Almost a wrap

Tax reform, same-sex marriage and a smaller state budget highlight the departing Legislature’s work. More smoking bans, a helmet law and growler sales are some of the other new laws that will affect you.

By Rebekah Metzler
Staff Writer
AUGUSTA — During the first session of the 124th Legislature, which ended Friday, the issues dominating the agenda were largely economic, but some of the most sweeping and controversial changes dealt with social issues.
In the face of a national recession, state revenues declined rapidly to the tune of $1.4 billion in just six months and the Appropriations Committee labored for nearly the whole session to balance the state budget. The final package, a $5.8 billion two-year spending plan, marked the first time in 30 years there was an overall reduction in spending.
Contained in the package were cuts to health and human services, municipal revenue sharing, Maine state employees unions, the Clean Elections fund and the legislative budget, among others.
But budget-writers did prioritize, making good on nearly $100 million in payments owed to hospitals for MaineCare services rendered in years past.
Though not officially taken up until the final days of the session, tax reform and the state bond package also occupied much time for legislators.
Burned in the recent past on tax reform, Democrats worked hard to familiarize members and constituents on the details of their eventual proposal. After some adjustments were made in the last days of the session to satisfy concerns expressed by Gov. John Baldacci, the landmark legislation cut the state’s income tax rate from 8.5 percent to 6.5 percent for most Mainers.
The cut was paid for by expanding the state’s 5 percent sales tax to recreational and amusement activities and services, such as movie tickets, minature golf and balloon rides, as well as other previously untaxed items like labor on auto repair. The meal and lodging tax was also raised from 7 percent to 8.5 percent.
Lawmakers’ debate over same-sex marriage, which was eventually signed into law by Baldacci, captivated the state and also garnered brief national attention. Though there is a citizens’ repeal effort under way, and voters statewide will likely have the chance to vote in a referendum this fall on the subject, Maine still became the fifth state to allow gay marriage.
Sweeping new energy policies were also deliberated and enacted during the session. Legislative leadership formed a special energy committee early in the year to focus on building a comprehensive energy framework for the state. The law crafted by the committee, with input from the governor, formed an Efficiency Maine Trust and Board, which will control and administer all of Maine’s energy rebate, efficiency and conservation programs. The law also sets a series of ambitious goals, such as weatherizing all homes and half of all businesses by 2030, reducing oil and gas use in the state by 30 percent by 2030, and achieving significant reductions in electricity and natural gas by 2020.
Other significant laws passed included sex offender registry legislation that allows certain offenders to petition to be removed from the public list, part of an attempt to quell constitutional concerns about the registry. Another law prevents municipalities from placing restrictions on where registered sex offenders can live greater than 750 feet away from schools or playgrounds.
Capping off the session were a series of health care laws, the most controversial of which was stabilizing the funding mechanism for DirigoHealth, the state-subsidized health insurance plan.
In the category of significant legislation that did not pass, a bill that would have reduced the size of the Legislature failed to pass muster in the House, though it had received approval in an initial vote, and was supported in the Senate. And a citizen’s initiative to repeal school consolidation also failed, but will head to referendum for a statewide vote this fall.
Environment,
natural resources
Vets get free park pass: Allows Maine veterans and military personnel to receive free admission to state parks (LD 456).
Park paraphernalia: Allows state parks to sell merchandise promoting their attraction; money would go to operation and maintenance costs (LD 562).
Light bulb recycling: Requires manufacturers of mercury-containing light bulbs to implement recycling programs that include municipal collection sites (LD 973). 
Business, money
and economy
Fair pay: Bans employers from prohibiting workers from asking colleagues what their pay is, but does not require anyone to answer those inquiries (LD 84).
Biennial budget: Sets the state’s two-year spending plan (LD 353).
Pine tree zones: Creates a two-tiered system for Maine Pine Tree Zones, but expands the business-friendly incentives statewide (LD 1473).
