LePage makes headlines as work of Legislature quietly continues

Good Friday morning. Did you catch the news yesterday?

It had been a while since Gov. Paul LePage made national headlines, but he did it again on Thursday. First it was for his involvement in House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, losing his new job as president of Good Will-Hinckley. LePage said he was protecting public resources when he threatened to withhold half a million dollars in annual funding if Eves, a political opponent of the governor’s, wasn’t ousted, but the speaker and others excoriated LePage’s action as blackmail and political retribution.

Then it was for a joking threat the governor made when he said he’d like to shoot BDN editorial cartoonist George Danby (LePage, unknowingly, was speaking to Danby’s son, Nick, when he made the joke/threat).

But while LePage is commanding the news coverage, the work of government continues.

The 13-member Appropriations Committee met yesterday to consider the dozens of bills that had been approved by the Legislature but had not yet been funded. These bills, placed on the so-called “Appropriations Table,” cannot be finally enacted until they’re paid for. But there’s not enough money to pay for all of them, so many will die on the table, despite initial approval in the House and Senate.

The committee voted to fund a $14 million bill to revert control of the state’s jails back to the counties, a move that would end a failed experiment in state consolidation. But, according to MPBN, the committee’s funding level is about $2 million short of what Maine sheriffs say is needed to fund jail operations.

Among the other bills funded was LD 652 by Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, which — as you’ll undoubtedly recall — removes the requirement that Mainers obtain a permit to carry a concealed handgun. The bill was the source of heated debate, but ultimately won the support of Republicans and rural Democrats alike. The bill will cost the state more than $230,000 in lost permit application fees.

Also funded was LD 140, by Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, which expands access to Narcan, a drug that can stop opiate overdoses in their tracks; LD 222, by Rep. William Tuell, R-East Machias, which reduces shellfish license fees for minors; and LD 319, by Rep. Joyce McCreight, D-Harpswell, to cover family planning services for women eligible for Medicaid.

Several other bills — such as Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond’s effort to expand the Opportunity Maine tax credit for college graduates —  will be carried over into the next session, while others still will die.

The Legislature will consider the newly funded bills from the committee when it reconvenes on June 30. Until then, lawmakers are back home in their districts enjoying a brief recess. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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King, Pingree hail early passage of CIA, Lyme disease efforts

Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation were celebrating Thursday as favored policy initiatives of theirs cleared key early hurdles at the committee level.

Efforts to increase federal investment in Lyme disease reporting, detection and study were incorporated into a federal DHHS funding bill approved yesterday by the Appropriations Committee. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st Congressional District, championed the language because of Lyme disease’s rapid growth.

“Lyme disease is a problem that is growing really quickly and we need to get ahead of it with more research and better data,” Pingree said in a news release. “This language pushes the CDC to develop better tests to diagnose Lyme disease and create a national reporting system to keep track of new cases of the disease.”

Estimates have the number of cases of Lyme in Maine up from less than 100 a decade ago to several thousand in the last few years, Pingree said, though she contended those figures are likely deflated because only about one in 10 cases of Lyme disease is actually reported.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, was also pleased that a provision he authored to ensure CIA objectivity in intelligence reporting was included in this year’s Intelligence Authorization Acct, which cleared the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday. King is a member of the committee.

The provision, King said, would make certain the CIA remains impartial in its intelligence analyses as the agency undergoes a reorganization. The language requires an independent, third-party review of intelligence analyses.

“For [CIA] information to be useful, it must be unprejudiced and fact-based. Anything other than that undermines the fundamental goals of the agency and could lead to flawed decisions with substantial implications,” King said in a release. The provision would “help ensure that CIA analysts maintain their objectivity and are not influenced by the force of preference for a particular policy.”

Both bills face further votes in Congress. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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Let’s go to the movies

moviebiz061915 011.JPGCheck out this great piece by the BDN’s Abby Curtis about the Colonial Theatre in Belfast (photo above by the BDN’s Ashley Conti).

I’ve always loved the small, independent movie theaters that dot Maine’s coast. From the old Movies on Exchange in Portland (RIP) up through the Strand in Rockland, the Colonial in Belfast, the Alamo in Bucksport, the Grand in Ellsworth, the Criterion in Bar Harbor and all the way to the old Millbridge Theater (also RIP).

While these places often can’t match the luxury seating or blow-your-mind screen size of the big corporate theater chains, they more than make up for it in character. Many of them opened in the early 20th century and continue to sport an anachronistic Art Deco vibe that you just don’t see anymore. The recently reopened and renovated Criterion feels like a time capsule. And that sadly closed Millbridge Theater? The first time I went there, as a kid, I remember the place felt more like a barn than a cineplex.

Anyway, without getting all weepy and sentimental, the point is these theaters are awesome relics of the past, and they should be cherished — and frequented. But before you go get your tickets, check out Abby’s story. It’s worth the price of admission. — Mario Moretto, BDN.

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.