From the Senate

Special legislative session begins Oct. 23

Posted:  Tuesday, October 17, 2017 - 8:45am
Share: 

On Monday, Oct. 23, my colleagues and I will travel back to the State House to convene for a special session that has been called by the governor to address a few specific concerns.

The first matter of business will be to correct a drafting error in the biennial budget that impacts the Maine Office of Geographic Information Systems. To correct this error, Governor LePage has submitted a bill to the Appropriations Committee, which they will work on before we convene. I expect this will be a simple fix that shouldn’t cause any controversy.

The second and more contentious matter will be to address the new food sovereignty law, LD 725, “An Act to Recognize Local Control Regarding Food and Water Systems."

Although I like the idea of local control and eliminating red tape for our small community farmers, as drafted, this bill had issues that needed to be worked out, so I initially voted in opposition. However, once an amendment was brought forward to address a number of concerns, the bill passed the Senate with a unanimous vote. The House also passed the bill with healthy margins on a vote of 108-35 and it was signed into law by the governor.

With the passage of this new law, Maine became a national leader as the first state in the country to pronounce food sovereignty as the law of the land.

As of Nov. 1, this new law will legitimize ordinances that have already passed in 20 Maine communities, creating a statewide standard to allow farmers to sell their products directly to someone who lives in their town without their farm, facility or processing procedures being subject to state or local inspections, based on an understanding of mutual trust.

But it didn’t take long for the federal government to strongly object to the concept of local control of food commerce, declaring that the new law is in direct conflict with federal law in a letter sent to state officials. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), unless we act soon to address their issues, the federal government will take control of meat and poultry inspections in Maine, which obviously wasn’t our intended outcome, so we will need to act before the new law takes effect.

In his call for a special session, the governor did not mention marijuana, but that issue will likely also take up much of our time on the 23rd.

Since January, the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee has been hard at work drafting a bill to set up the foundation for the new recreational marijuana industry that was narrowly legalized on last November’s ballot. They are on track to complete their comprehensive bill, LR 2395, by the time we return on the 23rd.

This bill includes committee recommendations on how the new retail industry should work (who can grow the product, the cost of licenses and the amount of THC that should be allowed in edible marijuana products, etc.), the rate at which marijuana products should be taxed and how those taxes should be divided between the state, to cover implementation costs, and the municipalities that house these facilities.

Among the highlights are a 20 percent tax on recreational marijuana, of which 10 percent will be collected as sales tax and 10 percent as an excise tax. It also stipulates that five percent of sales tax proceeds will go to towns and cities that have businesses that sell the drug. Also, the new bill states that anyone seeking a license to sell recreational marijuana must have lived in Maine for at least two years.

There is also a chance that we will take action on the ranked-choice voting, which is still in limbo after Maine’s Supreme Court wrote in an advisory opinion that the law, as written, is unconstitutional.

As you can see, the special session, which should only last one day, will be a long and productive day with many uncertain outcomes. If you would like to weigh in on any of these matters or any other legislative issue, please call (207) 287-1505, or email me at Dana.Dow@legislature.maine.gov.

Senator Dana Dow (R-Lincoln) represents Maine Senate District 13 and serves on the Legislature’s Taxation and Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee.