Daily Brief: LePage isn’t the first Maine governor to oppose methadone

Good morning. It’ll be a somber day in the Hall of Flags today when cancer patients, survivors and their families gather to advocate against the ghastly disease. 

Specifically, the American Cancer Society will use its annual lobbying day to ask lawmakers to support legislation improving palliative care, oppose cuts proposed by Gov. Paul LePage to tobacco cessation programs and expand Medicaid to 70,000 uninsured Mainers under the provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act. 

Among the visitors to the State House today will be the family of the late Rep. Paul McGowan, D-Cape Neddick, who died unexpectedly in July 2014, but not before he ushered a bill through the Legislature to create a cancer study commission, which he chaired. McGowan lost his wife, mother-in-law and other friends and family to the disease. The commission released its final report in December 2013. 

McGowan will be honored today with a special legislative resolution.

The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network estimates that more than 8,800 Mainers will be diagnosed with cancer this year and some 3,300 will die from it. 

This afternoon, the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will consider a bill that would remove the state’s 100-megawatt limit on electricity generated from hydropower, which is included in the sate’s renewable energy portfolio. Removing that cap has been a priority of Gov. Paul LePage — who has proposed similar legislation three times — but so far has been thwarted by lawmakers. In 2014, a similar bill died in the Senate with a 26-9 vote amid arguments that hydropower generators in Canada have little interest in selling to Maine and that bringing in hyrdropower would price other renewable energy sources out of the market. 

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will consider two bills around an issue that has seen major debate in recent years in the Legislature: allowing farmers to sell raw milk. The Education Committee will continue deliberations on a bill to implement a firearms safety education program in elementary schools and another designed to improve pubic school attendance. — Christopher Cousins

Putting LePage’s bid to limit methadone treatments in context

This morning, the State & Capitol Daily Brief welcomes BDN Health Editor Jackie Farwell for a guest appearance. If you haven’t signed up for Jackie’s Vital Signs email newsletter, you should do so immediately. Unlike the Daily Brief, Jackie’s newsletter could save your life, for real.

Without further ado:

Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal to cut reimbursement for methadone treatment has dredged up a nearly 20-year-old court ruling that reminds us he’s not the first governor to take aim at the clinics.
During his first term as governor, Sen. Angus King also tried to limit MaineCare coverage for methadone, but a federal judge stopped him in his tracks. In 1996, when methadone clinics were first appearing in Maine, U.S. District Court Judge David M. Cohen ruled that restricting MaineCare coverage for the treatment violated federal Medicaid statute. Rep. Drew Gattine, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, was on the losing side of that legal challenge, representing DHHS as assistant attorney general at the time.
It remains to be seen how the case could affect LePage’s proposal, which the committee takes up on Thursday. — Jackie Farwell

Collins advocates housing for veterans

Republican Sen. Susan Collins met with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of creating housing for homeless veterans on the Togus VA hospital campus in Maine.

Collins acknowledged that funding the project would be a challenge but that she hopes a new federal focus on ending homelessness among veterans by the end of this year would produce progress. There were an estimated 152 homeless veterans in Maine in 2014.

In a written statement, Collins said McDonald took her proposal seriously and has ordered his staff to work on the issue.

Where does Poliquin stand on the House Republican budget?

Yesterday, I reported here in the Daily Brief that Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin had endorsed an austere budget proposal from House Republicans that among other things, would revamp Medicare and repeal the Affordable Care. Minutes after the post, I heard from Poliquin’s staff, who said he had not endorsed the plan, but had instead focused his comments during a press conference in Washington on Tuesday on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

That’s true, so I updated the post. I wasn’t the only person who reported that Poliquin supported the budget bill. The Maine Wire, a publication of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, published a similar article that was quickly taken down. And the U.S. House GOP tweeted that “Today @RepPoliquin joins House leadership to discuss our #BetterBudget for an #OpportunityEconomy.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee forwarded those two items to me and other reporters and spent much of Wednesday on the attack against Poliquin. If you watch video of the press conference in question, you’ll see that the overall topic was the budget proposal and that every other lawmaker there voiced support for it. Poliquin’s appearance at the press conference with a carefully worded statement appears like he wants to have it both ways: ally himself with Republican leaders but distance himself from the budget proposal, which has virtually no chance of passage.

I asked for further explanation from Poliquin twice on Wednesday but have heard nothing from the congressman or his staff, which is normally helpful and responsive. As soon as Poliquin breaks his silence, you’ll read about it in the BDN. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

‘Happiness’ is a matter of perspective

In case you didn’t know, Friday is the International Day of Happiness. I’m telling you in case you need to improve your mood before then.

The Gallup polling firm reported today that the happiest people in the world live in Latin America. In fact, for the first time in Gallup’s 10-year history of global tracking, all of the top 10 countries with something called the Positive Experience Index scores are in Latin America. The saddest people, not surprisingly, live in places like Sudan, Serbia, Turkey and Bosnia.

I don’t know where Maine lies on the spectrum, but let the snow melt and put another 30 degrees on the thermometer and our Positive Experience Index will skyrocket. — 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.