Daily Brief: Phthalate rule weakened, plus a plan to split Maine in two

Good morning from Augusta where lawmakers … are elsewhere, actually. 

Many of them are back at home, as session doesn’t open again until Tuesday. But some — one busload, actually — are embarking on a tour, criss-crossing the state to get a view of businesses, health care facilities, schools, energy projects and other activity outside the confines of their own districts.

The bus tour, open to legislators only, is put together by the Maine Development Foundation as part of its Policy Leaders Academy.

Meanwhile, Gov. Paul LePage was also out of town Thursday, visiting Colby College in Waterville. It was a quiet day in the State House. Still, there’s plenty to report.

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State limits phthalate rule proposal

A citizen-initiated rule change that would require manufactures to disclose the presence of potentially dangerous chemicals in many consumer products was weakened this week when the state DEP amended the rule to apply only to products designed for children under 12 years old.

Proponents of the rule change had originally called for more sweeping regulations, which would have required manufacturers of any products to disclose the presence of the chemicals, known as phthalates. You can see the changes made by the DEP to the original proposal here.

While the U.S Centers for Disease Control says the health risks of phthalates are unknown and stops short of saying exposure to the chemicals is necessarily harmful, a number of studies have linked the chemicals to several health problems: hormone disruption, birth defects, asthma, an increased risk of cancer and more.

Now, proponents including the Maine Women’s Lobby are criticizing the department, saying its changes don’t do enough to protect pregnant women, saying the DEP has “once again chosen symbolism over substance.”

“Their decision to significantly narrow the focus of the rule to only cover products that are intentionally marketed to young children ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence of harm during fetal exposure,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, director of program and development with the group.”This leaves pregnant women completely in the dark about which products are safer and which could cause harm.”

The DEP says the changes are designed to “make the originally proposed draft rule more consistent with currently effective rules implemented by the Safer Chemicals Program, and to better align the proposed rule with Maine law.”

Because of the DEP’s significant changes to the propose rule, a public comment period has been re-opened. It will close on Feb. 17.

House vacancy, but no resignation?

You may be wondering when the House District 93 seat — recently vacated by now ex-Rep. Elizabeth Dickerson, a Democrat — will be filled. Turns out House Republicans are as well.

The caucus is grousing that Dickerson hasn’t yet formally resigned from her seat, meaning the state can’t yet call a special election to replace her. So far, four candidates have emerged to take over in House District 93, which includes Rockland and Owls Head.

In a move that seemingly surprised everyone under the dome, Dickerson announced in various online outlets last week that she was resigning the seat she had just won. The district is currently without representation as Dickerson has already moved to Colorado.

“We want to know why, if Rep. Dickerson truly wants to give up her seat, she has yet to formally resign? There are people ready and willing to step in and do the job. What’s the delay?” said House Republican Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, on Thursday.

Democrats, however, say there has been no delay. Jodi Quintero, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said Dickerson’s letter is in the mail and will arrive soon.

Five economists walk into a bar …

Actually, they walked onto the pages of MaineBiz. But I can’t resist.

We’re a bit late on this one, but wanted to give a hat tip to the biweekly business publication for its annual economic panel. Five Maine economists, got together to weigh in on how the state’s economy will go in 2015.

Their prognosis? Dylan Martin summarizes:

Maine’s economy is expected to gain momentum in 2015, but slowly and modestly. The largest challenges? Count Maine’s aging population, rising electricity prices and the attracting and retaining of job talent among them.

Check out the whole story here. Especially telling are the economists’ three-word predictions for Maine’s economy in 2015. Said Jonathan Reisman of UMaine Machias: “Grayed. Frayed. Staid.”

Reading list:

A tale of two Maines

“Let’s just divide the state in two!” said a young Portland resident, confused about how anyone could have voted for Paul LePage in November.

“Agreed,” said a middle-aged resident of Winn, suspicious that southern Maine never really seceded from Massachusetts anyway.

Fear not, guys. Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman, has heard your pleas and proposed “A Resolve to Study the Division of Maine into Two States” for consideration by the new Legislature, according to this story by Chris Cousins.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.