Happy April Fool’s Day from Augusta. Everything you read in this edition of the Daily Brief will be 100 percent no foolin’, I promise.
As is typical in this near midpoint of the legislative session, legislative committees are hammering through bills. Here’s a sampling:
The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee has a handful of very serious bills, including a bid by Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais, to provide leniency for people involved with underage drinking if they report an instance of alcohol overdose. The committee will hear testimony on another bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, that will beef up penalties for the sexual exploitation of minors. Fighting sex trafficking has been one of Volk’s core issues.
In the Education Committee, Rep. Mike McClellan, R-Raymond, is proposing launching a study on the scope, effect and ways to eliminate unfunded state mandates that will be welcome news for educators and municipalities. Up for a vote in the Education Committee is a bill introduced last month that would prohibit standardized testing of children before the third grade.
Plastic shopping bags and how to better recycle them — or avoid using them in the first place — are the target of a handful of bills before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee today. I expect some recommendation votes by that committee today.
The Health and Human Services Committee will tackle an issue that’s probably boring for most people but of critical importance to any hospital considering a major infrastructure project: the certificate of need. That process forces hospitals to prove to the state that a given project is needed in their community and financially viable in the long term.
The Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee could make a recommendation today on a bill that would allow you more time shopping: An Act to Allow Certain Businesses to be Open on Easter Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Other than an emergency egg nog run on Christmas afternoon (maybe), you won’t find me in a store on a holiday no matter what happens with this bill.
There are many, many more bills under consideration this afternoon. You can see the full list here. What do you think of the Daily Brief’s new look? Let us know in the comments or by visiting Mario Moretto or myself personally. And as always, if you want the Daily Brief delivered directly to your inbox every weekday, fill out the fields in the upper right-hand corner of this page. — Christopher Cousins
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the sponsor of LD 263, a bill that would provide a legal defense for minors involved in underage drinking if they report an alcohol overdose. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Joyce Maker, R-Calais.
Budget battles brewing
A major portion of the news you hear out of Augusta is about budgets. Not the most exciting stuff, but budget bills are often where the most momentous policy changes are buried and usually where you’ll find the most contentious politicking. On Tuesday, the Legislature enacted a $28 million supplemental budget bill that addresses a nearly $2.5 million shortfall that could result in closures of some county jails and supports 29 new positions at Riverview Psychiatric Center, a state-run mental health hospital in Augusta that is struggling to regain its federal certification.
The budget bill passed Tuesday also pushes back against Republican Gov. Paul LePage on several fronts, including restoring funding for anti-smoking programs.
The supplemental budget received support from everyone in the Legislature, except one: Rep. Denise Harlow, D-Portland.
That bill, which is related to the current fiscal year that ends on June 30, is headed to LePage for consideration. Meanwhile, lawmakers continue work on a much larger budget bill that will set spending for the next two years. In the past week or two, legislative committees have been making their recommendations and often, those recommendations are at odds with LePage’s initial proposals. Rhetoric around these decisions — which aren’t final until the full Legislature enacts them, with or without LePage’s signature — is heating up. Headlines on press releases Tuesday included “DHHS Chief Criticizes Democrats for Rejecting Reforms” and “HHS Democrats Spending Proposal is Outrageous.”
What Republicans behind these attacks don’t tell you is that in most cases, Democrats are pushing back against what they see as damaging cuts proposed by LePage, not inventing new spending initiatives. What Democrats don’t tell you is that they’re standing in the way of reforms and overall deep cuts to state spending, which LePage has been trying to implement for years.
These are very tough decisions for both parties and oftentimes, no one is happy in the end. — Christopher Cousins
LePage vetoes begin again
It’s been well publicized that LePage vetoed more than 180 bills in his first term as governor. It was a symptom of both LePage’s firm stance against bills that increase taxes or burden the executive branch and Democrats throwing “campaign season” bills at him that they know won’t have his support.
I woke up to emails this morning that suggested he vetoed the first three bills of his second term on Tuesday. All three of LePage’s veto letters are here. The vetoed bills are:
- An Act to Provide an Exemption from Sales Tax and Service Provider Tax to Nonprofit Collaboratives of Libraries, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Grawick, D-Bangor
- An Act to Reduce Registration Fees and Excise Taxes for For-hire Vehicles and Adaptive Equipment Enabling Access by Persons with Disabilities, sponsored by Rep. Archie Verow, D-Brewer
- An Act to Reduce the Time within Which a Challenge to a Tax Lien Foreclosure May Be Filed, sponsored by Verow — Christopher Cousins
- LePage cites jobs for women in Maine National Guard fight — Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN
- In battle over Maine National Guard, history favors Pentagon, not LePage — Mario Moretto, BDN
- Collins weighs in on Maine Guard controversy, run for governor — Judy Harrison, BDN
- Caribou secession effort takes step forward — Natalie de La Garza, Aroostook Republican & News
- (Part 2 of a BDN series on the Catholic church) ‘People have lost their sense of sin’: Catholics in Maine cope with internal, external changes — Julia Bayly and Judy Harrison, BDN
- Is LePage’s tax cut really $292 million? Not even close, according to this analysis — Albert A. DiMillo Jr., special to the BDN
- Lawmakers consider Clean Election changes after PAC drama — Scott Thistle, Sun Journal
- Could Maine become the nation’s second ‘arctic’ state? — Alaska Dispatch News
- LePage blasts opponents of his drug enforcement plan as being ‘weak on drugs’ — Mario Moretto, BDN
OK, maybe just one April Fool’s joke
From my 10-year-old:
Why is everyone so tired on April 1? Because they’ve just finished a long March!
The best jokes are based on truth, even on April Fool’s Day — Christopher Cousins