Maine’s U.S. senators want to solve Congress by breaking bread

Greetings from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage will be keeping an eye out today on the Health and Human Services Committee.

There, lawmakers are scheduled to debate and potentially vote on several of his welfare reform proposals, including efforts to establish a work-search requirements for TANF applicants and level the so-called “welfare cliff.”

The committee will also take up Democratic Westbrook Rep. Drew Gattine’s welfare cliff bill, and a bill by Sen. Nathan Libby, D-Lewiston, to limit the amount of TANF cash that recipients can withdraw from an ATM.

The plight of the Amish hunters to wear red instead of the state-required safety orange — which violates the tenants of their religion — will be considered today by the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee, while the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee continues to mull marijuana legalization for the second week in a row.

Several bills before the Energy Committee would address ratepayer costs, while House Democratic Whip Sara Gideon’s bill to incentivize solar energy also awaits committee action.

As always, click here for a full committee schedule and here to never miss a beat by subscribing to receive the Daily Brief every morning. — Mario Moretto

Lawmakers OK bill to save you money when your heating oil tank runs dry

Legislators in the House on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to support a bill by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that could save Mainers hundreds of dollars when their run out of heating oil.

Anyone who’s ever run out of oil may be familiar with this frustrating situation: An oil delivery truck driver fills the tank, but even once the delivery is done, you can’t heat your home. The line from the tank to the burner needs to be bled, a relatively simple operation to get air out of the line, but sometimes the driver isn’t allowed to do it.

If you don’t know how to bleed the line yourself, you’ve got to call a licensed  oil technician to come to your house and do it for you, which could set you back as much as $200.

Current law doesn’t require any special license for delivery drivers, but does require at least an apprentice oil technician’s license for anyone who wants to bleed a line. Diamond’s bill, LD 294, would have the Maine Fuel Board offer a simple course in line bleeding so that delivery drivers could perform that service during a fuel run, saving customers from additional service charges.

The bill’s supporters have praised it as a removal of unnecessary regulation. “No Mainer should be left in the cold because of a minor technical requirement,” Diamond said in a news release.

The measure sailed through the House in a 146-4 vote on Wednesday after easily clearing the Senate. It faces additional votes of formality before heading to LePage’s desk. — Mario Moretto.

Veto watch

Here’s a rundown of House and Senate action on LePage’s vetoes yesterday:

The House voted to sustain LePage’s veto of LD 134, a “Resolve, to Study the Impact of Winter Ticks on the State’s Moose Population.” The 84 votes to override the veto fell short of the two-thirds needed to make the bill become law. The bill is dead.

However, two other vetoes were overridden in the House. LD 682, An Act to Ensure the Administration of Written Driver’s Tests, and LD 880, “An Act to Permit Rate-adjustment Mechanisms for Water Utilities.” Both vetoes were overridden with bipartisan support, and will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

Over in the Senate, a bipartisan majority of Senators voted to override LePage’s veto of “Taylor’s Law,” an effort to boost awareness of teen driver restrictions, named for a Bucksport girl who died in a car accident while she was a passenger of a teen driver with an intermediate license. The Senate voted 23-11 to reject the veto. The bill now goes back to the House. — Mario Moretto.

Reading list

The bipartisan power of chow

B1_2_KingVetVisit033115 2.jpgEat with your enemies.

That’s a lesson U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, shared yesterday during an event in Portland. (See “Like TV’s Frank Underwood, Angus King would cure gridlock with ribs and slaw,” by our own Darren Fishell).

“Every two or three weeks, I have a little dinner with four or five senators, and the dinner consists of me stopping on the way home — I call Peaches at Kenny’s Smoke House — and get two racks of ribs and two orders of coleslaw,” King said.

The idea is that if senators would just get to know each other a little bit, they’d be less distrustful and more willing to negotiate, which would make Congress more effective. And King isn’t the first Maine senator to try to wield the curative power of sharing a meal.

Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, was the inaugural host of a Senate Luncheon meant to foster across-the-aisle camaraderie, although — as noted by RollCall — the lunch was immediately followed by a partisan vote and a filibuster.

And former U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, another Maine Republican, is a member of a group that blames the Senate’s inability to get anything done on a failure of senators to become friendly with one another.

That includes eating together, the group says. — 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.