Maine Lawmakers Address Road Safety, Medical Leave This Session

By | June 18, 2007

Motorists will have to be more careful about using their seat belts, young drivers will have to keep off their cell phones, and domestic partners will now be covered under the state’s Family Medical Leave Act, as a result of laws enacted during the 2007 session.

The Legislaturealso passed laws affecting mortgages, the environment, public health and a broad range of other issues during its six-month session, which was scheduled to end last week. Additional bills dealing with Dirigo Health and other issues still awaited final action.

The biggest achievement this session was education reform, which will bring about Maine’s first school district consolidation effort in a half century, said a veteran lawmaker.

“We’re treading on thin ice really not knowing what’s going to transpire until we start putting this into place,” said 10-term Rep. Herbert Clark. The Millinocket Democrat believes the bill was saved by last-minute fix-ups that eased compliance dates and penalties.

Senior citizens get new protections from financial exploitation when transactions are made on their behalf. Banks and credit unions will be allowed to disclose financial records to the state when they believe an incapacitated or dependent adult is at risk of abuse or neglect.

Another consumer protection law prohibits insurance agents who schedule appointments to discuss Medicare from trying to interest people in other policies.

Maine’s Family Medical Leave Act is broadened to include domestic partners. The law already protects employees who take time off to care for spouses, parents and children with serious health conditions.

Maine took a step against global warming through a law authorizing the state to join the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. The nation’s first cap and trade program is intended to reduce pollution from the region’s power plants by 10 percent over a decade through 2018. Baldacci is expected to sign the bill.

Environmental health was also at issue in the State House.

If Baldacci signs the bill, cellular phone retailers will have to accept old phones for reuse, recycling or proper disposal, and bar disposal of cell phones in landfills, as a way to keep toxic chemicals out of the environment.

With hopes of making Maine schools cleaner and greener, lawmakers directed the Department of Education to promote the use of environmentally safe cleaning products and pesticides in schools and to make a list of preferred products and disinfectants.

Maine joins other states taking steps to phase out “deca” forms of flame retardants in furniture and plastic-covered consumer products. The new law bans polybrominated diphenyl ethers in mattresses and upholstered furniture starting next January. They are banned in TVs, computers and other plastic-cased home electronics by 2010.

A new law prohibits drivers younger than 18 from operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile phone or any hand-held electronic device. Fines are $50 for the first offense and $250 for a second or subsequent offense.

Failing to use seat belts will become a primary offense, meaning a police officer can cite a driver or passenger solely for failing to wear a seat belt. The old law said a motorist must be stopped for another offense in order to be cited for nonuse of seat belts.

Maine’s pioneering “Deadbeat Parents” law was broadened to include revocation of snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle registrations for refusing to agree to child support payment plans.

A new fire-safety law requires that cigarettes sold in Maine be made so they will stop burning if not smoked for a few minutes. The reduced ignition standards take effect in January.

Domestics employed by for-profit businesses will not be exempt from wage and overtime laws. If working individually, domestics will continue to be exempt from those labor laws.

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