State Legislative Session: 2024 Preview

The Maine Legislature returned to Augusta on January 3 to begin the second year of its two-year session.

Committees are taking up hundreds of bills carried over from last spring and considering hundreds more before adjourning around mid-April. A variety of issues that are related to Maine’s land trust community will be debated over the next few months; most are bills that were introduced last year but tabled until 2024. Here are some highlights:

Sales Tax Exemption

In Maine, many but not all nonprofit organizations are sales tax exempt. Last year, the Maine legislature considered two bills to address this situation: one (LD 68) proposed making all nonprofits sales tax exempt and another (LD 695) would add land trusts to the current list of nonprofit sales tax-exempt entities. The first bill turned into a study whose findings are expected in mid-January, while the second bill was enacted in the House, but then tabled because of its projected fiscal impacts on the state budget. In 2024, Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) will be partnering with the Maine Association of Nonprofits and others to expand sales tax exemption for all nonprofits including land trusts.

Trails Bond

In 2023, MCHT joined a coalition of organizations and businesses in support of a $30 million Trail Bond (LD 1156). The proposal calls for an annual investment of $7.5 million over four years to enhance recreational trail infrastructure around the state. If approved by two-thirds of the legislature, the bond request would need to be ratified by a majority of Maine voters. Although there was strong bipartisan support for this measure last year, the legislature decided to not support any bond proposals. The Appropriations Committee carried the bill over and will be discussing bonds later this year, as it tackles a Supplemental Budget proposal.

Supplemental Budget

The legislature and Governor agreed to a two-year budget last June. Six months into the fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30, the state’s Revenue Forecasting Commission has determined that Maine is likely to see more funds than what was earlier projected. In response, Governor Mills is expected to release a Supplemental Budget later this winter. This proposal could include new expenditures, cuts to existing taxes, or some combination. MCHT and partners will be looking for opportunities in the Supplemental Budget to strengthen existing land conservation programs.

Open Space Law

MCHT worked with others last spring to introduce LD 1648, a bill that proposes to streamline and strengthen the Open Space Current Use Tax Law in Maine. Changes to the Open Space Law was one of many recommendations made in 2021 by the Governor’s Forest Carbon Task Force. This fall and winter, bill supporters have been in conversations with the Forest Products Industry and state agencies on amendments to improve the original bill. Interested parties hope to have a final recommendation with broad support later this winter.

Wabanaki Legislation

The Wabanaki Alliance is advocating for a variety of legislative initiatives this session, including LD 2007. According to their website, this bill would “restore tribal sovereignty to the Wabanaki Nations by establishing that the Passamaquoddy Tribe, the Penobscot Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Mi’kmaq Nation have the same rights to self-determination as other federally recognized Indian tribes within the United States.” Other Wabanaki Alliance legislative proposals of note include bills to provide free access to state parks (LD 25), establish representation on the Baxter Park Authority (LD 294), and create a commission to review state lands (LD 1349).

With guidance from the Maine Land Trust Network Steering Committee, MCHT closely tracks legislation that has implications for land trusts activities statewide. Public policy updates and calls to action are regularly shared through the Network and on this website.