AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine's Democratic governor this week signed dozens of new bills to require hands-free driving, protect pregnant employees and prevent adults from providing tobacco to young people.
Gov. Janet Mills' office said late Thursday that she's signed into law roughly two dozen new bills, including a bill to allow courts to issue search warrants authorizing the installation of tracking devices on a person or object.
Most bills will go into effect in September. That includes a law to reduce the minimum suspension period for negligently causing a fatal accident from three years to one.
Maine is set to update a 2011 texting-while-driving legislation that law enforcement officials have said isn't strong enough. The current law only prevents drivers from text messaging while driving.
Democratic Sen. Bill Diamond's new bill prevents drivers from "using, manipulating, talking into or otherwise interacting" with hand-held devices and mobile telephones while driving.
Drivers can only activate or deactivate a feature of a mounted cellphone in hands-free mode with "a single swipe, tap or push" of their finger.
The bill has exceptions for radios, medical devices and commercial and school bus drivers who use hand-held devices as part of their job. A first infraction could cost Mainers at least $50, while a second jumps to $250.
TOBACCO TO MINORS
Maine will soon consider it a crime for adults over 21 years old to give or offer anyone under that age any tobacco product — including electronic smoking devices and liquids.
Currently, state law only prohibits giving cigarettes to a child under 16 years old.
The new law wouldn't apply to those providing tobacco products to individuals who turned 18 as of July 1, 2018.
UNIVERSITY DEBT CEILING
Mills signed a bill to raise the debt ceiling for the University of Maine from $220 million to $350 million.
Maine lawmakers raised the debt limit in 2005 and the system currently has $151 million in outstanding debt, according to the system's Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Ryan Low.
Supporters say the law is needed to provide funding for a new $80 million engineering center that lawmakers allowed the University of Maine system to bond up to $49 million for in 2017. The university system also has plans for a new energy plant and residence hall.
Mills signed a bill to guarantee pregnant workers have the right to reasonable accommodation.
That includes more frequent or longer breaks, temporary schedule modifications, seating or equipment and temporary relief from lifting requirements.
Maine is set to boost early childhood programs and mental health programs under several bills signed by Mills.
That includes over $400,000 each year in state funding to launch a new early childhood consultation program, and $500,000 to schools that start or expand programs to provide breakfast after the start of the school day. The school breakfast program would be funded partly by dipping into Maine's medical marijuana fund.
Maine is also set to require all children to be tested for unsafe exposure to lead once they are 1 and 2 years old. Right now, such testing is up to doctors.
Maine would launch a pilot project in Washington County to boost treatment and recovery services for those with substance abuse disorders under one bill signed by Mills.
Another law would allow the Department of Health and Human Services to enter into contacts with brain injury organizations to help opioid overdose survivors and others with brain injuries.
Lawmakers didn't provide new funding for either bill, which means it's unclear how exactly the state will fund them.
Maine has moved to extend the statute of limitations for certain crimes involving sexual violence from eight to 20 years.
Lawmakers also considered a bill that originally proposed to prevent clergy members from exploiting others into sexual acts.
Mills passed an amended version that says a licensed counseling professional who engages in a sexual act with a patient is guilty of gross sexual assault, unlawful sexual contact and unlawful sexual touching. Currently, state law just mentions social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists.
Medical professionals would have a chance to prevent the release of their licensing information under another law signed by Mills.
Such professionals could ask the board to withhold the release of a record, or part of it, if it could jeopardize the personal safety of the doctor or a third party.
That law won't apply to licensing authorities or health care providers looking at a professionals' employment.