WILTON — Deb Roberts has fulfilled the promise she made to her son the day the Coast Guard called off the search for the crew of the SS El Faro, which sank during Hurricane Joaquin in the Bahamas on Oct. 1, 2015.

Roberts’ son, Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, was one of 33 crew members aboard the ship.

Roberts put a note in a bottle promising her son she would work diligently in his memory to get the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit expanded to include merchant mariners who live in Maine and work at sea.

A sister ship, the SS El Yunque, took the bottle out to sea and performed a ceremony over the last known site of the El Faro, about 27 miles off Crooked Island.

The bill was approved by the Legislature on April 15 and signed into law Saturday by Gov. Paul LePage. 

“It means the world to me that I was able to fulfill my promise to Mike,” Roberts said Thursday. “I always taught my children to finish what they started, so to model that as a mom is very rewarding. I know Mike is watching me from above with love and pride. There is no better feeling.” 

Prior to the passage of the expanded Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, the credit was available only to young college graduates who live in Maine, graduate from a Maine college and work in Maine, she said.

It is a credit on their income tax return based on student loans they are paying back. The issue was that merchant mariners don’t work in Maine, she said.

“They make their homes here, register their vehicles in Maine, spend their earnings in Maine businesses, and are even taxed as though they were living in Maine all 12 months during the year,” Roberts said.

She and her son had worked with state Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton, in the spring of 2015 to get the educational tax credit expanded. It was passed by the Legislature but failed to get funded by the Appropriations Committee.

This year, with the help of Saviello and Sen. Justin Alfond, D-Portland, a bill was passed by the Legislature to expand the tax credit to those Mainers who work on a vessel at sea.

Saviello called to tell Roberts on April 15 that the bill had passed through the House of Representatives and the Senate would be voting soon.

Roberts and her husband, Robin Roberts, rushed to Augusta so they could experience the joy of success in person, Deb Roberts said.

The Senate called for a roll call. All senators voted in favor of the bill. Once the vote was complete, the senators all stood and clapped, she said, with some coming to introduce themselves with a handshake or a hug of support.

Roberts learned Tuesday that LePage had signed LD 1657, which contained other components, into law Saturday.

NOTE: The story has been modified since it was first published to read that the governor signed into law on Saturday. It  was correct in one paragraph but wrong in another. It was changed during the editing process.

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