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home : • politics : • government
January 27, 2020

7/30/2015 12:32:00 PM
Eye on Augusta: A Few of Maine's 436 New Laws
Maine State house in Augusta
Maine State house in Augusta
by Andy O’Brien

With all of the political drama in Augusta, it's easy to overlook what did get done during the past legislative session. The Legislature did pass 436 new laws, which the veto-happy governor (perhaps) jokingly claimed credit for: "The whole point of the vetoes is to get 2/3 of the Legislature to work together," LePage quipped to reporters three weeks ago. "And I'm succeeding in that."

Most of the recently passed laws will take effect within 90 days of the Legislature's adjournment on July 16. Following is a look at a few of them - none of these are among the 65 that are now before the Maine Supreme Court.

Carrying Concealed Firearms Without a Permit

Less than three months from now, Maine will join six other states in allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit, criminal background check or attendance in a firearms safety training course. Under the new law, sponsored by Sen. Eric Brakey (R-Androscoggin), permitless carry will apply to gun owners over 21. Eighteen-year-olds will still be required to apply for a permit and receive safety training and background checks. However, military personnel between the ages of 18 and 21 who are on active duty as well as honorably discharged veterans who are not otherwise prohibited from carrying a firearm are exempt from the requirement.

Under current law, a concealed-carry permit can be issued by the State Police, local law enforcement, and some municipal governments. Applicants must fill out a form stating that he/she is not prohibited from possessing a firearm along with his/her name, addresses for the past five years, birth date, a record of permit issuances, and answers to several criminal background and mental health questions. The applicant must also submit proof that he/she has taken a gun safety course.

Under the new law, anyone carrying a concealed weapon without a permit will be required to inform law enforcement officials of that fact when officially stopped.

The Legislature has also passed a law prohibiting anyone convicted of a Class D crime of domestic violence from possessing a firearm for five years. A separate law will allow a court to prohibit a defendant in a domestic abuse case from possessing a muzzle-loading firearm, bow or crossbow. Current law already allows courts to prohibit defendants who are subject to protection-from-abuse orders from possessing conventional firearms. The Legislature also passed a law conforming to federal gun prohibitions, which includes illegal immigrants, fugitives from justice, drug addicts, anyone dishonorably discharged from the military or anyone who has renounced their US citizenship.

Six Added to Endangered Species List

The Legislature approved a measure by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to add six animals and insects to the state's endangered species list and three to the list of threatened species. The black-crowned night heron, the little brown bat, the Northern long-eared bat, the cobblestone tiger beetle, frigga fritillary butterfly, and the Six-whorl Vertigo (snail) have all been added to the endangered species list. The Roaring Brook mayfly, the Clayton's copper butterfly and the Eastern small-footed bat have all been reclassified as "threatened" species. The number of endangered and threatened species in Maine will now increase from 45 to 54.

Bat populations have seen significant declines in recent years due to the prevalence of White Nose Syndrome, which has been blamed for the deaths of between 5.7 million and 6.7 million bats, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The frigga fritillary butterfly, tiger beetle and land snail all have "highly specialized habitat requirements and are documented at single locations in Maine," according to IF&W. In testimony in support of the bill, Beth Ahearn of the Environmental Priorities Coalition blamed the decline of the black-crowned heron on draining and development of wetland habitat, and reduced water quality due to contaminated runoff.

Repealing Age Requirements for Hunting

In recent decades, there has been a significant decline in hunting in Maine, which means less revenue to support the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department. According to the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, 181,000 people hunt in Maine each year. Hunters spend an average of $231 million per year on hunting-related activities every year, which generates a total economic output of $338.7 million, according to a 2014 report commissioned by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

This past session, the Legislature passed a number of laws in an attempt to recruit new hunters, such as a new law signed by Gov. LePage that eliminates the age limit for hunting in Maine. Under the new law, hunters between 10 and 16 years of age may hunt if they hold a valid junior hunting license and are under adult supervision. Hunters under 10 must hold a junior hunting license and be in the supervision of an adult who is no more than 20 feet away at all times. However, junior hunters do not have to take a hunter safety course.

Back in March, IF&W Commissioner Chandler Woodcock warned in a letter to the committee of the possibility of increased accidents with more young, inexperienced hunters in the woods. He noted that of the 75 hunting incidents in the past 10 years, seven involved a shooter under 17, five incidents were self-inflicted gunshots by a youth and two were situations where a youth was shot by another hunter. He pointed out that all of the incidents were under adult supervision.

