In April 2018, when Maine had a divided government, the group Maine Death with Dignity launched a ballot initiative to legalize physician-assisted death in the state. Maine Death with Dignity collected around 72,000 signatures—about 9,000 more than required—for the ballot initiative but decided against submitting signatures after Gov. Janet Mills (D), elected the previous November, signed LD 1313 on June 12, 2019. LD 1313 was written to allow adults suffering from a terminal illness to request medications that can be self-administered to end his or her life. Valerie Lovelace, chairperson of Maine Death with Dignity, said, “We are so proud and grateful to finally be heard by our lawmakers and our governor on this issue.”
Some opponents, however, preferred a public vote over a legislative vote on legalizing physician-assisted death. Because Maine is one of 23 states that provides citizens with a process for veto referendums, voters could still have the final word on physician-assisted death. Kandyce Powell, executive director of the Maine Hospice Council, filed the veto referendum after the 2019 legislative session adjourned on June 20, 2019. The veto referendum was approved for signature gathering on July 11, 2019.
The veto referendum could appear on the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019, or June 9, 2020, depending on when signatures are submitted and verified. Opponents of LD 1313 have until September 18, 2019, to collect and file 63,067 valid signatures.
Maine became the eighth state with a law providing for physician-assisted death after Gov. Mills signed the legislation. Three of those states—Colorado (2016), Oregon (1994), and Washington (2008)—authorized physician-assisted death through citizen-initiated ballot measures. Voters in Maine rejected a physician-assisted death ballot initiative in 2000, with 51.3 percent voting to reject the measure.
Maine’s legislation passed 73-72 in the House, with Democrats divided 68-17. One Republican supported the legislation, while the remaining were opposed. In the Senate, the vote was 19-16, with 18 Democrats and one Republican supporting the legislation, and 13 Republicans and three Democrats opposing the legislation.
Since Maine adopted the referendum process in 1908, there have been 30 veto referendums on the ballot. The last veto referendum was in 2018 when voters overturned legislation designed to postpone and repeal ranked-choice voting. Of the 30 bills placed before voters as veto referendums, 18 of them (60 percent) were overturned at the ballot box. Voters upheld 12 (40 percent) of the bills.