By Stephanie Harp

The Second Session of the 129th Maine Legislature began January 8. Only one bill is directly related to immigration. Other bills that would benefit all Mainers—and especially low-income Maine residents—would impact New Mainers, as well. At press time, Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition hadn’t identified any bills that were negatively aimed at immigration.

“An Act To Attract, Educate and Retain New State Residents To Strengthen the Workforce,” LD 647 was carried over to this session from the last one. It would establish and fund welcome centers within adult education programs “to provide education, services and training for foreign-trained workers in municipalities or regions of the State that have immigrant populations or that have industries that are experiencing a shortage of trained workers.” The bill includes funding for English language training in vocabulary that new Mainers might need as they pursue specific professions, but that might not be included in a more general language class. The Welcome Center Initiative is modeled after the City of Portland’s New Mainers Resource Center, which was created as a pilot program by the 126th Legislature.

A bill that would impact many Maine families, including New Mainers, is LD 1760, “An Act To Support Children’s Healthy Development and School Readiness,” sponsored by Maine Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook). If passed, the bill would create “First 4 ME Early Care and Education Program” within the Department of Health and Human Services “to provide comprehensive, high-quality early child care and education services for at-risk children under 6 years of age who have not entered kindergarten.” By funding “projects that integrate comprehensive resources and services with traditional center-based and family child care settings,” the bill would support parents who may be having difficulty finding affordable childcare. Existing facilities could be expanded or improved under this legislation, and new childcare centers could be opened. The legislation would benefit employers because workers are more available when they have quality, affordable childcare options. Funding would likely come from a mix of state, federal, business, and nonprofit sources. The centers also would help parents apply for jobs, research housing options, and do schoolwork of their own.