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As tax talks subside, some voices turn toward welfare reform

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where you’re likely as bored of hearing the following as we are of writing it: Members of the Appropriations Committee continue to negotiate the budget as other committees plow through the remaining pile of bills with an eye toward clearing their plates by the end of the week.

That’s today.

The committees have done yeoman’s work toward that end, but a handful of bills will remain to be addressed after the long weekend ahead.The Judiciary and Health and Human Services committees both have work sessions scheduled today, including on Sen. Roger Katz’s bill to allow terminally ill patients to self-administer lethal drugs.

Both committees also have work scheduled for the day after Memorial Day. Several bills by Gov. Paul LePage regarding the election of constitutional officers are also still awaiting public hearings and work sessions in the State and Local Government Committee, though none have yet been scheduled.

The Appropriations Committee, which came on mic last night to plow through a few dozen lines of the Department of Agriculture’s budget, still has much more work to do.

The Daily Brief will be taking a break on Monday for Memorial Day, but we’ll see you again on Tuesday morning. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it when it comes. Enjoy the grilling this weekend. — Mario Moretto.

Tax talks subside, but welfare reform noise continues

While the likelihood of meaningful tax reform looking slimmer by the day, we’re hearing more from some corners about another old State House chestnut: Welfare reform.

While the tax talk has dominated most of the session, several bills aimed at cutting or altering several public assistance programs have also worked their way through the Legislature, with several of them beaten back by majority Democrats at the committee level or in the House.

Republicans and the LePage administration are growing more vocal in their frustration.

Yesterday, DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and the Maine GOP both took shots at Democrats’ refusal to pass their favored welfare reform initiatives.

Of the party line vote on the Health and Human Services Committee to defeat LePage’s bill to drug test TANF recipients, Mayhew said: “We cannot sit back and turn a blind eye to the drug abuse in this state, the misuse of taxpayer funds to purchase drugs through this cash benefit, and the fundamental lack of commitment that such drug abuse represents to the federally mandated employment goals of TANF. The proposed legislation is an opportunity to ensure that those with a drug abuse problem are identified and given the opportunity to enter substance abuse treatment.”

In an email blast, Main GOP executive director Jason Savage asked recipients to sign on as a “welfare reform citizen co-sponsor,” because “Democrats aren’t serious about welfare reform.”

(These sign-up sheets, for what it’s worth, are less about any particular policy and more about partisan voter list-building which, in the end, is about fundraising. But the choice of message — welfare reform, in this case — shows that for the GOP, it’s still an issue that resonates. Remember last year’s election?)

Anyway, the carping about Democrats’ refusal to take a look at welfare doesn’t tell the whole story. While there have been several GOP reform efforts that Democrats have opposed, there’s been an appetite for others.

There’s still room for Democrats and Republicans, including the governor, to come together on a bill to level the “welfare cliff,” a move both parties support. And a Lewiston Democrat has proposed a bill to limit the amount of cash TANF funds that can be withdrawn from an ATM, a move Republicans support as well.

Then there’s Republican Sen. Roger Katz’ bill to ban the use of food stamps on junk food, which has the support of the Democratic chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and the Democratic floor leader in the House.

That’s not to say welfare reform is a slam-dunk by any means. But with Democrats seemingly more willing to look for areas of agreement than in the past (they remember last year’s election, too), it’s not a foregone conclusion that the above bills are destined for the scrap heap. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch Reading list Happy Memorial Day weekend

I don’t know about all of you guys, but I’m looking forward to relaxing, hiking, grilling and maybe even lighting a few fireworks this three-day weekend. If you’re looking for something fun to occupy your time, look no further than this guide, by our own Emily Burnham. — Mario Moretto.

Campaign coalesces to support campaign finance reform in November

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Topsham poll worker Anette Philippon collects ballots during a special election. BDN file photo by Troy Bennett.

This may be an off-year in the election cycle, but Mainers will be faced with at least one referendum on November’s ballot — an effort to reform the state’s campaign finance laws and stiffen penalties for those who break them.

Earlier this month, a ballot question committee calling itself “Mainers for Accountable Elections” registered with the secretary of state, signaling the launch of the campaign to support the initiative.

The referendum will ask Mainers to endorse a slew of election reforms. The full language of the initiative can be found here, but these are the highlights:

  • The initiative would beef up the state’s Clean Elections program by providing publicly funded candidates access a way to more cash than is currently available;
  • enhanced penalties for campaign finance violations, including failure to file required reports;
  • a new requirement that communications that are independent expenditures, such as radio spots or campaign fliers, include a “conspicuous statement” listing the top three donors to the group making the expenditure.

The signature-gathering effort to get the initiative on the ballot was spearheaded by Maine Citizens for Clean Elections (whose president is now also the treasurer for the new group), but the new campaign will include a broader array of supporters, according to a news release.

“This campaign isn’t about Democrats or Republicans or Independents. It’s about making sure that everyone – not just the wealthy – can be represented in our democracy,” said former GOP state Senator Ed Youngblood, one of the citizens who helped put this year’s referendum on the ballot. “That’s why this referendum is so important. When politicians depend on contributions from large corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups, they work for them. We deserve politicians who work for us.”

Gap between Legislature and LePage’s priorities widens

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the pushback against Gov. Paul LePage by Democrats continues. On Wednesday, Democratic members of the Health and Human Services Committee united to vote against the governor’s bid to perform drug tests on applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and to exclude drug felons from both TANF and food stamps.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee continue to work behind closed doors on a $6.5 billion budget bill that will fund state government for the next two years. All indications are that the final product will include a range of changes to LePage’s proposals, including a significantly different tax reform scheme — if the budget includes tax reform at all.

The budget committee has had work sessions scheduled but forgone taking votes on several recent days. The committee could begin making a flurry of decisions today. Committee leaders told State & Capitol earlier this week that they hoped to have the budget voted out by Friday and the buzz at the State House on Wednesday was that the committee could work late into this evening. 

Though there are vast swaths of the budget to be decided, the big question is what compromise Democrats and Republicans will come to on tax reform and how the governor will react to it. It’s possible that just like in 2013, LePage will veto the budget, leaving the Legislature on its own. But it’s not the governor who is on the hot seat: It’s legislative Republicans. 

In the other legislative committees, expect to hear more today about issues you’ve been hearing a lot about as recently as yesterday. With most committees focused on finishing their work by Friday, bills are going from public hearings to works sessions and committee votes with dizzying speed. 

Case in point: The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is likely to take votes on bills seeking to legalize recreational marijuana, which were just introduced yesterday. That same committee also has work sessions on a fix for the county jail system and a bill by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, to protect children from sexual abuse, which would strengthen penalties for transmitting or transporting sexually explicit material. 

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will vote out some bills related to renewable energy, including solar power, and will deliberate on a bill designed to protect the electrical grid from long-term blackouts caused by solar flares

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will consider two bills that seek to amend the Constitution of Maine to protect people’s rights to hunt and fish. In the Education Committee, votes are expected on bills targeting college affordability. 

I’ve glossed over a lot, but if you’re interested in more you can check out the full committee schedule by clicking here

Do you like the Daily Brief? Now that we’re into the final weeks of the legislative session, keeping track of negotiations and maneuvering under the dome will become ever more complicated. State & Capitol will keep an eye on things for you so if you haven’t already, sign up for the Daily Brief newsletter. — Christopher Cousins 

LePage gives $10,000 to veterans

The governor announced this week that he has designated $10,000 from his contingency fund to support the Easter Seals of Maine’s Military and Veterans Services program, which helps injured veterans returning from service transition to civilian life.

“They deserve our full support in this time of transition, and the resources provided by Easter Seals of Maine are essential to long-term success for many of these individuals,” said LePage in a written statement.

For more information about Easter Seals of Maine, click here or call (207) 828-0754.

LePage also donated $1,000 from his contingency fund to assist the American Legion Post 148 of Windham commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. — Christopher Cousins

Legislative odds and ends
  • The Judiciary Committee on Wednesday gave unanimous support to a bill that would enable local municipalities to address blighted and abandoned properties. Check out Scott Thistle’s report on the issue here.
  • A bill that’s called a shot in the arm for local entrepreneurs and recent immigrants is headed to the governor’s desk for consideration after Senate passage on Wednesday. LD 847 would allow hair braiding service providers to operate without acquiring a full barbering or cosmetology license. Democratic Sen. Anne Haskell of Portland, who sponsored the bill, said it would provide an important step on the economic ladder for new Americans.
  • A bill that would fund a study about extending passenger rail service to Bangor is in danger of failing between the House, which supports the bill, and the Senate, which doesn’t. On Wednesday, the House voted to “insist” on its passage. Expect the issue to come up soon in the Senate.
  • A bill that would penalize lawmakers for excessive absences was enacted by the Senate on Wednesday and is headed to the House of Representatives for consideration. LD 1046 would reduce lawmakers’ salary for each legislative day he or she is absent after five unexcused absences in the first regular session and three days in the second regular session. — Christopher Cousins
Reading list What does ‘Madawaska’ mean?

The BDN of late has been producing numerous entertaining quizzes, all with a nod to our beloved state. On Wednesday, the BDN’s Pattie Reaves launched a new one which is perhaps the hardest yet most interesting yet.

