Originally published 3:13 p.m. June 11, 2018.
Lawmakers are making slow progress on addressing numerous bills and issues left unresolved from their second regular legislative session, which ended in early May. On Monday, the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee passed a $37 million spending package that could set the stage for resolving outstanding issues in a special session that could happen as early as next week.
Most of the spending is for programs in the Department of Health and Human Services. Approval of the plan was swift and happened with little comment in public session.
“They are really oriented towards providing services to people with disabilities, to seniors, to resolving or making some strides in solving the opioid crisis and Maine’s elderly,” said Westbrook Democrat Drew Gattine, who co-chairs the committee.
Many of those programs leverage federal funds through the Medicaid program and address service backlogs in several areas. The match is nearly two federal dollars for every state dollar. Part of the money will also give increased reimbursement rates for nursing homes.
“This is really a big investment in Maine people, in the businesses that support them and the workers,” Gattine said. “A lot of them are low wage workers.”
The measure provides nearly $6.7 million for treatment of opioid addiction using several best practices recommended by a state commission on the opioid crisis. There is also money to expand the state’s drug courts.
The measure is not all spending. It includes a provision increasing the penalty for trafficking in fentanyl to a Class A crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The bill would also take $4 million from tobacco settlement funds for lead abatement.
As Oxford Republican Sen. Jim Hamper, the committee co-chair, told the panel, they still have a lot of work to do.
“So here we are, Act 2, Scene 2. And don’t know how many acts and how many scenes we got left, but here we go again,” he said.
Hamper said the committee has over 100 spending bills left over from the second regular session that ended in turmoil last month. He says lawmakers will want the committee to at least consider funding some of them, and they will be discussed by the committee as early as later this week, or when a special session convenes. Also left undone are some 40 bonding proposals, and he said he believes some will be sent to the voters in November.
“When you add it all up, I’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion worth. Billion with a B dollars worth of bond requests. Which, if I were to walk over there and look in my crystal ball, I would say we’re probably going to end up somewhere around $175 [million] is my guess,” he said.
Hamper said once legislative leaders discuss bonding priorities, the committee will meet to vote on which proposals will go to the full Legislature. Both Appropriations Committee leaders stress this bill is separate from the $26 million package for maintaining pay for direct care workers and funding for the county jails the panel voted on two weeks ago.
No date for the special session has been set, as legislative leaders poll all the members of the House and Senate on the best time to convene the session.