From Paid Family Medical Leave to Waste Disposal to Addressing Food Insecurity: How Bernstein Shur Attorneys Helped Shape Maine’s 2023 Legislative Session
Maine’s 2023 legislative session wrapped up on July 27 after seven months—an exceptionally long session, which brought historic changes to Maine law. Through their advocacy, Bernstein Shur’s Government Relations team of attorneys and consultants, including Kate Knox, James Cote, Alysia Melnick, and Chris Feeney, played a significant role that will have major impacts for Maine.
Read on to learn more about top changes coming to the state from the recent legislative session.
Paid Family Medical Leave Extends Financial Security for Maine’s Caregivers
Maine will become the 13th state, joining New England states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, to require many employers to offer up to 12 weeks paid family medical leave to employees, beginning in 2026. Each year, 166,000 Maine caregivers provide 155 million hours of unpaid care each year. This new bill will provide financial security to about 90% of workers in Maine, compared to the former rate of 28% of workers with access to paid family and medical leave through their employers.
Act to Improve Maine’s Reproductive Privacy Laws Revised to Protect Families, Medical Providers
Maine’s former law, the Reproductive Privacy Act, allowed for abortion later in pregnancy to “preserve the life or health of the mother,” but failed to address the wide variety of circumstances faced by pregnant women. New legislation removes inflexible limitations and, instead, states that the personal decision about whether to have an abortion later in pregnancy will be made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, consistent with all applicable standards of care. It also eliminates language subjecting medical providers of abortion care to criminal penalties under certain circumstances.
Offshore Wind Bill Advances Clean Energy
Governor Janet Mills signed into law legislation to advance offshore wind in Maine by procuring up to 3,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy, allowing for critical port development, creating opportunity for all Maine workers and businesses in the emerging offshore wind industry, and protecting critical lobstering areas from development. It will stabilize energy costs by reducing reliance on electricity generated by fossil fuels and mitigate the impacts of climate change on Maine’s people and environment.
“The Gulf of Maine is a unicorn in the wind world,” said Kate. “The winds are strong and consistent, and it was critical for Maine to get in the game of offshore wind now. This law is transformational as it paves the way and establishes standards for how offshore wind comes to the Gulf of Maine.”
Managing Maine’s Sludge Disposal
During the last legislative session, Maine lawmakers prohibited the land spreading of municipal sludge by municipal waste entities due to the presence of PFAS “forever chemicals.” This prohibition, combined with a simultaneous reduction in bulking material at the Juniper Ridge Landfill caused sludge disposal costs to skyrocket. During the 2023 legislative session, the Bernstein Shur team worked with stakeholders and legislators to craft a legislative solution to this problem, which respected the spirit of previous legislation but will result in significant cost reductions for municipalities throughout Maine.
Educational Funding Passed for Early Intervention Preschool Programs Serving Vulnerable Populations
The legislature passed and funded a bill to provide educational funding for early intervention preschool programs serving Maine’s most vulnerable children and families at the most vital stage of cognitive and social development. This will allow providers across the state to stabilize and rebuild their preschool programs after years of chronic underfunding and reduced capacity. The bill was ultimately included in the legislature’s budget change package—and schools around the state have already begun taking kids off of waiting lists and increasing their capacity to serve more families.
Addressing Hunger in Maine Through the Preble Street Food Security Hub
According to Feeding America, 144,290 Mainers are facing hunger—and 39,490 are children. The legislature has passed a one-time allotment of $2 Million to purchase equipment to bring Preble Street’s Food Security Hub operation to scale, an investment that will enable the Hub to expand from preparing 2,000 to 10,000 locally farm sourced meals a day for people facing food insecurity. This statewide resource will help Maine’s fight against hunger, support local farmers and producers, and play a vital role in emergency preparedness.
An Act Relating to Energy Storage and the State’s Energy Goals
Energy storage is essential to managing the grid. This bill, which aimed to improve Maine’s energy storage infrastructure and increase storage while establishing energy goals, also sparked the debate of whether or not a transmission and distribution utility should be able to own or operate energy storage systems—a soon to be essential tool for managing Maine’s electric grid. This bill stopped the effort to prohibit electric utility companies from owning the storage of energy, and instead, allows the Maine Public Utilities Commission to lead a comprehensive discussion about if, when, where, and how utilities should be allowed to implement the use of energy storage systems.
These legislative updates are among many recently decided by the Maine legislature, with various enactment timelines and implications for your business. For more information about these and other updates from the 2023 session and how they might impact your business, contact Bernstein Shur’s Government Affairs Practice Group Leaders Kate Knox at email@example.com or James Cote at firstname.lastname@example.org.