Angus King backs $600 million in emergency funding to fight drug crisis

Good morning from Augusta, where after a long debate Thursday in the House about whether to launch an impeachment investigation against Gov. Paul LePage, most the Legislature has called it a week and gone home. Only the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee is scheduled to be at the State House today for work sessions on three bills.

Presumably, a lot of folks are preparing to watch the Patriots play Saturday in their first and hopefully not last playoff game of the season. Well, I just read that Rob Gronkowski has injuries to his knee and back and may or may not play Saturday. Let’s dedicate today’s soundtrack to Gronk, and remind him how the human body is supposed to be arranged. (Apologies to those of you who aren’t football fans but, hey, it’s the playoffs.)

If you want to see how House members voted on the motion that effectively stopped impeachment, click here. A Y means the representative supported indefinitely postponing — i.e., blocking — the impeachment order.

Anyway, other than the impeachment hearing, Thursday was a pivotal day in terms of shaping the contents of the 2016 Election Day ballot. According to an item in the House calendar, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has validated 64,687 signatures in a citizen initiative, more than enough to put a ranked-choice voting question on the ballot this year. The threshold for that is 61,123.

On the same day, a group called Mainers for Fair Wages announced that they submitted 75,000 signatures — which they said have been verified by municipal clerks across Maine — that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour in 2017 and then by $1 a year after that until the wage reaches $12 an hour in 2020. After that, according to the initiative, the wage would continue to rise at the same rate as the cost of living.

In case you’re counting, there are still nine other groups collecting signatures to put questions on the November ballot ranging from marijuana legalization to increased spending on public schools.

This year’s ballot is shaping up to be a doozy. — Christopher Cousins

State and federal officials announce new battle lines in war against drugs

The state of Maine isn’t the only place where the drug crisis is raging, nor is it the only place where the government is trying to stop it.

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are scheduled to announce this morning their support for $600 million emergency funding for the U.S. departments of justice and health and human services to help fight the drug crisis. The announcement is scheduled for 10 a.m. at York Hospital in southern Maine.

According to a news release from King, the number of opioid-related deaths in the U.S. quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. We all know that the situation is similar here in Maine, where drug-related deaths in 2015 were projected to hit an all-time high.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills is also in the fight. On Thursday, she urged the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to adopt proposed opioid prescribing guidelines for physicians that would reduce the number and duration of prescriptions written for opioid medications. In a letter to the CDC from the National Association of Attorneys General, Mills and her colleagues in other states battling drug addiction urged quick passage of the new rule.

“The increase in overdose deaths has made the efforts to improve informed prescribing both a law enforcement and public safety issue,” reads the letter. “Unfortunately, many prescribers, particularly primary care and family physicians, not they can lack clear and practical guidance in deciding when and how to prescribe opioids.” — Christopher Cousins

Senate supports revival of LMF bonds

Following a unanimous vote earlier this week in the House, the Maine Senate on Thursday voted unanimously to reauthorize $6.5 million in voter-approved conservation bonds that expired last year while Gov. Paul LePage was blocking their sale.

LD 1454 still faces more votes in both chambers but it is expected to cruise to LePage’s desk for the governor’s signature. LePage has previously indicated that he will support the legislation — though he wanted to reauthorize the bonds for only six months and not five years as LD 1454 does — and sell the bonds, but nothing is final until the governor puts his pen to paper. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Christian Civic League urges members to take BDN poll on casinos

A couple of days ago, my colleague Michael Shepherd caused some waves with his story about a Las Vegas developer who is trying to have a casino authorized for York County through a citizen initiative to put a question on this year’s ballot (just in case you haven’t already had enough 2016 ballot news this morning). That means like the others, he’s out there collecting signatures.

Along with Mike’s story, the BDN posed a poll question to our readers, as we often do: “Should there be another casino in Maine?” These polls are NOT scientific.

On Thursday, the Christian Civic League of Maine featured Mike’s story and the poll in an “action alert” to its members with the subject line “Say NO to predatory casino expansion in Maine.”

“Please vote ‘NO’ in the article’s poll question, and let the media and fellow Mainers know you oppose another casino,” reads the email.

This is a little weird for us here at the BDN because like I said, those polls are meant to be interesting but by no means are they a scientific measure of public sentiment. Anyway, the no votes are running away with it with more than 81 percent of the 613 votes submitted.

Come Nov. 9, if 81 percent of Mainers reject a York County casino (providing the question makes it to the ballot in the first place), I’ll be regretting disparaging my employer’s poll results, if I still have a job. — 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.