LePage allies, foes back legislative probe of how DHHS handled child abuse claims

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s watchdog committee will consider calls for an investigation into Maine’s child welfare system today in continued fallout from the death of 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy allegedly caused by her mother and stepfather in Stockton Springs.

It’s looking like lawmakers are steaming toward a probe of the case, with the two leaders of the Gov. Paul LePage-aligned House Republican caucus saying through a spokesman on Friday morning that they support the review.

The LePage administration has said an internal reviews of the case are already happening, but the Legislature could go further. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services has said little about the case, though the Republican governor blasted his own agency and others on Wednesday for a “comedy of errors” that preceded the child’s death.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, and Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, requested an investigation of Kennedy’s case last week.

After that, the LePage administration said an internal review had already begun. But Hymanson’s request for a “full review” of Maine’s child protective system will be considered by the Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee today, which could direct the non-partisan Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability to launch an investigation.

Top House Republicans supported the probe on Friday. House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, and Assistant House Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, support the review, according to their spokesman, Rob Poindexter.

If there was going to be opposition, it would be from the House Republican caucus. In 2015, Fredette warned that OPEGA was being used as a cudgel against LePage in its investigation into LePage’s role in a nonprofit’s firing of former House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick.

But this case is showing itself to be far different. With LePage having criticized his own department and his fellow Republicans wanting more information, it looks like it will happen.

Poliquin wants to bring more opioid addiction prevention money to Maine

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin and a bipartisan group of representatives from other rural states have sponsored a bill that would increase funding in Maine. The Republican from Maine’s 2nd District wants to change the formula for allocating $1 billion in funding that was appropriated in 2016 in the 21st Century Cures Act. The money is currently distributed based mostly on population; Poliquin’s bill would change the formula to take into account per-capita rates of overdose deaths — which would bring more money to Maine.

Under the current formula, Maine received just over $2 million of the funding in 2017 and stands to receive another $2 million or so this year. A Poliquin spokesman said the congressman and others are working to insert language from the bill into a larger budget bill.

Maine state employees’ union lost another leader

The embattled Maine State Employees Association is looking for its third executive director since late August. The union representing 13,000 state employees announced Executive Director Eric Noyes’ resignation to union members on Monday. The union’s former president, Ginette Rivard, will serve as interim executive director.

Noyes was hired in January, replacing a former executive director who quit after members’ August move to accept a contract with the LePage administration trading raises for “right to work” language. An official said last month that the union lost fees from 2,000 workers who aren’t members.

A bill about Old Town’s airport is headed to Trump

The Removing Outdated Restrictions to Allow for Job Growth Act, originally sponsored by Poliquin, passed through the Senate on Thursday, nearly a year after being approved by the House of Representatives. If signed, the bill would eliminate what Poliquin calls an “obsolete deed restriction” on land next to the Old Town Airport. Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King supported a similar version of the bill in the Senate.

Today in A-town

Today is the deadline set by legislative leaders for committees to have all work on their bills completed. As usual, a few committees will need extensions, according to a spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport.  

On today’s docket in the State and Local Government Committee is a joint resolution calling for a constitutional convention to introduce a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It would take positive votes from two-thirds of states to start that process. This has been tried in Maine several times without success.

The Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to work several bills, including one that would create a 50-person pilot project to help homeless people who are addicted opioids find housing. The bill would cost about $2.2 million. Check out the full committee schedule by clicking here.

Reading list

  • Electricity sellers are using social media to capitalize on and mislead about the recent complaints around surging Central Maine Power bills. One consultant for Ambit Energy, a competitive energy provider, has been using Facebook to flag CMP’s apparent wintertime spike, under review by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The problem? Their customers wouldn’t be shielded from rate increases and now the commission may look into their social media use.
  • Thursday’s nor’easter knocked out power to 30,000 Mainers. The snow was heaviest in York County. Sanford got 19 inches, the highest total in the state, and CMP’s outages peaked at 25,000, centered in York and Lincoln counties. Click here to find out how much snow fell in your community.
  • Maine wants a 20 percent increase in moose permits — to try to build a healthier herd. After five years of declining permits, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will increase the number of alloted moose permits from 2,080 last year to 2,500 in 2018. Winter ticks have taken a toll on Maine moose and wildlife biologists say that having too many moose in certain areas can punish the entire herd.
  • Lewiston’s Republican mayor was criticized by Maine’s Democratic secretary of state about a letter sent to new voters. In an extension of past tension between Lewiston officials and Bates College students, Mayor Shane Bouchard told 221 new voters that registering to vote is a declaration of state residency and must trigger other steps, including getting a Maine driver’s license. The letter was factual and sent to all new voters in the 2017 election, but Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap told the Sun Journal that’s it’s “constructed backwards.”

Too flip about hair?

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King was the target of some criticism from the White House budget office Thursday for a comment he made during a committee meeting Wednesday.

King made the comment during questions about why a White House official declined to attend to a meeting of the Senate Committee on Intelligence to discuss security clearances.

“Well that’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?,” said King, according to The Hill. “So the one person in the government that’s in charge of this issue, that’s a very important issue, isn’t here because — did they have to wash their hair? What’s the deal?”

A White House spokeswoman called the comment “distasteful” and “condescending” and asked whether King thinks the official, Margaret Weichert, “should be at home at his beck and call.”

A spokeswoman for King said he didn’t know the official was a woman but apologized anyway for propelling himself into an arguably hairy situation. Here’s King’s soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

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.