Daily Brief: Bills to restrict cellphone use while driving due for votes today

Good morning from the State House, where the busiest room in Augusta this week was probably the Appropriations Committee room. Hundreds of people have come and gone as lawmakers have taken testimony on the portions of Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposals in the Department of Health and Human Services. Dozens and dozens have testified for the record.

The parade through Approps continues today as the attention turns to developmental services, brain injury programs, children’s services and mental health. There’s a relatively wide swath of DHHS’s operations under scrutiny today, making for another lengthy day for lawmakers. 

The only other committee working today is Transportation, which is being introduced to a bill that will decrease when you’re required to use your headlights by one hour a day. Current law says turn them on from 30 minutes before sunset to 30 minutes after sunrise; the bill would make it simply sunset to sunrise. Not a lot of testimony is expected on this one. 

The committee is likely to take votes on some other bills, including Auburn Republican Sen. Eric Brakey’s bid to end Maine’s requirement that adults wear seat belts. Also on the docket are two bills that would further restrict when cellphones could be used by drivers. It’s already illegal to text while driving and these bills would prohibit phone calls either altogether or unless they’re done in hands-free mode.

The Legislature continues to speed up. Next week the House and Senate will begin adding Wednesday sessions to deal with the growing volume of bills coming out of committee debate. 

If you’re reading the Daily Brief in you email inbox, congratulations! You’re one of a large and growing group. If not, sign up over there at the right of this page. — Christopher Cousins 

Maine’s ‘Rapid Renewal’ surpasses 1 million online vehicle registrations

Maine’s Rapid Renewal program, which allows online registration of automobiles by individuals and businesses (a healthy percentage of them presumably wearing pajamas and sipping tea) has now grown to include 193 Maine communities and has surpassed 1 million transactions, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Participation in the program is optional for towns and cities and requires rather extensive training for local employees, but it’s catching on. Since the beginning of this year alone, seven municipalities have signed on: Mars Hill, Andover, Jackman, Baldwin, Orient, Milford and Van Buren. Secretary of State spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski says another four towns are close to offering the service.

Check here to see if you town or city participates in Rapid Renewal. If it doesn’t, the Secretary of State’s office suggests having your town officials call 626-8400 to get started. — Christopher Cousins

Senate neuters bill to name state dog

Every time I write about Sen. David Dutremble’s bill to make the Labrador retriever the state dog, I receive calls and emails asking why I don’t put my time and efforts to better use by reporting on “important” bills working their way through the Legislature. However, thanks to new wonders of the digital world, I can also see that people are keenly interested.

The Lab bill has been in trouble from the beginning, with even Dutremble saying he was reluctant to sponsor it at first. A legislative committee voted against it, which creates a tough row to hoe for any bill, though Dutremble tried to revive it Thursday in the Senate, the bill found its final resting place with a 24-10 vote, ought not to pass.

It’s Friday. If you’re a dog owner, pick up a bottle of wine for yourself and some milk bones for the pooch. Cuddle up on the couch tonight and watch a movie, though I don’t suggest “Sounder,” “Where the Red Fern Grows,” “Turner and Hooch,” “Marley and Me” and definitely not “Old Yeller.” Maybe some old Lassie reruns? — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Good work, if you can get it

A new Gallup poll contains some good news, if you’re a publicly funded federal employee. The poll found that 44 percent of federal government employees are thriving financially, compared with 34 percent of the rest of us. At the other end of the scale, 17 percent of federal workers said they were suffering financially, versus 24 percent of all other workers

According to the National Priorities Project’s Maine State Smart website (which claims Maine is the birthplace of the microwave, no joke), there were more than 21,000 federal workers in Maine in 2013 who were making an average of nearly $85,000 a year in wages and benefits.

Gallup goes to lengths to explain that to thrive financial means as much or more about personal financial management as it does about a person’s salary, indicating that federal employees are better with their money, on average, than the rest of us.

Could this be because of uncertainty related to the Congress’ inability to reliably pass federal budgets? If you’re a federal worker, here’s to another continuing resolution. — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.