Can you guess the meaning of some of Maine’s Native American place names? Can you guess which bay in Maine is named for being muddy? Take the quiz. Find out. — Christopher Cousins

The state budget and the importance of being nitpicky

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

Friday, legislative Republicans gave us a major budget proposal. Just as the legislative Democrats had. Just as the governor had. We now have three budget proposals floating about, and what we end up with is anyone’s guess.

What I was struck with more than anything was that the GOP proposal used the biennial spending targets proposed by Gov. Paul LePage. Those spending targets represented $166 million in growth over the previous budget. The Democrats, naturally, want to spend more.

Due to the need to compromise to pass a budget with two-thirds support, I have a nagging feeling that the budget that ends up being passed will grow spending by perhaps $200 million. I would have preferred if the conservative alternative had been flatline or below, so that negotiations might end up at something lower, but that’s just me.

Nevertheless, it is a reminder that all spending proposals, be they from the governor or legislative leadership, make a set of base assumptions, which are drawn from and judged against the past. Specifically, the biennial budget immediately preceding the proposed new budget.

That got me to thinking about the incredibly large numbers we are dealing with here (billions of dollars), and what a big difference very small changes make. The difference between 2 percent growth and 3 percent growth can be tens or hundreds of millions of dollars.

Given that each budget is built upon the last, and that small changes can mean a difference of such a huge sum of money, this line of thinking spawned an interesting thought experiment.

What if we took a look at the last 30 years of state spending, and got “nitpicky,” marginally reducing the growth of spending each year, then building future budgets around that new total as next year’s baseline?

Wonky, I grant you, but stick with me.

In 1986, Maine government spent a little more than $950.5 million. The next year, in 1987, they spent roughly $1.045 billion, which represented a growth of 9.96 percent. What if, that year, the state Legislature had limited the growth of the budget by a paltry 10 percent. So in other words, instead of 9.96 percent growth, you saw 8.96 percent growth?

The result would have been a 1987 spending number that was $1.035 billion, rather than $1.045 billion. Nibbling around the edges, right? Not ultimately that big of a deal, it is really “just” $10 million less.

But what if the 1988 spending numbers had been based off that smaller number, and had likewise seen slightly smaller growth?

In the real world, 1988’s budget of $1.172 billion represented an increase of 12.17 percent over the 1987 spending numbers of $1.045 billion. What then, would happen if we only grew that budget by 10.95 percent (again, 10 percent less overall growth), and the increase was based off the slightly smaller total we just came up with for 1987 ($1.035 billion)?

Instead of $1.172 billion, we would have spent $1.149 billion.

If the Legislature had simply been slightly more nitpicky for the last 30 years, Maine would spend nearly $405 million less in 2015 alone. In 2014, that number would have been about $402 million, which would have given the taxpayers of Maine nearly $807 million of spending relief over the biennium we are currently in.

The game becomes even more fun if you use the same rules, and limit spending growth by 25 percent over what was actually passed.

In 1987 that would mean growth of 7.47 percent instead of 9.96 percent. In 1988, that would mean spending growth of 9.13 percent instead of 12.17 percent. In 1989, that would mean spending growth of 13.58 percent instead of 18.11 percent.

This is hardly austerity, folks. Even with the mild limitations, that is explosive spending growth.

Under such a scenario, Maine citizens would be spending close to $912 million less in 2015 alone. That number is $905 million in 2014, for a total of $1.817 billion in savings over the biennium.

Gov. LePage has declared his desire to completely eliminate the state’s income tax. Given that income tax collections in 2015 are estimated to amount to $1.462 billion, spending $912 million less would get us pretty close to achieving that goal.

Lawmakers in Augusta frequently throw up their hands and allow spending of tens of millions of dollars simply because they do not understand what they are looking at, and don’t have the time or energy to fight it.

That spending becomes institutionalized, and repeated in future years. Negotiators add a million here, and give up fighting against a million of reductions over there, and the entire thing is little more than a game.

But if we had exercised even the remotest discipline in spending over the years, we would be in a much better position today than we are. Instead, one bloated mess of a budget is built on another, and we are left with the incomprehensible leviathan we have today.

Debates on weed, welfare and abortion to dominate State House today

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Greetings from the state capitol, where today will be referred to as “weed day.”

OK, maybe that’s a bit too flippant a way to put it, but two bills aimed at legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults are both scheduled for public hearings today in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

One bill is by Rep. Diane Russell, the other by Rep. Mark Dion. Both are Portland Democrats intent on having the Legislature craft a responsible legal framework for pot, rather than letting private pro-legalization groups dictate terms at the ballot box.

Given the buzz around marijuana legalization in Maine, where there’s more efforts to “free the weed” than you can shake a stem at, it’s likely the hearings will draw considerable public testimony. They’re scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Simultaneously, the Health and Human Services Committee will hold work sessions on a dozen welfare reform proposals, including three bills by Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to drug test welfare applicants and enforce a job requirement, Lewiston Democratic Sen. Nate Libby’s plan to limit the amount of TANF funds that recipients can withdraw from an ATM and Westbrook Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine’s bill to level the “welfare cliff.”

The Judiciary Committee will consider LD 1312, a bill by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, that would require outpatient facilities that provide surgical abortions to be licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Pro-choice groups fear the bill is designed to shutter abortion clinics by imposing impossible regulations, but Sanderson says the bill is intended only to provide state oversight that’s currently lacking.

For a full list of committee activity, click here. And as always, remember to subscribe to receive the Daily Brief in your email inbox every morning. — Mario Moretto.

Pingree joins Ben & Jerry’s, Chipotle to stump for mandatory GMO labels

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District, will host a news conference to support mandatory GMO labeling on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Pingree, who is among the loudest advocates for label requirements, will be joined by Jerry Greenfield, a co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, as well as representatives from Chipotle, which recently announced it would no longer serve genetically modified foods.

Representatives from Patagonia and Stonyfield Farm, as well as U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, will also be on hand.

Pingree held a similar news conference in December, to rally in favor of labeling and against a bill by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, that would stymie state’s efforts to require companies that use genetically modified foods to disclose that fact.

Maine adopted a law last year to require packages of food with genetically modified organisms be labeled to indicate the product was “produced with genetic engineering.” But the law can only go into effect when four other contiguous states do the same, meaning New Hampshire and three other bordering states.

Connecticut has passed a similar law, while Vermont has passed a labeling law that doesn’t require any other states to do anything. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

The Legislature on Tuesday overturned Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of LD 373, “An Act to Allow a Moose Permit to be Transferred to a Family Member” (see story by John Holyoke, here). The veto was overturned unanimously in both the House and Senate, and will now become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

Also Tuesday, a veto of LD 824, “An Act Regarding Ethanol Motor Fuel,” was sustained in the House, after its sponsor, Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, told her colleagues that she would propose a new version of the bill to address LePage’s concerns.

The governor has issued 18 vetoes so far this legislative session. For a look at the logic behind them, check out this analysis by my colleague and office-mate, Christopher Cousins.– Mario Moretto.

Reading list How well do you know Maine’s cities?

Did you know there are 23 cities in Maine? If you thought there were far fewer, don’t feel bad. Unlike in other states, “city” is largely a meaningless distinction in our state, where municipalities with 1,000 people and 60,000 people can both take up the mantle of “city” if they so choose.

Either way, do you think you can name all 23 cities in our state? Take our quiz to find out. For what it’s worth, I could name all but three. — Mario Moretto (BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett).

One waitress and the coming pitched battle for women’s votes

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

When candidates speak and elected officials craft policies, they should remember Judy, a waitress and housekeeper who played a bit role in a Washington, D.C., drama.

In September 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, took to the Senate floor to rail against the Affordable Care Act. Republicans later shut down the federal government, although Cruz did not stop the increasingly popular health care law.

Interrupting Cruz’s long talk and mentioning Judy was Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. Durbin told Cruz, “Judy is a housekeeper at a motel that I often go to, and we have become friends. Judy has worked her whole life in manual labor. She has been everything you can imagine — a cook, a waitress, a housekeeper, all of these things. She is 62 years old. Judy told me that she had never had health insurance one day in her life, ever. She worked every single day she could, but she never had health insurance.”

Judy was also a diabetic, and, as Durbin noted, because of the Affordable Care Act, she would be getting comprehensive health coverage for the first time in her life.

And when Durbin asked Cruz what he, as an opponent of the health law, would offer to Judy, Cruz said, “The best way for Judy or anyone to have health insurance is to have an economy that is booming where people can get jobs and have opportunities.”

For Judy, this was a worthless answer. Judy didn’t lack health care because she was unemployed.

As Durbin said to Cruz, “ I think the senator’s answer to Judy is: You need a better job. After working a lifetime — 62 years, hard work, the best she can do; she has never had health insurance — and I think the senator’s answer was: Judy, get a better job.”

Now, some women in Judy’s position might, with enough support, be able to go to school and get a better job. For women with children, their ability to move up would necessitate affordable tuition and child care and possibly some short-term help with buying food and paying rent.

But there will always be a Judy. There will always be a waitress or housekeeper with low pay and no employer-provided health insurance. Those women need the security and dignity of health coverage, no matter their age or whether they have a chronic illness.

It’s these matters — at least as much as the “war on women” issues like comments by a Republican candidate about “legitimate rape,” legislative votes requiring intravaginal probes of women seeking abortion, and support for limiting insurance coverage for birth control — that drive the gender gap.

