LePage’s jail consolidation plan looks dead. Was it ever alive?

Good morning from Augusta. Maine Corrections Commissioner Joseph Fitzpatrick was a no-show at a Tuesday legislative hearing on Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to consolidate Maine’s jail system, which seems to have been pulled back about a month after its release.

What has been unclear is how seriously the administration thought it would be taken. The plan would close jails in Androscoggin, Oxford, Washington, Franklin and Piscataquis counties. Its release surprised Maine sheriffs who came to the State House in force against it Tuesday.

A top LePage staffer said the governor thought sending Fitzpatrick was ‘not a good use of time’ given the chilly response to the plan. Fitzpatrick was replaced before the budget-writing and criminal justice committees on Tuesday by Holly Lusk, LePage’s chief of staff, who said the governor believed the plan was “not received in a particular way that led him to believe that it had much chance of success.”

So, he thought that sending his commissioner was “not a good use of time,” she said. But Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the co-chairman of the budget committee, said he was “disappointed” that the Department of Corrections didn’t come.

Law enforcement officials were happy that the plan seems to be receding. Fitzpatrick’s plan — which wasn’t in bill from — came from a 2017 effort to bolster communication between the state and counties, but legislators and sheriffs were surprised when it was presented.

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, a Republican, said his jail is working with Maine’s court system to relieve overcrowding problems that he said this plan could exacerbate and said “putting reports out like this can only damage those great relationships.”

Baileyville police Chief Bob Fitzsimmons said his department said he was “kind of happy” when LePage staff left the committee room and that his staff could face six-hour round trips to take an inmate to Bangor or back.

It means that the future of jails will continue to be a main issue hanging over the Legislature. Almost everyone in Augusta agrees that Maine’s jail system needs a long-term fix. LePage has hammered the current state-county funding system and stalled the corrections board set up to oversee it in 2015, but issues with jail funding predate his administration.

After the plan was released, Fitzpatrick told the Bangor Daily News that the plan could save $10 million per year. Counties were skeptical that the figure didn’t account for other local costs. Fitzpatrick said it was a “potential model” and it depended on “how much energy” the Legislature put into the idea.

But with LePage leaving office in early 2019, this may have been his last chance to address jails. Now, it looks like it’ll be someone else’s task.

Independents tout ‘historic’ number of Maine legislative candidates

Fifteen independents, including former reporter turned political staffer, are running for seats in the Maine Senate and House of Representatives. Maine Independents, a recruiting apparatus for non-party candidates backed by alumni of former independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, said on Facebook that Maine is on pace for a record number of independent legislative candidates.

There are 15 now and there is time for more. Only two of 12 independents — Reps. Owen Casas of Rockport and Kent Ackley of Monmouth — won in 2016. Four of 16 won in 2014.

A political operative and former reporter joined them on Tuesday. That’s Crystal Canney of Portland, who has been a spokeswoman for independent Sen. Angus King, Cutler, former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci and the University of New England. Before that, she was a hard-driving reporter at WGME.

She has filed to run against Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, who represents Maine’s most Democratic district. Ironically, Chipman first won election to the Maine House as an independent, but joined the Democratic Party in 2015.

House Democrats stall LePage voter ID bill

LePage introduced another bill this week to require voters to show photographic identification at the polls. It’s a concept that has failed numerous times in Maine in recent years behind solid opposition from Democrats. LePage’s bill includes a clause that would allow a voter without an ID to cast a provisional ballot and directs the secretary of state’s office to provide free nondriver identification cards to eligible citizens who need them. Democrats in the House stalled moving the bill forward by tabling it Tuesday in a 73-64 vote.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are out until Thursday, but a long list of committee work is scheduled. On the State and Local Government Committee’s docket are hearings on a bill to require anti-sexual harassment training for lawmakers, lobbyists and State House staff, and in the Education Committee, to lift the prohibition of firearms possession on school property for a person picking up or dropping off a student and as long as it is unloaded and locked up.

The Health and Human Services Committee will hold work sessions on nine bills related to child care facility regulations, and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee will hear testimony on a bill to authorize a prison pre-release facility in Washington County. This afternoon, the Education Committee returns for a possible recommendation on a bill that would delay the implementation of proficiency-based diplomas in Maine.

Reading list

  • Legislative leaders were picky when it came to green-lighting gun control and school safety bills on Tuesday. The Legislative Council, which approves all late bill requests from lawmakers, voted to accept a proposal to borrow $20 million — the final figure would be subject to negotiations — and bolster Maine’s “red flag” laws to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed temporarily dangerous by a judge. Several other bills were rejected in partisan votes. The accepted bills will be deliberated in the coming weeks.
  • LePage has joined a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. On the heels of Congress taking action against “individual mandate” tax provisions that support the system, the Texas-based lawsuit argues that the ACA is unconstitutional. Apparently without the backing of Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills in the lawsuit, LePage joined the suit as an individual.
  • Maine’s chief justice wants to expand drug courts. Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley told lawmakers during her State of the Judiciary speech Tuesday that she wants to create a court program that gives defendants access to addiction and mental health treatment, sober housing, job training, transportation, family-related services and long-term follow up. The pilot project would cost around $1 million a year.
  • How to recognize the signs of child abuse and what to do when you see it. In the wake of Tuesday’s horrific news out of Stockton Springs regarding the murder of 10-year-old Marrissa Kennedy, state child welfare experts put the responsibility for avoided cases like that on all of us and shared tips to recognize abuse and how to respond.

If you nod off today, it’s OK

That’s because it’s National Public Sleeping Day. It’s a holiday, so feel free to doze just about anywhere, and if you’re at work you can tell your boss the Daily Brief crew said it’s OK.

But first, you need to study up on naps, which we didn’t know was a thing. There is the Power Nap of no more than 20 minutes, which the National Day Calendar seems to endorse. There are also the 30-minute Hangover Nap, which will leave you wanting more sleep; the hour-long Brainiac, which will improve your cognitive abilities; and the California King, 90 minutes of snoozing that will take you through a full sleep cycle and probably screw up your night-time sleeping.

After waiting nearly two hours past the posted start time for the Legislative Council to convene on Tuesday, we’re adding one to the list: The Legislative Time Nap, in which you plan for a Power Nap but pass out, slumped over, drooling and making gross throat noises, until House Speaker Sara Gideon and Senate President Mike Thibodeau arrive.

Here’s Sara and Mike’s soundtrack. Here’s everyone waiting in the stuffy committee room’s soundtrack. Here’s the after-deadline bill sponsors’ soundtrack. And here’s the April 18 statutory adjournment date’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

EDITOR’S NOTE: The views and sentiments expressed here are not those of management. We do not endorse snoozing on the job. Here is our soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this 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.

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.