Senate Democratic leader lashes out at Janet Mills over drug bill

Good morning from Augusta, where Maine’s leading progressive legislator lambasted Attorney General Janet Mills on Friday for behind-the-scenes work against his prescription drug bill — just days after she declared her run for governor.

That bill from Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, was carried over to next year after the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee decided to not include it last week in a package of bills that it agreed to fund on the Special Appropriations Table.

Jackson’s proposal aims to lower prescription drug costs by making prescription drug manufacturers provide samples of drugs sold in Maine to generic drug manufacturers so generic versions can be produced and sold once patents expire. The bill would also allow the attorney general to seek injunctive relief from violators.

That’s already in federal law, but the FDA has conceded that it’s difficult to enforce, which has delayed availability of generics. Generic drug companies including Mylan Pharmaceuticals say Jackson’s bill would save Mainers millions, but brand-name drug companies say delays are for patient safety concerns and that the bill would be inconsistent with federal law.

In a statement, Jackson blasted Mills for lobbying legislators to kill the bill after it won approval on initial votes on its merit, calling it a “huge victory for Big Pharma.”

“We don’t need to have a Legislature if we’re just going to let Appropriations members decide policy, or even worse, if we’re just going to let the attorney general decide policy, or even worse, why don’t we just give the whole damn thing to Pharma and let them run the state?” Jackson said in an interview.

Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, said in a June floor speech that the attorney general was “telling us in no uncertain terms” that the bill would be preempted by federal law, risking an inevitable lawsuit that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and would likely be struck down. That’s why it landed on the Appropriations Table.

However, Mills’ concern with the law goes past that. On Friday, Chief Deputy Attorney General Linda Pistner said in an email that “if we believed this bill would benefit Maine people, we would be the first to support it,” but called it “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

She said it “puts taxpayers on the hook for an effort to protect the profits of one pharmaceutical manufacturer over another,” noting that it would help companies like Mylan, which is one of six generic drug companies that Maine and 19 other states are suing for alleged price fixing.

Jackson sponsored a 2013 law that would have allowed drugs to be imported to Maine from countries with similar safety standards and cheaper costs, such as Canada and the United Kingdom. Mills’ office defended it, but the law was overturned by a federal judge in 2015.

The rift between one of Maine’s leading progressives and Democrats’ best-known gubernatorial candidate could help color the primary. Stay tuned. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin already has more than $1 million in the bank for his re-election bid. The Republican from Maine’s 2nd District raised more than $500,000 between April’s start and June’s end. He now has nearly $1.2 million in his war chest, with 45 percent of it coming from political action committees and candidate committees. Any Democrat will have an uphill battle against Poliquin in his second re-election campaign. The most prominent one running so far is restaurateur Tim Rich of Seal Harbor, who announced earlier this month. Rural mail carrier Phil Cleaves of Dexter, a Democrat, is also running. Builder Jonathan Fulford of Monroe is expected to announce soon, and after two spirited but losing campaigns against Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, he’d probably be the best-known person in the Democratic field for now. Updated filings for federal races were due to the Federal Election Commission by Saturday’s end. — Michael Shepherd
  • A top LePage administration health official is shifting to the governor’s office. The governor announced Thursday that Nick Adolphsen is now his senior health policy advisor and will assist Gov. Paul LePage’s work on national health care issues. Adolphsen was director of government relations and policy in the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. He replaces David Sorensen, who left in May for a White House speechwriting job. Adolphsen is a longtime Republican operative who worked as a legislative staffer and campaign manager prior to joining the LePage administration. — Michael Shepherd
  • Susan Collins made the rounds on Sunday’s political talk shows. She appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union” discussing what we’re seeing her discuss a lot lately: an overhaul of the federal health care system and possibly, the repeal of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Collins, a moderate Maine Republican, has situated herself at the center of the debate by saying she won’t vote to let the Senate’s latest version of the bill move forward. On CNN, Collins said again that the proposed “fundamental, sweeping changes in the Medicaid program” are too deep for her to support. She also called a provision introduced recently by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, which aims to offer cheaper coverage to some people, as “unworkable.” On ABC, Collins said there are “eight to ten Republican senators who have deep concerns” about the latest version of the bill, but she isn’t counting it out yet. “I never underestimate [U.S. Senate Majority] Leader [Mitch] McConnell’s skills,” said Collins. — Christopher Cousins

Correction: An earlier version of this item gave the wrong due date for updated filings to the Federal Election Commission. They were due on Saturday.

Today in A-town

The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is in session today to hold a series of public hearings on bills that remain outstanding in this year’s legislative session and which propose to borrow money.

There are a dozen bills up for public hearings today that would ask voters to allow the state to borrow money for transportation projects, environmental causes and research and development. Contrary to a lot of proposed bills that bring loads of opponents to the State House, today’s testimony is expected to be largely in favor of the bills. Few of them will survive.

The real negotiation around bonds is the bottom-line monetary tally of bills that legislative leaders and the governor can agree on. If that number has been firmed up, we haven’t heard about it, at least not explicitly. Voters already approved $50 million worth of economic development bonding in June and LePage has proposed sending $200 million worth of transportation infrastructure bonds to voters — half this year and half next.

The Legislature built enough money into the biennial budget to support about $150 million in new borrowing, which suggests the culling of this herd will be brutal. We will keep you posted. Anything the committee recommends will be subject to approval by the full Legislature and then the voters.

Also in town today is the Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee, which has been working some major overtime over the past couple of weeks in a push to produce legislation for consideration in a special session later this year or when lawmakers return to Augusta as usual in January. Here’s their soundtrack to help ease their pain. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

It’s not often your senior U.S. senator appears onstage with a pop icon

But that’s what happened on Friday night when Susan Collins took the stage with Cyndi Lauper at Bangor’s Waterfront Pavilion.

As the BDN’s Seth Koenig reported, Lauper, who when she is not performing is a Democratic activist on LGBT issues, pulled Collins onto the stage for a quick cameo. We think not giving Collins the microphone to sing the chorus of “Time After Time” was a missed opportunity, for two reasons:

  • That’s a great song and we bet Susan has pipes.
  • Cyndi owes Susan one. After all, the senator invited the singer to her stage, as it were, in April of 2015 when Lauper testified on the issue of youth homelessness before the House Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations subcommittee.

Fair is fair. At any rate, the two women have clearly formed a bond.

“This woman is a hero,” said Lauper as she led Maine’s senior senator to the stage.

“We’re just glad you’re here Cyndi,” said an energized Collins.

Now, for a soundtrack. We initially were going to try to dig deep into Lauper’s catalogue but came across this song so we stopped immediately. Besides, when you have an anthem in your repertoire, that’s going to be your soundtrack every time. — Christopher Cousins

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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.