AUGUSTA — A bill that would pump about $2.4 million into Maine’s county jails in 2016 easily cleared the House of Representatives on a 102-44 vote Monday.

The legislation, which will bail out foundering jail budgets in Lincoln and Oxford counties, faces additional votes in the Senate.  

“We’ve heard loud and clear from sheriffs and other county officials from across rural Maine,” House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, said in a prepared statement. “We need this solution to protect property taxpayers, especially for residents of areas like Somerset County, where other factors like inadequate education funding and falling valuations of key properties are already squeezing them.”

The one-year funding solution is not a long-term fix for county jails, which are supported with state general fund dollars and by county property taxpayers. At present, county budgets are prevented from growing more than 3 percent per year, under state law.   

“Today, lawmakers voted to protect Maine’s cities and towns from bearing rising costs that could lead to devastating tax increases for Maine’s families,“ said Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, House chairwoman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “We found a way to connect our county jails with the resources they desperately need and protect our families at the same time.”

While lawmakers, in general, are supportive of helping fund jails, Republicans and Democrats are in disagreement about the funding source. Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, the Senate chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee, is expected to offer an amendment to the bill that would use increases in state-federal Medicaid reimbursements to replace state general fund money that would go to the jails under the Legislation.

But with only 44 House Republicans opposing the bill with the general fund sources, the measure may be veto-proof, with or without Hamper’s amendment.

Voting against the bill in the House was House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester.

Fredette said he opposed the measure because it was only a temporary fix for a long-term problem. He said a longer-term structural fix was needed.

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