidation harvesting.

Transportation

Cell phone ban (rejected): A proposal to ban the use of hand-held cellular phones by motorists while they’re driving was rejected.

Junior license (passed): Responding to an increase of young drivers dying on Maine’s roads, a new intermediate license for those under age 18 was approved. It will require teenagers to have their learner’s permit nine months instead of three, and then have an intermediate license for six months. While holding that license they cannot drive from midnight to 5 a.m., use cell phones when driving or transport friends. Also, they cannot appeal any suspensions. If, after six months, the teenager has no violations, he or she will “graduate” to a full license.

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Education

Repeal teacher fingerprinting (rejected): The House and Senate voted to repeal mandatory fingerprinting and background checks of existing teachers, and require only new teachers be checked. The goal of fingerprinting is to prevent sexual abuse of students. Legislators, however, were unable to override a Baldacci veto.

Community college (passed): Maine’s Technical College System will be transformed into a community college system. The goal is to expand higher education and job training opportunities – encouraging and helping more Mainers become college graduates. The need has become greater as more workers have lost their jobs due to plant closings.

Health

Dirigo Health plan (passed): Legislators passed sweeping health-care reform aimed at providing voluntary access to health care and harnessing or even lowering health care costs for everyone. The Dirigo Health plan – Gov. John Baldacci’s top priority – will create a nonprofit insurance program overseen by the state to provide affordable insurance to all by 2009. The program will begin in July 2004. Those who are income-eligible will receive state help to pay for premiums. The plan seeks to lower overall costs through cost containment measures involving hospitals, doctors and insurers. The state will also have more oversight of insurance rate hikes. Dirigo will help consumers make more informed choices by making public the charges that different procedures cost at individual hospitals and doctors’ offices.

No smoking in bars (passed): Maine continued its aggressive fight for public health by becoming the fifth state to outlaw smoking in bars, lounges and taverns. Smoking will also be prohibited in public beano and bingo halls. (Exceptions: high-stakes beano games run by federally recognized Indian tribes and off-track betting parlors.) In addition, smoking by foster parents may be curbed next year. The Department is Human Services was ordered to examine smoking by foster parents in their homes and vehicles. Any regulations must be reviewed by legislators in 2004 before taking effect.

Prescription drug conflicts (passed): Prescription benefit managers, the companies behind the prescription cards used by most consumers at the pharmacy, will have to disclose conflicts of interests to clients, and must put the interests of clients ahead of other concerns. The goal is to prevent what has happened in other states: PBMs making secret side deals with drug makers in order to sell more drugs for certain drug companies, even if it meant clients paid more for prescriptions.

Prescription advertising, price disclosure (passed): Drug makers will have to file annual reports with the state on what they spend on marketing in Maine. The law will not effect national or regional promotion of prescriptions. Another law will require pharmacies to disclose the full retail price of the prescription, not just the co-payment, to educate consumers on the full costs of what they’re buying.

Mental health parity (passed): Insurance policies that cover groups of 21 or more people will have to cover almost two dozen mental health disorders, instead of seven, in the same way that physical illnesses are covered. Private insurance premiums are expected to rise 1 percent.

Public safety

Access to information (passed): Maine’s Freedom of Information law was amended to mandate that all police agency chiefs or heads be responsible for ensuring everyone in the agency has training and understands what information is public. Also, police officers working in schools will now be able to share information about students that the officer determines could pose a threat to safety. The change clarifies a question on whether a school officer had the authority to share, for instance, that he heard certain students were planning a fight.

Juvenile DNA evidence (passed): Juveniles convicted of a violent crime will be required to give DNA evidence, which will go into a state DNA bank and could be used nationally.

More juvenile protection (passed): There currently is no law in Maine that prohibits sexual touching of a 14- or 15-year-old if it is consensual. A new law makes it a crime if the touching is done by someone who is 10 or more years older than the teen. The law stems from the case of a Lewiston girl consenting to sexual touching by an older man. Police could not charge the man with any crime.

Sex offender release study (passed): A number of proposals to change how sexual offenders are released from prisons and into Maine communities were turned into a study. That issue arose after members of the Lewiston delegation learned a high number of offenders were being placed in Lewiston. The study on how offenders are released is due to legislators in December.

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Government, elections

More money for ‘clean’ governor candidates (passed): A change to Maine’s Clean Election Act will nearly double how much money a publicly funded gubernatorial candidate receives to run for office. The maximum amount will go from just under $1 million to $1.8 million, providing the candidate is contested in the primary and general election, and outspent by opponents.

Loophole tightened (passed): Another change to the Clean Election Act is that political mailings, calls or advertising done before an election to benefit a candidate will trigger matching money to their “clean” opponents if the ads mention or depict a candidate. Previously, money was only triggered if an ad said “vote for” or “vote against.” Another change will require those spending money for or against a “clean” candidate to file more detailed reports with the state. The goal is to prevent third-party political ads from hiding as advocacy advertising.

Term limits repeal (rejected): Several proposals attempted to junk a law that limits state lawmakers to eight consecutive years in office. The one that got the furthest would have asked in referendum to extend the limit to 12 years. That bill was amended to cover current legislators. It was killed.

Animals

Circus elephant ban (rejected): A proposal to outlaw circus elephants in Maine, on the grounds that the life of a circus elephant is abusive, was rejected. But lawmakers directed the state Department of Agriculture to adopt guidelines to ensure circus elephants are not mistreated.


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