Young, old and in-between, in Maine and across the across the nation, women vote more Democratic than men. There are more women voters than male ones. Candidates can win without most women’s votes, but it’s harder.

For all sorts of reasons, from discrimination to differences in the jobs they hold, women earn less than men. These lower earnings mean less money contributed to retirement savings and Social Security. Then, women live longer than men.

As they move in and out of the workforce more than men, taking care of children and elderly relatives, women are more likely to work part-time.

Women are more likely to be paid caretakers, like the home health care workers who keep a grandmother in her home, saving tremendous amounts of public and family funds that would have been spent on expensive nursing homes.

Women are more likely to have ideologies tilted toward care and the common good, but appealing to them also requires attending to their economic interests.

Democrats have tended to get women’s support because they champion health care policies covering more people, call for higher wages for low-income workers, support economic growth serving the whole income spectrum, uphold Medicare and Social Security and support parental leave.

Today, more young women than men attend college, and Democrats’ support for greater college affordability attracts their support. They’re also more supportive of gay rights than men. And, yes, because they want to control when they have children in order to control their futures, reproductive rights matter.

Whether it’s a waitress named Judy, a college graduate entering a professional position, or a caretaker of a child or elder who works part-time for pay, winning women’s votes means paying attention to policies producing security and opportunity.

Susan Collins named one of the most powerful women in Washington

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where legislative committees are in a rush to dispense with all the bills on their dockets by the end of the week. Proceedings at the State House will take on a different tone after the weight of final action on bills lawmakers have been debating for months comes to bear. Soon, the House and Senate will begin two-a-day sessions and possibly expand its calendar from three to four or five days per week. 

There’s something about a healthy debate followed immediately by a vote of whether to put something into law that injects an element of excitement into the machinations of state government.

How’s your internet connection? Mine’s slow, but there are a number of lawmakers proposing ways to improve broadband speed and access, which has become a major economic development focus for Maine in recent years. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will consider six bills related to the expansion of broadband through a variety of means ranging from the development of new long-term planning and goals to the installation of new funding mechanisms to build out infrastructure. 

Take a look at EUT’s agenda for this afternoon by clicking here

The Judiciary Committee will spend the afternoon considering six bills related to tribal-state relationships, including a bid by Rep. Henry John Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseets to include a Native American from the Aroostook Band of Micmacs in the House of Representatives. Maine has a history of tribal representatives sitting in the Legislature. Those members can propose and debate bills but are not allowed to take official votes on the enactment of bills, largely because of laws that governor how many constituents each representative must represent. 

Also up for consideration by the Judiciary Committee today is a bill from Rep. Matthew Dana II of the Passamaquoddy Tribe which seeks to amend the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act by removing the requirement that the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes abide by municipal duties, obligations, liabilities and limitations of municipal laws within their tribal territories. 

The Health and Human Services Committee will debate and make recommendations on a range of bills this afternoon, including measures to improve independent living situations for Mainers and a bid by Democratic Rep. Mark Dion of Portland to establish an office of the inspector general to provide watchdog and performance auditing oversight of the Department of Health and Human Services

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee has been considering some measures which could impact hunting and fishing rules in Maine and is likely to vote out some recommendations this afternoon. There are two bills that would affect bear hunting, which has been a hot topic in recent elections in Maine, including the slim defeat of a referendum question last year that would have prohibited certain hunting methods. A bill from Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland, would borrow some of the terms of that initiative and prohibit the use of dogs and traps to hunt bears. 

Another bill, proposed by Rep. Mike Shaw of Standish, would create a comprehensive hunting license and eliminate many of the add-ons that sportsmen must currently purchase, on top of their basic hunting license, to hunt turkeys, waterfowl and other species. The bill would also raise the cost of a hunting license, though proponents argue the net cost for an avid hunter would be reduced in the long run. — Christopher Cousins 

Something remarkable that we already knew about Sen. Susan Collins

Maine has a long history of sending especially influential people to Washington to represent it, ranging from Ed Muskie to Margaret Chase Smith to George Mitchell to Olympia Snowe. Republican Sen. Susan Collins is no exception and anyone who is paying attention knows she has built a reputation as a power broker who holds considerable sway on Capitol Hill.

On Monday, a well-known publication called CQ Roll Call named Collins in its annual “Power Issue” one of the 25 most influential women in Congress and one of the top five women who shape the congressional debate.

“Her moderate status helps her shape legislation in a divided government,” reads the article. “If a provision can’t win her support, it likely won’t become law.”

Collins was quoted as saying that while women bring a range of ideologies to government, one truth that binds them is that “women of the Senate are more likely to collaborate and to realize that we can disagree on an issue but still seek common ground.”

CQ Roll Call will incorporate the rankings into an electronic book called “Powerful Women: the Most Influential Women in Congress,” which goes on sale today. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Your cat, with the same rights as you

I don’t know how Gallup comes up with these questions. In the results of a new poll, the organization found that 32 percent of Americans think animals should be given the same rights as people. That’s up from 28 percent of people who felt that way in 2008. As far as I know, animals did not vote in the poll.

My cat, Chester, is sitting here next to me as I write the Daily Brief, glaring at me as he waits for his breakfast. He is clearly demonstrating his freedom of assembly but I’m glad he’s not exercising his right to bear arms. — Christopher Cousins

Democrats seek to put ‘good jobs, strong wages’ atop the agenda

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Happy Monday from Augusta, where days of the week may soon begin blending together for lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee as they shift into high gear on budget and tax reform negotiations.

The committee’s leaders, Sen. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, and Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, have marked the end of this week as its deadline for voting out a two-year budget deal for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. The chief sticking point — a comprehensive tax reform package submitted by Republican Gov. Paul LePage — has been the main holdup so far. But now, with the GOP finally revealing its initial tax reform offer, negotiations between the two parties can begin in earnest.

The committee is expecting meetings to last into the evenings — both in and out of public view — and committee members have been told to clear their weekend in case Saturday and Sunday negotiations are needed. We’ll keep you updated as things progress.

Elsewhere in the capitol complex, two of the governor’s welfare reform proposals are scheduled for public hearings in the Health and Human Services Committee today at 9:30 a.m.: LD 1407 would require TANF applicants to submit to drug screening and testing, and allow the state to deny benefits to those convicted of serious drug crimes. LD 1402 is Gov. Paul LePage’s bill meant to address the “welfare cliff.”

Crunch time in the Education Committee means the group will hold work sessions today on more than a dozen bills, including one that would allow parents to opt out of standardized testing for their children, and several others related to testing and learning standards.

In the State and Local Government Committee, Senate President Michael Thibodeau’s bill to study unfunded mandates on Maine’s towns and cities could face a vote in a work session scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

As statutory adjournment for the Legislature fast approaches — there’s less than a month left, now! — things at the State House will become much more fluid. To stay in the know, subscribe to receive the BDN’s Daily Brief in your inbox every morning. — Mario Moretto.

Eves to present Democrats’ signature ‘Put ME to Work’ program

Earlier in the session, Democrats in the Legislature put their flag in the sand for “good jobs and strong wages,” their top goals for this year. Since then, thanks to Gov. Paul LePage and his Republicans, the conversation in Augusta has shifted to tax and welfare reform, prompting Democrats to counter or parry with each new press conference or bill title toward those ends.

Today, House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, will present his proposed ‘Put ME to Work” program at the Labor Committee, and in doing so, hope to put “good jobs and strong wages” back at the top of lawmakers’ agendas.

The bill, LD 1373, would invest $5 million in the state’s community colleges over five years to create job-training programs “to prepare workers for jobs in high-demand fields.” The mechanism of the program would be public-private partnerships between the state’s colleges and businesses in Maine that would ideally benefit from the newly skilled workforce.

Eves and other Democrats embarked on a “jobs tour” earlier this year, visiting Maine businesses across the state, including Pratt & Whitney in Eves’ hometown, which has partnered with the state, other local businesses and York County Community College.  The state invested $330,000 to create a precision machinist training program at the school, which is hoped to churn out trained workers for 1,200 new jobs.

“We’ve heard from employers and workers across the state about the best way to improve our economy. The message is the same from North Berwick to Frenchville: invest in our workers and businesses,” Eves said in a news release. “A skilled and well-trained workforce is key to success for both workers and businesses in our state.”

Eves’ bill has bipartisan backing, including the support of Assistant Senate Majority Leader Andre Cushing, R-Hampden. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

Gov. Paul LePage vetoed three bills on Friday evening last week. They were:

  • LD 373, “An Act to Allow a Moose Permit to be Transferred to a Family Member.” The bill would have done just as the title suggests. In issuing his veto, LePage wrote that the bill would have unintended consequences. “I often hear complaints that Maine’s hunting and fishing laws are too complicated and this bill simply compounds this problem by adding yet another wrinkle to our hunting laws.” LePage also said many Mainers have been frustrated by never winning the moose permit lottery, and said this bill would only exacerbate their frustration.
  • LD 377, “An Act to Continue the Visual and Digital Media Loan Program and the Visual and Digital Media Loan Fund.” The program has been unused since its creation in 2011, LePage wrote in his veto letter. “This piece of legislation is simply a ‘feel good’ bill,” he wrote.
  • LD 824, “An Act Regarding Ethanol Motor Fuel.” LePage said he agreed with the goals of the bill — prohibiting fuel distributors, franchisors and refiners from limiting the sale of ethanol-free fuel. However, he said he had Constitutional concerns about the bill’s application to “existing contracts.” The federal and Maine constitutions include language barring government from passing any laws that impair contractual obligations. “While I understand the interpretation of the Constitutional prohibitions will be left to the courts, I do not support inviting litigation and its attendant costs to determine the validity of this law,” LePage wrote.

