After months of advocacy, budget negotiations and so much more, the first regular session of the 128th Legislature has finally ended. Together, we worked to promote policies and practices that give Maine children the best chance of success. And none of it would have been possible without your help! Check out our recap of what happened this session below.
Promoting Policies and Practices that Give Our Youngest Children a Stronger Start to Life.
Lawmakers began this session with a renewed focus on early childhood at the State House. Together, Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cape Elizabeth) and Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) launched the Maine Children’s Caucus, a bipartisan group seeking to build an informed State Legislature on early childhood issues so they can make the best decisions when it comes to kids. This session, they had a chance to hear about the benefits of a strong early learning foundation from a leading economist, a brain scientist and a child psychologist. Legislators will have the opportunity to apply their new knowledge base when they consider several early childhood bills next session.
Due to the high volume of early childhood bills sent to the Joint-Standing Committee on Health and Human Services, many have been held over until next session so the committee has more time to make critical decisions on these important issues.
However, members of the House and Senate did come together to support a bill to that would explore implementing a statewide, voluntary early childhood consultation program in Maine. Along with many other bills that passed, this bill was held over and will be considered next session by the Appropriations committee for funding. This bill directly responds to recommendations from the Maine Children’s Growth Council’s social and emotional learning and development project.
In the state budget, lawmakers voted to preserve level Head Start funding and made significant, long-term changes to public preschool funding.The changes to the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) funding model will make it easier for school districts to start public preschool programs and increase funding. Other highlights this session include passing a bill that strengthens the Maine Children’s Growth Council.
Towards a Future of Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids.
This session the Maine Children’s Alliance testified in support of a number of bills aimed at improving the health, safety and well-being of Maine kids. Maine lawmakers passed two bills aimed at reducing student hunger by making it easier for eligible children to participate in school meals. However, only one bill became law. The first bill makes the school meal application available online. A second bill that would have required high-need schools to offer alternative breakfast delivery models passed the Legislature, but was ultimately vetoed by the Governor. Unfortunately, several other bills that included eliminating reduced lunch category and extending free school lunch eligibility to cover those children, and making sure students has sufficient time to eat lunch, failed to become law.
MCA was proud to support bills that sought to increase access to health care and coverage for children and families in the state. A bill that would restore public health nursing services in Maine became law after Maine Legislators voted to overturn a gubernatorial veto. Maine lawmakers also passed a law to close a loophole that prevented eligible children of state employees from enrolling in MaineCare.
Helping Families Achieve Economic Security.
Lastly, we were pleased to see the Legislature vote to override the Governor’s veto of two bills to address arsenic exposure in Maine children. The new laws provide additional resources to the Maine CDC for more education and outreach work around well-water testing and opportunities for eligible families to apply for assistance with purchasing and installing necessary equipment to treat water contamination.
A number of bills this session sought to weaken and make severe cuts to critical anti-poverty programs. These programs, such as TANF, help eligible Maine children and families living in low-income households fill critical gaps to they can heat their homes, secure housing and put food on the table for their kids. Fortunately, advocates and lawmakers were able to join together and prevent these devastating cuts.
In fact, we were thrilled that lawmakers voted to pass a bill sponsored by Speaker Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) that included several provisions to strengthen Maine’s anti-poverty programs to better support Maine families in achieving economic security. Under this legislation, lawmakers approved the first TANF increase in years, annual increases to reflect cost of living, and increases in funds and availability for housing.