Bill to help fund infertility treatments defeated in unanimous committee vote

Good morning from Augusta, where the Legislature is slowed to its Friday pace with only a few committees meeting and the House and Senate on recess until Tuesday. That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t some interesting and impactful bills on today’s docket. 

Much of the action today will be in the Criminal Justice Committee, where the perennial issue of concealed weapons permits is again under consideration from numerous angles ranging from providing them automatically to active members of the military to abolishing them altogether. These bills will really become interesting when they go to the full House and Senate for debate and consideration. 

Is the auto insurance card in your car’s glove compartment out of date, even if your actual policy isn’t? A bill making its way through the Legislature would increase the penalty for that substantially if you’re ever in a serious accident that results in injuries. A bill sponsored by Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro, makes that a felony-level Class C crime and also elevates the charge for failure to have an active insurance card from a Class E to a Class D misdemeanor. The Criminal Justice Committee could be making a recommendation on that today. 

The Health and Human Services Committee will receive testimony from the public today on a handful of bills that seek to improve treatment for substance abuse. Those include an open bill title that could allow the committee to write its own bill to deal to consider measures that would expand the availability of methadone treatments for opioid addicts. Rep. Deb Sanderson, R-Chelsea, has a bill that would create a pilot program to use acupuncture to treat drug and alcohol abuse.

Fighting substance abuse was pegged as a major issue going into the current legislative session and could emerge as a dominant issue in the coming weeks. That will depend a lot on committee-level work where hashing out the details of how to pull people out of addiction is probably among the most daunting and important challenge facing lawmakers. 

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is scheduled to continue what has been weeks of work on bills related to the Maine Clean Election Fund, including a bid by Republican Sen. Eric Brakey of Auburn to abolish the fund and route the money in it to public education. — Christopher Cousins 

Infertility bill voted down

A bill by Republican Sen. Garrett Mason of Lisbon that sought to require private insurance companies to cover part of the cost of infertility treatments was voted unanimously ought not to pass on Thursday in the Insurance and Financial Services Committee. That leaves the bill all but dead.

Last week when Mason presented the bill to the committee, it looked like the issue of infertility treatments — how many Mainers need them and how they’re funded, among other things — would be sent to a study commission before any new mandates on insurance coverage were enacted, but that is now in question.

Mason said late Thursday that he hopes the Bureau of Insurance will choose the issue for study regardless as part of an ongoing process of reviewing insurance mandates.

Aside from the merits of helping people have children, this bill garnered attention for other reasons, not the least of which was the unusual spectacle of a Republican proposing new mandates in health insurance providers. Mason also found himself in a hornets’ nest over provisions in the bill that would have excluded unmarried couples and anyone who is infertile as the result of a sexually transmitted disease, though he has argued passionately that those provisions were carried over from a previous attempt at the same initiative in 2011 and that he wanted them pulled out of his bill.

“The last time this issue was studied in Maine was 2003,” said Mason to the BDN Thursday evening. “I think it’s time to take another look.” — Christopher Cousins

Katz re-proposes ban on buying junk food with food stamps

A preview of something you’ll be reading more about in the coming days: Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, has brought back a bill to outlaw the use of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — which are food vouchers provided to the needy by the state — for purchasing soda, chips and candy.

Katz, who proposed a similar initiative two years ago but saw it fail behind arguments ranging from the bill being unfair to poor people to it being impossible for retailers to enforce, referred to the current system as “paying people to get sick.” — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

What is a culch?

Seriously, folks, help me out. This is the second question in a new BDN quiz titled “What do you think these Mainer-isms mean?” 

I’ve lived in Maine all my life, save for a couple of temporary stints to other states to further my education, and I’ve never heard the word. I’m a frequent user of all kind of Maine-talk. If you spent any time with me last winter, you probably heard me say it was “colder than a dead man’s tongue.” Yes, when my car is dented I call it “all stove up.”

Now that I’m confronted with a Mainer-ism I’ve never heard of, does that just mean I’m more numb than a bag of hammers? Hard tellin’ not knowin’. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.