The House and Senate will consider whether to override or sustain LePage’s vetoes in a coming session. — Mario Moretto.

10 questions with Bruce Poliquin

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin was featured in a “10 questions with …” video by the House GOP Conference last week.

In it, Poliquin discusses why he’s a Republican and his policy work, but also some more lighthearted fare, such as his thoughts on DeflateGate and his favorite movie (the answer to which, frankly, surprised me). You can watch the video here. — Mario Moretto.

Could LePage have prevented a Republican split on taxes?

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

And now there are three.

Gov. LePage put out and has been touting his tax plan across Maine. Democrats then presented their “Better Deal” plan. Republicans in the Appropriations Committee now have another version.

Certain key elements of the GOP plan are described in an article by Scott Thistle, and involve differences in income tax rates, sales taxes, the estate tax, and revenue sharing.

(Rob Poindexter, the communications director for the Maine House Republicans says Thistle’s piece is inaccurate.)

After the parties negotiate, the Legislature will probably pass a budget LePage vetoes but then passes without his signature.

Gov. Paul LePage speaks at the Maine Heritage Policy Center luncheon at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Photo credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Could LePage have prevented this split with his party on taxes?

Yes, if LePage had campaigned on this plan.

When LePage ran for re-election, he mentioned income taxes, but never said he would broaden the sales tax, zero out revenue sharing and drop the homestead exemption for people under 65.

Now, that’s probably because that package would not have been particularly popular, and would have made LePage’s reelection more challenging and thus less likely.

It’s anywhere from ironic to unfair that LePage criticized Mike Michaud for not laying out how he’d finance all his proposals when LePage was to turn around and reveal a surprising tax plan only after his election.

What legislators are considering

Often legislators face party pressures, and Republicans surely have been pressured to stick with the governor.

Simultaneously, legislators have their own views about public policy and are accountable to their own constituents.

Nearly all got into office with a higher percentage of the vote. Many got a much higher percentage than LePage. The checks and balances design gives them a place to stand, should they want to stand against the chief executive.

Maine people seem to be most concerned with property tax increases. At least that’s what a lot of candidates told me people wanted to talk about, when they talked to them about taxes at their doors.

Still, if LePage had campaigned on the plan and won, he could have claimed a mandate for it.

Making mandate claims

The word “mandate” comes from the Latin mandare, to command. Used in politics, it suggests the people want the policies the candidate supported. In reality, voters don’t necessarily support everything their candidate stood for. However, mandate claims carry more weight when an issue was high-profile and there were clear differences between the candidates.

It makes no sense to claim a mandate for a policy you never deigned to tell the voters about.

If LePage had forthrightly campaigned on the tax plan he unveiled only after being sworn in for a second term, the mandate claim could have been made.

And that would have made a GOP split less likely.

Maine senator proposing to legalize life-ending drugs for terminally ill patients

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Remember today. In six weeks, if a legislative impasse is threatening a government shutdown, we may look back on this as the day the war started. 

As reported Thursday by Scott Thistle of the Sun Journal, a group of legislative Republicans is finally poised to push back against Gov. Paul LePage on his tax reform proposal and goal of eventually eliminating the Maine income tax. The plan carries more weight because it was developed with Appropriations Committee Republicans at the forefront, but is unlikely to have the support of the entire caucus. That’s primarily because it calls for a much smaller income tax cut than LePage is advocating for and it preserves more than $60 million a year in municipal revenue sharing, which LePage has been trying to eliminate since at least 2012.  

Nothing is certain until it’s certain, but the plan could be presented today to the Appropriations Committee.

This was the second major body blow to LePage’s tax plan this week. On Wednesday, Democrats and one independent on the Taxation Committee led a 7-5 vote against LePage’s bill to ask voters statewide whether they want to eliminate the income tax altogether. The opposition was mostly because of the fact that doing so would eliminate some $1.7 billion a year in revenues to the state, which without other adjustments to create more revenue, amounts to about half of the state budget.

It wouldn’t surprise me much to see another Republican tax reform proposal emerge to compete with the first Republican proposal, the Democrats’ proposal and LePage’s. Given the splintering of support and the significant disagreements on some of the big pieces, it’s starting to feel like tax reform efforts in Augusta could be scuttled again.

The governor, who has been traveling all over Maine soliciting support for his income tax plan and who has already threatened to campaign against legislative Republicans who don’t follow his lead, has a lot on the line here. Expect an angry response.

With the House and Senate on recess until Tuesday, today’s committee schedule is light but interesting.

Republican Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta will present a bill to the Health and Human Services Committee this morning that would allow terminally ill patients to give themselves medications that would hasten their death. This is not a proposal to allow a physician or anyone other than the patient to end a person’s life, though it protects health care workers, their liability insurance companies and the patient’s life insurance policy. The bill states explicitly that the patient must self-administer the life-ending drugs. 

The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will consider making recommendations on a handful of bills related to campaign finance reform and gaming, and the Appropriations Committee will continue work on the biennial budget. — Christopher Cousins 

Large-scale mining rules sputtering

The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has been working on the development of large-scale metallic mining rules since January. And that was after two years of work on the rules by the Department of Environmental Protection that were rejected by the Legislature last year behind concerns that they were too weak on groundwater protections and didn’t go far enough to financially guarantee that mining sites would be cleaned up after closure.

On Thursday, the committee finally took a vote on the rules it’s been developing for months, and the vote was ought not to pass. A statement by Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan on Thursday indicated that McCabe and others still don’t think the rules do enough to protect the environment.

“These rules will have a high hurdle to clear in the House,” said McCabe.

What does this mean for commercial mining in Maine? It’s a serious blow against the concept, but almost anything could happen between now and the end of the session, including another stalemate. Stay tuned. — Christopher Cousins

Judicial confirmations delayed

The Senate was scheduled to vote on confirmations for two judicial nominations by LePage on Thursday, but it never happened. Read a report about it from the BDN’s Judy Harrison.

Earlier this week, the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee endorsed both Jeffrey H. Moskowitz of Saco as a district court judge and William R. Anderson of Morrill as a superior court judge.

The conflict maybe around Moskowitz, who made national headlines earlier this year when he tried and failed to order the Portland Press Herald from reporting on a public proceeding. Despite that, he was lauded in the committee process.

 

There’s no word yet on when the confirmations will come up again but the BDN will keep you posted. — Christopher Cousins

Poliquin plucks LePage loyalist

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd Congressional District announced today that he has hired Samantha Warren as his Lewiston-based district director.

Warren has developed as one of the public faces of state government in recent years. She was most recently the director of communications for the Department of Education and before that, the Department of Environmental Protection. She is also known for her years as a journalist prior to joining state government, at the Rangeley Highlander, the Lewiston Sun Journal and the Livermore Falls Advertiser.

My personal take on Warren — which I venture to say is shared by others — is that she was one of the most aggressive and toughest spokespeople in state government in recent years. Though her tone with reporters was sometimes abrasive, she was always well-researched, accessible and she demonstrated a broad working knowledge of policy and politics.

According to Poliquin spokesman Michael Byerly, Warren’s hire completes staffing of Poliquin’s field offices in Lewiston, Bangor and Presque Isle.

Reading list RIP, B.B.

We lost an American treasure today. News spread this morning that blues legend B.B. King died at his Las Vegas home at age 89. Born in Mississippi, King started performing in the 1940s and became one of the greatest blues guitarists of all times. His influence on music probably can’t be overstated. He was one of my father’s favorites and a soundtrack of my upbringing.

Here’s one of my favorite B.B. songs, which seems appropriate this morning. It’s called “The Thrill is Gone.”

“Now that it’s all over,” sings King, “all I can do is wish you well.” — Christopher Cousins

 

Term limits group compares Maine politicians to dirty diapers

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where veto votes are flying between the chambers and the end seems to be in sight as committees slowly but surely report out their recommendations on remaining bills.

Two high-profile bills are on their way to the House after approval yesterday in the Senate, though we won’t know whether they’ll be taken up until after caucus meetings this morning.

The first is a bill prohibiting the disturbance of shellfish beds with an increase in the maximum fine from $500 to $2,000. The bill is meant to address a conflict between worm harvesters and clammers, though the worm harvesters won’t be happy if it passes.

The second was “Taylor’s Law,” a bill named for a Bucksport teen who died in a car accident, which would establish a uniform windshield decal to identify drivers with provisional licenses that prevent them from driving with certain passengers. Supporters say the decals will help police identify intermediate drivers and help teens resist the peer pressure to give rides when they aren’t supposed to.

Committees continue to have packed schedules as the summer recess draws near. Of particular note are the controversial changes to state mining rules in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee; the bill to create a statewide virtual academy in the Education Committee; and a handful of bills regarding the besieged revenue sharing program, in the Taxation Committee. All are scheduled at 1 p.m.

As always, click here for a full list of committee activity. Also as always, go ahead and tell all your friends to subscribe to the Daily Brief. It’ll help them pass our news quizzes, I promise. — Mario Moretto.

