Each week I volunteer on Tuesdays and Thursdays with Maine People’s Alliance to speak with representatives about different bills that would improve the situation regarding different issues in our state. Today there was so much going on at the statehouse I figured it would make for a good short article to inform folks of what took place. Besides talking to legislators about 2 current bills that I will describe briefly below, there were also two press conferences on very important issues that are to be decided upon in the coming months. The first one was regarding The People’s Veto on 1: Reject Big Pharma in the morning, and the second was on LD 1693 in the afternoon, an act that would enhance enforcement of employment laws by protecting whistleblowers. I was able to film both press conferences from the front row so readers can actually watch the whole thing themselves, and the youtube videos are embedded in this article. This is raw footage with no commentary from myself as regardless of anyone’s stance on these issues I feel it is important everyone knows what’s taking place and is given an opportunity to make up their own minds. Those who spoke today articulated very well why each issue is of importance, and I hope that this article facilitates more Mainers becoming more aware of what is going on in Augusta.
At 9:00 AM today a large group congregated in the welcome center in the capitol for a press conference regarding the Yes On 1 veto. Before joining folks upstairs to talk to representatives about LD 420, I made sure to check out the presentation. This was not an event associated with the Maine Peoples Alliance, but something I certainly wanted to attend as a resident who just happened to already be in the building. Representatives and healthcare professionals gathered around the podium where several speakers gave their sentiments on this matter. As an individual, this is a measure that I personally support but had not been aware of its existence until the coalition had already gathered enough signatures to put on the ballot for March. From my understanding, the veto would repeal a recent bill that would mandate vaccinations to all Mainers despite religious or philosophical exemptions. Of the four speakers, I was able to film, two people were state representatives, one person was a medical professional, and they were introduced by one of the campaign’s organizers. Points that were touched on included the unconstitutionality of removing religious exemptions, why medical freedom and informed consent matters, and how this veto strives to avoid setting a precedent that could strip away at everyone’s bodily autonomy over time. Below are a few links showing recent statistics, as well as the link to the website for the campaign itself so any readers can evaluate further themselves. It is certainly a highly debated issue that everyone is entitled to their own opinion on, but that doesn’t mean everyone should be denied awareness either. I personally found the speakers to be very informative as to why the veto matters, and if the entire conference doesn’t make it to the nightly news viewers may be denied the ability to form an opinion based on the entirety of what was said.
Current Maine immunization statistics:
The Reject Big Pharma Campaign website:
Maine laws on voluntary informed consent:
After the press conference, I returned to our group upstairs to continue talking to legislators before they go into session. Each day we typically focus on a single bill and today we addressed LD 420. It is entitled “An Act To Amend the Maine Exclusion Amount in the Estate Tax” and would close a loophole in the tax policy to return to the value it was at several years ago. Currently, the amount of wealth that is exempt from estate tax is $5,600,000 and it used to be significantly lower. The amount of exemptions is also 5 times higher than it was in 2011. The bill aims to return to its previous amount of $2,000,000 making the policy much fairer for Maine citizens. By freeing up $14,000,000 annually this would ease the tax burdens for working-class Mainers who may never acquire that much wealth and are already exempt from the estate taxes. We spoke to many representatives today who had varied stances on both the bill itself as well as the amount and whom it affects. The bill is still in committee and may very well see some changes before it goes to the house for a vote.
Last week we were also advocating for the bill LD 1919 which would create a tax credit for unpaid family caregivers. Some present today were also continuing conversations on the bill with representatives they did not speak to last week. The language of LD 1919 allows for a $2,000 tax credit for working-class Mainers who provide up to 150 hours of unpaid care for an eligible family member over the age of 18. Where the cost of care for the elderly and disabled has risen so much, many residents are caring for their own family while sacrificing their time for work. If passed, this would not just help with the lost wages but the associated expenses too. This bill is also still in the same committee and does not yet have a fiscal note. Similar to LD 420, it is very possible that the language could change a bit before moving to the house for a vote. As an individual, I hope both of these are passed as the new tax revenue generated by LD 420 could certainly assist in balancing the budget after easing the tax burden for residents caring for family members with health issues. If anyone reading this would like to view the bills themselves, the links below will take you to them on the state’s website.
LD 1919 bill text:
LD 420 bill text:
There are a few other bills that are currently being advocated for in Augusta by the Maine Peoples Alliance worth mentioning here. The first is LD 1492 which would decriminalize usable amounts of drugs similar to what was successfully done in Portugal. Currently, residents suffering from substance abuse disorder are charged with felony trafficking charges for simple use which can worsen circumstances for individuals trying to get sober. Another benefit to this bill would be freeing up officers to focus on the actual traffickers while potentially diverting funds to recovery resources for those suffering from addiction. Essentially by treating issue as a health concern instead of a criminal one Portugal proved that usage and crime can be reduced while also preventing loss of life. More information and statistics are available at the end of the next paragraph. The second bill is LD 402 which would incrementally raise the threshold that salaried workers stop becoming eligible for overtime pay to $55,224 by 2022. In the 1970s over 60% of salaried workers qualified for overtime but now only 7% do. This bill seeks to remedy that and ensure these workers receive a more livable wage.
The third bill is LD 1142 which would restore coverage of non-medical transportation services to seniors and people with disabilities covered under Maines Section 19 program and convene a stakeholder group to study how to improve Maines Medicaid-funded transportation system as a whole. The last bill I wanted to make readers aware of is LD 1693 which consequently is also what the second press conference at the statehouse pertained to. Many Mainers who work for corporations sign forced arbitration clauses in their employment contracts both knowingly and unknowingly. This results in people being unable to bring the business to court when labor laws are violated or sexual harassment occurs. In some cases to attend the arbitration workers must hire a lawyer and fly to another state on their own dime. The bill would give the Maine Department of Labor the ability to deputize a whistleblower or nonprofit to bring the violations to court on behalf of the state. In the videos below, state representatives join members of Maine Peoples Alliance in the welcome room for a few speakers, including someone who experienced this happening to them in Maine.
LD 1142 bill text:
LD 1492 bill text:
Time covers the “Portugal Model” in-depth:
Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons In Creating Successful And Fair Drug Policies, CATO Institute, Glenn Greenwald, 2009:
LD 402 bill text:
As the title states, it certainly was quite an eventful day in Augusta today. Its been quite a rewarding experience taking part in this process and not just learning how laws are created but also advocating for laws that I believe will improve things for Mainers. In getting involved with Maine Peoples Alliance I’ve been able to give public comment recently on a bill that Southern Maine Workers Center advocated for which would allow dental care to be covered by Mainecare and Medicare. Likewise, we have been able to speak to a committee regarding continued funding to provide emergency shelter to homeless residents in Maine. It can certainly be quite a daunting task to just stay up to date with everything that is going on at the capitol so I hope that publishing some of this information is helpful to people. As this session continues, I hope to be able to update readers of this site on these bills and other relevant matters at the statehouse. For anyone reading this that is interested in Maine Peoples Alliance, the link is listed below. I have very much enjoyed becoming aware of the many projects this nonpartisan organization is working on statewide, and I’m certain others may too enjoy learning more.