Good morning from Augusta. It was an under-the-radar kind of busy day in Augusta on Tuesday, with a bill that would slightly liberalize Maine solar policy finding bipartisan support.
But advocates still need to worry about Gov. Paul LePage’s House Republican-assisted veto pen and it looks like several other bills that failed to win two-thirds support in initial votes on Tuesday may also fall victim to it during the Republican governor’s last year in office.
The pared-down solar bill won more support on Tuesday than it did a year ago, but things can change after a veto. The bill would scale back a delayed Maine Public Utilities Commission rule that environmentalists have hammered for requiring a utility customer with solar panels to meter a facility’s gross output to qualify for “net metering,” a credit for energy sold to the grid. It would lift a cap on participants in community solar projects from nine to 50.
It has already won a 28-5 vote in the Senate and it was similar to another bill that won two-thirds support in the House of Representatives initially last year, yet eventually failed to win passage over LePage’s veto. On Tuesday, the new bill was opposed by only 34 Republicans in an initial vote. But we know things can change after a veto, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override.
But a host of other bills were caught in a more precarious spot on Tuesday. Those included measures to make it harder for the state to cut or delay cost-of-living increases to retired state workers and teachers, form a 21-member commission to make recommendations to the Legislature on climate change and start a needle exchange program.
The first two bills failed to get two-thirds support, with all but 10 Republicans opposing the first bill, all but seven opposing the second and the third failing to win a two-thirds vote to pass as an emergency measure. Republicans also delayed a bill to fund the shuttered Downeast Correctional Facility in a rules vote. LePage’s veto pen should be back in force soon.
Another Democrat quits Blaine House race
Patrick Eisenhart announced Tuesday that he would drop out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary and endorse Mark Eves. Eisenhart of Augusta was one of the first candidates to enter the race but was always considered a longshot. He’s the second person in little more than a week to leave the packed Democratic field and endorse Eves, the former House speaker from North Berwick. Former Bangor Mayor Sean Faircloth did so in late February. Eight days before the deadline to qualify for the primary ballot, 10 Democrats remain in the running.
Democrats assail Poliquin for sleeping in his office
Some Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are calling for an ethics investigation into members of Congress sleeping in their offices. One told Politico that he thinks the practice is “unhealthy,” “unsanitary” and “almost nasty,” and an abuse of taxpayer funds for well-paid representatives. Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine’s 2nd District has openly discussed the fact that he often sleeps in his Capitol Hill office and showers in a locker room. The Maine Democratic Party circulated the Politico story to reporters on Tuesday, accusing Poliquin of “cashing in on taxpayer funded resources.” Here’s Poliquin’s soundtrack.
On hold in the State House
Every morning, the Daily Brief tries to tell you what to expect for action that day in the Legislature, but some days we’re wrong and it’s not our fault. State House observers know that just because something appears on an agenda or calendar doesn’t mean it will happen for sure. That was the case Tuesday with the confirmation of George Gervais to lead the Maine State Housing Authority and a bill to revive funding for Downeast Correctional Facility. Action on both were postponed until, well, we don’t know.
And we’ve been waiting since mid-February for the House to take action on a request from Rep. Henry Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians for the Maine Supreme Judicial Court to rule on whether tribes can open casinos without state approval, as well as an order condemning white supremacy, which Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, who opposed the wording in a previous Democratic proposal, has publicly promised will come back for consideration.
Today in A-town
It’s pretty certain everything will be canceled Thursday because of the snow, but the schedule will proceed as planned today. The House and Senate are not in session, but several committees are working on a hefty list of public hearings and work sessions. It could be a landmark day for the state’s medical marijuana program in the Health and Human Services Committee, which will consider making recommendations on up to seven medical pot bills. The Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee is scheduled to debate the creation of a Maine Energy Office and another bill aimed at expanding broadband internet service in Maine.
President Donald Trump’s proposal to open U.S. waters to offshore drilling is in focus today. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold a public hearing at 3 p.m. today at the Augusta Civic Center. Opposition to the plan in Maine has been relatively fierce and includes all four members of Maine’s congressional delegation. There’s no indication that the incoming storm will postpone the meeting. Watch bangordailynews.com for updates.
- A proposal to extend $60 million in tax breaks to Bath Iron Works moved forward on Tuesday. The bill sponsored by Rep. Jennifer DeChant, D-Bath, would extend a 20-year period of tax breaks that ended in 2017 for up to another 20 years, but includes more stringent requirements on the company to maintain certain employment and investment levels. The Legislature’s Taxation Committee voted 8-2 Tuesday to recommend it.
- A Bangor doctor says he’ll write a Narcan prescription for anyone who asks for it. Dr. Noah Nelson of Penobscot Community Health Care told the Bangor Daily News that he is fed up with access to the opioid overdose antidote being restricted and that he’ll prescribe it over the phone and without an office visit. Nelson called on other doctors to do the same.
- A woman accused of participating in the torture and killing of her 10-year-old daughter is trying to be released on bail. The attorney for Sharon Carrillo says she might have been coerced into participating in the abuse by her husband and that she was also a victim of serious domestic violence. Carrillo is currently being held on $500,000 cash bail, and attorney Christopher MacLean says he is considering asking for a lower amount.
Moody tries to douse a fire around his extinguisher remark
Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody found himself thrust into the national limeline this week for suggesting to radio hosts that fire extinguishers can be used to confront an active shooter in a school. Reports have appeared far and wide, from USA Today to Salon.
His campaign has said Moody isn’t the only one. His political adviser, Brent Littlefield, provided a long list of agencies — ranging from the Department of Defense to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department — that have suggested fire extinguishers, which are readily available in public buildings, as a defense weapon.
The flap comes as Moody, who has said he would spearhead funding for armed school resource officers, is attempting to convince voters of his pro-gun rights views.
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.