Pingree fights continued Cuba travel ban

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, opposed on Wednesday a GOP-led effort to block scheduled airline service and cruise ship visits to Cuba.

Tourism to Cuba has been essentially prohibited for most Americans for decades. President Barack Obama’s recent decisions to move toward normalization with the Caribbean nation didn’t completely lift the travel ban, but expanded the number of categories under which Americans could gain permission to travel to Cuba.

As a result, American air and cruise lines are scheduling more trips to Cuba, to accommodate the increase in travelers. That riled some Republicans, who bristle at the idea of normalized relations with Cuba while the country is still under Castro rule.

House Republicans attached a ban on scheduled airline service and cruise ship port calls in Cuba to its $55.3 billion transportation and housing spending bill, which was before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Pingree, a member of the committee, spoke against the provision, and said increased American travel in Cuba was crucial.

“We are moving in the right direction and the policies of the last 50 years haven’t worked,” Pingree said.  “I truly believe that if we can make (Cuba) that much more accessible, more Americans will want to visit and dramatic change will continue to happen.”

The committee approved the spending bill, with its Cuban travel provision, 30-21. (Given the recent Amtrak accident in Pennsylvania, the bill was more heavily scrutinized Wednesday for slashing funding for passenger rail.) — Mario Moretto

Veto update
  • The House voted 119-27 on Wednesday to overturn Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of LD 516, which banned the state’s Lottery Commission from establishing keno as one of its lottery offerings. LePage, whose administration had sought to expand the lottery to include keno, had called the legislation unnecessary because he dropped the effort. Majority Democrats in the House yesterday said they considered the bill an appropriate assertion of legislative oversight. The bill goes to the Senate.
  • The House also voted 147-0 to override LePage’s veto of LD 420, which would raise fees on utilities that want to build new grid-scale transmission lines. The fee is used to pay for independent studies of the proposals. The bill goes to the Senate.
  • The House voted 83-63 to sustain LePage’s veto of LD 459, which would have added firework debris to the state’s definition of “litter,” allowing police to crack down on people whose firework fun results in chemicals and other debris left lingering in the environment. The bill had previously passed both chambers with unanimous consent, but Republicans in the House flipped to support the governor’s veto. The bill is likely dead.
  • In the Senate, majority Republicans voted to sustain LePage’s veto of LD 13, which would have exempted Maine’s library network from sales tax. Republicans had previously supported the measure, but changed their votes after LePage wrapped the bill into his budget proposal.

— Mario Moretto

Reading list Politicians and dirty diapers

U.S. Term Limits, the largest and loudest advocate for term limits in the nation, is paying attention to a bill by Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, that would change the way Maine elects its state senators.

Maine’s term limits law says a person can serve just four consecutive terms in either the House or Senate. As originally written, LD 1012 would lengthen the terms in the Maine Senate to four years, meaning a senator could serve 16 consecutive years rather than eight.

U.S. Term Limits opposes the move as a “radical undermining” of Maine’s term limit law. Enter these mailers, being sent to residents in Volk’s district.

The mailers utilize a quote attributed to Mark Twain to make the group’s point: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” The group is also targeting Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, the lead co-sponsor of LD 1012.

Volk has already recognized that stretching the eight-year total limit is unpopular, and has proposed an amended version of her bill that would instead implement an alternating two-year and four-year term cycle, with each senator still capped at eight consecutive years. (For details, check out Volk’s testimony, where she outlines the plan.)

While the nuance may be lost in U.S. Term Limits’ mailers, I’m sure the group’s main premise (that politicians are full of … well, you know), will remain unchanged. —  Mario Moretto.

Welfare reform is finally on the table

Matt Gagnon - Bangor Daily News -

In the wake of Gov. Paul LePage’s re-election last year, one thing seemed certain. Welfare reform was going to define the coming legislative session and perhaps be his signature accomplishment in office.

No issue galvanized the public more in the preceding year, and rightly so. Indeed, many observers believe — with a lot of evidence — that welfare, more than anything else, was the issue that got the governor another four years in office.

It isn’t hard to see why. Despite protestations from progressives, members of all political ideologies believe that the state should have a safety net, meant to catch people who need help.

Yet, the public has little tolerance for a permissive government that is so generous it indiscriminately doles out assistance. Welfare should be reserved for those who truly need it, it should help them get back on their feet, it should be temporary, and it should not be abused.

Maine is a poor state, and the public at large formed their opinion about welfare programs a long time ago. Whether you are a Republican, Democrat or independent, you have seen poverty in Maine. You have also seen how the state tries to deal with poverty, and fix it, and how woefully inept it has been at it.

Everyone knows somebody who has been on public assistance for far too long and has the capability of working. Everyone has seen waste, fraud and abuse. Everyone has seen inefficient and counterproductive uses of public money. Everyone has a “grocery store” story to tell. Everyone.

That is why so many Democrats crossed over and voted for LePage in 2014. Despite their party’s love affair with unchecked, ever-expanding welfare programs, the basic impulse of most people is to make smart, judicious use of those programs.

That is why basic work or volunteer requirements for welfare benefits are popular. That is why limitations on cash benefits are popular. That’s why cracking down on fraud is popular. At the end of the day, the public supports all these programs, but they want to make sure they are fair, don’t become a lifestyle, and aren’t subject to rampant abuse.

Following the election, a newly emboldened governor seemed primed to go after this issue. Democrats, for their part, seemed to recognize how dangerously out of step they were with the people of Maine on the issue, and sounded like they were interested in reform.

Which makes it so curious that here, in May of the following year, we are just now starting to talk about welfare.

And what do we hear?

Last week, Maine legislative Democrats in the Health and Human Services Committee voted to eliminate the welfare work requirement.

The work requirement, just so we are all aware, is a federal requirement that mandates adults who are not disabled and who have no children to work 20 hours per week, or volunteer one hour a day, in order to receive food stamp benefits. That requirement is not immediate, either. It takes three months for such a person to need to meet the work or volunteer requirement.

The idea behind the policy is a common-sense one. It ensures that a beneficiary has to contribute something, even if it is just a single hour of volunteering, to get taxpayer-funded assistance. It also helps drive people into activities that help them climb out of poverty, like job searching and getting a foot in the door with an employer or volunteer organization.

This often turns into opportunity, gets people working and encourages self-sufficiency, which is in turn good for the person in need, and good for the state. Everybody wins.

There are some positives finally emerging from the Legislature, though.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau is sponsoring legislation that would limit cash withdrawals of TANF benefits to 15 percent of the monthly stipend, restrict the use of EBT cards outside Maine, and require those applying for TANF benefits to show they are looking for work.

And of course, LePage recently unveiled his plan to finally eliminate the welfare “benefit cliff,” which throws beneficiaries off TANF if they make slightly more than the eligibility standards. The goal of welfare programs is to help people, then help them get off the program, but the “benefit cliff” creates a perverse incentive whereby workers make more money by making less and keeping their TANF benefit, causing many to not take extra shifts, accept raises and take promotions, because it would be devastating to lose their benefit.

So, hope remains that despite the late start, this legislature may do more on the issue of welfare than any previous legislature has. Let’s just make sure they actually fix the system, and we don’t return to a time when Maine lacked any accountability in its programs.

Three stark, politically critical dynastic differences between Jeb and Hillary

Amy Fried - Bangor Daily News -

The 2016 Clinton and Bush presidential candidates have families in the business, but that background helps one and hurts the other.

Some complain a possible Hillary Clinton-Jeb Bush match-up would repeat two families too much, even calling this a clash of dynasties. Others see this background positively, in that the 2016 would have a greater sense of the job as president. Call that experience by proxy.

But these two families are not politically equivalent. There are three significant differences.

Those differences could have consequences should these two face each other in the presidential contest.

1. Difference one: Bill Clinton is seen favorably. George W. Bush is seen unfavorably.

Check out this graph based on a recent CBS/New York Times poll.

Bill Clinton is in blue and George W. Bush is in red. You can see that Clinton has stronger favorable ratings and George W. Bush has stronger unfavorable ratings.

Data from CBS/New York Times Poll, April 30-May 3, 2015

The image tells the tale, but here are some numbers:

  • Overall, Bill Clinton is seen favorably by 50% and unfavorably by 23%. Among Independents, 44% see Clinton favorably, 23% unfavorably.
  • Overall, George W. Bush is seen favorably by 30% and unfavorably by 46%. Among Independents, 25% see Bush favorably, 46% unfavorably.

Difference two: The Clinton economic record is far better than the Bush economic record.

One likely reason why President Clinton is seen so much more favorably than President George W. Bush is because Clinton’s economic record was so much better.

Under Clinton, the economy grew faster and unemployment was lower.

As USA Today notes:

One of the highlights of President Clinton’s presidency was the economic boom that occurred during his time in office. Unemployment was 7.3 percent when President Clinton took office, and fell pretty much consistently to 4.2 percent by the time he left. Inflation averaged about 2.5 percent during the Clinton Administration. Real GDP growth averaged about 3.8 percent during his terms in office.

When President Bush took office in January 2001, unemployment was just 4.2 percent. However, come 2009 the financial crisis was already having its way with the economy and unemployment had surged to 7.8 percent. It’s worth pointing out that before the crisis took hold, unemployment climbed only as high as 6.3 percent. Inflation averaged 2.84 percent and real GDP growth averaged 1.6 percent during his presidency.

