Good morning from Augusta. We expected the Maine Legislature to run late on Thursday night, but lawmakers left anticlimactically just after 6:30 p.m. after sending bills to Gov. Paul LePage and spiking many others. But fights remain to be settled around Clean Election money and bonds.
The main goal of this year’s special session — a spending package — is on the governor’s desk. Disagreement over a spending package spoiled this year’s regular legislative session, leading lawmakers to adjourn in May with it left unfinished.
Since then, lawmakers have endorsed a $42 million package to fund services for Mainers who are disabled, expand opioid addiction treatment, fund lead abatement and address a shortfall in the Child Development Services program and a $26 million package to increase reimbursement rates for services for people with intellectual disabilities or autism and fund county jails.
The larger package was enacted on Wednesday and the smaller one was enacted on Thursday and sent to the governor’s desk. Both items passed the Legislature easily, though they are subject to LePage’s veto pen. He has 24 hours to line-item veto spending in proposals, but those can be overridden by simple majorities in both chambers.
Clean Elections funding is stuck for now in limbo because of a drafting error and the horse-trading over that wasn’t resolved by yesterday. A big item left unfinished on Thursday was a typically routine type of bill to fix drafting errors in Maine law. But this one would fix an error that will keep the Maine Ethics Commission from releasing money as of July 1 that is already appropriated to the Clean Election program.
Many legislative Republicans have railed against this taxpayer-funded campaign system, yet many have used it. Campaign disaster could loom if a fix isn’t made. State attorneys have advised the Maine Ethics Commission that candidates who have enrolled in the program won’t be allowed to fundraise privately if this error isn’t fixed.
Nearly $4 million is stranded in the fund. On Thursday, all but two House Republicans voted against a Democratic compromise that would fix the language and sweep $1 million out of the fund while replacing it in 2019. Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner, wants to sweep $3 million out of the fund and replace it in the same manner. Negotiations will continue.
A bond deal could also be struck by the time the Legislature comes back by Tuesday. The Legislature also hasn’t finalized a bond package to be sent to voters in the November election. Two proposals — a $106 million transportation bond and a $30 million wastewater bond — look like locks to make it to the ballot, which requires two-thirds votes in both chambers.
But House Republicans have wanted to split a $49 million bond for Maine’s university system and a $15 million bond for the community college system that have so far been bound together as one proposal. That wasn’t settled by Thursday’s end, either.
Spokespeople for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said the lower chamber effectively ran out of practical work to be done on Friday. Both chambers will return on either Monday or Tuesday and could handle any line-item vetoes from the governor then.
But Rob Poindexter, Fredette’s spokesman, was hopeful that leaders could “find rapture” on the outstanding issues over the weekend, predicting no more than a day’s work once they’re back. We’ll see if he’s right in a legislative session that seemingly won’t end. Here’s your soundtrack.
- Medicaid expansion in Maine hit another legal snag. Chief Justice Leigh Saufley of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court issued a one-page document on Wednesday that preserves the status quo in the legal fight between the LePage administration and advocates of expanding Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. On July 18, the high court will hear arguments in LePage’s appeal of a lower court order that his administration must submit a Medicaid expansion plan to the federal government. Saufley’s decision effectively delays the first date of expanded eligibility, which was supposed to be July 2 under the terms of a law passed by referendum in November 2017.
- Border patrol agents arrested one person at a checkpoint on Interstate 95 north of Bangor. An unnamed Haitian immigrant who had previously been ordered to be deported was the only person arrested during the 11-hour traffic-stopping operation between Howland and Lincoln in Penobscot County. In addition to the arrest during Wednesday’s checkpoint, agents made 10 drug seizures and issued a formal warning to a male immigrant from the Philippines who was not carrying his green card.
- An electricity seller that has led Mainers to pay more for power than they would have under the standard offer faces new allegations of shady conduct. Representatives of Electricity Maine allegedly posed as Central Maine Power “auditors” during door-to-door sales pitches. New allegations in a potential class-action lawsuit against the company accuse one salesman of using the CMP ruse — pretending to correct a high bill — to get a customer in Bath to agree to an electricity supply contract that cost 30 percent more than the standard rate. The lawsuit claims it’s part of a pattern of abuse among salespeople for Electricity Maine and its Houston-based parent company, Spark Energy.
- Birders are squawking about a Maine farmer who mowed a field full of nesting birds. The clash between the need to get the hay in on time and protecting bobolink habitat occurred at Hart Farm in Holden, which is owned by a land trust. The number of bobolinks in Maine has been declining, but the threat of shredding chicks finished second to the need to make hay. “We did not go out to kill off the bobolinks — it’s just a hard balance,” said Betty Jamison, a member of the land trust’s board. “The farmer knew the bobolinks were an issue, but there’s not much you can do about it. … It’s a balancing act between trying to keep habitats and to preserve farming in this area.”
Yesterday was the first day of summer, setting off traditional celebrations around the world.
Your Daily Brief team spent it holed up in a windowless office at the State House.
Meanwhile, folks in northern Europe were having much wilder times.
“A lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden,” Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a Swedish ethnologist and the author of several books on the subject, told CNN Travel.
“Drinking is the most typical Midsummer tradition. There are historical pictures of people drinking to the point where they can’t go on anymore,” Swahn said.
Back in Maine, Christopher Cousins ate a salad at his desk in an office with no windows while waiting for legislators to show up for work.
In Eastern Europe and Greece, people greet the solstice, which is associated with fertility, by participating in rituals designed to help young people find romantic partners. One Greek tradition involves jumping over bonfires. Anyone who succeeds in jumping over the flames three times can have a wish granted. Eleni Fanariotou told CNN Travel that the festival “often results in coupling.”
Michael Shepherd spent part of the solstice evening sitting outside offices waiting to talk to an elected official.
These are the sacrifices we make to keep you abreast of Maine political news. Here is our soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd and 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.
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