Rep. Seth Berry: Maine needs small business and innovation bond package

April 20th, 2014 · Filed under: Business & Innovation, Capitol news, Issue 40

The VolturnUS 1:8 first offshore floating wind turbine in the Americas started producing electricity on June 13, 2013. Maine's Innovation Bond program jump started the UMaine project.

The VolturnUS 1:8 first offshore floating wind turbine in the Americas started producing electricity on June 13, 2013. Maine’s Innovation Bond program jump started the UMaine project.

By House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham

We have to face some hard truths about Maine’s economy. We are struggling to shake off the effects of the recession. Others are passing us by when it comes to recovery, but Maine does have a great thing going for it when it comes to possibilities for job creation.

I have the honor of co-chairing the Legislature’s Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future. This bipartisan panel has done some really amazing work to spur job creation and move our economy forward. Just this week, the Legislature overwhelmingly passed a set of bond investments created by our committee, which are targeted to help small businesses grow, and to boost high tech innovation.

Many of these are long overdue investments that support the little guy: small but promising businesses from around the state, as well as our farmers, foresters, and fishermen.

Maine needs these investments now to address our lagging job creation.

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Nouveau Cirque Theater comes to Maine with Bowdoin College’s Harrison Bergeron

April 19th, 2014 · Filed under: Arts & Entertainment, Community Maine, Creative Economy, Issue 40

Harrison Bergeron Escapes from the Zoo was Maine's first Nouveau Cirque play. photo by Ramona du Houx

Harrison Bergeron Escapes from the Zoo was Maine’s first Nouveau Cirque play. photo by Ramona du Houx

Harrison Bergeron Escapes from the Zoo was a theater in the round production with aerial dance and multimedia messaging— using iPads. No matter where you looked something was happening from the ceiling to the floor and in the balconies above the stage. This nouveau cirque production incorporated aerial silks, dance, original music, seamless choreography, theatre, clowning, visual art, and media design all into a high impactful story of forty-two minutes.

For Maine, Harrison Bergeron Escapes from the Zoo was the first true nouveau cirque play.

Adapted by the cast from Kurt Vonnegut’s eight-page story, Harrison Bergeron is a social satire, set in the future where citizens have been rendered equal by having their talents handicapped. The thought provoking show, put on by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theater and Dance, Kathyrn Syssoyeva, and her class at Bowdoin College, enticed and delighted as the audience witnessed the resilience of the human spirit and an iron fist that controls— by restricting creativity.

Harrison Bergeron, the play, photos by Ramona du Houx

Harrison Bergeron, the play, photos by Ramona du Houx

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Mike Michaud tours Togas, VA Hospital to help veterans needs progress

April 11th, 2014 · Filed under: Health Care, Issue 40, News from Washington

Congressman Mike Michaud on a tour of Togus, VA hospital. courtesy photo

Congressman Mike Michaud on a tour of Togus, VA hospital. courtesy photo

Congressman Mike Michaud met with veterans today at Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta. Rep. Michaud was joined by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the House. Michaud serves as the Ranking Member on Veterans’ Affairs.

While visiting Togus, Michaud and Miller had breakfast with veterans, received a tour of the administrative and medical facilities, and got an overview of Togus’ operations. Michaud and Miller also participated in a roundtable discussion with veterans to hear about the challenges they face, and got their insight on how Congress can help.

“I had the opportunity to talk with a number of veterans at Togus VA Medical Center this morning about their personal experiences,” said Michaud. “It was a first-hand reminder of the obligation we have to ensure our veterans are receiving the highest-quality care possible. They have sacrificed so much for our nation, and we owe them the best in return. I’d like to thank Rep. Miller for joining me on today’s visit – our Committee shares the common goal of working in a bipartisan fashion to ensure our veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they so deserve.”

It’s not the first visit to Togas the Congressman has made. A few years back Congressman Michaud invited the Sec. of Veteran’s Affairs, Ed Shinseki to the facility twice. And while the Sec. was here Michaud got changes made that will help Veterans. In one endeavor Michaud was able to get land allocated to Togas put aside to build homeless “Cabins in the Woods.” Read more here.

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Maine artist, Ramona du Houx, exhibits at the New York City ArtExpo 2014 and Portland’s Constellation Gallery, simultaneously

April 3rd, 2014 · Filed under: Arts & Entertainment, Community Maine, Creative Economy

Discovery by Ramona du Houx

Discovery by Ramona du Houx

Maine artist, Ramona du Houx, is in a current group exhibition at the New York City ArtExpo 2014 from April 4th to the 6th and at Portland, Maine’s Constellation Gallery.

“Being a part of the ArtExpo While exhibiting in Portland is a great opportunity,” said du Houx.

The New York City ArtExpo 2014 offers artists chances to exhibit with galleries that represent them worldwide.

