Hundreds of laws take effect today. Here’s some of the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Constitution of Maine explicitly states all bills passed by the legislature become law 90 days after adjournment. That means all non-emergency bills passed in the First Regular Session will officially become law on Thursday, September 19th, 2019. The legislature managed to pass 530 new laws before they adjourned — a 70 percent increase from the 128th Legislature’s First Regular Session.
Here are some laws that will affect Mainers when they take effect on Thursday:
This new law allows municipalities to use sequential capital letters to label ballot questions instead of using numbers. This will alleviate confusion for voters who might see advertisements that refer to ballot questions by the same name at both the state and local level (e.g. Question 1).
Under this law, municipalities have the option to use “Question A” instead of “Question 1” to label local ballot questions. Ultimately, this is a measure to give Maine voters clarity on the issues appearing on their ballots.
This new law will make it easier for funeral practitioners who hold a license in another state to come to Maine and practice their profession. In order to do this, the funeral practitioner license from another state must be substantially similar to the current requirements in Maine.
While it would be ideal to have some level of license reciprocity for all fields in Maine, this is a step in the right direction. License reciprocity is important because it makes Maine more attractive to individuals who do not want to be burdened with additional requirements to work simply because they moved across state lines. License reciprocity makes it easier to move to Maine, or work here temporarily, and perform the same work without having to jump through unnecessary hoops.
This law provides that all ballot initiatives must receive a public hearing in the committee of jurisdiction before being voted on by the Maine people. This requirement may only be waived by two-thirds of the members present in each chamber of the legislature.
This new law will provide transparency in the ballot initiative process by allowing Mainers to testify before legislative committees, as well as exposing potential problems that would need to be addressed if the measure succeeded at the ballot box. It also gives the legislature more information if they elect to put a competing measure on the ballot.
Question 5 in 2016 (ranked-choice voting) is a perfect example of an initiative for which the legislature could have submitted a competing measure, or probed for additional information regarding constitutionality. Question 5 applied ranked-choice voting to state-level general election races in Maine. After its passage, this portion of the law was deemed incompatible with the Constitution of Maine because it conflicted with the plurality requirement outlined in Articles IV and V of the state constitution.
If this law had been in place at the time, it certainly would have brought some of these details to light before the initiative passed at the ballot box. This new law is a huge win for transparency in the ballot initiative process.
This new law repealed proficiency-based diploma standards from statute and gives schools the ability to choose multiple pathways for children to be granted a diploma. This changed the old model whereby school administrative units had the option to choose between proficiency-based diploma standards and the traditional credit-based structure.
This change is beneficial for students because it doesn’t encourage school administrative units to adopt proficiency-based diploma standards that have a history of perplexing college administrators and holding back high-achieving students.
This new law will go into effect without the governor’s signature. It allows municipalities to increase the fees imposed for renewal and issuance of a vehicle registration. Currently the fee for a new registration is four dollars and this bill would increase it to six dollars. Likewise, this bill would increase the fee for registration renewals from three dollars to five dollars.
While this isn’t a large sum of money for some folks, these nickel-and-dime policies continue to be implemented and ultimately add up, especially for individuals in poverty.
This law will also become effective without the governor’s signature and makes the once temporary cap of 10 public charter schools permanent. Making the cap permanent is detrimental to school choice in Maine and robs students of the opportunity to obtain an education that fits their specific needs.
Students and parents choose public charter schools for a variety of reasons. For one, the traditional public school system does not suit the needs of all students. In addition, some public charter schools offer a specialized curriculum that is tailored to a specific career path. For example, the Baxter Academy of Technology and Science offers courses to students that want to pursue a career in a STEM field.
In addition, the final slot for public charter schools was recently filled. This means Maine’s education commissioner can no longer accept registrations from local school boards or the Maine Charter School Commission. The lack of spots available, coupled with the high demand to attend a public charter school, make the cap completely arbitrary and unnecessary.
This new law mandates that public employers provide a place for the public union’s bargaining agent and public employees to meet during the workday to discuss grievances, a place to meet during lunch and breaks to discuss collective bargaining agreements and negotiations, the right to meet with all new employees for at least 30 minutes after they receive information about the employee, and the right to use the public employer’s email system to communicate with employees about union business.
In addition, the law states that unions have the right to new employees’ name, job title, workplace location, home address, work telephone number, personal phone numbers, personal email address, work email address and date of hire within 30 days of their hiring. While public employees are allowed to opt-out after their initial meeting with the union’s bargaining agent, this information is shared with the bargaining agent before employees are given the opportunity to opt out.
This means the union would have access to new employees’ information without their consent, regardless of their ability to opt out after the fact. However, private organizations are not privy to the same information to educate employees about their First Amendment right not to join or subsidize their union. In other words, this new law gives unions a monopoly over public employees’ information.
This new law provides that all state employees continue to receive merit increases between the time a collective bargaining contract expires and before a new one becomes effective. This bill will ultimately give collective bargaining agents the upper hand in contract negotiations.
Prior to this law, collective bargaining agents could negotiate to make merit increases persist even after the contract has officially expired. In fact, the 2017-18 contract says:
“…the terms and conditions of this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect after the expiration date of this Agreement and during the period of collective bargaining negotiations for a new Agreement, until such time as a new Agreement is arrived at…”
The law ensures this provision is automatic and gives the state one less bargaining chip in negotiations with the union’s collective bargaining agent. In other words, there is no reason this language needed to be codified in state law because it had already been put in prior contracts.
This bill prohibits drivers from using a handheld device while driving unless it is in hands-free mode. In order to use a mobile device, it must be affixed in a location that does not block the driver’s view of the road and the action performed can only necessitate one tap or swipe of a device by the driver.
If law enforcement encounters a driver using their handheld devices while driving, they can be fined $230 total for the first offense ($170 for the base fine and $60 in required fees) and $325 for a second offense.
Personal medical devices, CB radios, emergency phone calls to first responders in emergency circumstances, and handheld devices used by commercial or school bus drivers within the scope of their employment are exceptions to the rule. All other devices must be used in hands-free mode.
While the bill was passed with good intentions, hands-free laws have not been proven to reduce crash claims reported to insurers in the states that have implemented them. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety admitted that the best way to reduce crash risks is to further implement crash avoidance technology in vehicles.
This new law will increase the tax on cigars, pipe tobacco and other tobacco intended for smoking from 20 percent to 43 percent of the wholesale price. In addition, the law raises taxes on smokeless tobacco products equivalent to the rates charged on cigarettes.
While the intent of this bill is to prevent tobacco use and cessation, adult smoking is “largely unaffected by taxes.” Therefore, this new law will do almost nothing to stop smoking while also punishing individuals who use tobacco products.
Some of the laws that take effect today will undoubtedly benefit Mainers, while others will strip them of freedom and liberty. Nonetheless, one thing is for certain — the State of Maine doesn’t have 530 problems that can be solved by government.