LePage’s flood of late bills includes bid to end Maine Turnpike Authority

With the end of the legislative session drawing near, Gov. Paul LePage continues to submit new bills for consideration. Today was no exception.

The governor, who has been known to submit bills just hours before the Legislature is set to adjourn for the year, has offered 34 so far in 2017.

Some of his boldest proposals have traditionally come the latest. Today, he unveiled one bill that would begin the process of eliminating the Maine Turnpike Authority by 2027 and another that circles back to the issue of testing recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families funding for drug use.

The latter concept was first introduced by LePage in 2015 but that bill failed in the Legislature. Regardless, the executive branch launched a pilot project for any TANF applicant who had a felony drug conviction within the past 20 years. That process started with a written screening and, depending on the results, a urine test.

The bill unveiled today is similar on the front end but extends help to addicts on the back end. Anyone who is shown to be at risk for suffering from addiction would be offered a state-funded substance abuse treatment program as a condition of receiving benefits. If the applicant refuses the treatment program, he or she has the option to appeal the decision but would be subject to a drug test.

Democrats might be a bit more receptive to the drug testing proposal than they were in 2015, because of the offer of a treatment program, but there will still be push-back from some constituencies who believe it’s unfair and possibly unconstitutional to subject specific classes of people to drug testing when they have no more predisposition to using drugs than anyone else.

In recent days and weeks LePage has submitted a number of other bills that seek to assert his will on the Legislature. Lawmakers have dozens of proposals for state bonding before them, and LePage added to that stack with bills that call for $10 million for the Maine Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Loan Program to help students pay for school and $50 million to accelerate growth and investment by leveraging private investments.

He has also submitted a bill that would make changes to the new $12 minimum wage law approved by voters in 2016. The changes include restoring the tip credit, reducing the ramp-up of the minimum wage and eliminating cost-of-living increases that are currently in law. LePage’s bill also allows for a “training wage” for young workers.

The governor has the authority to submit new bills any time the Legislature is in session. The majority of his bills are amended or defeated, but with less than two years left in his term, LePage is intent on adding to and cementing his legacy. In these bills he hits on several of his core areas: fiscal restraint, executive authority social service reform and fighting addiction.

One element at play is obviously time. Will the Legislature have ample opportunity to mull issues as broad as eliminating the Maine Turnpike Authority by next month? Doubtful. That could mean bills like that are either doomed or destined to be put off until next year.

By submitting some of these proposals so late, LePage has ensured that whether or not any of his bills survive, he’ll be front and center in the political conversation during the next month. — Christopher Cousins

LePage references Clinton conspiracy theory when asked about Trump

At first, the governor had a muted reaction to the heightening controversy around President Donald Trump when asked about it by WGAN on Thursday. He ended at a conspiracy theory.

He said “I don’t trust the media,” then endorsed the Trump administration’s appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel handling the investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential Russian links “to get the facts on the table.”

LePage then referenced his own trouble with the Maine media and some legislators’ 2016 attempt to impeach him, saying “the left will do anything” and “I’m very suspect of a lot of things that have happened in our country, including Vince Foster.”

Foster, who was deputy White House counsel in President Bill Clinton’s administration, died by suicide in 1993 after a period of depression. His death led to conspiracy theories that the Clintons were involved, but several probes confirmed the suicide. — Michael Shepherd

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in session for the third day running. Many of the bills up for consideration in each chamber today were discussed or voted on yesterday in the other chamber.

At this point, if you’re interested in what’s coming up today, it would be best to just peruse the House and Senate calendars on your own. Some bills have been scheduled and held up this week, including the House vote on the Legislature’s grand mining law compromise.

The bill from Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, which is supported by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, went through the Senate unanimously last week and has been supported by Democrats for placing strong protections on mining while Republicans have backed it because it allows a pathway to mining in Maine, which is now banned.

But the House vote was postponed on Tuesday and Wednesday amid uncertainty from the governor’s office. LePage spokesman Peter Steele didn’t answer questions about the governor’s position on the bill this week, but the Maine Department of Environmental Protection testified against it in March.

Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, R-Dresden, a member of the Legislature’s Environmental and Natural Resources Committee who supports the bill, said on Wednesday that he and other Republicans are meeting with LePage this morning, where the governor will “outline his concerns and hopefully we have the answers he’ll like.”

If that meeting goes well, Pierce said the bill could come up for a vote as early as today. It’s on the House calendar to day, but only time will tell if.

From here on out, the sessions will be long, alternating between routine votes and protracted debates. As many or more bills are dying as are finding their way to enactment, many are dying between the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate.

There are also a number of committees meeting this afternoon. You can check out what they’re working on by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd

Reading list

To Sir, With An Asterisk

During a radio interview this morning, LePage joked that the last film he saw was “To Sir, With Love,” a 1967 drama that stars Sidney Poitier as an unemployed engineer forced to take a job teaching unruly London teens in a dingy East End school. Poitier’s character, Mark Thackeray, struggles to maintain order in the classroom, but eventually gains the respect and trust of a Cockney basket of deplorables.

The film zeroed in on race and class relations during the turbulent late 1960s. It inspired lots of young people, including me, to become teachers — although my stint as a special education teacher only lasted three years before I moved on to less noble but more lucrative career pursuits.

LePage mentioned the film during a discussion about why he does not trust “the left” and in which he deflected questions about controversy surrounding the Trump White House by resurrecting conspiracy theories about past Democratic presidents.

Ironically, the cast of “Saturday Night Live” riffed on the film in their farewell to President Barack Obama, a longtime LePage foil, earlier this year. So I guess it just goes to show that we all interpret films through the lens of our own experience. Here’s your soundtrack. — Robert Long

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

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.