Daily Brief: Fireworks debate bursts open again; LePage’s student debt relief

Good morning from Augusta, where the debate over fireworks use in Maine is poised to burst open once again as lawmakers consider five bills that would limit the use of the consumer explosives made legal by a Republican-controlled Legislature in 2012. 

Since the sale and use of fireworks were legalized, many Maine towns and cities have limited their use or banned it altogether, citing noise complaints or safety concerns. And while access to fireworks has ignited a cottage industry in Maine, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have proposed legislation each year since 2012 that would limit their use. Most of those efforts have failed. 

On Monday, the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will hear public testimony on five fireworks bills. Two of them — LD 149 by Rep. Frances Head, R-Bethel, and LD 177 by Rep. Brian Hobart, R-Bowdoinham — would limit the use of fireworks near farm animals.

Some animal welfare activists have said the loud noise and bright lights of fireworks are detrimental to livestock, causing them to panic and injure themselves, according to a 2013 report in the Lakes Region Weekly

Other fireworks bills up for consideration are:

  • LD 302 by Sen. Chris Johnson, D-Somerville, which would prohibit the use of consumer fireworks whenever the governor issues a proclamation prohibiting outdoor fires, and clarify that fireworks noise “may constitute loud and unreasonable noise” under Maine’s disorderly conduct law.
  • LD 459 by Rep. Mike Lajoie, D-Lewiston, which would define fireworks debris as “litter,” paving the way for citations of people who cause detritus from fireworks to fall on other people’s property. 
  • LD 324 by Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, which would prohibit the use of fireworks on Monhegan Island Plantation, except on Independence Day. 

The committee will hold public hearings on all five bills at 1 p.m. Monday. 

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CORRECTION: A previous version of this post erroneously stated that the hearings on the fireworks bills would take place Thursday, March 5. We regret the error.

LePage pushes student debt relief

Gov. Paul LePage’s budget proposal pitch normally always starts with the governor reminding listeners that Maine is the oldest state in the nation. Eventually, he’ll say that his budget — and the huge tax reform package contained therein — is an effort to reverse Maine’s demographic conundrum, which sees more Mainers dying than being born each year.

But while the governor’s plan contains a lot of targeted relief for Maine’s elderly citizens — increased property tax relief programs, decreased tax on pension income, and more — it was unclear how LePage planned to attract more young people to Maine until yesterday.

During speeches to the Maine Heritage Policy Center and to the general public, LePage revealed Wednesday two ideas for attracting more young college graduates to Maine:

The “No. 1 debt in America is student loans,” LePage said. “We’re looking for ways to pay off student loans at little cost to the students, so they can invest in more long-term issues like cars, and homes and families. That’s really what we’re trying to do for the young people. … I’m looking to grow the population. We cannot sustain ourselves losing more people than are born.”

LePage’s communications director, Peter Steele, said the governor’s plans are “still in the works right now,” but the governor offered some detail. He said he wants to develop a public-private grant program wherein every dollar contributed by the private sector would be matched by state money. These grants would go to Maine students, he said.

The second proposal, he said, was a “dollar-for-dollar” tax credit to businesses in Maine that pay off their employees’ student loans. However, a program called the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit, which fits that description, already exists in Maine, so it’s unclear at this stage how LePage would build on the existing effort to subsidize student debt repayment. — Mario Moretto.

Could Collins be next ‘dean of Senate women’?

It’s a title currently held by Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat and the longest-serving woman in Congress’ upper chamber. But with Mikulski announcing she won’t run for re-election in 2016, one Politico reporter is wondering whether the title may fall on Maine’s Republican senator, Susan Collins.

Mikulski is known for her enforcement of unity, whenever possible, among the Senate’s female members and as a fierce proponent for policies that benefit women. She also leads regular dinners for the women of the Senate, an effort to build and maintain personal relationships meant to translate into cohesive political power.

Here’s Politico’s Liza Mundy:

In the end perhaps the strongest contender of all is Collins of Maine, among the last of a breed of bipartisan-minded Republicans, who has the seniority and the credibility and the long-standing friendships. Collins has a vivid memory of institutional culture back when men like Strom Thurmond and Bob Packwood stalked the halls of what was truly a men’s club. She, too, has survived and thrived. During the 2013 government shutdown, it was Collins who called upon her colleagues to come out of their partisan corners to end the fiscal crisis and get the government funded and running. She’s measured but frank: It is her view that women who enter the Senate still have to work harder to prove themselves before they are accepted. If she wanted the post, she probably could get it, and it would be good for the cause of bipartisanship to have the next dean be a Republican.

Check out the full article here. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

Snow forts!

I didn’t wear a coat for one second yesterday. The mood boost it gave me probably looked more like stimulants than sunshine to casual observers. I’m sure I’m not alone in crossing my fingers hoping for more days like that in the weeks to come.

022815snowcave_ 015.jpg

As we approach mud season, the only downside is that there’s going to be fewer opportunities to play in the snow. So I offer you two case studies in how to go big with what’s left of the white stuff: Our own John Holyoke’s tale of overnight survival and snow-density mathematics (that’s him in the above photo, by BDN’s Brian Feulner), and the Sun Journal’s Scott Thistle on how he built the “Winter Man Cave 2.0.”

Get inspired, folks. Spring is just around the corner. — Mario Moretto

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.