State lawmakers from Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach are sponsoring a variety of bills in this legislative session, including several proposals to amend the state constitution and change how the Legislature operates.
Other measures proposed by local legislators include changes to high school graduation requirements, the institution of a single-payor health-care system, the institution of a domestic violence registry and a break on property taxes for the elderly, among other ideas.
State Rep. Alan Casavant, D-Biddeford, who is also the mayor of that city, has suggested that the Legislature appoint a group to study the possibility of doing at least some legislative business in a virtual forum, instead of legislators driving back and forth to Augusta all the time.
Casavant suggested the idea because he must drive to Augusta every day the Legislature is in session no matter how short a time the body may meet.
“One day last week, I drove to Augusta for a 40-minute meeting, then drove back,” he said. “I get paid mileage and meals for that particular day (and that) makes no sense to me.”
Casavant believes holding virtual meetings would save money and would allow citizens to testify on bills and other measures of interest without them having to deal with the hassles of traveling to Augusta. For instance, he gets paid about $90 per day each day he goes to Augusta. Multiplying that figure by 185 legislators and about 120 days of meetings equals nearly $2 million.
Specifically, Casavant is proposing that e-pods could be created throughout the state where legislators and citizens could log in and participate in whatever is happening in Augusta.
He said other legislators are “intrigued” with his idea, which would go beyond a Skype-type experience.
“This technology is high definition and instantaneous. It is real time, which means that it is as if you are (really) there,” Casavant said.
“I think that the bill not only saves money and allows legislators to be better connected to their home towns, but it also gives citizens greater access, and, in a strange way, limits the access of lobbyists, as they would have less opportunity to try to persuade a legislator,” he added.
Casavant also has submitted bills that would encourage municipal infrastructure improvement; that would protect employee social media privacy; and that would prohibit the sale of high-caffeine and high-sugar energy drinks to those under 18.
Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, has revived her idea of Maine moving to a unicameral Legislature (editor's note: an earlier version of this story mistakenly read "bicameral Legislature), instead of the two houses it has now. She has proposed bills that would amend the school budget validation process and that would prohibit virtual charter schools.
Here are the highlights of the other bills and measures proposed by local legislators for this session.
• Rep. Paulette Beaudoin, D-Biddeford, is once again proposing that Maine adopt a single-payor health-care system. She is also sponsoring bills that would require motorcyclists to wear helmets; that would exempt some of Maine’s elderly from paying property taxes; and that would require random drug testing for those receiving public benefits.
• Rep. Justin Chenette, D-Saco, is proposing an amendment to Maine’s constitution that would allow popular voting to fill the offices of attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer. Chenette is also proposing that completion of an internship be a requirement for receiving a high school diploma and that all high school students complete at least 100 hours of community service.
• Sen. David Dutremble, D-Biddeford, has submitted a bill that would require the state to create a domestic violence registry and require mandatory minimum sentences for crimes involving family or household members.
• Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, is proposing a bill that would lower energy costs through energy efficiency measures.
• Rep. Sharri MacDonald, R-Old Orchard Beach, submitted two bills for this session. One of them would authorize municipalities to explore options for local revenue enhancement.
• Rep. Megan Rochelo, D-Biddeford, has submitted bills that would prevent tobacco use by minors; that would clarify tax increment financing rules; and that would increase awareness of organ donation.