Despite democratic control over the legislature and governorship, the parliamentary term that finally closed on July 19, often broke out divisions that had steered the Republican Party of Maine to the right since Paul LePage in 2010.
LePage’s expected return to run for governor again after 18 months as a Florida resident may not have encouraged compromise. But it is the inertia caused by limiting legislatures and eliminating any years of experience that lawmakers continue to seek to produce complex, groundbreaking laws.
However, two bills that matched this description were enacted to meet important public needs. In both cases, the achievements of the legislature have long since sown the ground.
The first was a comprehensive act, first in the nation, entitled “Extended Producer Responsibility,” which dramatically expands manufacturers’ financial contributions to waste management programs, as it previously did for a range of difficult-to-dispose of products, including pharmaceuticals, mattresses and To dye.
This was in large part a response to China’s sudden decision in 2015 to stop importing plastic waste, which had previously been transported in massive quantities from the US. Since then, recycling programs have been fighting against the flood of rubbish.
LD 1541, sponsored by Rep. Nicole Grohoski (D-Ellsworth), essentially puts the responsibility back on the manufacturers of the products. The momentum of the new law is breathtaking.
A similar bill in Oregon soon to be passed would give manufacturers 28% of the increased disposal costs, according to a report in the New York Times. Maines would make it 100%.
And in Oregon, legislation would make industry representatives key players on a task force charged with implementing the new law; Maine will mostly keep things indoors.
Dozens of states are considering similar laws that work well in Europe. In Ireland, such a law increased plastic and paper recycling from 19% to 65%.
Recycling rates in Maine remain well below 50% despite being mandated by the state.
Why was Maine ready to be the pioneer? It has a long tradition of leadership.
Maine passed one of the first “bottle bills” in the country in 1976 that required a deposit on beer and soda bottles – five years after Oregon.
Maine overtook Oregon in 1989 by extending the law to bottles of wine, liquor, water, and juice – for a time, which drastically reduced the number of containers in the waste stream. About half of the “bottle bill” states have made similar extensions.
The industry fought hard against the Maine bill but lost; One alternative that was not suggested was whether a national bottle bill could be an acceptable substitute.
Municipalities, whose households bear the majority of the costs for waste disposal, do not always see their positions confirmed, but this time.
Although bipartisanism has definitely declined since 1989 – there was only one Republican vote in each chamber – the reason Democrats, including Governor Janet Mills, were encouraged to act was because of Maine’s recycling ethic, which combines frugality and environmental stewardship. Not that much has changed.
The other notable bill was a property tax relief program for the elderly and people with disabilities. LD 1638 was sponsored by Sen. Donna Bailey (D-Saco), a former probate judge who ran properties where people were literally “taxed out of their homes” for being unable to pay rising taxes.
As governor, LePage tried to “solve” the problem by banning municipalities from granting tax liens, which was no solution at all; it would have simply passed the rising costs on to other property taxpayers. The legislature, fittingly, said no.
Instead, the new law revives a program that was in place during the first McKernan administration from 1989-91.
Instead of taking cities too short, the state acquires tax liens and allows residents to keep their homes while they are alive. The lien is then paid back through an evaluation of the homeowner’s estate, similar to MaineCare, to help cover end-of-life care costs.
It requires cash up front, but the state has a lot of it right now, and eventually the state gets most of it back. Although the original program only lasted two years, the state’s final tax lien wasn’t released until 2018.
This bill received widespread support, as it should, as both the House and Senate passed it with no recorded votes.
Not only does it solve a perennial tricky problem, but it also takes the burden off voters and councils to keep taxes low across the board as some fixed-income residents struggle to pay. In that regard, it is a real “good government” measure.
A cautionary note: the previous program became obsolete when government finances collapsed during the 1991 recession and broadly eradicated worthy programs. Most of them never returned.
In order for this piece of history not to repeat itself, careful financial management will be required well into the future.
Douglas Rooks has been an editor, commentator, reporter, and writer based in Maine since 1984. His new book is “First Franco: Albert Beliveau in Law, Politics and Love”. Views expressed are those of the author, who welcomes comments at [email protected]