Yesterday, the Maine House of Representatives and the Maine Senate voted to confer emergency powers to the governor. While we have always had a strong commitment to local control, the coronavirus crisis has risen to the occasion for emergency powers to be granted on a centralized basis.
The crisis is too serious to allow for a piecemeal approach. Lives are at stake. We take your safety seriously. Therefore, to keep you better informed, we want you to know we took the following actions yesterday which will help you in your daily lives as we work together to confront this crisis.
Part A allows the governor or the governor’s designee, in consultation with the commissioner of education, to:
1. Waive the compulsory school attendance requirements, including the minimum number of school days, or allow the compulsory attendance requirements to be met through nontraditional learning systems, including but not limited to remote access; and
2. Continue to provide nutrition services to students of schools that are closed due to COVID-19.
Part B revises certain unemployment insurance eligibility and benefit charging provisions under the Employment Security Law to protect public health during the state of emergency by allowing an individual who takes a temporary leave of absence due to COVID-19 to qualify for unemployment benefits.
Part C allows for the Department of Public Safety, Maine Emergency Medical Services Board to delegate functions and authority to Maine Emergency Medical Services staff without requiring rule-making. Part C also allows the Medical Direction and Practices Board to use videoconferencing and other technologies to conduct its meetings until Dec. 31, 2020.
Part D affects municipal budgets and elections by: establishing the prior year’s budget as the budget for the ensuing year if an annual municipal budget meeting is delayed, until a final budget is approved, among other details.
Part E authorizes a school board to delay a school budget meeting otherwise required to be held before July 1 to a date on or after July 1, among other details.
Part F affects licenses and registrations, such as for motor vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, watercraft, and dogs, issued by a municipality by extending until 30 days after the end of the state of emergency any registration or license issued by that municipality that expires during the state of emergency. Part F also allows a municipality, without conducting a hearing, to grant a request for a renewal of a license to sell alcohol. This does not affect the ability of a municipality to deny a request for renewal for specified cause and is valid only during the state of emergency and the 30 days following the end of the state of emergency.
Part F also requires the secretary of state, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to allow a resident of this state to renew the registration of a motor vehicle, trailer, all-terrain vehicle, or watercraft, regardless of whether the municipality in which that resident resides participates in the online registration service, for the duration of the state of emergency and 30 days following the end of the state of emergency.
Part G amends the Freedom of Access Act to allow entities to conduct a public proceeding through telephonic, video, electronic, or other similar means of communication as long as certain specified conditions are met.
Part H provides the governor additional powers under the Maine Emergency Management Act, including:
1. To reasonably adjust time frames and deadlines imposed by law for state, county, and municipal governments and other entities when such an adjustment is reasonably necessary to mitigate a substantial effect of the state of emergency;
2. In consultation with the Public Utilities Commission, to suspend the termination of residential electricity and water services during the period of the state of emergency and up to 60 days after the state of emergency is terminated; and
3. To modify or suspend the requirements for professional or occupational licensing or registration by any agency, board, or commission if strict compliance with such requirements would in any way prevent, hinder, or delay necessary action in dealing with the state of emergency.
Part I establishes the Loan Guarantee Program. The program, administered by the Finance Authority of Maine, provides easier access to no-interest loans for residents of this state, including self-employed residents, who experience a reduction in income due to the state of emergency arising from COVID-19. Under the program, affected employees are eligible for up to three loans, each equal to their monthly after-tax pay, up to $5,000, less unemployment benefits. Repayment is due starting 90 days after the end of the state of emergency and during the subsequent six months; during that period, interest may not be charged or accrue on the loan. Following the end of the 270 days, a credit union or financial institution that made a loan under the program, after a good-faith effort to collect the principal amount of the loan, may apply to the authority for repayment of the uncollected amount of the loan in default. The bill gives the Joint Standing Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs authority to report out legislation to address any funding needs of the program.
Part J delays from April 22, 2020 to Jan. 15, 2021 the requirement that a retail establishment charge a fee of at least 5 cents per recycled paper or reusable plastic bag used at the point of sale. Part J also moves up from April 22, 2020 to March 17, 2020 the date on which the state occupies the whole field of regulation of single-use carry-out bags at retail establishments, but delays until Jan. 15, 2021 the voiding of any municipal ordinance in conflict with state law.
Part K authorizes the Department of Health and Human Services to require a designated health care facility to report specific information to the department, such as the health care facility’s emergency management plan and, on a daily basis, the number of beds available within that facility.
Part L authorizes the governor, only for the elections scheduled to be held on June 9 to take any reasonable administrative actions the governor considers necessary to facilitate voting by all residents registered to vote in this state in a manner that preserves and protects public health in response to COVID-19, including, but not limited to, issuance and receipt of absentee ballots for the June 9 elections.
(Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, represents Friendship, part of Union, Waldoboro, and Washington. He sits on the Judiciary Committee and the State and Local Government Committee.
Rep. Bill Pluecker, I-Warren, represents Appleton, Hope, part of Union, and Warren. He sits on the Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry Committee.
For answers to coronavirus questions, call 211, text your ZIP code to 898-211, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.)