Washington County bill proposals range from offshore wind to child welfare issues

A proposed ban on offshore wind turbines in the state, a prohibition on children younger than the age of 5 to shoot a deer, and a tribal sovereignity bill are among the legislative proposals affecting Washington County.

by | January 21, 2023

Washington County legislators are sponsoring bills that cover a wide range of issues. Photo by Andrew Howard.

Washington County legislators are sponsoring bills that cover a wide range of issues, from banning offshore wind turbines in the state, to healthcare and child welfare concerns, to not allowing those younger than the age of 5 to shoot a deer. In addition, a tribal sovereignty bill is expected to be considered during this session, after stalling during the last legislature.

Rep. Tiffany Strout of Harrington, who has been appointed to the Marine Resources Committee, has submitted a bill that would prohibit offshore wind energy development. It is similar to a bill that Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham submitted in 2021 that ended up being killed. Lobster fishermen have been concerned about the impact of offshore wind projects on their industry and also on the Gulf of Maine ecosystem.

Rep. Strout comments that her bill “should be the easiest if people truly care about the whales and all species that live in the ocean and along the shores, but I have a feeling it will create a lot of conversation.”

Hunting, fishing and wildlife

Numerous bills being sponsored by county legislators concern hunting, fishing and wildlife.

Rep. Strout is sponsoring a bill that would update the current law of no minimum age to a minimum age of 5 for hunting of all animals except for moose, which would remain at 10 years old. Rep. Strout comments, “This request came from a constituent who had concerns regarding some of the children who have harvested deer on youth day and also the accuracy of the younger children when attempting to harvest the animal.”

She also is submitting a bill to allow anyone 70 or older to use a sub-permittee to harvest deer, which she believes would help with food security for the elderly who “may not be able to afford the fuel to travel to hunting areas or not be as able to walk through broken ground or get the deer back to a vehicle for transport.”

Another measure would allow hired crew members of an elver license holder to add dumping the net to the other tasks they can complete. Rep. Strout notes, “Dumping of the net is the only task besides selling that a crew member is not able to complete under current licensing laws. Adding this task will help with making sure the nets are dumped if the license holder needs assistance due to a health issue.” The measure is an emergency bill, so if it’s approved it could go into effect during the upcoming elver season.

Rep. Kenneth “Bucket” Davis of East Machias, who also has been appointed to the Marine Resources Committee, is sponsoring several hunting and fishing bills, including one that would provide that a landowner or his/her immediate family can fish recreationally from their property if the water being fished is in a conservation area, provided the landowner and family have an active fishing license and no fish/game violations. The bill is being submitted on behalf of a Marshfield landowner who allows youth access to Middle River, which is designated as a conservation area, but whose family can’t fish from their own land.

Another bill would require the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to establish separate, nonoverlapping seasons for hunting bear with bait and bear with dogs. The bill was submitted by Rep. Davis at the request of Brian Smith, a Machiasport bear hunter who has experienced many incidents of conflict between groups of bear hunters hunting different ways at the same time. Davis says the bill is not intended to eliminate either hunting over bait or with dogs, but rather that the department come up with separate seasons so the two types of hunters are not in the woods at the same time.

Rep. Davis is also sponsoring another bill requested by Brian Smith that would clarify the law that the night hunting of coyote season begins the Monday following the last day of muzzleloader deer season.

While this is currently the case for areas with two weeks of muzzleloader season, it is not the case in much of Washington County, where there is only one week of muzzleloader hunting.

Another bill would make it easier for town and county officials to remove nuisance beavers that are damming up roadways and destroying public property, and a legislative resolve submitted by Davis would establish an “unofficial holiday” on the last Saturday in May prior to Memorial Day to commemorate the annual alewife harvest in Maine.

Senator Marianne Moore of Calais, who has been appointed to the Marine Resources Committee and again to the Health and Human Services Committee, is sponsoring bills requested by constituents that would increase the bag limit for smelts for personal use from two quarts to one gallon and would allow a landowner to kill nuisance beavers.

Child welfare

Several of Senator Moore’s bills concern child welfare, including one, requested by a constituent, that would set up independent boards in each county where complaints could be filed concerning the Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) Office of Child and Family Services. The goal of having independent bureaus would be to prevent any abuse of authority and to restore trust in the agency. It would provide a safe platform for mandated reporters, DHHS caseworkers and concerned citizens to call in concerns on their interactions with DHHS or any agency with authority over child well-being.

Another bill, submitted at the request of DHHS, would establish adult protective services training requirements for professionals mandated to report suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of incapacitated and dependent adults.

Because of concerns about child protective services in the state and the deaths of children who have been involved with DHHS, legislation was enacted last year requiring quarterly reports to the legislature by DHHS’s Office of Child and Family Services, and Senator Moore has submitted a bill to remove the sunset provision in that legislation so that reports will continue to be sent to the legislature.

Another bill that Senator Moore submitted at the request of a constituent would remove clergy acting in a professional capacity, including during confessions, from the exception to mandatory reporting of abuse.

