A new Maine law that aims to crack down on people with multiple drunken driving violations is among several that kicked in last Friday, roughly three months after the Democratic-led Legislature wrapped up its short, combative session.
The new law isn’t expected to impact many people, but supporters say it will still be a big step toward making the state’s roads safer from the most dangerous repeat drunk drivers.
“They are the people who absolutely should not be driving on Maine roads,” said Democratic Rep. Tim Marks, a retired state trooper from Pittston who introduced the bill.
Under the law, people with a felony operating-under-the-influence conviction on their record would be charged with a felony for subsequent offenses, which can result in up to 10 years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines, said Walt McKee, a defense attorney in Augusta. A person is charged with a felony if a victim is killed or seriously injured or if it’s their third offense in 10 years.
Currently, if someone’s felony conviction is more than 10 years old, then their next offense is considered a misdemeanor, which carries a much smaller penalty.
The law — which Gov. Paul LePage vetoed because he said it doesn’t capture enough drunken driving offenders — is among dozens that take effect 90 days after lawmakers finished their session in May. The new laws don’t include “emergency” legislation, which kicked in immediately with the Republican governor’s approval.
Here’s a look at some of the other new laws:
• Veterans: Some veterans who served in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will qualify for a $6,000 property tax exemption. Veterans of earlier wars already qualify for the credit, once they turn 65 or if they have a service-related disability. Another new law will allow private employers to adopt veterans’ preference hiring policies.
• Education: Maine’s Department of Education will set aside $4 million in casino and slot-machine revenue to help school districts start pre-kindergarten programs. Roughly two-thirds of Maine’s school districts already have such programs. Lawmakers had originally wanted to create a process to expand pre-kindergarten programs to all school districts in the state, but that idea received pushback from the department.
• Health Care/Insurance: Starting in January, insurance companies will have to provide coverage for anti-cancer treatments that are taken orally. Private insurers will also have to offer coverage for autism treatment for children up to the age of 10. Another new law will require health care providers or facilities to give uninsured patients an estimate of what their medical costs will be, if the patient requests it.
• Tax Relief: Low-and-middle income Mainers under the age of 65 will see boost in a property tax credit from $300 to $600. The tax credit for residents ages 65 and older will rise from $400 to $900.