By Andy O’Brien

Early in the morning on April 18, the Democratic-led Maine Legislature gave final approval to a new supplemental budget that provides additional funding for affordable housing, education, health care, childcare, and infrastructure repair. The Legislature rejected Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed cuts to programs for low-income people, including seniors and asylum seekers. Mills has ten days from April 18 to take action on the spending package, however she is expected to sign the budget.

         House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D – Dist. 128, Portland), House Majority Leader Mo Terry (D- Dist. 108, Gorham) and Assistant Majority Leader Kristen Cloutier, (D- Dist. 95, Lewiston) issued a joint statement declaring that the budget “delivers on our commitments to Maine people while protecting our state’s long-term fiscal and economic health.”

         “As an all-woman leadership team, we are committed to supporting Maine workers of all kinds,” the three Democratic leaders said. “Last year, we passed a budget that supports women by creating a paid family and medical leave program, and new grants for childcare workers, which will help increase workforce participation and better support a historically women-led industry.”

         The joint statement pointed out that the budget builds on investments by establishing a new minimum wage floor for educational technicians, investing $12.9 million to increase childcare opportunities, and provisions to improve enforcement of wage and hour laws.

Also in the budget is an additional $21 million to ensure the state continues to provide 55 percent of the cost of K-12 education; $26 million to support nursing homes; $14.1 million to help elderly and disabled Medicare recipients pay for out-of-pocket health care costs; and $19.6 million for mental health crisis services.

         Republicans opposed the budget, arguing that it didn’t address conservative priorities including lowering taxes and cutting spending on programs.

Office of New Americans Funded

         The new supplemental budget includes funding for the Office of New Americans (ONA). The office is expected to increase and improve English learning opportunities, workforce training programs, professional licensing processes, entrepreneurial support, and access to legal assistance in order to help New Mainers better integrate into the state’s economy and communities.

More Funding for Affordable Housing and Rent Relief

In total, the budget provides a $76 million investment to increase the stock of affordable housing available to people in Maine. This includes funding for emergency housing as well as the Affordable Homeownership Program to incentivize developers to build modestly priced homes; the Rural Affordable Rental Housing Program to assist developers in creating affordable, workforce rental housing; the Low-income Housing Tax Credit Program that subsidizes developers of affordable rental housing; and support for manufactured and mobile home park preservation and assistance.

The budget also includes $18 million for a new pilot project that will provide emergency funds to renters at risk of eviction. Under the program, tenants would be eligible for $800 per month in rental assistance for up to 24 months. In addition, the program budget includes a $2 million subsidy program for unhoused students, and $7.5 million for the state’s low-barrier shelters for unhoused people in Portland, Waterville, Bangor, as well as the Catholic Charitie’ transitional housing complex for asylum seekers in Saco.

The Wabanaki Alliance includes four federally recognized tribes in Maine: the Mi’kmaq Nation, Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, Passamaquoddy Tribe, and Penobscot Nation.

“We are happy to hear that Governor Mills has signed LD 2007 into law. The strengthening of tribal courts and restoration of criminal jurisdiction represents great progress in our efforts to restore the recognition of our inherent tribal sovereignty that we did not relinquish in 1980.”

“We wish to thank tribal leaders and citizens, Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross and the champions in both chambers of the legislature, the Governor and Attorney General offices for working with us on this bill, and our vast and devoted coalition of supporters that work tirelessly to be faithful and steadfast allies as we advance this work together. The signing of this bill on Earth Day is a good reminder that robust and collaborative relationships between tribal and state governments is a proven and tested way to heal and serve our shared Mother, the Earth. We remain hopeful and we remain focused on this journey of restoration and change. “

– Penobscot Nation Tribal Ambassador and Wabanaki Alliance Board President Maulian Bryant.

Legislature Backs Major Gun Safety Reforms

            The Maine Legislature passed a series of major gun safety reforms, including the expansion of criminal background checks, a 72-hour waiting period requirement for gun purchases, and a ban on bump stocks – devices which enable a gun user to fire ammunition rapidly.

         “Maine has taken significant steps forward in preventing gun violence and protecting Maine lives,” said Nicole Palmer, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition. “The Maine Legislature has listened to the people of Maine and made our state safer. We are now hopeful that Gov. Mills will sign these important reforms into law.”

         The new gun restrictions come in response to a public outcry for safer gun laws following the mass shooting in Lewiston in October 2023. Throughout the legislative session, hundreds of Mainers rallied at the State House and lobbied legislators to pass the bills. However, the Legislature failed to pass a so-called “red flag” law, which would have allowed family members to restrict a loved one’s access to guns without going through the complicated process of having police take the individual into protective custody and subjecting them to a mental health evaluation as the current yellow flag requires.