State lawmakers this session outlawed single-use plastic grocery bags, polystyrene food containers, and so-called forever chemicals in food packaging. They prohibited schools from using Indian mascots, motorists from using handheld cellphones and schoolchildren from vaping. They decided minors can’t use tanning beds or be subjected to therapy that seeks to change sexual orientation.

For the 2019 Maine Legislature, it was the year of the ban.

There were some failed bans, notably a bill to prohibit obscene material in public schools and another that sought to ban the sale of high-capacity magazines for firearms, or anything that contains more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer said having Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, as well as a Democratic governor, was likely the biggest driver behind the ban trend.

“I don’t know if that’s the whole story, though. If you look at a variety of issues, policymaking can be slow. It sometimes takes multiple times for things to get through,” he said.

In some cases, laws have to wait for the public to catch up. It wasn’t all that long ago that support for same-sex marriage in Maine was below 50 percent. Mainers actually vetoed same-sex marriage at the ballot box a few years before it passed via referendum in 2012. Views shifted dramatically and in a short period of time.

Brewer said feelings about things such as conversion therapy likely have shifted as well, to the point where legislative support matches public support.

From a Republican perspective, though, the collective bans might feel like “nanny state” politics, or the government telling people how to live their lives.

“I think for some people these are going to seem like perfect examples of government overreach,” Brewer said.

But he also said it might be hard for some politicians to fight against the environmental bans.

“Who’s out there fighting to preserve the right to use plastic bags?” he said.

Sen. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, speaks on the floor of the Maine Senate last month. He says he was less concerned about any one ban passed by the Legislature than the collective impact. Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer

Sen. Jeff Timberlake of Turner, the assistant Senate Republican leader, said he was less concerned about any one ban than the collective impact.

“It reminds me, and I’m going to date myself, of the song ‘Signs, signs, everywhere signs,'” he said. “I think the accumulation of things might be a bigger issue.”

Timberlake also said on the ban of environmentally problematic things like plastic bags or polystyrene, he worries about the impact on businesses.

“If costs go up for them, costs go up for everybody,” he said.

Many of the bans that passed this year failed in previous legislatures.

Last year, the final year of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s second term, he vetoed a bill that would have banned conversion therapy. At that time, there weren’t enough votes to overturn the veto.

This year, no such veto occurred. Mills held a signing ceremony on that bill and invited members of Maine’s LGBTQ community.

“We stand with you, we support you, and we will always defend your right to be who you are,” she said at the time.

In 2013, LePage vetoed a bill that would have banned minors from using tanning beds. Doctors said it would help reduce the risk of skin cancer in children and teenagers. The then-governor called it “government run amok.”

Again, there weren’t enough votes at that time to override his veto, but that wasn’t a problem this time.

Past legislatures have debated various attempts to ban the use of cellphones in vehicles, but those measures never had enough support until this year. Although it finally cleared the Legislature, the bill is still awaiting Mills’ signature.

In almost every ban adopted this year, Maine joined several other states. There are 17 states that ban minors from using tanning beds, 16 states that ban conversion therapy, 19 other states that prohibit driving while holding a cellphone, and three other states that ban single-use plastic bags.

Timberlake said he understands the Democrats’ push to pass certain legislation.

“There was a lot of pent-up anxiety over the last eight years,” he said. “But I think the repercussion could be that they end up overwhelming people. I guess we’ll see.”

This legislative session also was noteworthy for one thing that was not banned in Maine but was banned, or restricted, in many others – abortion.

Maine actually did the opposite. It passed two bills that make it easier for woman to access this service.

Brewer said he doesn’t envision Maine would ever pass the kind of restrictions on abortion that Southern states have passed.

“I don’t think the religious right is as strong here,” he said. “We’re not Alabama.”


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