|June 19, 2017
Legislative Highlights of the Week
The legislative week ended on a sour note for physicians. Just a few minutes before this writing, the Senate voted 26-9 to eliminate jury duty exemptions for physicians...in fact for anyone other than the governor and those on active military duty. LD 46 had been presented as a bill to add nurse practitioners to the list of those exempt, but at the hearing the judicial system lobbyist offered an amendment changing the bill completely by removing the exemptions. The MMA and other physician organizations had no advance notice of the change. The House has not yet voted on the bill, but the margin of the vote in the Senate is not hopeful.
As far as anyone knows, there continues to be a stalemate on the budget. The sticking point is the 3% surtax on household incomes over $200,000. The House and Senate Democrats have offered a compromise, and the Senate Republicans have been willing to discuss it, but the House Republicans remain steadfast in opposing anything but a total repeal of the surtax. Those of us who were around Augusta in some capacity in 1991 remember the last State shutdown: it wasn't pretty, and it left scars that persisted for a very long time.
Okay, enough bad news for now; there is some good news, too. LD 503, which would fund the "Doctors for Maine's Future" program with a $16 million endowment in the 2018-19 fiscal year, has passed both the House and Senate. It is now on the "special appropriations" table, where all bills that bear a fiscal note (an amendment showing how much implementation would cost) are placed pending passage of the budget. The last thing the Appropriations Committee does is decide which bills will come off the special appropriations table and be sent to the governor for his consideration. Many bills do not make it off that table, but LD 503 has had consistent strong support and we are very hopeful that it will become law this year.
The governor had vetoed LD 324, which would allow corrections officers to administer naloxone. Both the House and Senate voted strongly to override the veto, which means that the bill becomes law. Lives will be saved.
LD 456 is an example of how the simple passage of a bill does not necessarily mean it will become law. This bill, which would allow pharmacists to administer all vaccines to adults with a standing order and boosters to children 11-18 with a prescription, has passed the House and Senate but carries a fiscal note. That means it is on the special appropriations table, and chances are good that it will die there. If it does, that will mean a victory for the pediatric health home concept and unified treatment of children and adolescents.
By a margin of one vote the House failed to pass a bill, LD 327, that would allow wrongful death cases in probate court on behalf of fetuses who failed to survive after more than 24 weeks gestation. While the bill excepted mothers and physicians in cases of lawful abortion, it would have changed the law significantly by recognizing legal rights in an unborn fetus: the court case would be brought by the estate of the fetus. The bill is currently tabled in the Senate, awaiting action.
LD 889, which would prohibit use of tanning beds by children under 18, passed both the House and Senate in late May. On Friday, June 9th, the Governor vetoed the bill. MMA and other health lobbyists worked hard for override, but the House failed to override the veto, so for the third session in a row this bill will not become law.
Finally, LD 1031 and LD 1363, the two bills that clarify and improve the opioid law and rules passed last year, have both passed through the two chambers of the Legislature. The governor signed the bills Friday and today (June 19th), and since they are emergency legislation they become effective immediately.
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