A dead bill could be part of the roadmap to lead Maine Legislature out of gridlock

Good morning from Augusta, where lawmakers will return on Monday to handle at least some of the 42 recent vetoes issued by Gov. Paul LePage. But it’s unclear when they’ll be able to find a path to finishing the pile of more substantive unfinished work before adjourning for 2018.

A bill that the Legislature killed this year is resurfacing as a potential linchpin in an eventual deal to end the session, though no deal seems imminent. It would require groups trying to get referendum questions on the ballot to collect signatures more equitably between Maine’s two congressional districts.

While it may be part of a deal, a lot still has to happen before striking one. The referendum bill was a response to proponents’ feelings that signature-gathering is too focused in populous areas of southern Maine. Groups now have to collect a number of signatures from voters that equals 10 percent of the voters in the last gubernatorial election to get a question on the ballot. The new proposal would set the same threshold at the district level.

David Trahan, executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, which has backed this bill and others like it, said he has spoken with leaders of all four major partisan caucuses in the Legislature and they’re all “on board” with including this in an eventual deal.

However, he said it’s still wrapped up in the issues that have already dragged this session out.

“I think this session needs to wrap up and people’s tempers need to calm down,” Trahan said.  

Issues that inflamed those tempers remain unresolved. With Republicans in the Maine House of Representatives largely lining up against the other three major caucuses on many issues, key pieces of legislation fester in gridlock.

Among them are efforts to conform Maine’s tax code with the new federal system, fixing a budget bill wording error that has locked public campaign funding in limbo, and bond questions that the Maine Department of Transportation and university system are counting on to pay for planned repairs and upgrades.

House Republicans are holding up Clean Election funding, but the Democrats who control the chamber haven’t brought the new bond funding up for final votes yet. So, the referendum question could be a way to pry these issues loose.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said there are “a number of items” being discussed to end the impasse. A spokesman for House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, said he was unsure how far these conversations have gotten and his caucus still wants to run remaining bills individually.

Veto votes probably won’t help ease tensions. Among the LePage vetoes that lawmakers must address — likely today — are bills on Medicaid expansion implementation, a conversion therapy ban and funding for the Downeast Correctional Facility that spurred contentious debate during the Legislature’s regular session. If House Republicans follow form and vote to sustain LePage’s vetoes on some of these key issues, the animus between them and House Democrats will likely deepen, which could endanger their respective priorities going deeper into 2018.

King, Poliquin to talk opiates in Bangor

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King and Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin will host a forum on Maine’s opioid epidemic today at Husson University in Bangor. The forum will include Anne Hazlett, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s assistant to the secretary for rural development, and kicks off at 9 a.m. at Husson University’s Gracie Theater. The focus will be on the opioid epidemic in rural Maine. In 2017, a total of 418 Mainers died of drug overdoses, according to data from the attorney general’s office.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate return this morning for scheduled 10 a.m. sessions. You can read their full calendars, which consist of mostly veto override votes, but clicking here and here. The day’s official State House business and the attention that comes with it has attracted activist news conferences. Independent candidate for governor Terry Hayes and a group of lawmakers will discuss Maine Clean Election Act funding during a 10 a.m. event and a group of supporters of Republican President Donald Trump will rally around noon in support of the president and whoever he selects today as a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Reading list

  • A group that represents Maine hospitals panned LePage’s suggestion that taxing them could underwrite Medicaid expansion. With data suggesting that some hospitals are on the brink of insolvency, Jeffrey Austin, a lobbyist for the Maine Hospital Association, called LePage’s last-minute hospital tax proposal “kind of a sham.” LePage’s hospital tax plan has not been introduced as legislation, but it stirs a Medicaid expansion maelstrom that includes lawsuits and his veto of legislators’ proposal to fund expansion, which was supposed to be in place by July 2 after voters in November 2017 passed a citizen initiated-law to expand Medicaid eligibility.
  • Maine’s U.S. senators see big holes in Trump’s infrastructure upgrade plan. King and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins both told Maine Public that the president’s 10-year, $1.5 trillion proposal relies on unrealistic wishful thinking that the private sector will invest heavily in transportation upgrades. “Right now there is really nothing realistic on the table,” King said. Collins said she does not expect anything more than “piecemeal increases in funding” will happen this year.
  • The University of Maine has allowed a professor who was accused of sexual harassment and discrimination to return to work. Two female graduate students made the accusations against Tony Brinkley, an English professor. After a lengthy investigation in which he was barred from campus and placed on paid leave, university officials have allowed Brinkley to return to the Orono campus, where he will teach courses during the fall semester.


I am terrible at vacations. Make that stay-cations.

Sit around with a good book? Drink by the pool? Camp out in a hammock? Nope, not for me.

The ‘7 ways to enjoy summer’ list came out too late to help me. I would have ignored it anyway.

If I don’t leave the country — or at least get a few time zones away — I have a hard time detaching from work. I hover in the shadows, peeking in on stories and annoying my colleagues.

When I’m not doing that, I waddle around the house and yard, looking for chores to complete or new tasks to accomplish. Last week, I was supposed to be off, but I spent too much of the time cleaning things, planting things, trimming things, mowing things or pestering Chris and Mike.

At least now I’m back on the clock when I bug them. Here is their soundtrack for me. And here is my soundtrack for future vacations. — Robert Long


Friday’s Daily Brief gave an incorrect title for Rep. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast. She serves as House majority leader.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com

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.