Maine senator proposes outlawing the shackling of pregnant prisoners

Good morning from Augusta, where a very busy week at the State House is winding down. I’m listening to some smokin’ blues rock while I write this; click here if you want the same soundtrack. “I’m Bo Diddley.” 

The Criminal Justice Committee will kick off the day with a trio of bills, including one by Republican Sen. David Burns of Whiting to criminalize the unauthorized possession of acetylfentanyl, an opioid analgesic drug that is said to be 80 times more potent than morphine. Meanwhile the Health and Human Services Committee will take testimony on another bill about new restrictions on the prescriptions of another drug, hydrocodone bitartrate

Democratic Sen. Anne Haskell of Portland will introduce An Act to Prevent the Shackling of Pregnant Prisoners, which in addition to that provision would put new restrictions on the handling of pregnant women in incarceration, including when they’re giving birth. File that one under “sad we have to have this law.” 

The Health and Human Services Committee will consider a recommendation on another emotional subject: the use of experimental drugs and treatments for terminally ill patients. Democratic Waterville Rep. Thomas Longstaff’s bill would prevent government agencies from blocking access to these treatments and stop medical licensing boards from disciplining a physician for prescribing them. 

The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will probably attract the most attention today with work sessions beginning at 1 p.m. on several bills related to concealed weapons permits. You can see the full list of those bills, along with links where you can listen to the meeting live, by clicking here

The Legislature and its committees are not in session Monday for Patriots Day so you’ll have to wait until Tuesday for your next edition of the Daily Brief. If that’s going to leave a mournful hole in your life, you can always fill it by reading about what happened on a day weeks or months ago in our classic Daily Briefs archive. It’s kind of like the Daily Brief version of reruns.

Have a good weekend. — Christopher Cousins

As goes Maine, so goes the Washington

While lawmakers at the State House slowly negotiate toward a balanced budget deal that is required by our state’s constitution — with the alternative being a state shutdown — Congress is also working toward enacting a federal budget after years of funding the federal budget with short-term continuing resolutions.

The partisan mudslinging is thick, though there are signs of hope. The debate during the last couple of days has been largely around Democrats griping that Republicans want to give tax cuts to the rich and Republicans trying to label Democrats as irresponsible tax-and-spenders. Sound familiar?

A Republican move to repeal the federal estate tax was at the core of the debate, with Democratic 1st U.S. House District Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican 2nd U.S. House District Rep. Bruce Poliquin duking it out in dueling press releases.

“This is an outrageous giveaway to the super-rich while doing absolutely nothing for working families,” said Pingree. “And on top of that, it increases the deficit by almost $270 billion. Unless you’re part of the richest 0.2 percent, this is a losing proposition.”

Poliquin had a much different take on what Republicans call the “death tax.”

“It’s not fair for hard-working Maine families to start and grow their small businesses, and to pay taxes along the way, to find the IRS knocking on their doors to pay the despised death tax upon the passing of the senior family members,” said Poliquin.

Gov. Paul LePage and many Republicans in the Legislature have been trying to repeal Maine’s state-level estate tax for years, an effort which continues this year.

Remember how I said there is a glimmer of hope for a federal budget compromise? It may be a faint glimmer, but here it is: The U.S. House and Senate have both passed budget bills. Unlike the Legislature, which works collaboratively on the same budget bill and votes it up or down, Congress creates a “conference committee” to try to reconcile differences in the House and Senate versions of the budget.

This week, independent Maine Sen. Angus King was among 30 House and Senate lawmakers named to this committee.

“I hope we can use this conference as an opportunity to devise a budget agreement that will put our nation back on solid fiscal footing,” said King in a press release. “The simple fact is we can’t cut or tax our way out of this hole. Instead, we should try to develop a sensible proposal that balances spending cuts with revenue enhancements and maintains important investment. Our prosperity and the next generation’s economic future depend on it.”

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath. As you may have noticed, campaigning for the 2016 elections has already begun and there’s little hope of much movement by either side on thing like the estate tax. — Christopher Cousins

How much tax do undocumented immigrants pay in Maine?

A new study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released this week found that the estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants across the United States pay more than $11.8 billion in state and local taxes. The study is based on 2012 data and it includes state-by-state findings.

OK, so what’s the deal in Maine? The study claims that undocumented immigrants here, which could include asylum seekers awaiting processing by the federal government, paid nearly $4.3 million in state and local taxes in 2012. Go ahead and read the study (linked above) if you want more information. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

‘Safety belt’

This is the part of the Daily Brief where we try to give you something light and humorous. Just trust me and watch the video at this link. — 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.