131st Maine Legislative session: Representatives Jan Dodge, Vicki Doudera, Paige Zeigler

From teacher’s insurance to retirement home temp controls, area legislators sponsor variety of bills

Fri, 01/27/2023 - 12:00pm

    AUGUSTA — With Maine’s 131st Legislative session underway, the printing of bills is moving at a fast pace. Several Midcoast representatives and senators have sponsored a number of new bills printed, as of Jan. 13. 

    The following were printed as of last week. Legislators will have more in the coming weeks, as the Revisor of Statute's Office, which takes care of legislative drafting and editing, evaluates proposed Legislative Requests (LR) and moves them forward as Legislative Documents (LD).  

    For instance, Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, has sponsored 17 bills, but just two so far have moved out of the Revisor’s Office and now are LDs, or bills.

    As of Jan. 25, the following three representatives have LDs now moving into committees, and eventually hearings. 

    Rep. Jan Dodge, D-Belfast, represents District 39, Belfast, Belmont and Northport and is embarking on her third term. She has sponsored the following bills, and explained the reasoning behind them:

    LD 112, An Act to Increase the State's Share of Retired Teacher Health Insurance, referred to Committee on Labor and Housing.

    The bill is to raise the percentage that is paid by the state for retired teachers health insurance, said Dodge.

    It requires the State to pay 60% of a retired teacher's share of the premium for group accident and sickness or health insurance from July 1, 2023 to June 30, 2024 and 65% after June 30, 2024.

    “ I helped the bipartisan work to get the percentage passed from 45% to 55% and hope we can continue the trend for this increase to 60% then 65% in this cycle.  Many retirees in other sectors have received and are receiving near 100% coverage.  Teachers are way behind.”

    LD70, An Act to Eliminate the Cap on Retirement Benefits for State Employees and Teachers to Which a Cost-of-living Adjustment Is Made, referred to the Committee on Labor and Housing

    This bill is to remove the 3% cap on the cost of living adjustment for teachers in the Maine Public Employees Retirement System, said Dodge. It provides that cost-of-living increases for retired state employees and teachers and their beneficiaries apply to a retiree's entire retirement benefit instead of only to the first $24,186.25 of the retirement benefit.

    “The Governor has proposed 1% in the Supplemental, I believe,” she said. “This is not adequate support when our inflation rate is in the 7-9% range.  This further contributes to the financial distress of Maine educators.”

    She has another bill, currently an LR, to raise the base to which the COLA percentage is applied. 

    “We raised this a bit in the 130th from $22K-ish to $24 K -ish,” she said. “This measure began as a budget balancing cost saving measure, another example of fiscal actions falling on the backs of educators and creating multiple negative effects on one profession.”

    LD 153, An Act to Allow Electronic Distribution of Certain Documents to Municipalities and Electronic Acknowledgement of Receipt of Certain Documents as Acceptable Communications, referred to Committee on State and Local Government, and scheduled for a Jan. 30 hearing.
    This bill was at the suggestion of Northport Town Administrator James Kossuth, said Dodge.
    “I worked with Barb Arseneau, Waldo County Clerk and former student, who liaised with the commissioners [Waldo County],” she said. “Budgets are distributed by certified mail or return receipt requested at about $10 per town/per mailing. Acknowledgement must be by higher level than a regular stamp, so this bill will save thousands of dollars and better use 21st Century technology.”
    LD 99,An Act to Clarify the Allowable Temperature Range in Certain Long-term Care Facilities, referred to Committee on Health and Human Services.

    This bill requires certain long-term care facilities to maintain a temperature of not less than 71 degrees Fahrenheit and not more than 81 degrees Fahrenheit.

    It is to see if the long-term care facilities high temperature limits and protocols should be adjusted to keep patients cooler and healthier as global warming raises temperatures and humidity, said Dodge.

    The conditions from July through September were brutal for both patients and health care workers in facilities that were not efficiently heated and cooled, she said.

    “Upper temperature limits are not hard and fast in statute because we rarely would have more than a few days in August in Maine that warranted mandated solutions,” said Dodge. “We do have low temperature limits in statute.  Many facilities house Maine Care and Medicare patients with low reimbursement rates versus private pay clients, which means LTC facilities cannot easily afford to switch to heat pumps for increased efficient cooling.”

