Legislative Council Considers After-Deadline Bill Requests on School Safety, Gun Control

The Legislative Council met on February 27 to consider after-deadline bill requests, including several on school safety and gun control. The Council, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, considered and rejected measures to ban bump stocks, arm school personnel, ban high-capacity magazines, and increase reporting requirements for gun incidents at schools. But the Council did vote to admit three bill requests aimed at curbing gun violence. One bill would ask voters to support a $20 million bond issue for school safety projects. Another would create a community protection order process to allow police to temporarily confiscate weapons from an individual who has been deemed dangerous by a court, and the third bill would create community education programs to raise awareness of individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others. These bills will have public hearings in the coming weeks.

LePage Administration to Choose Opportunity Zones by March 21

The recently-enacted federal tax reform bill created a new economic development program. To encourage long-term investments in certain low-income areas, the program creates so-called “Opportunity Zones,” determined on a census tract basis. The program offers temporary tax deferral and some tax reduction for capital gains reinvested in an Opportunity Zone and a permanent exclusion for gains from the Opportunity Zone investment. Governors can designate up to 25% of the low-income tracts in their states, meaning that Governor LePage can designate 31 low-income tracts in Maine as Opportunity Zones. Under the new federal law, Governors have until March 21 to designate low-income tracts as Opportunity Zones, but can seek a 30-day extension of the deadline.

In State of Judiciary, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley Calls for a Drug Court

On February 27, Maine’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley issued the annual State of the Judiciary before a joint session of the Maine House and Senate. She touched on many issues including the aging infrastructure of Maine’s courthouses, courthouse security, and the transition to online court records. The Chief Justice also recommended the creation of a full wrap-around drug court pilot project to address Maine’s growing opioid crisis. The proposed pilot project would include services such as addiction treatment, sober housing, job training, and long-term follow-up. Chief Justice Saufley said that the drug court pilot project has Governor LePage’s blessing, and urged the Legislature to support it.

2018 Race for Governor Heats Up

With election season heating up, voters are getting the chance to learn more about Maine’s gubernatorial candidates and where they stand on key issues. On Monday, February 26, the Bangor Daily News published an article highlighting where Republican candidates stand on four issues: Medicaid, abortion, citizen initiatives, and their top policy priority. That same night, the Republican candidates for Governor— Kenneth Fredette, Garrett Mason, Mary Mayhew, Shawn Moody and Michael Thibodeau— gathered at Colby College for the first debate among all five candidates. On the Democratic side, two candidates– Sean Faircloth and Jim Boyle– recently dropped out of the race, but it remains an 11-way primary. Regardless of party affiliation, any candidate seeking to qualify for the Clean Election program has until April 2, 2018 to turn in the requisite $5 qualifying contributions in order to receive public funding.

Gun safety advocates and gun rights advocates held opposing rallies in the Hall of Flags at the State House on Thursday, March 1.