AUGUSTA, Maine — The Legislature will breeze past its scheduled adjournment on Wednesday because of the two-year budget impasse, but things got testy on Tuesday about what seemed like everything but the budget.
In the House of Representatives, Republicans attacked Democrats for supposedly not backing police. In the Senate, Democrats hit Republicans who backed what they called an anti-abortion bill. Even Maine’s uncontroversial $1.4 billion highway budget is caught up in squabbling.
The most heated debate was around the two police bills, which would make people carrying hypodermic needles disclose that to police and make it a crime to expose first responders to blood-borne pathogens.
Both look poised to die between the chambers after House Democrats voted largely along party lines to kill them. House Republicans have messaged against Democrats heavily for that, saying in a statement earlier this week that they have chosen to “side with criminals.”
However, both bills carry concerns about civil liberties. For example, the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has said the needle bill would make people admit to committing a crime and that if a person lies about not having a needle and an officer is stuck during a search, it could be considered assault on an officer.
At one point during debate on that bill, Rep. Michael Perkins, R-Oakland, who said he’d been stuck with a needle as a policeman, shouted from the House floor, “If we are not going to support our police officers, let’s not call them.”
That led House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, to stop him, demand that members not “question each other’s integrity” or “yell at each other” during floor debate and say that she’ll be enforcing rules of decorum in the chamber.
Gideon and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette also had a tense few moments squabbling over how long members have to register roll-call votes.
In the Senate, there was a back-and-forth on a bill passed the chamber along party lines by one vote to allow a wrongful death lawsuit for the death of a viable fetus. While supporters say it’s not aimed at abortion, opponents including the American Civil Liberties Union say it would erode a woman’s autonomy and open the door to fetal personhood.
Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, and Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, had a brief back-and-forth over it, with Bellows saying later on Twitter that Katz “just led (an) effort to pass an anti-abortion bill.” The House has voted the bill down once, so it’s still in limbo.
Back in the House, Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, stood up at the end of Tuesday’s session to hit Gideon implicitly for leaving the highway budget — which would provide $1.4 billion over two years, including federal funds, to the Maine Department of Transportation — tabled in the chamber.
In an interview later, Cebra, a member of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, said the budget, which passed unanimously in the committee, could be passed as an example of bipartisanship — especially given the budget impasse.
However, he said it is “being held up for political reasons and there are no political reasons to hold it up,” saying it shouldn’t be “a pawn” in budget negotiations or be risked in any shutdown.
A Gideon spokeswoman declined comment on Cebra’s claim.
This item was originally published in Daily Brief, a free political newsletter distributed Monday through Friday by the Bangor Daily News to inform dialogue about Maine politics and government. To read more of today’s Daily Brief, click here. To have the Daily Brief delivered daily to your inbox, click here.