    She said Congressional Representative Jared Golden's office was helpful in providing a list of options facilities managers could consider to help with cooling upgrade costs like Housing and Urban Development — HUD funds, Department of Agriculture Rural Development money and Efficiency Maine Trust grants. 

    “The last thing we need is any more nursing home closures,” said Dodge. “I hope this will raise awareness statewide and produce solutions that can be used in our LTC facilities soon.”

    LD 15, An Act to Amend the Law Governing the State Grant Program Administered by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission, referred to the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs, with a hearing scheduled for Feb. 2, 1 p.m.
    This bill amends certain provisions of the law governing the state grant program administered by the director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission. The changes include changing the term "historic structure" to "historic property."
    It a bill to make language adjustments as requested by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the Governor's office to bring language for the grant program in 27 M.R.S. 505.D in line with federal language, said Dodge.
    “The Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR) has determined there is no fiscal note (cost) associated with the changes. (Always great news!),” she said. 

    Rep. Vicki Doudera, D-Camden, represents District 41, Camden and Rockport, begins her third term. She has sponsored the following two of 17 bills (others in the process of being printed0, and explained the reasoning behind them:
    LD 19, An Act to Authorize the National Institute of Funeral Service to Grant Associate Degrees, referred to the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.

    This bill authorizes the National Institute of Funeral Service to grant the degree of Associate of Applied Science in Funeral Service.

    ”A constituent from Camden who worked for 15 years as a consultant to an academy for funeral service connected me with a woman who is hoping to establish the National Institute of Funeral Service in Maine,” said Doudera.

    As the bill title reflects, this institute would have the ability to grant associate degrees in funeral services — degrees that are currently not available in Maine. 
    “With our older population in this state, and the declining numbers of funeral professionals, I checked first with our local funeral directors and based on their input decided that it made good sense to proceed with this bill and provide this career pathway for Mainers,” said Doudera.
    LD 67, An Act to Increase the Number of Educational Professionals by Accepting Out-of-state Certification, referred to the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs.
    Doudera said that two education professionals in the Five Town CSD, “reached out to me about a roadblock they were coming up against in state law which makes it more difficult to attract out-of-state teachers to help fill positions.”
    She said: “We know that we need talented folks in our schools and we should not make it harder than necessary for them to move here and start work.  This bill is based on the feedback from our school administration and makes small but important changes to the law to help us to find and hire qualified teachers from outside of Maine.”

    Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, Appleton, Islesboro, Liberty, Lincolnville, Montville, Morrill, Searsmont, begins his fourth term. He has sponsored the following bills:
    LD 145, An Act to Increase the Penalties for Operation of a Motor Vehicle While Using a Handheld Electronic Device or Mobile Telephone, referred to the Committee on Transportation.
    This bill increases the penalty for using a handheld electronic device or mobile telephone while operating a motor vehicle from $50 to $500 for a first offense and from $250 to $1,000 for a second offense and adds revocation of the driver's license for a third or subsequent offense.
    It cam about as: “a request bill from a local volunteer firefighter who would like to reduce automobile accidents due to people texting. He wants to increase the fines.”
    LD 234, An Act to Raise from 12 to 24 the Annual Limit on the Number of Public Events and Meals Nonprofit Organizations May Have That Are Exempt from Certain Rules and Regulations. referred to Committee on Health and Human Services.
    “We are supporters of the Waldo County Woodshed, splitting wood in Searsmont on the weekend,” said Zeigler. “WCW has started to have fundraising dinners every month at Threshers. Maine Statute only allows 1 a month but we want to amend it to 2 a month. This year has increased the number of people needing assistance with heat which puts pressure on more fundraising.
    LD 240, An Act to Increase Public Access to Utilities, referred to the Committee Energy, Utilities and Technology.

    This bill is a concept draft pursuant to Joint Rule 208. It proposes to enact measures to increase public access to utilities.

    “It will assist Broadband Utility Districts be able to access low interest bonds,” said Zeigler.