- Associated Press - Thursday, July 20, 2017

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Lawmakers spent one of their last days in Augusta this year considering vetoes and left in limbo $95 million worth of bond issues that would fund a first-of-its-kind student loan relief program.

The Legislature on Thursday sent Gov. Paul LePage a bill that would ban the use of hand-held devices while driving, and plans to return Aug. 2 to deal with remaining legislation and tabled bonds issues still on the agenda.

The $7.1 billion, two-year budget that lawmakers recently passed set aside some funds for bond issues, which typically get the OK from voters.

The Maine House and Senate both voted overwhelmingly in favor of a $105 million bond issue for roads and bridges.

But a $40 million bond to help borrowers pay off student loans was tabled in the House after it failed to receive the two-thirds support needed for bonds.

The initiative got some support from the GOP LePage, who in a Thursday radio appearance called it an effort to attract young, skilled professionals to the rapidly aging state. Democratic Sen. Nate Libby said the program would pay student loan debt for individuals who live and work in Maine for five years. Libby called it a first-in-the-nation program aimed at young people who are delaying buying homes and getting married to pay off debt. “It seems to be time for something big and something bold,” he said.

The House also tabled a $55 million bond to support commercial research and development projects after the issue also failed to receive two-thirds support. Republican Sen. Roger Katz offered an amendment that specifies funds would go to nonprofit research institutions through a competitive process.

Some bills that had been stalled saw new life Thursday.

The Legislature enacted Democratic Sen. Shenna Bellows’s bill to restore services the LePage administration cut last year for individuals with bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. The change didn’t affect clients at risk of certain circumstances like homelessness or those diagnosed with schizophrenia or schizophrenic affective disorder.

The bill, which did not receive the initial two-thirds support needed to overcome a veto in the House, now heads to LePage’s desk.

Other efforts were less successful.

A Senate vote on a bill to require signatures on direct citizen initiatives from each congressional district fell short of the two-thirds support needed.

Lobbyists for energy utilities and renewable energy companies on Thursday awaited the result of a solar bill that LePage vetoed, claiming it creates hidden subsidies for the rich in electricity bills.

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