Good morning from Augusta. Republicans in the U.S. Senate pushed forward their tax proposal in a party-line procedural vote on Wednesday that will set up an expected series of votes tonight, when senators can offer amendments ahead of a final vote.
Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, voted to proceed and has hinted at backing the package. But she’s not saying how she’ll vote yet and told reporters on Wednesday that she’s going to float a series of amendments to the bill. Here’s where she stands.
She brushed aside concerns about the package’s changes to health care policy on Wednesday. The Senate Republican bill would repeal the “individual mandate” in the Affordable Care Act that makes Americans buy health insurance or face penalty. Collins has been wary of that, but President Donald Trump has reportedly assured her that he would back two bipartisan bills aimed at stabilizing the health care law if the tax plan passes. However, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday that one of those bills — which would resume cost-sharing reduction payments that Trump has stopped — wouldn’t offset the negative impacts of scrapping the mandate. But Collins told reporters that the CBO assumes that those payments will be made and they aren’t now, so the finding “truly makes no sense whatsoever.”
But she has also outlined a series of amendments that she wants in the final bill by tonight. On Wednesday, Collins took reporters through a list of amendments that she’s backing, according to a transcript provided by the senator’s office. It includes restoring the state and local tax deduction and protecting a medical expense deduction that is a priority of the AARP. But when asked if all those those needed to pass to get her vote, she demurred.
“We are doing this one step at a time,” Collins said. “Some of these are higher priorities than others.”
Maine legislative leaders to mull appeals on 2018 bills today
A panel of legislative leaders has already said more than 200 bills aren’t an ‘emergency,’ but lawmakers will lobby them on many of those today. The Legislative Council controls the fates of bills that can be considered by the full Legislature in even-numbered years. The Maine Constitution limits them to “emergency” or budgetary issues, but emergencies are subjective. In October, the panel allowed in 63 of 268 proposed bills. Many of the failed bills’ sponsors will come before the council today at 10 a.m. to make last-ditch pitches. Among them will be Sens. Shenna Bellows, D-Manchester, and Geoff Gratwick, D-Bangor, who are looking to address Maine’s opiate crisis by setting standards for residential addiction recovery programs and establish a regional system of peer recovery centers, respectively.
But conservatives would like to see fewer bills considered. Rep. Larry Lockman, R-Amherst, wrote an email to House Majority Leader Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, asking her to reconsider Legislative Council votes to allow consideration of four of her own bills, saying the Legislature has “trampled” the Constitution by allowing in bills that are non-emergencies. Jim Labrecque, a Bangor refrigeration technician who has advised Gov. Paul LePage on energy matters in and out of the administration, is also asking the council to reconsider 20 previously approved bills.
- The superintendent of Maine’s new national monument thinks 15,000 people will have visited in 2017 by year’s end. Superintendent Tim Hudson said he estimates that more than 14,300 people have visited the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument near Millinocket so far this year. The president of the local chamber of commerce called it “exactly what we were all hoping for,” but the head of the monument-opposing Maine Snowmobile Association called it “pretty underwhelming.”
- Interstate regulators are keeping Maine’s shrimp fishery closed in 2018. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission voted Wednesday to continue a moratorium on the Gulf of Maine’s fishery that has been in place since 2013. Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher voted to open it, but representatives from New Hampshire and Massachusetts rejected it. The gulf’s shrimp haul cratered from more than 12 million pounds in 2010 to less than 600,000 pounds in 2013 and many think climate change is partly to blame.
- An anti-sexual harassment measure co-sponsored by Maine’s delegation passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously on Wednesday. The measure requires House members and aides to take sexual harassment training that has been optional before. U.S. Reps. Bruce Poliquin and Chellie Pingree of Maine sponsored the measure. Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District, said on the floor that there “should be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior.” He is also co-sponsoring a wider anti-harassment bill that would change the processes for reporting harassment in Congress.
- Wiscasset is suing the state to stop the demolition of a historic garage as part of a plan to alleviate Route 1 traffic. The $5 million project that seeks to ease of Maine’s worst summer bottlenecks by widening sidewalks and eliminating downtown on-street parking was backed by Wiscasset voters in 2016. But the town sued on Wednesday in state court to seek a restraining order to stop the Maine Department of Transportation’s planned demolition of a historic garage, saying the state has changed its plan since the vote. A DOT spokesman said the parties are working to defer the demolition of the garage.
Stay home and put your mousse in a Mason jar today
After sitting through hours of laudatory oration for legislative sentiments honoring everything from middle school jazz bands to the invention of earmuffs and someone’s milestone birthday, we at Daily Brief appreciate government efforts to honor the important things in life — even if doing so delays action on trivial matters such as passing a budget or paying the state’s bills.
So it’s not surprising that our calendars brim with salutes to all kinds of things that make life worth living. For example, Nov. 30 is — among other things — National Mousse Day, National Mason Jar Day and Stay Home Because You’re Well Day. Some of us work from home most of the time, so the latter is kind of a moot point.
The best way we could come up with to honor the convergence of these three celebratory events is to give each its own soundtrack. Here’s one for Mason jars. Here’s a soundtrack for the kind of mousse most often found on the top of Christopher Cousins’ head. And here’s the only possible soundtrack for Stay Home Because You’re Well Day. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading it on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.