Debates on weed, welfare and abortion to dominate State House today

Greetings from the state capitol, where today will be referred to as “weed day.”

OK, maybe that’s a bit too flippant a way to put it, but two bills aimed at legalizing the recreational use of marijuana by adults are both scheduled for public hearings today in the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

One bill is by Rep. Diane Russell, the other by Rep. Mark Dion. Both are Portland Democrats intent on having the Legislature craft a responsible legal framework for pot, rather than letting private pro-legalization groups dictate terms at the ballot box.

Given the buzz around marijuana legalization in Maine, where there’s more efforts to “free the weed” than you can shake a stem at, it’s likely the hearings will draw considerable public testimony. They’re scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

Simultaneously, the Health and Human Services Committee will hold work sessions on a dozen welfare reform proposals, including three bills by Gov. Paul LePage’s efforts to drug test welfare applicants and enforce a job requirement, Lewiston Democratic Sen. Nate Libby’s plan to limit the amount of TANF funds that recipients can withdraw from an ATM and Westbrook Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine’s bill to level the “welfare cliff.”

The Judiciary Committee will consider LD 1312, a bill by Rep. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, that would require outpatient facilities that provide surgical abortions to be licensed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Pro-choice groups fear the bill is designed to shutter abortion clinics by imposing impossible regulations, but Sanderson says the bill is intended only to provide state oversight that’s currently lacking.

For a full list of committee activity, click here. And as always, remember to subscribe to receive the Daily Brief in your email inbox every morning. — Mario Moretto.

Pingree joins Ben & Jerry’s, Chipotle to stump for mandatory GMO labels

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District, will host a news conference to support mandatory GMO labeling on Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

Pingree, who is among the loudest advocates for label requirements, will be joined by Jerry Greenfield, a co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, as well as representatives from Chipotle, which recently announced it would no longer serve genetically modified foods.

Representatives from Patagonia and Stonyfield Farm, as well as U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, will also be on hand.

Pingree held a similar news conference in December, to rally in favor of labeling and against a bill by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kansas, that would stymie state’s efforts to require companies that use genetically modified foods to disclose that fact.

Maine adopted a law last year to require packages of food with genetically modified organisms be labeled to indicate the product was “produced with genetic engineering.” But the law can only go into effect when four other contiguous states do the same, meaning New Hampshire and three other bordering states.

Connecticut has passed a similar law, while Vermont has passed a labeling law that doesn’t require any other states to do anything. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

The Legislature on Tuesday overturned Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of LD 373, “An Act to Allow a Moose Permit to be Transferred to a Family Member” (see story by John Holyoke, here). The veto was overturned unanimously in both the House and Senate, and will now become law 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

Also Tuesday, a veto of LD 824, “An Act Regarding Ethanol Motor Fuel,” was sustained in the House, after its sponsor, Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, told her colleagues that she would propose a new version of the bill to address LePage’s concerns.

The governor has issued 18 vetoes so far this legislative session. For a look at the logic behind them, check out this analysis by my colleague and office-mate, Christopher Cousins.– Mario Moretto.

Reading list

How well do you know Maine’s cities?

domeraise102513 10 KB.jpgDid you know there are 23 cities in Maine? If you thought there were far fewer, don’t feel bad. Unlike in other states, “city” is largely a meaningless distinction in our state, where municipalities with 1,000 people and 60,000 people can both take up the mantle of “city” if they so choose.

Either way, do you think you can name all 23 cities in our state? Take our quiz to find out. For what it’s worth, I could name all but three. — Mario Moretto (BDN file photo by Kevin Bennett).

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.