Daily Brief: LePage bullish on winning public opinion for his budget

Greetings from the state capital, where lawmakers are weighing whether to delay implementation of new teacher evaluations.

Schools are supposed to being using new a teacher evaluation system in the 2015-2016 school year, which begins in July. Rep. Brian Hubbell, D-Bar Harbor, serves on the Education Committee and has proposed a bill, LD 38, to push back the deadline by one year.

The original law that created the new system required districts to run federally approved pilot programs in 2014 before implementing the new system completely in 2015. Hubbell says the delay is necessary because districts were not given the rules necessary to develop their new evaluation system until 2014 — two years later than they were supposed to.

That means they haven’t had time to run the necessary pilot programs. The districts “need the 2015-2016 school year in order to pilot their systems in good faith,” Hubbell wrote in testimony to the Education Committee.

The state’s Department of Education is neither for or against Hubbell’s bill, but questions have been raised about how delayed implementation of evaluations will affect the state’s ability to receive Title I education funding from the federal government.

The state’s waiver with the feds, which guarantees continued funding, involves the evaluation system. The state DoE is working on a bill to ensure funding continues.

Elsewhere, lawmakers are taking up the following bills of note:

  • In the Criminal Justice Committee, Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, has a bill that would direct the proceeds from the sale of forfeited firearms to Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE. The program puts police officers into middle schools in an effort to keep kids off drugs.
  • In the Utilities Committee, lawmakers will hold a public hearing on a bill by Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, to let cable TV subscribers buy channels individually (So you can watch “Game of Thrones” without having to subscribe to ESPNs 1 through 47).
  • Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, will present a bill to the Marine Resources Committee that would create a new state panel to tackle ocean acidification, a climate-change phenomena that puts Maine’s lucrative fisheries in jeopardy. It represents a continuation of work conducted by an ad hoc group last year, which Devin led.
  • In the Legal Affairs Committee, Rep. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, has a bill to prohibit the state from expanding lottery operations to include the game keno. The state’s lottery division was set to open the game in convenience stores across Maine this year through the governor’s authority to expand gaming, but LePage indicated Tuesday that he’d back off the plan to avoid a fight with the Legislature.

As always, remember to subscribe to receive the Daily brief in your inbox every morning. And tell your friends, too. — Mario Moretto

LePage touts public support for his budget plan

As lawmakers, especially Democrats, become increasingly vocal in their opposition to Gov. Paul LePage’s budget, the governor himself has hit the road to sell the plan directly to voters, where he’s pitched his view of the plan to decrease the income tax, raise the sales tax and eliminate state aid for municipalities.

It’s an attempt to apply leverage to lawmakers by winning over their constituents. If a lawmaker is on the fence about the budget, a lot of phone calls from their district urging them to support it would be a big win for LePage.

On Tuesday, during a short interview with reporters, the governor said the plan is working.

“In the last election, things the Democrats overlooked was the momentum that welfare reform was getting, and this is even surpassing that,” he said. “I am extremely, extremely confident. If we don’t get it through the Legislature, we’ll get it at the polls.”

LePage has pledged to turn the budget fight into an election issue, and promised to personally campaign in 2016 against any lawmaker who opposes his tax reform plan. — Mario Moretto.

Pingree warns of trouble for Maine seasonal workers

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, has written to the Obama administration, asking for the federal government to once again begin issuing seasonal work visas.

Maine’s tourism industry depends in part on these documents, known as H-2B visas, to fill seasonal positions at inns, hotels and restaurants. The visas often go to students from overseas who come to Maine to work for the summer, when the state’s tourism industry in in full swing.

If you’ve been to Bar Harbor in August and noted the Russian or Jamaican accents at the shops and inns, you’ve seen the H2-B program at work.

Until recently, the Department of Homeland Security would issue H2-B visas after the Department of Labor reviewed the applications to ensure the foreign workers wouldn’t displace any American laborers or affect local wages. But the DoL has stopped processing visas in the wake of an ongoing court case, in which a federal judge ruled that DoL doesn’t have the authority to review them.

The case has halted all such visas from being issued, which Pingree says will live Maine in the lurch.

“The legal questions still have a long way to go before they are settled once and for all, but Maine businesses can’t wait,” she said in a letter to the leaders at both departments. “There needs to be at least a temporary solution to get these applications processed so workers can be hired for the coming tourist season.” — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

On Mount Washington

Today’s awesome photo spread comes from Robert Bukaty, who recently hiked New Hampshire’s Mount Washington — the highest peak in New England.

The Pinnacle of the EastThe above photo shows Tuckerman Ravine. Bukaty endured temperatures so cold that … well, I’ll just let him tell you:

“It’s 2 degrees below zero, the winds are gusting more than 50 mph, and the view that 20 minutes ago had stretched all the way back to Portland, 70 miles away, has been reduced to less than 50 feet.

I find some relief from the winds on the eastern side of the weather observatory and manage to boil a cup of water for hot chocolate. My peanut butter sandwich is not only frozen, but it feels as hard as granite. It takes some effort just to crack in half.”

Read more — and see more great photos! — over on the BDN visuals blog, Collage. — 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.