While George W. Bush had a net positive GDP increase of 1.6 %, this is what the change in Gross Domestic Product under George W. Bush looks like:

                                                                                     [Chart via Washington Post]

Of course attributing responsibility for economic matters is complicated, but voters often see the president in office as largely responsible for the economy. And the crash at the end of the Bush administration made quite the impression.

Difference 3: While Hillary Clinton is backing away from elements of her husband’s presidency that aren’t all that popular, Jeb Bush is doubling down on the very unpopular policy of his brother’s presidency — the Iraq War.

On the Clinton side, Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech that raised concerns about the high levels of imprisonment in the United States, an outcome in part based on what President Bill Clinton did.

As one commentator noted,

The speech was hailed as significant for a number of reasons. For one thing, it confirmed that, 21 years after her husband signed a bill making the criminal justice system much more punitive, Clinton has definitively come to the conclusion that the nation’s out-of-control incarceration rate is a problem that needs fixing.

After that, Bill Clinton weighed in on the issue, saying that, in retrospect, his policy went too far.

The problem is the way it was written and implemented is we cast too wide a net and we had too many people in prison,” [Bill] Clinton said Wednesday. “And we wound up…putting so many people in prison that there wasn’t enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out so they could live productive lives. [source]

On the Bush side, Jeb Bush has stayed close to George W. Bush on foreign policy, including the unpopular Iraq War.

According to a January 2015 piece in Politico:

While George W. Bush’s poll numbers have risen since he left office, public opinion about his 2003 invasion of Iraq hasn’t budged. A mid-October NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 66 percent of of those surveyed believe the Iraq War was “not worth it.”

Moreover, Jeb Bush has said he would look to his brother to advise him on the Middle East.

And, regarding the Iraq War, in answering a question, “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion,” the former Florida governor said, “I would have.”

Bush later said he was answering based on what was known before the Iraq war started, but, as the below graph suggests, even that is politically problematic.

NBC/WSJ poll. Graph via Talking Points Memo.

Rally outside State House today to oppose two abortion-related bills

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Howdy from Augusta, where a group of activists and protesters are planning a mid-day rally to recognize National Women’s Health Week. 

Representatives from the Maine Alliance for Reproductive Freedom, ACLU Maine, Equality Maine, Maine Women’s Lobby, Maine Family Planning, Mabel Wadsworth and Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights and a handful of lawmakers will gather at the State House Courtyard to urge lawmakers to support measures they say will advance women’s health and protect a woman’s right to make decisions about her pregnancy. 

There are two bills that the coalition will rally against. LD 83, sponsored by Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, would repeal the existing Adult Involvement Law and replace it with a requirement that a parent or legal guardian must provide written consent for a minor or incapacitated person to have an abortion. The bill provides an opening for a court to waive the requirement in certain circumstances. Maine’s teen pregnancy rate ranks fourth in the nation. 

The other bill in the coalition’s sights is LD 1312, sponsored by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, which would require outpatient surgical abortion facilities in Maine to be licensed and regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services. 

Both of those bills are scheduled for public hearings today at 1 p.m. in the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. 

One bill the coalition is supporting is LD 319, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, which would expand Medicaid coverage for reproductive health care and family planning services to adults and adolescents whose incomes are less than 209 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Elsewhere in Legislative committees are the following bills: 

  • The Criminal Justice Committee is in line to make recommendations on bills related to reducing penalties for certain drug offenses and strengthen them on others, creating a mental health unit in the Department of Corrections, and two bills related to ending the illegal exploitation of children and the selling of humans. 
  • The Environment and Natural Resources Committee is holding work sessions on two bills related to large-scale commercial mining in Maine. The issue has been debated for the past two years by the Legislature and the Environment Committee has spent the past several weeks crafting a committee bill following the Legislature’s rejection last year of mining rules proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection. 
  • The Marine Resources Committee will consider LD 1262, which would authorize the commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources to craft and sign an agreement with Maine’s Indian tribes regarding the management of commercial eel and elver fisheries. The agreement would be subject to legislative approval before it takes effect. 
  • The Taxation Committee will hold work sessions, and possibly vote on recommendations, on four bills, including Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to ask the Maine people at referendum whether they want to repeal Maine’s income tax. Also on the committee’s docket is a bid by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, to increase the property tax fairness credit, especially for property owners over age 65. 
  • The State and Local Committee will consider making a recommendation on Democratic Rep. John Martin of Eagle Lake’s proposal to increase the salaries of legislators and the governor
  • The Education Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Noa Ann Sreden of Bath, who has been nominated by LePage to join the State Board of Education. The committee will make a recommendation which will be subject to confirmation in the Senate. — Christopher Cousins 
House votes to override 3 vetoes

The House of Representatives overturned three vetoes on Tuesday in lopsided votes and sustained a fourth.

  • LD 4, An Act to Promote Industrial Hemp, has new life following a 135-6 vote in the House. It now goes to the Senate.
  • LePage’s veto of LD 59, An Act to Protect Student Rights to Privacy Regarding Their School Records, was overturned with a 141-1 vote. It goes to the Senate.
  • Another veto overturned Tuesday in the House was for LD 1275, An Act Regarding Notice to the Public Pertaining to a Resident Person Deported from Canada to the United States for Committing a Sex Offense Against a Child. The vote in the House was 144-0 and the veto had previously been overturned in the Senate with a unanimous vote. This bill will become law.
  • Falling victim to the veto pen on Tuesday was LD 237, which sought to incorporate changes suggested for the Public Utilities Commission by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability. The House voted 85-59 to overturn the veto, which failed to reach the required two-thirds threshold. The bill is dead.
  • The Senate voted 20-15 on Tuesday to sustain LePage’s veto of LD 455, An Act to Prohibit Deceptive Practices Regarding Negotiable Instruments. The bill, which would have prohibited financial institutions and creditors from mailing unsolicited loan offers known as ‘live checks,’ is dead.
  • The House and Senate will consider a new LePage veto in the coming days. LePage vetoed LD 459, An Act to Protect the Environment from Fireworks Debris, on Tuesday. — Christopher Cousins
40 up-and-comers in the GOP

The Maine Republican Party in recent years has ramped up its efforts to attract young people to the polls, into GOP groups and into elected office. Earlier this week, the party released its inaugural “40 under [age] 40″ list of the younger generation within the party. Here’s the list, cut and pasted directly from a press release:

  • Sam Adolphsen of Liberty; Chief Operating Officer at the Maine Department of Health and Human Services
  • Jamie Austin of Farmington; UMF College Republican Chair, Intern for the Governor’s Office
  • Trish Ayers of Winslow; Winslow Town Councilor
  • Curtis Ayotte of Farmingdale; Staff Assistant to Congressman Bruce Poliquin
  • Abby Bennett of Oxford; UMaine College Republican Chair
  • State Senator Eric Brakey of Auburn
  • Jamie Carter of Augusta; Communications Director for the Maine Senate Republican Office
  • Rob Caverly of Chelsea; Chief of Staff to Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau
  • Dale Crafts Jr. of Lisbon; Lisbon Town Councilor
  • State Representative A.J. Edgecomb of Fort Fairfield
  • Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth; CEO of the Maine Heritage Policy Center
  • Leland Graves of Bangor; UMaine graduate student, former field representative with the Maine Republican Party
  • Jason Greene of Durham; Androscoggin State Committee At-Large Member
  • Mayor Nick Isgro of Waterville
  • Lee Jackson of Old Town; RSU 34 Board of Director; Penobscot County Republican Committee Chair
  • Luke Jensen of Lewiston; Chairman of the Lewiston Republican City Committee
  • Ben Kelleher of Prospect; Waldo County State Committeeman
  • Mayor Jonathan LaBonte of Auburn; Director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management
  • Lauren LePage of Waterville; Executive Director of Maine People Before Politics
  • Hon. Aaron Libby of Waterboro
  • Andrew Mahaleris of Augusta; UMaine Student and Treasurer of UMaine College Republicans
  • Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason of Lisbon
  • Cynthia Mendros of Lewiston; Lewiston School Board
  • Isaac Misiuk of South Portland; CEO of Tomorrow’s Majority
  • Kate Norfleet of Scarborough; State Office Representative for US Senator Susan Collins
  • State Representative Matthew Pouliot of Augusta
  • Emily Roderick of Readfield; Kennebec County Republican Committee Chair
  • Shawn Roderick of Readfield; Assistant Secretary of the Maine Senate
  • Matthew Roy of Lewiston; Androscoggin County Commissioner
  • Ashley Ryan of Portland; RNC National Committeewoman
  • Ashley Sampson of Rome; Executive Assistant Maine Senate President Michael Thibodeau
  • Ashley Simon of Hampden; UMaine student; member of #Gen207
  • David Sorensen of Augusta; Director of Policy Research and Media Relations at Maine Department of Health and Human Services
  • Billy Thompson of Brunswick; Management Analysis at the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management
  • State Representative Will Tuell of Lubec
  • State Representative Nathan Wadsworth of Hiram
  • Tyler Washburn of Bowdoin; Sagadahoc County State Committeeman
  • State Representative Dustin White of Washburn
  • Hon. Alex Willette of Augusta; RNC National Committeeman
  • Melissa Willette of Augusta; Senior Legislative Aide for the Maine House Republican Office
  • Blake Winslow of Presque Isle; Aroostook County Republican Committee Chair

The GOP’s #Gen207 group is planning a “40 under 40″ celebration in June. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Where are Maine’s best restaurants?

