Lawmakers mystified by LePage’s talk of privatized psychiatric hospital

Good morning from Augusta, where I’m mystified about what will happen today. Here’s your soundtrack. 

I know, I know, that’s not very helpful, but Augusta and the State House have become the land of the unexpected — especially when it concerns Gov. Paul LePage.

Yesterday, by the time many of y’all were headed to work, he’d appeared on the radio to revive previous comments about drug dealers, again bringing race into the conversation by implying that they are black, only this time more clearly. Then he made more news when he rescinded his nomination of Dr. William Beardsley for education commissioner.

The radio comments were just another day on the job, in my opinion, but the Beardsley withdrawal came as a surprise. The governor had to know that Democrats would line up against Beardsley, just as they did when LePage nominated his political ally to the Maine Board of Education in 2012.

So what will today bring? Well, I’m relatively sure that the State House will be humming with legislative committee activity. The House and Senate have the day off.

That’s just a sampling. Check out today’s full legislative schedule by clicking here.

I was a little lagging this morning after a long day yesterday, but that INXS song really hit the spot. Here’s another to tap your foot to. — Christopher Cousins

Another state-sponsored mental health hospital?

Problems at the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, specifically staffing shortages and the supremely difficult job of overseeing forensic patients — for some of whom, extreme violence is a daily reality — have been building for years. Solutions have proven elusive.

On Monday, the overseer of Riverview and the state’s mental health services stepped in with a court order in an attempt to force changes designed to ease under-staffing at Riverview, but whether it will work remains to be seen. There is obviously a shortage of people who, for whatever reason, want to work there.

LePage addressed the issue yesterday morning during his radio address, when he said low pay is part of the problem, and yesterday evening at his town hall meeting in Farmingdale, where he went into some detail about what he intends to do about it. For one, he said he intends to stop accepting federal funding for the facility next month unless the Legislature enacts a solution. For another, he said he is looking for a private company to create a contracted facility for the most violent patients at Riverview. And finally, he suggested using the Maine State Prison in Warren as a temporary “overflow” facility when other beds are full.

It appears this issue is coming to a head.

Democratic Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook, who co-chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said he was surprised that LePage appears to be backing away from his goal of putting forensic patients in Maine State Prison.

(Correction, 2/1016 at 3:45 p.m.: An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that Gattine was surprised LePage wants to create or contract for a private facility for forensic patients.)

“At the HHS Committee today, the department and Riverview representatives seemed totally unaware of the governor’s position and were unwilling to discuss with us what the department’s plans are with respect to new facilities or how they might be paid for,” said Gattine in an email Tuesday evening. — Christopher Cousins 

Quick hits

  • Independent Sen. Angus King grilled officials from the FBI, CIA and NSA on Tuesday about the flow of heroin into the United States, calling it a “tidal wave of death.” King’s focus on the issue Tuesday follows his stepped-up efforts in recent months, including imploring President Barack Obama to increase funding for drug interdiction in December 2015.
  • Obama proposed a $4.1 trillion federal budget — the final of his presidency — on Tuesday. If you want to see what’s in it, click here. Noted: The White House uses an online application called Genius to annotate the budget. The BDN used the same tool to annotate Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State letter. Check it out below, in the reading list.
  • Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky’s bill to create the Invest in Maine Capital Fund within the Finance Authority of Maine received unanimous approval Tuesday by the Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee. The fund, if supported by the Legislature and the governor, is aimed at attracting businesses that invest at least $50 million in Maine, create at least 250 jobs and pay employees at least 125 percent of the state’s average wage.
  • Among the opposition to LePage’s nomination of William Beardsley as education commissioner is EqualityMaine, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Mainers. “Bill Beardsley has a history of discriminatory comments toward LGBT Mainers that make him unfit for the job of education commissioner,” said Meredith Hunt, EqualityMaine board president, in a written statement on Tuesday.

Reading list

Red Sox ‘truck day’

Hat tip to the folks at the Wicked Early Sports Report newsletter for this one. Today is Truck Day for the Boston Red Sox. It’s the day the Sox ship their necessities to their spring training facility in Florida.

Among the interesting cargo: 20 cases of bubble gum and 60 cases of sunflower seeds.

Among the hopeful cargo: 20,400 baseballs. Here’s hoping the Sox belt ’em all past the fences and need a second shipment. — Christopher Cousins



Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.