Encouraging Kids to Kill Bears

A separate new law establishes a "Youth Bear Hunting Day" for junior hunters each year on the Saturday prior to the opening day of bear hunting season. The legislation notes that "the long-term health of Maine's hunting tradition is dependent on the recruitment of young hunters" and states that allowing more young people to kill bears on the day before the regular hunting season will provide a "positive hunting experience." The first annual Youth Bear Hunting Day without the use of dogs will be August 29. The season for hunting with bait will run from August 31 to November 28. Hunters may track bear with hounds from September 14 to October 30 and they may trap bears from September 1 to October 31.

Hunting Licenses, Permit Changes & Silencers

A new law will also grant a one-year hunting, fishing, trapping or combination hunting and fishing license at the resident fee for any nonresident student 18 years of age or older and under 24 years of age enrolled as a full-time student in an institution of higher education in Maine. Under a new law, the Commissioner of IF&W may grant moose permit holders the right to transfer their permit to a family member in "exceptional extenuating circumstances." The law's sponsor, Sen. Dave Miramant, said he had submitted it to fulfill the dream of a constituent who was dying from cancer.

Hunters will now be able to use a silencer on their guns while hunting as long as the person lawfully possesses the device and has not had a hunting license revoked as a result of a serious hunting violation. The new law also includes harsher penalties for people who commit hunting violations while in possession of a noise suppression device.

New Rules for Motorists

Under current law, motorists must yield to pedestrians while they are crossing the street where traffic-control devices are not in operation. But a new law will require motorists to yield if a pedestrian shows "visible intent" of entering a marked crosswalk. The new law will also make it a Class E crime (punishable by up to six months' incarceration and a $1,000 fine) to collide with a bicycle after driving past a yield sign. It is already a crime to collide with a car or pedestrian past a yield sign. Current law requires that motorists give a three-foot clearance when passing bikes or pedestrians.

New Rules for Bicyclists & Nonmotorized Vehicles

A new law will require bicyclists and other nonmotorized traffic to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians crossing in a marked crosswalk that does not have a "walk/don't walk" sign. Cyclists, roller skiers and other nonmotorized vehicles must come to a complete stop at stop signs and yield the right-of-way to a vehicle that has entered the intersection or that is approaching "so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard." The new law also prohibits bicyclists from driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

The new law will also provide added protections for pedestrians and so-called "vulnerable users," including bicyclists, construction workers, joggers, people in wheelchairs, skateboarders, roller skaters, horse-drawn buggies, Segways, roller skis, scooters and mopeds. Driver education courses will now be required to include special instruction on how to properly share the road with vulnerable users.

Banning Powdered Alcohol

A new law will ban the sale, possession and furnishing of powdered alcohol, which was recently approved for sale and consumption this spring by the Federal Food and Drug Administration. Violating the new state law, which was sponsored by Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), will be considered a civil violation, but repeat offenders will be charged with a Class E misdemeanor punishable by up to six months' incarceration and a $1,000 fine. Establishments with a liquor license caught selling the substance could have their licenses suspended for up to a year.

Alcohol powder, known by the brand name "Palcohol," is made up of tiny capsules of ethanol that can be turned into an alcoholic beverage when dissolved in a liquid. The company Lipsmark LLC plans to begin distributing the novelty powder in states where it is legal this summer, according to its website. The product will reportedly be available in five flavors, sold in pouches "equivalent to one shot," including vodka, rum, margarita, mojito, cosmopolitan and lemon drop. Critics fear the product will appeal to children, which they believe could lead to a rash of overdose deaths. However, the company maintains that it's much cheaper and more practical to get drunk on liquid alcohol than mixing up the dry stuff.

"Palcohol costs four times more than liquid alcohol and one can't drink it straight like liquid alcohol," the company wrote on its website. "Kids will always choose liquid alcohol."

Super Cribbage Gambling Legalized

Under a new law, the Chief of the State Police may issue up to three licenses per year for super cribbage tournaments. Super cribbage tournaments must have a minimum of 50 players and the maximum entry fee will be $100 each. 50 percent of the proceeds from the tournament after prizes must be paid to a charity other than the licensee.

Hemp Legalization

A measure that allows the cultivation of industrial hemp in Maine for commercial use has become law after the Legislature overrode the governor's veto. The new law allows the sale of hemp seeds from local certified dealers as well as from Canadian producers. Under the new rules, hemp farmers must pay a per-acre fee to the state for monitoring, sampling and testing. Hemp advocates cite the economic potential of legalizing the crop, which can be refined into seed foods, rope, cloth, oil, wax, resin, pulp, paper and fuel. Last year, President Obama signed the latest Farm Bill into law, which allows states where hemp is legal to set up pilot programs for hemp research. However, hemp still remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act and hasn't been commercially grown in the U.S. since the late 1950s.