Education
School calendars: Allows the commissioner of education to approve school calendars calculated by the number of hours, rather than simply days, if certain conditions are met (LD 245).
Energy and utilities
Tax-free biofuel: Provides a tax exemption for homemade biofuel used by the producer or family. Some products used to make biofuel are corn, soybeans, sugar cane and vegetable oil (LD 1352).
Offshore wind: Expedites state permitting for an offshore wind testing site to be developed in conjunction with the University of Maine (LD 1465).
Health, human services,
insurance
Smoking on beaches: Bans smoking on beaches in Maine state parks (LD 67).
Restaurant patio smoking: Bans smoking at restaurants on outside patios or decks, but does not impose penalties (LD 820).
DirigoHealth funding: Requires insurers to pay a fixed 2.14 percent “access” payment monthly to the state to fund DirigoHealth, Maine’s subsidized health insurance program. This replaces a “savings offset payment,” which was variable up to 4 percent (LD 1264).
Work smoking ban: Bans indoor smoking at places of employment, but does allow for outdoor smoking areas (LD 1429).
Child support: Requires employers to report to the state when they hire independent contractors who are expected to earn more than $2,500 in a year, for the purpose of increasing child support collections (LD 300).
Childhood obesity: Allows school nurses to collect body mass index data from schoolchildren and report the information to staff officials. The data on individual students would be confidential and only reported as an aggregate to the state for obesity monitoring purposes (LD 319).
Fast-food labeling: Requires restaurants with 20 or more locations nationwide to display calorie counts of regular food items on display or menu boards beginning Feb. 1, 2011 (LD 1259).
Law and safety
Marijuana possession: Makes it a civil violation to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and increases certain fines. Previously the cap on a civil violation for possession was 1¼ ounces (LD 250).
Motorcycle helmets: Requires motorcyclists under 18 years old to wear helmets (LD 437).
Deadly car accidents: Creates a civil violation that would apply to drivers who, while committing a traffic violation, cause the death of another person. Penalties include a mandatory license suspension of up to four years, a fine of up to $5,000 and community service (LD 441).
Pedestrian safety: Requires cars passing pedestrians to give at least three feet of clearance (LD 862).
Outdoors
Fee increases:  Residents’ snowmobile registration fees rise $5; residents hunting and fishing license fees increase by $4; boat registrations rise $5; and whitewater rafting fees rise $1.
Bald eagle: Removes the bald eagle from the list of Maine’s endangered or threatened species list (LD 66).
Ice fishing: Allows ice fishing at night, allows ice shacks to be placed prior to three days before the start of ice fishing season, but requires they be removed by April 2 each year (LD 85).
Youth sportsman: Provides penalties for adult supervisors of minors who violate hunting, fishing and trapping laws and also bans kids under 10 years old from bear trapping (LD 132).
Miscellaneous
Gay marriage: Legalizes same-sex marriage in Maine (LD 1020).
Bottle returns: Includes hard cider in returnable bottle law (LD 50).
Growlers: Allows brew pubs to sell capped, half-gallon bottles of their beer to customers (LD 904).
Nursing moms: Requires employers to “make reasonable efforts” to provide a clean, private room, other than a bathroom, for employees who are nursing moms to express milk (LD 373).
Lobbyist disclosure: Requires lobbyists to wear name tags while lobbying (LD 832).
Clean elections: Allows gubernatorial candidates to raise up to $200,000 in seed money, up from $50,000. It also requires those candidates to raise an initial minimum of $40,000 in seed money in order to be eligible for Clean election funds (LD 1380).
Mixed martial arts: Establishes an authority to regulate and promote mixed martial arts competitions in Maine and allow such events beginning March 1, 2010 (LD 1089).
Home foreclosure: Requires court-supervised mediation for owner-occupied home foreclosures in Maine and establishes other protections for residents going through the foreclosure process, as well as tenants in properties going through foreclosure proceedings (LD 1418).
Distracted driver: Creates a traffic offense for driving while distracted, if it results in the loss of control or another infraction (LD 6).
Wine by mail: Allows out-of-state vineyards to ship wine to Maine consumers (LD 1008).
For more specific information about any law listed, visit www.maine.gov/legis and type in the LD number in the upper right corner.


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