Pingree, Poliquin vote against majority on bill that eliminates food origin labeling

Good morning from Augusta, where marathon House and Senate sessions have become the norm as lawmakers work to plow through dozens and dozens of bills. Statutory adjournment is three legislative days away but not very realistic at this point.

The focus for most is still on the biennial budget negotiations, which continued through Thursday evening without much progress. How those negotiations are going is the topic of conversation with the majority of people. I can speak for myself and others in the State House press corps when I say we’re asked multiple times a day by lawmakers how the talks are progressing, illustrating that for the most part, the whole deal is in the hands of a few members of the leadership and that everyone else is shut out. My standard response to legislators is “you tell me.”

We won’t know until later this morning how long the House and Senate will convene today, though a Government Oversight Committee meeting this afternoon might abbreviate things. Among the agenda items is a briefing for the committee about “DHHS workplace culture and environment,” which could result in discussion and a vote.

It should be noted that this is the season of personal sacrifices for many lawmakers and state staff as legislative business runs long on a daily basis. Stories of missed youth baseball games and graduation events abound. I overheard a representative’s cellphone call in the back of the House chamber Thursday evening that went something like this:

“The House is still going so I’m just not going to make it. Please tell him that I deeply regret it. Yes, I know. There’s just nothing I can do.” — Christopher Cousins

Bill would spare domestic violence victims from testifying in court

LD 1413, a bill that’s based on the premise that some perpetrators of domestic violence and other crimes actually enjoy watching their victims speak in court received initial approval Thursday in the Maine House.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, would allow attorneys to speak on behalf of victims at sentencing hearings. The bill would apply to all crime victims but according to Herbig would be especially valuable to domestic violence victims. Currently, some judges won’t allow that.

“For some perpetrators, it is rewarding to watch their victims speak about the impact of abuse,” said Herbig in a written statement. “They get to re-live it through the words of the victim.”

Julia Colpitts, executive director of the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, said sentencing hearings frequently don’t happen until a victim is well underway in the healing process.

“We know that the experience of a trial brings all those emotions back to the fore, often as raw and primal as they were at the time,” said Colpitts.

The bill faces further votes in the coming days. — Christopher Cousins

Pingree, Poliquin vote against bill that eliminates food origin labeling

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed the Country of Origin Labeling Amendment Act, which has been under debate since it was first adopted in the 2002 Farm Bill. Since then, however, it has been challenged in the World Trade Organization by Canada and Mexico, which are major livestock suppliers for the U.S.

The WTO’s Appellate body has ruled against the COOL requirements four times and as a result, Canada and Mexico are in line to seek more than $3 billion in retaliatory sanctions against the U.S. The COOL Amendment Act passed by the House Thursday repeals the labeling requirement.

Both of Maine’s representatives — Democrat Chellie Pingree of the 1st Congressional District and Republican Bruce Poliquin of the 2nd Congressional District — voted against the act, which means they want our food’s origins labeled regardless of the financial consequences. — Christopher Cousins

As if you need more budget news

While the midnight oil is burned by the gallon in Augusta, Congress also hammering out a budget deal. Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a press release Thursday that investments in law enforcement approved by the committee on Thursday will benefit Maine. In Congress, both the House and Senate develop their own budgets, which are later negotiated into one. Some of the money voted in included:

  • $50 million toward aiding victims of human trafficking;
  • $35 million toward Regional Information Sharing Systems, which link criminal justice agencies to help them combat crimes that take place over large geographic areas;
  • $41 million toward drug treatment courts and $5 million veteran treatment courts, which focus on treatment for drug addicts as opposed to punishment. Collins said this kind of investment saves taxpayer money by the millions over the long run;
  • $382 million toward the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program and $212 for Community Oriented Policing Services. The Byrne grants are used to prevent and control crime in troubled neighborhoods and the COPS program helps law enforcement agencies recruit and retain police officers;
  • $22.5 million toward the Bulletproof Vests Partnership Grant Program, which provides matching grants to state and local authorities for bulletproof vests. In 2014, Maine received more than $143,000 through this program, which purchased more than 400 vests in 48 jurisdictions;
  • $7 million toward anti-heroin task forces, which help combat heroin and prescription opioid abuse, both of which have been on a sharp increase in Maine.

The committee’s recommendations now move to the full Senate. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

BDN gives you what you need. To know. About bugs.

Just last night there were a couple of June bugs clenched to my screen door. As I often do, I flicked them with my finger (from the safety of the other side of the screen) and watched them tumble off into the darkness.

“Take that, bug monster,” I thought to myself, but then wondered if maybe I had just injured some innocent insects. Then another thought occurred: “The innocent ones are the ones that are not on my screen.”

Anyway, June bugs are OK compared to the rest of the buzzing billions in Maine right now. They don’t bite or swarm. All they want is to fly toward the light.

BDN blogger Hunter Smith, in his Hunter’s Breakfast blog at bangordailynews.com, has ranked the “Top 5 majorly annoying bugs of Maine” and the June bug isn’t on it.

Which is the “ninja of the bug world”? Which produces a “loud buzzing chorus from hell”? What’s the proper technique for swatting a horsefly that guarantees it’s dead? Which bug can create such a swarm that you breath them in and is ranked by Hunter as “most annoying”?

C’mon folks, you know the answer to that last question. This is spring in Maine, after all. — 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.