AUGUSTA (AP) – Legislation prompted by anti-homosexual demonstrations at soldiers’ funerals received final approval in the Maine Senate on Tuesday and was sent to Gov. John Baldacci. The bill would take effect immediately upon Baldacci’s signature.

If the bill becomes law, Maine will become the latest state to take action in response to demonstrations by the Westboro Baptist Church, the Topeka, Kan.-based church that preaches that American soldiers are being killed in Iraq because of the nation’s tolerance of homosexuality.

The bill sponsored by Sen. David Hastings III, R-Fryeburg, would make it a crime to accost, insult, taunt or challenge any person attending a funeral, burial or memorial service.

Hastings said he was prompted to introduce the bill after members of the Westboro church threatened to show up at the funeral in March for a soldier from his district, Army Sgt. Corey Dan of Norway, who died in Iraq. The protesters never showed.

Two protesters from the Westboro church showed up in Portland in March for the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Angel Rosa of South Portland. The two were barred by police from approaching within a couple of blocks of the church where the funeral was held and left the area after the service began.

Hastings said he was also moved to introduce the bill in memory of a brother whose plane was shot down in the closing days of the Vietnam War, “at a time when (war) protests were at their height.”

His original bill sought specific restrictions on activities by protesters, including time limits, but they were removed. The amended measure also expands upon the current crime of disorderly conduct rather than creating a new crime.

“It balances First Amendment speech rights and funeral-goers’ right to be free of unwanted communications while they grieve,” Hastings said.

20-somethings get wider coverage

AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci has signed into law a bill that will ensure more Mainers in their 20s of getting health insurance coverage.

The new law will extend coverage to dependent adult children up to age 25 through their parents’ policies by requiring insurance companies to include it as an available product for employers to offer.

The legislation, which was signed Monday and will take effect later this year, defines dependent adult children who can be covered under the policy. The child must be unmarried with no dependents, be a Maine resident or enrolled as a full-time student, and not have health coverage under another government or private program.

Rep. Chris Barstow, D-Gorham, sponsored the bill. Barstow said the bill would extend insurance coverage to an estimated 18,000 young Mainers who are currently uninsured.

AP-ES-05-15-07 1427EDT

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