Rep. Anne Perry of Calais is sponsoring a bill that proposes to make changes to Title IV-E to ensure that the adult foster/adoptive child is present and represented when decisions are made regarding an adult child.

School and Municipal Funding

Concerning school funding, Rep. Davis is submitting an emergency bill that would provide one-time funding to help schools cover increased heating fuel and transportation costs associated with higher fuel prices. Each public school would receive $100 per student up to 25% of their overall heating and transportation budgets. The estimated cost is $18 million based on current enrollment figures.

Another bill he is sponsoring would set up a fund to reimburse school administrative units (SAUs) that pay tuition to state-approved schools after the October student counts are taken by the Maine Department of Education. Rep. Davis notes, “Currently, schools that enroll students after the October 1 deadline are not subsidized for those students; therefore a provision for financially supporting those students should be established.”

Rep. Strout is sponsoring a bill to allow a municipality to add a municipality fee to short-term rentals. “The fee would be set by the municipality and then would be listed in the total bill of the rental, similar to the cleaning fees,” she says. The fee would be listed upfront, so the renter would see it before the rental begins.

At the request of the Maine Municipal Association, Senator Moore has submitted a bill to increase the reimbursement amount to municipalities and tribes under the general assistance program from 70% to 90%. She also is sponsoring a bill to allow the Baileyville Water District to disconnect service for failure to pay a sewer bill.

Healthcare-related bills

Rep. Perry, who has been named House chair of the legislature’s Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Services Committee (HCIFS), has introduced a number of healthcare-related measures.

One measure would allow out-of-state pharmacists to provide tele-pharmacy, an issue that came up during a meeting with federally qualified health centers in the county that run pharmacy programs in their centers. However, they are having problems finding pharmacists to run the programs.

Another bill would safeguard residents from excessive prices for prescription drugs by using reference-based pricing, while another would create an office of health insurance/provider relations to help single-provider businesses that need help negotiating with health insurance companies.

Other bills sponsored by Rep. Perry would: amend the existing MaineCare rule that provides partial Medicaid reimbursement to hospitals for the unreimbursed care that hospitals provide to patients who get stuck in the hospital due to the lack of nursing home beds; would continue to codify changes recommended by a health stakeholder group to integrate behavioral health services in medical care; and have chiropractors be reimbursed the same as other providers in a practice who do the same service.

Four of the bills submitted by Senator Moore related to healthcare or state licensing were requested by the conservative think-tank Maine Policy Institute: An Act to Restore Religious and Philosophical Exemptions for Immunization Requirements; An Act to Reform Maine’s Occupational Licensing Regime; An Act to Reduce Child Care Facility Regulation; and An Act to Expand Health Care Choice. That bill would add surgical procedures to the list of tests and procedures that hospitals must post so that patients can compare costs. The bill concerning immunization requirements in schools and certain healthcare settings would undo a 2019 law that survived a people’s veto in 2020.

Senator Moore also has submitted a bill to ensure access to federally approved opioid overdose reversing medication, and she is sponsoring a measure to eliminate cost sharing for medically necessary breast imaging. That bill would ensure that if a patient is called back for a second mammogram that, if the initial mammogram was covered by insurance, the second one will be also.

Tribal bills

Passamaquoddy tribal Rep. Aaron Dana of Indian Township has been appointed to serve on the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. The committee will address the issue of tribal sovereignty in Maine and the ongoing discussions to reexamine the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Implementing Act.

“I am truly honored to be appointed to serve on the Judiciary Committee,” says Dana. “I am looking forward to working diligently and with due regard to support the best interests of all tribal citizens and Maine citizens alike.”

The only bill that Rep. Dana has submitted would stagger the seat terms for state and tribal appointments to the Maine Indian Tribal State Commission.

Other measures

Senator Moore’s Senate amendment to the bill that will provide winter energy relief payments to Mainers and that has now been enacted would have removed the income limits and changed the payments to a fuel voucher instead. Her amendment, though, failed in the Senate.

A bill sponsored by Senator Moore concerning DHHS’s Resource Parents’ Bill of Rights policy  would look at whether there are any shortcomings in the policy that need to be addressed through legislation and would ensure that foster, adoptive and kinship parents receive the same bill of rights.

Other bills submitted by Rep. Perry would remove the requirement for wild blueberry transportation permits, which would reduce the paperwork burden on farmers and businesses transporting blueberries in Maine. Another bill would create a registry for people missing in state and national parks in Maine. That bill was requested by a constituent who is concerned about the number of people who go missing from parks nationally.

Senator Moore is sponsoring a bill that would provide shoulders for bicycles on state roads leading to state parks and other significant destinations.

 

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This article first appeared in the Quoddy Tides and was republished with permission. 

Edward French

Edward French

Edward French is the editor and publisher of The Quoddy Tides, a twice a month newspaper founded by his mother Winifred French in 1968. The Quoddy Tides, based in Eastport, is the most easterly newspaper published in the United States and covers eastern Washington County, Maine, and western Charlotte County, New Brunswick, including the Fundy Isles.


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