Lakes and Groundwater Protection Laws

It is now illegal to manufacture or sell personal-care products containing little plastic microbeads. Microbeads are often found in face creams and cleansers but are non-biodegradable and can contaminate groundwater because the beads are too small to be blocked by water-filtration systems. Another law will prohibit the application of fertilizers containing phosphorus or nitrogen within 25 feet of the normal high-water line of a great pond. The new law provides exceptions for individuals applying fertilizer within 10 feet of the great pond if they are using a drop spreader, a rotary spreader with a deflector or targeted sprayer.

Unauthorized "Rehoming" of Adopted Children

The Legislature overrode Gov. LePage's veto of a bill that prohibits the unauthorized "rehoming" of adopted children. Under the new law, adoptees are prohibited from being transferred out of custody without a court order.

"Imagine being shipped across oceans to a new culture with a new language to become part of a new family, only to have that family decide that they don't want you," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Craig Hickman (D-Winthrop), who was adopted as a baby. "And since it is not against the law, that family advertises you on Facebook or Craigslist or some other social media platform and within days you are dropped off to another stranger in a parking lot behind some Walmart somewhere. Yes, this actually happens."

The law puts unauthorized "rehoming" in the same category as child abandonment, but includes an affirmative defense clause to ensure people acting in good faith are not penalized.

The East-West Highway Protection Bill

The Pittsfield-based company Cianbro has been rather quiet lately on its ambitious idea to build a $2 billion 220-mile-long, six-lane private highway from Calais to Coburn Gore. A few years ago, there was strong support in the Legislature for the project, but under pressure from environmentalists and landowners who feared losing their property through eminent domain, lawmakers killed a $300,000 public-funded feasibility study of the project in 2013.

Under a new law, sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis (R-Piscataquis), all new public-private projects must explicitly state that the Department of Transportation may not confer its power of eminent domain on a private entity. The law will also require the DOT to report annually on the status of any new public-private projects and any substantive changes. The move has been hailed by activists who believe that the measure will prevent any future development of Cianbro's East-West Highway and Industrial Corridor.

Protection from Abusive Debt Collection

A new consumer protection law will require any payment agreement entered into with a debt collector to be documented in open court, approved by the court and included in a court order or otherwise reduced to writing. The law also prohibits debt collectors from suing on a debt if the statute of limitations period has expired and provides that a consumer's payment or other activity on a debt that is made after the expiration of the statute of limitations period does not reset the statute of limitations period.

"That law is important for Maine consumers because right now a creditor can sue on a stale claim," said Portland foreclosure defense attorney Tom Cox. "It's up to the debtor to raise the issue that the statute of limitations has expired. And if the debtor fails to do that, then they can get a judgment. Foreclosed debtors are not represented and they don't even know it. So debt collectors were repeatedly filing suits on stale claims. This bill would bar that."

Emergency Allergy Injection Accessibility

A new law will allow organizations and workplaces to stock and administer injections of epinephrine, which helps counteract potentially life-threatening allergic reactions. The new law also provides protections from liability for those who administer the injection. Severe allergic reactions can be triggered by bee stings, certain foods or other materials that can require the use of an epi-pen to stop the reaction. The Legislature overrode a veto of the bill by Gov. LePage, who argued in his veto message that the new law would allow restaurant workers or people outside league sporting events to "stick it into a passerby" who might be suffering an allergic reaction.

Library Privacy

Under current law, records of the books or materials a patron uses at public libraries are kept confidential. A new law also will keep confidential any identifying information about the library patron such as an address, telephone number and email addresses. The law still allows confidential information to be released with the written permission of the library patron or pursuant to a court order. But the library may only publish aggregated and statistical information about library use as long as no personal information is used.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo County), said he submitted the bill after an individual used the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request all patron records of a local library to be used to contact the patrons about a local voting issue. "The library objected, and ultimately the matter was dropped," said Thibodeau. "During this process, however, the Maine State Library discovered that the resident did in fact have grounds to request the patron records from a municipal public library under FOIA."

Helping the Elderly Manage Finances

The Legislature has also passed a bill that provides funding for a program to provide free personal financial management assistance to older adults. The program "Money Minders," which is run through the Area Agency on Aging, matches trained, bonded volunteers with clients over 55 who need help establishing a budget, sorting mail, preparing checks and paying their bills in a timely manner. Prior to the new funding stream, the program was funded through unreliable private donations and grants. According to the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, many clients who use the program have debilitating illnesses like blindness, severe arthritis or Parkinson's, which impact their ability to write checks. Others may have lost a spouse who previously handled the bills, while others seek "peace of mind" and want to avoid "significant pressure from phone, mail and in-person solicitations, frauds and scams." For more information about the program, call 1-877-353-3771.

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