We had a busy week in Augusta, with legislative action on issues from juvenile justice and free speech to LGBTQ equality and criminal legal reform. Catch up on some of the highlights.

See more priority legislation on our bill tracker.

LD 1779 to Implement Alternatives to Youth Incarceration

LD 1779 would divest tax dollars from youth incarceration and invest that money into giving currently incarcerated children the support and resources they need to thrive and grow into healthy adults. A majority of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee opposed this bill, but the House passed it with a vote of 75-70 and 6 members absent.

Putting kids behind bars is a failed model that keeps young people from thriving and growing into healthy young adults. Community-based treatment programs closer to home are the best option for struggling children and their communities. Read more about LD 1779 here and read more about other youth justice bills from the Maine Morning Star here.

LD 1977 to Protect Mainers' Privacy from Big Tech

Stop big tech from spying on Maine.

Massive companies are currently free to spy on our every move and collect some of our most sensitive information. After a record number of committee work sessions, the bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee with an 8-6 vote on Tuesday.

LD 1977 would create sensible guardrails to protect Maine's people from Big Tech's worst abuses. Under the bill, tech giants could collect only the information necessary to provide a good or service to you. The bill also contains strong anti-discrimination provisions to protect marginalized communities. In contrast, a competing bill, LD 1973, backed by Big Tech, would largely maintain the status quo under a thin veneer of protecting privacy. Read more about LD 1977 here.

Ask lawmakers to support LD 1977

LD 2046 to Limit Incarceration of Innocent People Who Need Medical Care

The original version of this bill would have made permanent a policy allowing the state to incarcerate legally innocent people who need health care simply because the state is not providing the resources for that care. A prison is not a substitute for a hospital, and that version of the bill would have imprisoned people who were not found guilty of committing a crime.

The Senate passed an amended version of LD 2046 that would end this harmful policy in July 2027, and the House concurred. Read more about LD 2046 here.

LD 1975 to Address Maine's Deadly Overdose Crisis

End the war on drugs. Stop overdoses with public health – not incarceration.

In its original form, LD 1975 would have funded community-based treatment options in all counties and ended the failed policy of punishing people who possess small amounts of drugs for their own personal use. However, the bill has been changed to only recommend the legislature study the potential effects of ending the punishment of people with substance use disorder, rather than respond to this crisis. The amended version of LD 1975 passed out of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

We agree that policy decisions should be well-informed, be it from studies, hearing from the people most affected by the issue at hand, or something else. But this issue has already been extensively studied by various entities, from the ACLU of Maine and health care organizations to governments and universities. It's time to act because we know what Maine needs: a comprehensive response to the deadly overdose crisis that treats substance use disorder as the public health issue it is.

Read our report on treating substance use as a public health issue 

The government only has so many resources from taxpayers, and Maine people's tax dollars could be better utilized by directly addressing this public health crisis. Maine's people need support, and many lives depend on it. These funds should instead be invested in low-barrier treatment so people can seek the support they want and need, rather than be punished by the failed policies of the War on Drugs.

LD 2273 to Partially End Some Jim Crow Era Labor Practices

LD 2273 received a divided report in committee on Thursday. It would grant farmworkers the same minimum wage and cost of living increases as all other hourly workers in Maine. The bill would not limit mandatory overtime for farmworkers or allow for 30-minute unpaid breaks after six hours of work. Additionally, it would restrict farmworkers' ability to enforce their rights when companies refuse to follow the law. In general, Maine workers have the right to bring an “action for unpaid wages” directly in court. LD 2273 would continue to treat farmworkers differently, creating a set of second-class rights with no realistic prospect of holding employers accountable to the law.

Farmworkers are disproportionately workers of color and have long been excluded from improved labor standards dating back to the New Deal. The exclusion of farmworkers from fair labor laws is a deliberate wrong that is rooted in the legacies of slavery and Jim Crow. These frontline workers endure tremendous hardships to support Maine’s economy, and they deserve the same workplace standards and protections as all other workers. More comprehensive legislation to address these issues was passed last year and vetoed by Gov. Mills.

LD 870 to Protect Free Speech by Limiting Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation

SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) are frivolous lawsuits designed to chill speech protected by the First Amendment. The bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee with a 9-3 vote in January. It unanimously passed the House and Senate this week.

SLAPPs occur when someone files a lawsuit against another person because they disagree with their speech. LD 870 will limit these types of frivolous lawsuits. SLAPPS are often filed by powerful people, companies, and governments that have vast resources to target people who speak out against them. When these powerful entities file a SLAPP, they are not filing the lawsuit intending to win; they are hoping the legal process will be so ruinously expensive and time-consuming for the victim that they will agree to self-censor if the lawsuit is dropped. Read more about the bill from the Maine Morning Star here.

LD 2235 to Create a Third Gender Option on State Forms

This bill would create an "X" gender option on state forms. It passed the House with a vote of 81-64 on Wednesday, and passed the Senate with a vote of 22-11 on Thursday. Maine already has this option for IDs and vital statistics forms, but other government documents have fallen behind and forced some people to select a gender marker that does not align with their lived reality. Read more about the bill from the Maine Morning Star here.

LD 2246 to Remove Felony Charges for Petty Theft

This bill would remove Maine's three-strike rule for petty theft, bringing Maine's theft laws more in line with the harms they seek to remedy. The bill passed out of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee with a 6-5 vote in early March. It passed the House on Monday with a 74-61 vote and 16 members absent, and the Senate on Wednesday with a 19-15 vote and 1 member excused.

Petty theft is a misdemeanor crime. But under the current three-strike rule, petty theft becomes a Class C felony, punishable by a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $5,000, if someone steals three small items, each costing less than $100. It is a waste of the state’s resources to incarcerate people for petty offenses, and no person should be forced to live with the consequences of a felony conviction for doing something like stealing a loaf of bread on three separate occasions – something that could happen under current law.