Maine Legislature Reconvenes to Begin Work on Many Contentious Bills

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AUGUSTA, Maine. (WABI) The Maine legislature returned to work on Wednesday for their second regular session.

Lawmakers have more than 400 bills to consider.

As the state mandated moratorium on recreational marijuana sales is set to expire on February 1st, lawmakers say a regulatory system needs to be in place soon or the moratorium needs to be extended.

Paul McCarrier, with Legalize Maine, says the public will once again be able to weigh in on the proposed enforcement protocols and details of the adult-use law on Friday at the State House.

"We're very concerned about some of the language in there specifically about the idea of having communities opt-in, which could create 'cannabis deserts,' where you're going to have areas where people don't have access to legal and regulated and taxed cannabis. We're also primarily concerned about making sure this stays a Maine-based business. Just like our fisheries and our lobster industry, we want to make sure Mainers benefit from this adult-use law," said McCarrier.

Medicaid expansion is also expected to take up a lot of legislative attention this session.

The contentious issue will likely be an uphill battle between Republicans, some of whom want to repeal the expansion or ensure it's not funded by raising taxes or raiding surplus funds, and Democrats who are still trying to determine how much it will cost and where that money will come from.

"This is Maine taxpayer money that we will be accepting back from the federal government and it will not be going to other states. 40 other states have implemented this. They haven't gone bankrupt. This is a good opportunity for Maine to provide desperately needed healthcare," said Rep. Erin Herbig, (D) House Majority Leader.

Besides the future of solar policy and the opioid crisis, lawmakers will also need to contend with the recently approved federal tax plan.

"Tax conformity will be a big issue. There's been a significant package passed at the federal level that's going to hopefully provide tax relief for Mainers who desperately need it," said Sen. Michael Thibodeau, (R) Senate President.

Lawmakers are also considering a controversial bill brought forward by Maine's Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap that would ban signature gathering at Maine polls.

"When I have voters tell me they don't go to the polls anymore, they vote absentee because they don't want to run the gauntlet, I think it's time for a conversation. So there's no intent here to undermine the citizen initiative process. Citizen initiatives are one part of this issue, candidates at the polls are another part, now the new informational campaigns and then some of the counter campaigns that have been going on are also part of the conversation," said Dunlap.

This session is expected to adjourn in mid-April.