Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Paul LePage said on Thursday that he won’t put forward a proposed slate of child welfare system reforms until the Legislature finishes stalled work that has kept it in session deep into 2018 — a dispute for which there’s no end in sight.
The Republican governor is offering variations on the same, difficult deal to wrap up other work. After the Legislature’s watchdog panel probed the deaths of two Maine girls allegedly killed by caregivers, LePage previewed a package of proposed reforms to the system, including steering the state away somewhat from a policy of family reunification, fixing an outdated computer system for tracking cases and criminalizing failure to comply with mandatory reporting statutes.
In a Thursday radio address, the governor also said he wants to “improve staff training, reduce turnover, and prevent burnout of caseworkers.” But he said that changes to child welfare law won’t be proposed until the Legislature finishes other delayed work for 2018.
“I won’t allow a bill to protect our children to become a political soccer ball like so many other things this session,” he said. “When the Legislature wraps up what should have been completed months ago, we can move on to the critical work of protecting our children.”
The key issue holding up the end of the legislative session is taxpayer funds for 2018 campaigns that are now locked away because of a drafting error in the two-year budget passed last year. House Republicans who oppose the program are holding it up; Democrats have held up the Republican priority of conforming to the federal tax code.
LePage told WVOM on Thursday that he would fund Medicaid expansion and the Clean Election program if the Legislature slows down growth in the hourly state minimum wage passed by voters in 2016. It will now rise from $10 to $12 by 2020; LePage wants the $12 to phase in by 2022.
Of course, the devil is in the details around all of these issues. LePage has been talking often about weakening the minimum wage law and it hasn’t gotten much traction. Democrats have already agreed to unravel a voter-approved surtax on wealthy Mainers that was well-liked by progressives in last year’s budget deal. LePage already opposed one legislative plan to fund expansion.
Legislative leaders are still having discussions, but they haven’t come up with a deal yet. Any deal that ends the session will hinge on Clean Election funding. Republicans will likely force House Democrats to weaken the system in exchange for letting any money go. But it’s not on the horizon. Legislators adjourned earlier this month expecting to return this week. That didn’t happen.
“No, we don’t have a session date and no, we don’t have a deal on a clean elections fix,” texted Mary-Erin Casale, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, after missing a reporter’s call today.
That’s about the mood in the State House right now. We’ll see if it changes.
Golden adds former Susan Collins staffer
The Democrat looking to take back Maine’s 2nd District has added an ally of the Republican senator. Assistant Maine House Majority Leader Jared Golden has hired Bobby Reynolds as the spokesman for his campaign against U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a two-term Republican who is one of national Democrats’ top targets in a district that they held for 20 years before Poliquin won in 2014.
Reynolds is a Navy veteran and former firefighter who is now working for the lobbying shop Maine Street Solutions and has held several jobs in Collins’ office and campaigns, including serving as political director in her 2014 win against Democrat Shenna Bellows. Golden was a Collins staffer for two years, but she has backed Poliquin in his last two general election runs.
Since his time with Collins, Reynolds has worked on an unsuccessful 2016 gun background check referendum. As a board member of Maine Conservation Voters, he backed the group’s June endorsement of Attorney General Janet Mills, the Democratic nominee for governor.
- The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state in an effort to ensure that inmates receive addiction treatment. The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court on behalf of Zachary Smith of Caribou asserts that the Maine Department of Corrections is violating Smith’s civil rights by not allowing inmates to continue their prescribed medications, such as buprenorphine or methadone, while incarcerated. Similar lawsuits are under way in other states, including Washington.
- A York County jury acquitted a former teacher accused of sexually assaulting a student. The jury deliberated for two hours before finding Jill Lamontagne, 30, a former teacher at Kennebunk High School, not guilty on all 14 charges related to accusations by a former student, then 17, that the student and teacher had a sexual relationship. Both Lamontagne and the former student testified during the three-and-a-half day trial.
- There’s new competition for ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia. A company that operates local passenger ferries in Hancock and Washington counties has jumped into the ring on offering ferry service between Maine and Nova Scotia. Downeast Windjammer Cruises has proposed paying the town of Bar Harbor $2.75 million over 10 years to operate a vehicle ferry to Canada from a defunct ferry terminal that Bar Harbor voters agreed to purchase in June. That offer is an alternative to one from Bay Ferries, which currently operates a high-speed catamaran ferry between Portland and Nova Scotia, but has been negotiating to relocate that service to Bar Harbor.
- Prosecutors won’t retry a man whose conviction was overturned because a judge questioned a police officer’s honesty. The Knox County District Attorney’s Office dropped charges against a Union man accused of driving under the influence after Superior Court Justice Dan Billings questioned the reliability of evidence provided by former Rockland police officer Jacob Shirey. The district attorney’s office is reviewing all cases in which information provided by Shirey, who left law enforcement in 2017, played a role in court decisions.
Don’t go back
An alarming trend in Maine summer festival themes has emerged. For some reason, nostalgia for the 1980s is a thing.
Dexter hosted a Back to the 80s Music Festival last month. In my little town, this weekend’s Richmond Days theme is “Back to the 80s.” After getting over the fact that they left out the apostrophe that should introduce ‘80s, I asked, “Why?”
A co-worker summed up the 1980s as a decade of “bad hair, bad music and bad taste.” Seems about right to me.
Please come to Richmond Days, enjoy the air guitar contest and the lobster crate races, and don’t let me stand in your way if you are dead set on heading back to the glory days of Morning in America and mullets. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Campaign finance filings available to the public on Thursday were incorrect due to an error with the Maine Ethics Commission’s system, causing an inaccurate cash-on-hand total to be included in Thursday’s Daily Brief. Republican gubernatorial candidate Shawn Moody’s campaign had $319,000, according to a campaign statement.
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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