Why LePage didn’t show up for his own town hall meeting

Good morning from Augusta, where bleary-eyed lawmakers hope to conclude their long slog to the end of the 127th Legislature — except for one more day in a couple of weeks when they’ll return to deal with gubernatorial vetoes.

Legislating late into the night has been the norm this week, as it usually is toward the end, but that doesn’t always mean a lot is accomplished. Members of the House of Representatives hung around the State House through Thursday evening expecting to finish a bundle of work but when the House reconvened just after 9 p.m., they met for a total of about 12 minutes. There were cries of dismay when Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves said they were done for the night because the bills acted on in the Senate on Thursday evening had not yet made it through the revision process to the House. It’s called “moving paper.”

“We are legitimately down to the end,” said Eves. “It really does depend on how quickly the paper comes to us.”

Eves said he hopes the session doesn’t stretch into Saturday, but…

“I would keep your calendars open with the goal of trying to be done tomorrow night,” he said.

Whenever I see laws being made under the cover of darkness, I think of a certain song about things goin’ on that you don’t know (won’t you stand up and scream?). Here’s the Legislature’s soundtrack.

It’s a strange ending to the session for those of us who are used to a pressure-cooker atmosphere. The tension has been high at times but there is no government shutdown looming and no budget gap to fill. That most of the bills this year would end in failure was evident months ago. And on some issues, there appears to be cooperation and last-minute efforts at compromise between lawmakers and Gov. Paul LePage.

According to the administration, that’s why the governor had to cancel his town hall meeting in Newcastle with no warning Thursday evening. Reporters and others who wanted to hear the governor were turned away at the doors of Lincoln Academy, after being told that LePage was busy with legislative business. It’s anyone’s guess what legislative business LePage was attending to, but perhaps it was related to his last-minute minimum wage bill, which was debated Thursday evening in the Senate.

The minimum wage bill failed by one vote in the Senate to garner the necessary two-thirds majority required to pass emergency legislation, which its proponents said was necessary to offer an alternative but not competing option to a minimum wage hike question on the November state ballot. Read about that bill below, in the reading list.

A LePage spokesman said his town hall meetings would resume next week and that Newcastle will be on the schedule in the future. — Christopher Cousins

Meanwhile in Congress

Independent Sen. Angus King has partnered with a Republican and a Democrat to introduce a bill that would eliminate tax penalties for families whose student loans are forgiven after the death or permanent disability of their child.

According to a press release, the tax liability in that situation could amount to tens of thousands of dollars. King’s sponsorship of the Stop Taxing Death and Disability Act (now there’s a catchy name for a bill) came after he was contacted by Donald and Nora Brennan of Topsham, whose son Keegan, a recent graduate of the New Hampshire Institute of Art, died unexpectedly in 2012 from a brain aneurysm. The Brennans’ loans were forgiven but they were left with a $24,500 tax bill.

“This fix is not only common sense, it’s just the right thing to do and I hope we can act on this bill soon so that no one else in Maine or across the country has to be the victim of this senseless policy,” said King in a written statement.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates that some 387,000 permanently disabled Americans were qualified for, but have not received loan forgiveness. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hits

  • Earlier this week, you read about how Gov. Paul LePage has created a new position for Dr. Bill Beardsley, who LePage nominated to be education commissioner but then withdrew when it became obvious that some Democrats would oppose Beardsley’s confirmation. LePage refuses to nominate anyone else for commissioner, but it’s becoming clear Beardsley will function as one. The Maine Heritage Policy Center announced Thursday that it will host Beardsley for talks titled “Maine Education at the Crossroads” later this month. The talks are scheduled for April 27 and 28 in Auburn and Portland, respectively.
  • These are ballpark numbers, but Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed approximately 24 bills this year, about seven of which have been sustained. On Thursday, the House overrode with a 105-43 vote, a new veto of LD 1499, An Act to Increase the Safety of Social Workers. When the bill came up for a veto override vote Thursday evening in the Senate, it was tabled by Republicans, which is relatively rare for a veto vote. You can read LePage’s veto message here. Stay tuned.
  • To keep up with developments today at the State House, follow the BDN’s live blog by clicking here: Is this the end for Maine’s 127th Legislature?

Reading list

‘All Maine ingredients’ beer leaves out the yucky stuff, thankfully

I know you come to the Daily Brief for political news, but beer news is important, too.

Portland-based Allagash Brewing Co., which makes some of the best beer around, has announced that starting Saturday, you can try its Sixteen Counties variety, which is made from entirely Maine-grown ingredients. Read all about it courtesy of the BDN’s Kathleen Pierce.

I know what you’re thinking: “Not another beer with lobsters or blueberries in it. Or pine trees or something.”

Nope. I was relieved to see “barley grown in Aroostook, malt from Lisbon Falls, grains milled in Skowhegan.”

Sixteen Counties can be sampled starting Saturday at Allagash’s tasting room on Industrial Way in Portland. I’m sure it’ll go just fine with a lobster dinner. — 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.