Ward's bill on cribbage tournaments becomes law; drug testing for TANF recipients fails

By Jordan Bailey | Jul 21, 2017

As the first session of the 128th Legislature comes to a close, we are looking back at the bills our Waldo County representatives sponsored.

Second-term Rep. Karl Ward, R-Dedham, repesenting the Waldo County towns of Prospect and Stockton Springs, serves on the Taxation Committee.

A bill he sponsored two years ago established cribbage tournaments in Maine for a trial period that was scheduled to end in September. This session he sponsored a bill that lifted the sunset clause for the tournaments.

Previously, cribbage tournaments were not held in Maine because of the requirements that if more than 100 players are present, a tournament must be held in a facility owned by the licensee conducting the tournament and it must be completed within 48 hours. Ward’s first bill allowed for 72 hours for the completion of a tournament and removed the premises-ownership requirement for cribbage tournaments.

“I am pleased to report ... that this trial period has been a remarkable success," Ward said during committee testimony April 19. "Tournaments have been held so far in Bangor and Portland drawing well over 100 individual cribbage tournament players in events sanctioned by the American Cribbage Congress.

"Because of the change we made in the Legislature two years ago, there has been a real awakening of this wonderful game in our state. Additionally, dozens and potentially hundreds of serious cribbage competitors are now coming to Maine and seeing what we have to offer.”

This session’s bill, LD 128, also reduced the number of participants required to hold a tournament to 30 from 50, to allow smaller communities to hold tournaments, and increased the number of tournaments allowed in the state annually to 12 from three. It also lowered the age requirement for participating in adult tournaments to 18 from 21, to conform to American Cribbage Congress rules.

Joe Bowen of Dedham, former co-director of the American Cribbage Congress, testified in support of the bill.

“Nationally, the cribbage world has been very excited to see cribbage return to Maine,” he said.

Bowen said in the last two years he had been approached by eight communities requesting tournaments: Bangor, Portland, Ellsworth, Skowhegan, Lincoln, Madawaska, Waterville and Lewiston.

The emergency bill passed the House and Senate with the required two-thirds majorities on May 30 and 31 and became law June 13 without the governor’s signature.

Drug testing for welfare recipients

A bill Ward proposed that did not pass was LD 1075, which would have required an applicant for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits to complete a written drug screening test. It also would have given the Department of Health and Human Services the right, with reasonable suspicion, to require a drug test as a condition of receiving benefits.

Under the bill, suspicion could could have been based on results of the screening or interactions with another TANF applicant or recipient. Recipients who failed a drug test would have been denied benefits for 120 days, a trial measure that would have expired Oct. 1, 2019.

DHHS supported the bill. “Substance abuse is one of many possible barriers to employment and self-sufficiency, and (LD 1075) would encourage individuals struggling with addiction to seek out the treatment and related services they need,” said Bethany Hamm, director of the department's Office for Family Independence.

By identifying TANF applicants with substance abuse issues, she said, the department would then be able to assign them to a treatment track. She noted that screening all TANF applicants for substance abuse would require additional staff and resources.

The rest of the testimony before the Health and Human Services Committee was in opposition to the bill. Many stated it would unfairly punish the children of drug addicts by denying their parents the means to meet their basic needs.

Oamshri Amarasingham of the ACLU of Maine said drug testing falls under Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and that the organization is skeptical that a score on the drug screening test could constitute reasonable suspicion or probable cause required by the Fourth Amendment,” .

Claire Berkowitz, executive director of Maine Children's Alliance, opposed the bill because it would deny benefits to those who fail a drug test even if they are willing to enter treatment.

Jack Comart of Maine Equal Justice Partners quoted a federal Circuit Court of Appeals that found no evidence that rates of drug use in the TANF population are any greater than for the general public, and suggested that by that logic, if TANF recipients will be tested, other beneficiaries of government subsidies, such as homestead exemption recipients, should be tested, too. He also noted that when the department did test TANF recipients over a one-year period, it identified only 15 cases of possible improper drug use.

The Committee on Health and Human Services unanimously reported the bill “ought not to pass."

Commission on grandparents raising children

Ward also sought to set up a commission to look into the increasing role of grandparents in raising their grandchildren and the appropriate legal rights of grandparents regarding grandchildren in their care.

Ward said the idea for the bill, LD 697, came from his knocking on nearly 3,000 doors during his re-election campaign and meeting “no less than a dozen” grandparents who had stepped in to raise their grandchildren, usually because of drug abuse by either one or both of the parents.

The bill would have required the commission to develop recommendations regarding roles and rights of grandparents and submit its report to the Judiciary Committee by December.

There was no testimony in opposition to the bill, and none besides Ward’s in support. The Judiciary Committee reported the bill ought not to pass.

Ward also submitted a bill amending rules related to tax-increment-financing districts which has been held over for the next session. That bill will be covered in a future article.


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Jordan M Bailey
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Jordan Bailey has been working for The Republican Journal since 2013. She studied philosophy at Boston College and has experience in marine science education and journalism. She lives in Belfast.


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