AUGUSTA, Maine — The state budget, welfare, minimum wage, mining, guns. The Maine Legislature's to-do list remains long and time is quickly running out.
Dozens of contentious issues are unresolved with just weeks until the mid-June statutory adjournment date. But legislative leaders say they'll do everything they can to meet that deadline, even if that means some late nights at the Statehouse.
"We have a lot of work left to do and we're going to have to put in some long hours," said Republican Senate President Michael Thibodeau of Winterport. "But I fully expect that we will end on June 17," he said.
The biggest item on the Legislature's agenda is finalizing the $6.5 billion state budget, which must be in place by June 30 to avoid a state government shutdown. Members of the budget-writing Appropriations Committee are continuing to meet behind closed doors to try to strike a deal on an ambitious tax overhaul proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.
Proposals that would allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit, increase the minimum wage, overhaul the state's mining rules and place new restrictions on welfare benefits are among dozens of measures that still need to make their way through the Democratic-led House and Republican-controlled Senate and are sure to incite fiery debates.
Lawmakers must also grapple with a handful of proposals recently introduced by LePage, including an effort to allow the governor, instead of the Legislature, to appoint the state treasurer and attorney and to replace the secretary of state with a lieutenant governor. He has also resurrected a bid to create special business zones that would offer tax breaks and prohibit employers from requiring employees to join a union or pay dues as a condition of employment.
Many of the most divisive bills are likely to follow the path of a voter identification proposal that died earlier this month because of disagreements between the two chambers, which are controlled by different parties for the first time in 20 years.
"The reality is starting to set in that a lot of things aren't going to pass," said Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves of North Berwick. "A lot of things didn't pass last time because of the governor and a lot of things won't pass this time because the two bodies can't agree and/or the governor. But I think overall, in divided government, we are doing really well," Eves said.
Lawmakers have made some headway, sending dozens of measures to LePage's desk over the last several weeks.
The governor has signed roughly 50 bills so far, and, like last session, hasn't been afraid to use his veto pen, rejecting more than 20 others. Other measures have gone into law without LePage's signature, including a proposal to ban microbeads in personal care products.
While the Legislature's final day in Augusta remains uncertain, one thing that's for sure is that with controversial issues on the agenda and lawmakers running on little sleep, things at the Statehouse are bound to get heated.
"It always gets a little bit tense, but I think that everyone wants to work together and get this done," Thibodeau said.
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