Daily Brief: Veterans returning to State House one day after National Guard chief’s firing

Good morning. Do you feel like you’re adequately represented in the Legislature? How far do you live from your state senator? If you live in one of the rural parts of the state, chances are your senator lives miles away but if you live in a city, she’s probably within a few miles. That’s because Senate and House districts in Maine are apportioned according to population so every lawmaker represents roughly the same number of people. The result is that there are far more senators concentrated in smaller but more populous southern Maine than there are in the vast reaches of the rest of the state.

Sen. Paul Davis of Sangerville, who represents all of Piscataquis County and 15 towns in Somerset County, wants to change that. He has proposed a bill, which is being introduced today, that would amend the Maine Constitution to require that Mainers elect two senators from each county. In addition to evening out the distribution, the bill would cut the number of senators from 35 to 32. The practical effect of Davis’ proposal is that rural Maine would suddenly wield more power in the Legislature because there would be more senators there per person. 

Enactment of the bill would require approval by the Legislature and governor followed by a statewide referendum. I’m confident in predicting that because it would change the very underpinnings of our Constitution when it comes to each citizen’s equal right to representation in the Legislature, there’s no way this bill will pass. But the debate in the State and Local Government Committee should be interesting. 

The committee is also scheduled to make recommendations on previously introduced bills that would lower the age required to run for legislative office, which would also require a constitutional amendment, and increase the salaries of the governor and legislators

Elsewhere in the State House today, the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is holding public hearing on five bills related to improving state services for Maine’s veterans. Just like on Tuesday, when the chief of the Maine National Guard was to deliver his State of the Guard speech before being fired by Gov. Paul LePage, that means there will be lots of men and women in uniform at the State House and undoubtedly, Tuesday’s stunning events will be a topic of considerable chatter. We’ll be talking about that one for a while. 

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Universal health care, anyone?

File this under bills that come forward almost every legislative session: attempts to implement universal health care coverage in Maine. That would mean every Mainer receives some form of health coverage and financial protection, which has been tried and has failed multiple times before.

Sen. Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, a physician, who has sponsored two bills aimed at universal health care, will lead a press conference on the issue at 11 a.m. today, which will include other doctors and lawmakers, as well as representatives from a group called Maine AllCare. — Christopher Cousins

Is it time for a woman on a $20 bill?

There has been a growing nationwide chorus to put a woman on the $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson. Veteran Rep. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston wants that woman to be from Maine and, specifically, she wants it to be Frances Perkins.

Perkins lived in Maine around the turn of the 19th into the 20th century. After earning a master’s degree in political science from Columbia University, she was chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt for a commission to investigate the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911, which killed 146 workers in a New York City garment factory.

She later made history when she became the first woman to serve in a president’s Cabinet, first as Franklin Roosevelt’s secretary of labor, where she was a driving force behind Social Security, national unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, child labor laws, the 40-hour work week and the minimum wage.

Do you like the idea of Frances Perkins on your money? Vote for her at www.womenon20s.org, or at least go read about the nominees. They include of Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, among others, so the competition is fierce. — Christopher Cousins

Collins, King announce big change for veterans and their health care

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will make a rather momentous change in its Veterans Choice Card Program. The change involves a new way to calculate the so-called “40-mile rule,” which King and Collins said will roughly double the number of veterans nationwide who can receive care in their communities.

The Choice Program is designed to let veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA medical center, have transportation challenges or are unable to secure an appointment within 30 days to go to a non-VA care center in their community. The current 40-mile rule is measured as the crow flies. Under the change, it will be measured in road miles.

Collins and King, who led a wider group of senators on this issue, have introduced a bill that would put the change announced Tuesday into permanent law. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

How to buy socks

I thought I was fully capable of buying socks all on my own until I read BDN photographer and outdoor enthusiast Ashley Conti’s latest “Gear Bag” article. Gear Bag is a new weekly BDN feature about what you should bring with you on an outdoor excursion.

Conti suggests looking for socks made of merino wool, which will keep your feet warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry in all seasons.

On second thought, a perusal of my socks — which with all their holes keep my feet cool in all seasons — has convinced me that I am not, in fact, capable of effectively buying socks. Thanks for the tips, Ashley. — 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.