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Legislature OKs laws to help during pandemic

Mar 18, 2020

Augusta — The Legislative delegation from Knox, Waldo, and Hancock counties voted March 17 in favor of a number of bills to help support Maine people and businesses impacted by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

These bills received broad bipartisan support in both the Senate and House.

“To slow the spread of the coronavirus, we must take aggressive action at all levels – local, state and federal,” state Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden; Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast; and Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth stated in a news release. “This crisis requires not only individual actions – washing our hands, avoiding groups and calling to check on our elderly neighbors – but also an effective, coordinated response from the state. Today, the Legislature responded, passing emergency measures to support Maine families, workers and businesses. These are trying times, but together, we will make it through.”

Measures approved include provisions to:

  • Establish a consumer loan guarantee program through the Finance Authority of Maine, in partnership with financial institutions, to provide low- or no- interest loans for eligible people in Maine;
  • Authorize Gov. Janet Mills to determine and direct the manner of the June 2020 elections;
  • Temporarily expand eligibility for unemployment benefits for workers impacted by COVID-19;
  • Increase the Department of Education’s ability to waive certain school-day requirements and to continue school lunch programs for all eligible children;
  • Authorizing Gov. Mills to adjust state, county and municipal government deadlines and to permit additional flexibility for municipal and school board budgets;
  • Permitting all public entities to meet by remote participation;
  • Expand the ability of Maine Emergency Medical Services’ Board and staff to take actions more promptly;
  • Authorize Gov. Mills to prohibit utilities from terminating residential electric and water service;
  • Delaying the effective date of the single-use plastic bag ban to Jan. 15, 2021.

In addition, Gov. Janet Mills has declared an insurance emergency and a state of civil emergency to help state agencies respond to the public health crisis quickly and effectively.

The insurance emergency ensures that all health insurance plans will cover 100 percent of the cost of testing for COVID-19, with absolutely no cost sharing to the consumer. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has released guidelines to help Mainers without insurance get tested at low or no cost. Those guidelines can be found here.

The state of civil emergency, declared Sunday, March 15, makes the following recommendations:

  • Ending classroom instruction in all public schools as soon as reasonably practical.
  • Postponing all non-urgent medical procedures, elective surgeries, and appointments at hospitals and health care providers across the state.
  • Restricting visitors and all non-essential health care personnel to long-term care facilities except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life.
  • Postponing all events with 50 or more people, and all gatherings of more than 10 that include individuals who are at higher risk for severe illness, such as seniors. Shortly after her announcement, the national CDC made the same recommendation for the next 8 weeks.

The Governor’s recommendations are in effect until further notice.

At the end of March 17, the Maine Legislature adjourned until further notice. To help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the State House will be closed to the public until March 30.

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