By State Sen. Kim Rosen
The Legislature reconvened for a special session to address outstanding work in June. While we weren’t able to wrap up as quickly as I had hoped due to disagreements in the House of Representatives, I am still pleased with some of the things we were able to accomplish.
On Monday, July 9, we convened for one day to take up nearly 50 vetoes. After addressing the vetoes, we agreed on a $200-million bond package that will be on the November ballot for Maine voters to weigh in on. The bond package includes three bonds that will be presented as separate questions for voters to consider.
At $106 million, the largest part of the bond package goes to support our transportation infrastructure, including a number of projects included in the DOT’s three-year work plan.
Some $64 million of the bond package, which would receive a match of $49 million in both public and private funds, is for the University of Maine System and the Maine Community College System so they can make improvements to their facilities and purchase equipment for new program offerings.
Also, $30 million of the bond package would support a number of wastewater treatment projects with much of the money focusing on the protection of our shellfish harvesting areas.
The Legislature successfully overrode two vetoes on funding bills that are also of great importance to many Mainers. Both of these bills will now become law over the Governor’s objections.
The first is LD 924. Under this bill, we increased reimbursement rates for services provided to home-based and community-based care. These services cover some of Maine’s most vulnerable citizens — including nearly 4,000 adults with intellectual disabilities or autism. This funding is critical because the industry is contending with a workforce shortage in conjuncture with low wages (due to existing reimbursement rates), making it increasingly difficult to recruit enough staff to fill these rewarding, yet challenging jobs that are so critical to our society as a whole.
While this funding will certainly help this year, the problem is sure to recur over the next few years as reimbursement rates continue to lag behind steady minimum wage increases under the 2016 referendum law. Unless something gives, the minimum wage is set to increase by a staggering 60 percent over a short span of only four years.
These types of programs also provide services for our elderly, allowing them to age with dignity and remain in their own homes for as long as possible. These services, which are almost exclusively funded by MaineCare, are significantly cheaper than the alternative, making them a solid investment.
The bill also covers a shortfall within the county jail system, preventing that burden from being passed on to property tax payers.
LD 925 is an even more comprehensive spending package that, among many other things, funds 300 additional slots on the Section 28 wait list. This wait list is for services that cover adults with severe intellectual disabilities. It has long been a goal of Republicans in Augusta to fully fund this wait list, as these are Mainers who oftentimes can’t be adequately supported at home, yet they fall through the cracks due to a lack of resources, endangering both themselves and sometimes family caregivers as well.
LD 925 also includes funding for nursing homes, which are struggling to keep pace with the current minimum wage law. With Maine’s aging population, it is of the utmost importance that we cover the bill for services that allow our citizens to age with dignity.
Also included in LD 925 is funding for a new hub and spoke model of treatment for opioid addiction. It also increases the penalty for trafficking fentanyl, a deadly drug responsible for many overdose deaths, to a Class A crime.
Other funding provided in this bill will go to abate lead in drinking water, child behavior health, drug courts, school-based health clinics and more.
As you can see, we have accomplished a lot since returning to Augusta for a special session. At this point, we are waiting to be called back in to address a very small number of important bills that remain, including tax conformity. I am hopeful that we will be able to wrap things up soon.
State Sen. Kimberley Rosen of Bucksport is serving her second term in the Maine Senate. She is the chairwoman of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and also serves on the Transportation and Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committees.