Lawmakers recall bill on video use at polls

Good morning from Augusta, where it’s a big day for the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

For some reason, I thought of this Robert Palmer song when that particular committee came to mind. It’s today’s soundtrack.

The committee will consider making recommendations this afternoon on four welfare reform bills and the question now, as always, is whether Democrats and Republicans will be able to agree on any of them. Here are the bills:

  • LD 885, An Act to Promote Enhanced Eligibility Verification in Maine’s Welfare System, which would require the Department of Health and Human Services to reassess eligibility for state assistance annually.
  • LD 1097, An Act to Improve the Integrity of Maine’s Welfare Programs, which would bar the use of state cash benefits in states other than Maine and New Hampshire and restrict the withdrawal of cash to 25 percent of the total benefit. It also would outlaw the use of welfare cash benefits on tobacco, liquor, lottery tickets and other items. As submitted, the bill also calls for DHHS to hire five new fraud investigators, although changes to that proposal through amendments are expected.
  • LD 1268, An Act to Reform Welfare by Establishing Bridges to Sustainable Employment, which proposes a range of enhancements to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program that would help recipients with child care, transportation and education opportunities in an effort to help them acquire jobs.
  • LD 1631, An Act to Reduce the Liability of Maine Taxpayers by Aligning Maine’s Welfare Programs with Federal Law, which removes all good cause exceptions that prevent a person from being sanctioned under the ASPIRE/TANF program and appropriates $1 million to cover potential fines from the federal government for the state’s failure to meet work participation requirements. This bill was proposed by Gov. Paul LePage.

The committee will also consider two bills related to new limits on prescriptions of addictive drugs, LD 1646 and LD 1648.

On a sad note, Gov. Paul LePage has proposed a bill through Democratic Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop that would provide $400,000 in compensation to Susan Cloutier and her son of Winthrop, for a December 2014 accident on Route 202 in Leeds, which killed Cloutier’s husband, Gus, and their 14-year-old son, Casey, who were en route to a hockey tournament. The driver of the other vehicle involved was an employee of the Maine Department of Labor, according to LD 1671. — Christopher Cousins 

Maine Maritime Academy celebrates Founders Day today

Gov. LePage and officials from Maine Maritime Academy will gather today at the State House to celebrate Founders Day, which commemorates the institution’s anniversary.

Maine Maritime Academy, a publicly funded school in Castine, was creaed by the 90th Maine Legislature in 1941. Founded originally as a nautical training institute to contribute skilled mariners for World War II, MMA is now a career-oriented college, educating students in specialized programs in engineering, management, science and transportation. It is one of only six state-run maritime academies in the United States. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Two bills proposed by LePage and sponsored by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond of Portland that are designed to reduce student debt in Maine breezed through legislative committees on Tuesday. LDs 1657 and 1655 received majority support in the taxation and education committees, respectively. LD 1657 would expand the Educational Opportunity Tax Credit and LD 1655 would establish a low-interest loan program for Mainers studying science, technology, engineering and math to entice them to remain in Maine. A third bill proposing a $10 million bond to fund the loan program is under consideration by the Appropriations Committee.
  • In a somewhat rare move, the Senate on Tuesday recalled from the governor’s desk Sen. Bill Diamond’s bill to limit the use of video cameras at polling places. The bill won final passage in both the House and Senate, but legislators recalled the bill before LePage acted on it. We’ll keep you updated on new developments.
  • LePage on Tuesday ordered Maine state flags to be flown at half-staff through Saturday at sunset in memory of the victims of Tuesday’s terror attacks in Brussels, Belgium. The order is concurrent with a decree from President Barack Obama to lower all American flags to half-staff.
  • A bill to name the lobster the state’s official crustacean received unanimous support Tuesday in the House. The bill was proposed by third-graders at Brewer Community School, who turned out to the State House in force earlier this month. The bill now heads to the Senate.

Reading list

Who knew chia is food?

I’m a plant killer. My parents bought me a couple of chia pets over the years. Both died and dried out, thanks to me. I remember a sheep covered in dead chia spouts on my windowsill for months.

I thought chia seeds were useful only for growing green “hair” on any number of Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia figures (did you know you can get a Chia Barack Obama?) but as it turns out, chia is a trusted food staple for populations around the world.

Ummmm, today is also National Chip and Dip Day, FYI. — 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.