Gap between Legislature and LePage’s priorities widens

Good morning from Augusta, where the pushback against Gov. Paul LePage by Democrats continues. On Wednesday, Democratic members of the Health and Human Services Committee united to vote against the governor’s bid to perform drug tests on applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and to exclude drug felons from both TANF and food stamps.

Meanwhile, lawmakers on the Appropriations Committee continue to work behind closed doors on a $6.5 billion budget bill that will fund state government for the next two years. All indications are that the final product will include a range of changes to LePage’s proposals, including a significantly different tax reform scheme — if the budget includes tax reform at all.

The budget committee has had work sessions scheduled but forgone taking votes on several recent days. The committee could begin making a flurry of decisions today. Committee leaders told State & Capitol earlier this week that they hoped to have the budget voted out by Friday and the buzz at the State House on Wednesday was that the committee could work late into this evening. 

Though there are vast swaths of the budget to be decided, the big question is what compromise Democrats and Republicans will come to on tax reform and how the governor will react to it. It’s possible that just like in 2013, LePage will veto the budget, leaving the Legislature on its own. But it’s not the governor who is on the hot seat: It’s legislative Republicans. 

In the other legislative committees, expect to hear more today about issues you’ve been hearing a lot about as recently as yesterday. With most committees focused on finishing their work by Friday, bills are going from public hearings to works sessions and committee votes with dizzying speed. 

Case in point: The Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee is likely to take votes on bills seeking to legalize recreational marijuana, which were just introduced yesterday. That same committee also has work sessions on a fix for the county jail system and a bill by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, to protect children from sexual abuse, which would strengthen penalties for transmitting or transporting sexually explicit material. 

The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee will vote out some bills related to renewable energy, including solar power, and will deliberate on a bill designed to protect the electrical grid from long-term blackouts caused by solar flares

The Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee will consider two bills that seek to amend the Constitution of Maine to protect people’s rights to hunt and fish. In the Education Committee, votes are expected on bills targeting college affordability. 

I’ve glossed over a lot, but if you’re interested in more you can check out the full committee schedule by clicking here

Do you like the Daily Brief? Now that we’re into the final weeks of the legislative session, keeping track of negotiations and maneuvering under the dome will become ever more complicated. State & Capitol will keep an eye on things for you so if you haven’t already, sign up for the Daily Brief newsletter. — Christopher Cousins 

LePage gives $10,000 to veterans

The governor announced this week that he has designated $10,000 from his contingency fund to support the Easter Seals of Maine’s Military and Veterans Services program, which helps injured veterans returning from service transition to civilian life.

“They deserve our full support in this time of transition, and the resources provided by Easter Seals of Maine are essential to long-term success for many of these individuals,” said LePage in a written statement.

For more information about Easter Seals of Maine, click here or call (207) 828-0754.

LePage also donated $1,000 from his contingency fund to assist the American Legion Post 148 of Windham commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. — Christopher Cousins

Legislative odds and ends

  • The Judiciary Committee on Wednesday gave unanimous support to a bill that would enable local municipalities to address blighted and abandoned properties. Check out Scott Thistle’s report on the issue here.
  • A bill that’s called a shot in the arm for local entrepreneurs and recent immigrants is headed to the governor’s desk for consideration after Senate passage on Wednesday. LD 847 would allow hair braiding service providers to operate without acquiring a full barbering or cosmetology license. Democratic Sen. Anne Haskell of Portland, who sponsored the bill, said it would provide an important step on the economic ladder for new Americans.
  • A bill that would fund a study about extending passenger rail service to Bangor is in danger of failing between the House, which supports the bill, and the Senate, which doesn’t. On Wednesday, the House voted to “insist” on its passage. Expect the issue to come up soon in the Senate.
  • A bill that would penalize lawmakers for excessive absences was enacted by the Senate on Wednesday and is headed to the House of Representatives for consideration. LD 1046 would reduce lawmakers’ salary for each legislative day he or she is absent after five unexcused absences in the first regular session and three days in the second regular session. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

What does ‘Madawaska’ mean?

The BDN of late has been producing numerous entertaining quizzes, all with a nod to our beloved state. On Wednesday, the BDN’s Pattie Reaves launched a new one which is perhaps the hardest yet most interesting yet.

Can you guess the meaning of some of Maine’s Native American place names? Can you guess which bay in Maine is named for being muddy? Take the quiz. Find out. — 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.