AUGUSTA, Maine – Debate over the $6.7 billion Maine budget dominated discussions at the Statehouse this week, but lawmakers were also busy slogging through dozens of bills as they try to wrap up their work for the year.
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Even those measures approved by the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-led Senate face an uncertain future. Republican Gov. Paul LePage has threatened to nix every bill that gets to his desk because he says all measures that go into law should win the support of two-thirds of lawmakers, to ensure their decisions reflect the best interests of the Maine people. Two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber must support a bill for it to survive a veto.
Here's a look at some of actions of the Maine House and Senate that flew under the radar this week:
CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTORS
With a 22-13 vote, the Senate sent a bill to LePage that would require more buildings to have carbon monoxide detectors. Under Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond's bill, schools, fraternity and sorority houses, child care facilities, inns, and bed and breakfasts would be required to have detectors for the odorless and poisonous gas. Many buildings, like rental units and new homes, already must have carbon monoxide detectors under a 2009 law and Diamond says he's confident that law has saved lives.
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The House and Senate gave final approval a bill introduced by Democratic House Leader Jeff McCabe that would ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places where cigarettes are already prohibited, such as restaurants, playgrounds and beaches. An effort by some Republicans in the Senate to pass a different version that would limit the ban to hospitals, schools and day care centers was defeated by a 27-8 vote. GOP Sen. Scott Cyrway said people should be able to go to a restaurant and not be exposed to dangerous substances found in e-cigarettes.
The Senate endorsed a bill introduced by Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau that would add several new restrictions to welfare programs, including a ban on the use of benefits to buy things like tobacco, lottery tickets and bail and a ban on the use of electronic benefit cards outside of Maine. The bill, which Thibodeau introduced on behalf of LePage, received strong support in the Senate — and even picked up nine Democratic votes — but still faces action in the Democrat-controlled House. Democrats defeated similar proposals introduced by the governor last session. Thibodeau says "it's time to bring accountability to Maine's welfare system."
A decades-long effort by Maine's Native American tribes to bring gambling to their communities was given a boost this week. The House voted 114-26 to give initial approval to a bill that would allow a casino designed to benefit the state's four federally recognized tribes to be built in Washington or Aroostook County. Rep. Henry John Bear, who represents the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians in the Legislature, said the bill would be a huge victory for the tribes, whose casino efforts have been stymied for years. The bill faces further votes in both chambers.
Lawmakers sent a bill to LePage that would require parents to consult with their doctor and get a form signed if they decline, for philosophical reasons, to have their children vaccinated. The bill is aimed at boosting vaccination rates in Maine, which has one of the highest opt-out rates in the country. Opponents say parents should be free to choose whether to have their kids inoculated and that it's inappropriate for the state to make that choice more difficult. Democratic Rep. Linda Sanborn's bill passed with only 93 votes in the House and 22 votes in the Senate, which isn't enough to override a nearly certain veto from LePage.
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