Maybe this will come as a surprise, maybe not: Some of the most popular and widely read stories posted by the Bangor Daily News are about restaurants, particularly new ones. Now, the BDN is conducting a survey to identify the state’s best restaurants. Take the quiz and then stay tuned to our website to see the results! — Christopher Cousins

LePage to DC to talk natural gas, hydro power with congressional committee

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Gov. Paul LePage, R-Maine, at a recent public forum in Belfast. BDN file photo by Ashley L. Conti.

Gov. Paul LePage is en route to Washington, D.C, where he’ll testify Wednesday before to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on energy and power.

The hearing, chaired by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, will focus on Republican-backed proposals to expedite the interstate natural gas pipeline permitting process and streamline hydropower licensing and increase hydropower production.

LePage, who has advocated for expanded access to both energy sources in Maine, is the only official from any of the states scheduled to speak to the committee.

In his prepared testimony, LePage writes that the United States is now able to meet its energy needs all on its own, thanks in part to technological advances and the boom in natural gas production.

But, LePage said, federal bureaucracy has not kept pace with innovation, which he blamed on nefarious interests.

“Our federal permitting process has languished,” he wrote. “The process is often hijacked by activists who are not looking to improve projects or raise substantive environmental considerations. Rather, their objective is simply to block critical energy infrastructure across the country — to keep projects stuck in bureaucracy and to hold our economies back.”

LePage reiterated his assessment that needlessly high energy costs have hurt Maine’s manufacturing sector. As evidence, he points to the succession of mill closures in the Pine Tree State.

“Our federal regulations need to be overhauled to unleash our country’s economy,” LePage wrote. “Natural gas and hydropower are ready to power our idle mills.”

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Wednesday. A live Web stream will be available at http://1.usa.gov/INlRqo.

Erecting a fence around Maine’s ‘welfare cliff’

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is gearing up to introduce another welfare reform bill, similar to one we’ve seen before.

LePage is holding a news conference this morning to unveil a new proposal for a tiered welfare system in Maine. Essentially, it would eliminate the “welfare cliff,” which causes recipients to lose all benefits the moment their income rises above a certain threshold.

That can result in them being even less able to afford basic necessities than they were before the raise that made them ineligible. 

The idea is that by adding tiers to the eligibility scale, welfare recipients will be eased off government assistance, rather than dropped completely. It ensures that beneficiaries of welfare programs reap the benefits of moving a few rungs up the economic ladder, rather than being punished for it.

If that sounds familiar, there’s good reason. It might be because LePage has championed the approach before. Republicans have tried to pass such a bill in previous legislatures, but Democrats have opposed it.

Or it might be because this year, Rep. Drew Gattine — the Democratic House chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee — has his own bill to keep Mainers from careening over the welfare cliff.

So can a deal get done? Will LePage and Gattine make for strange bedfellows in this welfare reform effort? Will Democrats, who saw the GOP successfully wield welfare reform like a fiery sword in the last election, come on board?

It’s hard to say without seeing more details of LePage’s plan, and how they stack up against Gattine’s.

Side note: Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit legal aid firm and advocate for the poor, will host its own news conference today to support Gattine’s bill and to discuss research it’s conducted on the welfare cliff in Maine.

The group is skepitcal of LePage’s welfare reform efforts, which it says “seek to stigmatize the poor while making the state’s anti-poverty programs less effective.”

Keep watching bangordailynews.com today for more information. Last but not least, avid readers will know that what you’re reading right now is the BDN Daily Brief, written at the crack of dawn every weekday morning to keep you up to date on all the goings-on in Augusta. Newbies should know that you can subscribe to receive the Daily Brief in your email inbox, by clicking here. — Mario Moretto.

Snow day bill becomes law

Remember winter? It wasn’t that long ago. It was long, cold, and covered in several feet of snow. Lots of school days were canceled, leaving districts with the prospect of extending the school year well into summer vacation.

Not anymore. A bill to solve that problem — by Rep. Will Tuell, R-East Machias — is now law. The bill lets local school districts add up to one hour to a school day. Five such extensions would count as making up one day lost to Father Winter.

Districts will be allowed to make up five lost days with the one-hour extensions. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

Maine could extend college loan tax credits to out-of-state grads

About 2,600 graduates of Maine’s public colleges and universities already enroll in a state tax credit program that reimburses them for student loan payments as long as they stay in Maine after graduation.

The program, known alternately as “Opportunity Maine” or the Maine Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, was championed by Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond of Portland back when he was the leader of the state’s League of Young Voters. The group spearheaded the effort to create the credit back in 2007.

Now, Alfond wants to expand the credit to some students who attend out-of-state colleges but return to Maine after graduation. It’s supposed to put a big stopper in Maine’s oft-discussed “brain drain.”

“Our kids want to return home to Maine – with newly minted degrees in hand – to begin their careers; however, they’re overly burdened by debt and often feel compelled to seek higher incomes in other states in order to tackle their student loans,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, in a written statement. “This bill says to them:  ‘Come home to Maine where you can put your degree, your skills, and your experiences to work and we will help you tackle your student loans’.”

Alfond’s bill, LD 1383, is scheduled for a work session in the Taxation Committee today at 1 p.m. — Mario Moretto.

LePage vetoes 3 more bills

They are:

— Mario Moretto

Reading list Dan Cashman gets ‘Weird’

Readers of this blog may know Dan Cashman best as the Democratic PR operative who ran communications for Emily Cain’s CD2 campaign last year after serving in a similar role for Rep. Mike Michaud in the 2012 CD2 campaign. But in the Bangor area, he’s also well-known as the host of “The Nite Show with Dan Cashman,” a local take on the popular TV format pioneered by Johnny Carson and continued today by the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Seth Myers, Conan O’Brien and — sometimes, it seems — countless others.

Anyway, “Weird” Al Yancovic, was a surprise guest on Cashman’s show this weekend, when he interrupted a segment wherein Cashman and a local musician performed mashups of his songs. It’s pretty great. Check it out, here. HT to the BDN’s Emily Burnham for spotting the clip.

Yancovic will perform on the Maine State Pier in Portland on July 26. — Mario Moretto.

LePage vetoes 2 bills, resubmits them as part of his budget package

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Two tax code proposals that Gov. Paul LePage vetoed recently have come back to lawmakers at the hand of the governor himself, raising questions about why LePage supports concepts now that he vetoed just a few weeks ago.

The answer, according to his staff, is that he wants tax reform considered as a package, not piece-by-piece. However, considering a range of initiatives in a single bill puts all of the initiatives at risk if the larger bill fails.

Both bills were unanimously supported by the Legislature.

LePage included language from the two bills in what is known as the governor’s “change package,” which includes numerous adjustments to his biennial budget proposal. The change package is under review by the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

In late March, LePage vetoed LD 13, which sought to exempt libraries from sales and service provider taxes.

“This bill may have merit in its own right, and other services provides at a municipal level may benefit from examining the initiative that libraries have taken to coordinate regionally and explore opportunities to reduce the cost of providing services,” wrote LePage in his veto letter. “However, now is not the time to grant targeted exemptions.”

On that same day in March, LePage vetoed LD 48, which seeks to reduce registration fees and excise taxes for for-hire vehicles with equipment designed for use by people with disabilities. LePage’s veto letter contained very similar language to his LD 13 letter.

Language from the two vetoed bills appears on page and 27 and 61 of the governor’s change package, respectively.

Though this series of events shows that there is widespread support for the two measures right up to the governor’s office, LePage’s insistence that they be folded into his budget proposal means he’s willing to consider supporting them only if they attached to other provisions that are his priorities. This has become a familiar tactic by LePage and, at times, Democrats in the Legislature.

 

GOP senator’s bid to force LePage to sign conservation bonds at center stage today

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where there are already signs of progress in Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to transform the face of state government within the city. As reported last month, Gov. Paul LePage has proposed a $112 million bond in his biennial budget proposal for redeveloping state-owned property, including some of the buildings at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute and what is known as the “East Side” campus, as well as building a new office complex.

The bond proposed by LePage, which would come through the Maine Governmental Facilities Authority and as such needs only legislative approval and no referendum, is pending in the Legislature. However, the executive branch is celebrating a step in the direction of progress on this front this morning with the rededication of the Marquardt Building at 32 Blossom Lane in Augusta. 

The building’s population has expanded in recent months to about 220 employees, at least on a temporary basis, including a move of Bureau of Motor Vehicle employees to the former AMHI building while an extensive roof replacement is done at the BMV’s Hospital Street building. 

This morning’s ceremony at Marquardt is scheduled to include Finance Commissioner Richard Rosen and is sure to include some talk of LePage’s proposed facilities shuffle, which at the outset drew concerns from Augusta officials about the state eliminating some of its leases in the city in favor of renovating old state buildings. Also on the schedule this morning is state historian Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr. who will discuss the history of the building. Shettleworth always paints a vivid picture and this should be interesting. 

Across the river from the East Campus at the State House, parental rights over the education of their children is center stage in the Education Committee, which has a lengthy list of public hearings on their docket. Those include a bill to allow parents to opt their children out of standardized testing and a range of proposals to change the way schools measure students and award diplomas. 

