Fighting drugs, freeing hedgehogs: Here are Maine lawmakers’ priorities for 2017

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature on Monday released the list of all 1,824 bills proposed by lawmakers in 2017.

The New Year ritual sends many State House observers into their bunkers to parse it all. Here are the items of consequence — and non-consequence — that we found:

The biggest issue: Maine’s opiate crisis, which drove a record number of drug deaths in the first nine months of 2016. Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, wants a centralized authority to fight opiates and Sen. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, wants to expand evidence-based treatment. Other bills would address addiction in jails and weaken pharmaceutical companies’ power to market opiates.

The weediest issue: How Maine will implement voter-approved marijuana legalizationMore than 20 bills have “marijuana” in the title, and predictably, lawmakers have a lot of ideas about it. Among them is Sen. Scott Cyrway, R-Benton, who wants to repeal the law passed by voters in November. Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is proposing a moratorium on the law. Bills from Rep. James Handy, D-Lewiston, would bar marijuana facilities within 2,000 feet of schools and churches and ban marijuana from public university campuses. Others want to allow cities and towns to place optional taxes on marijuana and set up commissions to oversee implementation.

The most innocuous bill titles: We don’t know what’s in these bills yet, but who could argue with “An Act To Protect Families” and “An Act To Enhance the Safety of Schoolchildren?”

And the award for funniest (fuzziest?) bill goes to Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, for his bill to allow unlicensed hedgehogs as pets. But he may be onto something, since Maine has a “lengthy process” for licensing them requiring two different kinds of licenses, if to be believed. Here’s your soundtrack— Michael Shepherd

Collins to praise Sessions today as ‘person of integrity’

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will introduce Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, at his Tuesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sessions, a conservative Republican, is a controversial pick who was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 because of alleged racial remarks. Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, will speak against Sessions — the first time a sitting senator has testified against another at a confirmation hearing, according to CNN.

But Collins, a moderate Republican who entered the Senate with Sessions in 1997, is one of two people introducing him at the 9:30 a.m. hearing.

Collins will say that she and Sessions “have had our share of vigorous debates and policy disagreements,” but she has found that Sessions is a “person of integrity, a principled leader and a dedicated public servant,” according to a speech excerpt provided by the senator’s office.

The Maine senator is taking flak for this from progressives at home: Former state Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, coordinating rallies between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. at Collins’ offices in Bangor, Portland, Lewiston, Biddeford and Augusta.

And Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, who is head of the Portland NAACP branch, said in a statement that it’s “deeply troubling that the trust we have worked so hard to establish with our senior senator can so easily be sacrificed.” — Michael Shepherd

Reading list

Best of Maine’s Craigslist

  • Maine love Trumped: A woman says she and her boyfriend “broke up over the Trump thing because he was a Republican Conservative and I am a Liberal Green Party.” He made an effort, changing his registration to Libertarian “at the last minute but I didn’t feel totally comfortable with them, either.” Sad!
  • Light man seeks piggyback ride: A man is seeking a woman “in good shape to give me a good piggyback ride. Clothed.” With that issue out of the way, he’s only 120 pounds, so your excuse is that you can’t do it, find another one. Here’s your bonus soundtrack— Michael Shepherd
Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.