Adjournment infighting continues as Eves denies Fredette’s supreme court request

Good morning from Augusta, where there continues to be new developments in the dispute between Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature over whether 65 bills are in law or not. 

Ever since the Legislature’s final adjournment, the matter has been inching toward the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, have agreed to partner with each other to develop a legal brief for the court. With legal briefs due on Friday and responses due July 29, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, requested permission this week to hire his own attorney with taxpayer funds allocated from the Legislative Council. On Wednesday, that request was denied by Eves. 

(Correction: An earlier version of this post should have stated that legal briefs are due Friday and responses are due July 29)

“I disagree with Speaker Eves that the Legislature can speak with one voice on the matter,” said Fredette in a written statement. “House Republicans deserve the opportunity for this up or down vote. Unfortunately, House Republicans have previously been excluded from important legislative decisions this session and are once again being excluded from participating in this critical constitutional discussion.” 

Eves denied the request. 

“The offices of the speaker and senate president will pool existing resources afforded to the presiding officers for outside legal counsel, minimizing the cost of legal fees to the taxpayers,” wrote Eves. “As such, the Legislature will respond with one voice as an institution and as an independent branch of government.” 

In recent months, particularly through bruising negotiations around the biennial state budget, Fredette has emerged as LePage’s most loyal — or at least most vocal — ally in the Legislature. It appears that Fredette is prepared to argue on LePage’s side again in the dispute, which the Law Court has said will be decided in a matter of weeks. — Christopher Cousins 

Lawmakers blast DHHS for not renewing drinking water grant

A bipartisan group of lawmakers have sent a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew objecting to a recent decision not to apply for a $150,000 federal grant to test for toxic chemicals in residential wells.

According to a press release, which cited a Maine Sunday Telegram report, Mayhew rejected a request from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to apply for a second round of the grant, which expires at the end of August.

The lawmakers asked Mayhew to detail within 30 days how the department will continue to monitor well water without the federal funds. The letter comes after the governor vetoed LD 1162, which would have appropriated $75,000 for the program. The vote to override LePage’s veto fell four votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

The July 21 letter was signed by three Democrats and three Republicans from the House and Senate. It states that Maine has the highest reliance on well water of any state and that approximately 150,000 Maine residents are exposed to arsenic through their well water. — Christopher Cousins

King calls for probe of methadone as primary pain-fighting medicine

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and seven of his colleagues called on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services this week to study the use of methadone for pain and develop recommendations for Medicaid directors to reduce or end the use of methadone for pain management.

Methadone is a synthetic opioid that is used both to treat addiction and as a pain medication. The drug accounts for about 2 percent of opioid pain reliever prescriptions but 30 percent of some 16,000 painkiller-related overdoses in 2013, according to a press release. Thirty state Medicaid programs, including Maine’s, list methadone as a preferred drug for the treatment of chronic pain. — Christopher Cousins

Raises given to LePage’s cabinet

Some of the executive branch’s top officials have received pay increases as part of an ongoing effort by Gov. LePage to equalize the salaries of executive branch employees with their legislative branch counterparts.

LePage’s effort began in July 2014 with across-the-board 4 percent increases for cabinet members, deputy commissioners and their appointees, according to information from the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Prior to that, those positions had received a single 1 percent cost of living increase since 2008. A survey of other states found that only one state, Montana, paid cabinet-level employees less than Maine.

LePage instituted another round of raises this year, according to DAFS spokesman David Heidrich. The administration has not responded to requests from the Bangor Daily News, which date back to July 10, for specific information regarding raises. However, a report by the Portland Press Herald found that 11 of 12 state department commissioners will be paid $127,878 a year after having received pay increases ranging from about 8 percent to 23 percent. The increases were approved by LePage in a July 7 financial order. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

87-year-old lifesaver

In case you missed it, the BDN’s Abigail Curtis penned an interesting story on Wednesday about 87-year-old Edna Mitchell, who is Maine’s oldest and possibly most dedicated emergency medical technician. Mitchell, who earned her EMT certification 37 years ago, volunteers for Liberty Ambulance.

This is clearly a woman who knows about survival on more levels than one. What’s her secret? Pushups every morning for starters, plus this:

“I exercise, try to stay healthy, take vitamins. I swim every day. I don’t drink, smoke, or swear. I used to say I don’t have any fun, but I do.” — 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.