AUGUSTA — Legislation to increase funding for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services and provide free tuition to members of the Maine National Guard has hit a political brick wall at the State House.

The bill was tabled Wednesday after more than 90 minutes of debate in the House as lawmakers sharply disagreed over how to fund the legislation’s estimated $600,000-a-year price tag.

The legislation is intended to modernize and expand the state agency tasked with helping Maine veterans obtain benefits they are entitled to under state and federal law. It also would provide funding to update the bureau’s antiquated paper-only record-keeping system with a computerized case management system while making the bureau the lead agency on homeless veterans in the state.

The last time the bureau saw substantial funding increases from the Legislature was before 9/11. Since then, nearly 16 years of war have followed.

Among other things, the legislation looks to ensure more of the state’s estimated 140,000 veterans are registered with the federal Veterans Administration with modernized marketing programs and a full-time outreach coordinator.

The measure would also increase from seven to 10 the number of veterans’ service officers, who work with and advocate for veterans as they seek out and apply for programs and services they may have earned or become eligible for as a result of their military service.


The legislation, which includes a combination of bills, was unanimously approved by the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. It is based in part on the recommendations of a special commission of veterans and lawmakers set up in 2015 to study ways to improve the bureau.

Republicans and Democrats have come to disagreement, however, over a proposal by Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, that would use a portion of the state’s annual profits from its alcohol sales to pay for the bill.

In 2015, the state earned about $46 million in profit from selling alcohol at state-agency liquor stores under a contract with a company that provides for the warehousing, distribution and marketing of all hard alcohol in the state.

Under current law, a portion of that profit, about $15 million in 2015, is dedicated to servicing the debt on a large bond the state obtained to pay off $431 million of debt owed to the state’s 39 hospitals for treating Medicaid patients.

Golden on Wednesday attempted to amend the legislation to include funding to cover tuition costs for eligible members of the Maine National Guard at schools in the University of Maine and Maine Community College systems.

Under Golden’s proposal, funding for both the tuition and the bureau expansion would be covered under state law until 2024, when the state’s profit from liquor sales is projected to exceed $24 million a year.


But Republicans, including those who say they support all of the provisions in the underlying legislation, said they believed using profits from the state’s liquor business is not the right way to pay for the bill. They believe doing so could jeopardize funding for the state’s Department of Transportation, which in 2015 received $603,000 from the fund.

Republicans did not propose an alternative funding source for the legislation.

An effort by House Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, to send the legislation back to the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee for additional work failed by two votes Wednesday.

Lawmakers will now likely attempt to negotiate a way to bring the legislation back before the House for a vote before the Legislature’s final adjournment, set for April 20.

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