In the Health and Human Services Committee, the controversial issue of childhood vaccines will be explored during public hearings on three bills, at least two of which aim to increase childhood vaccination rates in Maine. This debate comes amid a nationwide measles outbreak which has rekindled debate around the always hot and emotional topic.

In other committee action today: 

The House and Senate return to action on Tuesday. With the end of the legislative session in June moving ever closer, expect much of the debate at the State House to begin a shift away from committee rooms and toward the full Legislature. Most of the major bills of this session are still awaiting action and as always it’s going to be a sprint to the finish, but it will feel more like a marathon. — Christopher Cousins 

5 more vetoes from LePage

LePage has shown that reaching for his veto pen wasn’t just a first-session phenomenon. There were five more vetoes issued on Friday:

  • LD 4, An Act to Promote Industrial Hemp. LePage said the bill would put Maine in violation of federal law.
  • LD 59, An Act to Protect Students’ Rights and Privacy Regarding their School Records. LePage wrote in his veto letter that the bill goes too far in terms of the state’s rights over private schools.
  • LD 237, An Act to Address Recommendations from the Report by the Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability Regarding the Public Utilities Committee. The bill would create a new position at the Office of the Public Advocate, which LePage said would shift the organization’s focus too much toward the public.
  • LD 455, An Act to Prohibit Deceptive Practices Regarding Negotiable Instruments. The bill would make it illegal for companies to solicit loans to businesses by sending a document that looks like a live check. LePage said the bill isn’t specific enough and that the practice is already restricted in the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.
  • LD 1275, An Act Regarding Notice to the Public Pertaining to a Resident Person Deported From Canada to the United States for Committing a Sex Offense Against a Child. LePage said the bill is confusing and could pose a hindrance to law enforcement agencies.

The vetoes will be taken up in the House and Senate in the coming days. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list Amazing 4-year-old lost, finds her way home on Mother’s Day

Need a lift? Read Julia Bayly’s story about a little girl who wandered into the woods, triggered a search-and-rescue response, but found her way back home. — Christopher Cousins

Prominent pink paper-mache pig a product of political passion

Mike Tipping - Bangor Daily News -

A giant paper-mache pig that appeared on the corner of State and Exchange Street in Bangor yesterday has already begun to attract significant attention, with a steady stream of passers-by stopping to comment on and take photos of the work of public art.

Normally, sculptures in public spaces like this would have to be approved by the city’s Commission on Cultural Development, but not this particular porcine installation. That’s because this is a pig with a message.

“School Budget” reads a sign on the side of the happy-looking pig. “VOTE NO” is written on its tongue.

Because our curly-tailed friend is expressing a viewpoint on an upcoming election, he counts as constitutionally-protected political signage.

According to City Councillor Ben Sprague, who checked with the City Manager after I inquired about the artwork, no city ordinance or state law prohibits car-sized political pigs on public property.

A sheaf of full-color fliers attached to the side of the pig makes its political position clear. They advocate against the upcoming vote to ratify Bangor’s school budget (and use some misleading tactics to do so, such as comparing statewide averages for teacher salaries with the average for all teacher compensation, including health insurance and other benefits, in Bangor).

Nowhere on the sculpture is a disclosure of who constructed or paid for the pig. Although referendums in Bangor (and other Maine cities with populations of more than 15,000) fall under the auspices of state campaign finance laws, individuals and groups intervening in ballot questions only need to identify themselves on their signage and materials if they make an expenditure of more than $500.

A motorist who stopped to take a photo of the pig informed me, however, that it was constructed by a friend of his, local tea party activist Paul Trommer. If that’s true, kudos to Trommer for bringing some levity to what’s normally a staid political process.

Despite its creativity, the pig’s message is unlikely to be persuasive. Last year, Bangor voters ratified a comparable level of school spending by a nearly two-to-one vote, despite some strident signage in the same location.

The biggest effect of the installation of the pig may be to prompt more public artistic/political expression in Bangor.

“So we are free to leave paper mâché installations anyplace we want???” wrote local photographer and activist Jeff Kirlin in a public Facebook post after learning of the sculpture’s legality. “OMG. I need chicken wire, newspaper, and wheat paste, STAT!”

One question remains: as it seems that the pig will likely be a prominent part of the city landscape until June, what should we call it? Feel free to suggest a name right here.

Should Maine tighten the reins on its marijuana caregiver industry?

State and Capitol - Bangor Daily News -

Good morning from Augusta, where the days are just packed.

This morning, the Health and Human Services Committee will consider 11 — eleven! — different bills related to the state’s medical marijuana industry.

One of those bills, LD 1392 by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, is raising red flags with the state’s medical marijuana caregiver program, which has operated as a largely informal cottage industry — and would like to keep it that way.

The bill would formalize the industry in many ways, including providing a  stronger framework of legal oversight, including stiffer penalties and more uniform registration requirements for nearly all patients and medical marijuana cultivators.

A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 9 a.m. Work sessions on the other 10 medical marijuana bills will follow.

Meanwhile, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will chew several election, campaign finance and off-track betting bills.

And — no joke — the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will consider LD 1179, An Act to Prohibit the Selling of Humans, because, apparently, that’s not already illegal.

Enjoy your weekend, and as always, don’t forget to tell all your friends, family and bitter enemies to subscribe to the Daily Brief. Here’s the link. — Mario Moretto.

A Kennedy is coming to Maine to talk about vaccines

Yup, one of those Kennedys.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a noted believer in the widely-debunked connection between vaccination and brain disorders such as autism, will be in Augusta on Monday to tell lawmakers about the dangers of thimerosal.

Thimerosal, a preservative found in some vaccines, contains trace amounts of mercury, making it really dangerous to human health, Kennedy believes.

A broad scientific consensus, though, disagrees, with organizations such as the CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics and National Academies’ Institute of Medicine, reporting trace levels of thimerosal are safe, according to the Washington Post, which wrote an excellent story last year about RFK Jr.’s anti-vax activities.

ICYMI, three quick facts from our health reporter, Jackie Farwell, which she deploys when writing about vaccination:

  • “The scientific consensus is overwhelming that vaccines are safe for the vast majority of people and effective at reducing or eliminating deadly disease. Some describe immunization and the subsequent stamping out of infectious illnesses like polio as the country’s greatest public health achievement.”
  • “The study that purported vaccines can cause autism — a founding document of the current anti-vaccine movement — has been resoundingly discredited. The British medical journal that originally published the study retracted it and its author was stripped of his medical license.”
  • “Most Maine parents vaccinate their children. While the opt out rate is on the rise, 95 percent of parents in the state sought no exemptions during the 2013-14 school year.”

At an rate, Kennedy, who’s written a book about the alleged dangers of thimerosal, will join the Maine Coalition for Vaccine Choices to lobby lawmakers in an effort to weaken state vaccination requirements.

The Health and Human Services Committee will hold public hearings on three bills related to vaccination standards on Monday, May 11.

One bill seeks to end an exemption that allows parents to skip vaccines for their children for philosophical reasons, while another bill would make opting out harder. A third proposal by the coalition, which opposes mandating vaccines, aims to create a new office within the state Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate vaccine injury claims.

Regardless of dubious scientific claims, the vaccination debate has raised interesting questions about when and how the government should be able to dictate health regimens, and about the ethics of regulating what does — or doesn’t — go into people’s bodies.

After the committee hearing, Kennedy and filmmaker Eric Gladen will head to the Jewett Auditorium to screen “Trace Amounts,” a documentary about Gladen’s mercury poisoning, which he believes resulted from a tetanus shot. — Mario Moretto, with a big H/T to Jackie Farwell.

Battled and bruised, minimum wage increase clears Labor Committee

LD 952, which would increase the state’s minimum wage by 50-cent increments each year until it hit $9.50 in 2018, was approved by lawmakers on the Labor Committee yesterday.

But like most of the contentious bills in the committee, the report was divided on partisan lines. A majority composed of all six committee Democrats and one independent, who caucuses with them, approved of the measure.

Three Republicans on the committee opposed the bill outright, while three others supported an amended version that would have tied a minimum wage increase to a prohibition on municipalities enacting their own minimum wages — something Bangor and Portland are currently attempting, much to Gov. Paul LePage’s chagrin.

Those of you who have been paying attention all session can say it with me, now: The bill faces steep odds of passage given the divided nature of the Legislature, where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats the House. LePage opposes the bill, as well. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list Trust me on this one

You’re going to want to check out “Vanished: The untold, unsolved case of Jessie Hoover.” Like, now.

It’s a gripping multimedia story about a woman who walked into the Maine woods back in 1983 and was never heard from again.

Since her disappearance on a remote stretch of the Appalachian Trail, Jessie Hoover’s name has been little more than a footnote in Maine history. Her name was forgotten for decades, and only listed recently in public missing person reports and unsolved case files.

Yet her family in White Settlement, Texas, still waits for an answer to a question first asked 32 years ago: What happened to Jessie Hoover? Did she really simply disappear without a trace?

Big kudos to BDN writer Christopher Burns who reported the story, which also features visuals by the BDN’s Brian Feulner and by Brandon Wade in Texas. “Vanished” was edited by Tony Ronzio, John Holyoke and Sarah Walker Caron.

You can read it here.– Mario Moretto.

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