Will Maine become first right-to-work state in New England?

Good morning from Augusta, where the expected 80 degree temperature is sure to have those in the State House thinking about the end of session and the summer recess.

The weather might have everyone looking forward to adjournment in June or July, but lawmakers still have a slew of bills to chew before then. Today, that includes the six GOPsponsored righttowork bills in the Labor Committee.

In Maine, as in 25 other states, employees who benefit from collective bargaining can be required to pay fees to the union that represents them, even if they choose not to become dues-paying members of the union.

The representation fees are meant to cover the cost of negotiations, but many on the political right believe the money is used to fund unions’ political activity — which normally benefits Democratic candidates and causes.

The Republican-controlled 125th Legislature was unable to pass a right-to-work law, but the drumbeat in GOP circles for eliminating compulsory union payments has continued unabated. Wisconsin became the 25th right-to-work state in March. To date, no New England state has passed such a law.

While the bills are ostensibly about giving workers the right to choose whether or not to fund union activity, the Labor Committee’s House Republican lead, Rep. Larry Lockman of Amherst, made clear in a statement that weakening unions is his primary goal.

Lockman is the sponsor of two of the six right-to-work bills. He said Hostess Brands was driven to bankruptcy because of ineffective and nonsensical rules imposed on it by the unions representing its workers.

“500 jobs were lost in Maine when the company shut down a little more than two years ago,” Lockman said. “An iconic American company that survived the Great Depression and World War II couldn’t survive under the thumb of the union bosses’ monopoly power to dictate insane work rules. It turns out that Twinkies are easier to digest than union work rules.”

If history is any indication, the bills are likely to split the Labor Committee along partisan lines. The Senate, controlled as it is by the Republicans, may approve a right-to-work law, but the bills’ face long odds in the Democrat-controlled House.

Still, the public hearings today will doubtless spur fiery debate about the proper role of unions — and who should pay for them.

Other committee activity of note for today:

As always the full committee schedule is available online. And don’t forget to subscribe to the Daily Brief, if you haven’t already, by clicking here. — Mario Moretto.

Angus King to chair ‘former governors caucus’ in U.S. Senate

Did you know that one-tenth of the U.S. Senate is comprised of former governors? I didn’t. (Not one-fifth, as I previously — and wrongly — wrote.)

Maine’s U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent, was chosen by the 10 governors to serve as one of three chairmen of the Senate’s Former Governors Caucus, along with New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and South Dakota Republican Mike Rounds.

King has long touted his experience as governor, saying it gave him working insight on how to get things done in government. Last week, he echoed that sentiment, saying the governors caucus could work together for “practical and pragmatic solutions.”

“Nothing can get done in the Senate without bipartisan support,” King said in a written statement. “As former governors, each of us has worked across party lines to achieve results, and together, we can use that experience to make this institution function better. We may not agree on every issue, but we share a fundamental commitment to common sense solutions and are willing to put practicality ahead of partisanship.”

The caucus includes four Republicans and five Democrats. King is the only independent. — Mario Moretto.

LePage vetoes bill to cap smoking surcharge on insurance market

LD 135, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate, would have capped the amount that health insurance companies could charge smokers for coverage. LePage vetoed the bill on Friday.

The bill would have capped the tobacco use surcharge at 20 percent, meaning smokers could be charged an additional 20 cents on the dollar for their health insurance premiums. Currently, insurance companies are allowed to charge smokers up to 50 percent more for health insurance.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Linda Sanborn, D-Gorham, said the surcharges are punitive, and do not help smokers quit. LePage’s veto will face an override vote in the House in the coming days. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

She’s no Cujo

While Maine may be a “cat state,” I know there is lots of love out there for dogs. I also know there’s lots of love out there for Maine’s favorite son, horror writer Stephen King. So without further ado, I give you: Stephen King’s new dog, a corgi named Molly. — 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.