Du houx is currently represented by the art’s district Storks Gallery of Tokyo, which exhibited her work in a solo show in February of 2012, and will have another solo show of Ramona’s work in September of 2014.

“Ramona’s work is unique and captures emotion that stirs the soul. It’s timeless,” said Takafumi Suzuki, Storks Gallery Owner. “It’s a privilege to represent her.”

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Newly released poll shows huge support for wind energy in Maine

December 12th, 2013 · Filed under: Business & Innovation, Community Maine, Economy, Energy Issues, Issue 39, Maine's green energy potential

VolturnUS 1:8 being launched. photo by Ramona du Houx

Support for wind power in Maine is consistently high across every region of the state and is highest in regions where successful wind energy projects are already operating, according to a newly released poll taken of Maine voters last summer.

“This poll confirms what we’ve long known: The people of Maine are optimistic and enthusiastic about wind power,” said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. “People of all political parties and ages, in towns across the state, agree that wind energy is good for Maine.”

The Wind for ME coalition released the results of the poll today.

“Maine people believe in a wind-powered future; we see that this is a safe, clean way to increase our energy independence and protect our environment,” said Paul Williamson, director of the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative. “Wind energy is a growing sector of Maine’s economy, creating good jobs and it can help lower and stabilize energy costs, no wonder the people of Maine are so enthusiastic about it.”

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LePage’s veto spree hurts people, the environment, education, jobs and Maine’s quality of life

April 20th, 2014 · Filed under: Capitol news, Economy, Issue 40

Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

The most widely known veto of Governor Paul LePage’s was when he decided not to accept any Affordable Care Act funding from the federal government for Medicare. The state would have had free funding for three years and 70,000 people would be covered with healthcare insurance. Instead those people are at risk and Maine’s hospital debt is rising once again.

Another problem with LePage’s veto of healthcare for over 70,000 people in Maine is that by doing so he will incur greater costs to the state. The reimbursement from the federal government of 3 to 1 in Medicare dollars has been going to Maine’s hospitals to repay the debt the state owes them. Without that funding that debt, which LePage was so critical of last year, will again begin to rise.

“Medicare reimbursement matching funds went to the hospitals with the system known as “Pay as You Go,” to pay our debt that had accrued over decades. Without federal funding the state’s debt to the hospitals will begin to go up again,” said former Gov. John Bladacci. “The more tragic reality about not accepting the ACA funding is that people will not have sufficient access to healthcare which could save their lives. Healthcare is a right not a privilege.”

Maine hospitals, which have backed the Affordable Care Act federal funding, are expected to lose $730 million in Medicare reimbursements by 2022.

LePage also vetoed a measure that would have reinstated solar rebates and started a thermal heat pump incentive. These are two measures that would have spurred Maine’s innovation economy and helped combat oil bills with renewable energy.

This apparent anti-business governor’s veto spree didn’t end there.

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Maine’s local food hub bill vetoed in Gov. LePage’s veto spree

April 20th, 2014 · Filed under: Capitol news, Community Maine, Creative Economy, Issue 40

Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine State Capitol. Photo by Ramona du Houx

As part of his nine-bill veto spree today, Governor LePage killed another bill that received strong bipartisan support from the Legislature. The measure, LD 1431, encouraged the use of Maine-produced food in Maine schools.

“It is unfortunate that the governor does not value this bill for what it is – a collaboration between his own administration’s departments of Agriculture and Education to help grow institutional markets for Maine farmers and fishermen,” said Senator Chris Johnson, who is the sponsor of the measure. “And it helps the food service in more Maine schools succeed in providing healthier food for our children just as innovative school systems in Maine are already doing.

The bill supports the creation of “food hubs” where locally produced food can be aggregated, minimally processed (such as washing and chopping), stored, and distributed. It also creates a competitive, grant-funded school food service training program, and seeks federal grants to operate the program.

The bill received strong bipartisan approval from the Legislature with a vote of 33-0 in the Senate and 120-19 in the House.

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Rep. Fowle’s Maine veterans court bill heads to governor’s desk

April 18th, 2014 · Filed under: Capitol news, Community Maine, Public Safety

The Maine Legislature gave final approval Thursday to a bill to support and expand Kennebec County’s successful Veterans Treatment Court program. With unanimous votes in both the House and the Senate, the measure now goes to Gov. Paul LePage for his signature.

The Veterans Treatment Court currently operates in Kennebec County and is open to any newly returned veteran in the state but may be difficult to access for veterans living farther away. Rep. Lori Fowle, the bill’s primary sponsor, said her measure would provide a stable source of funding that would allow veterans courts to slowly expand to other parts of Maine.

“I want to thank lawmakers for these strong, bipartisan votes recognizing that we have to do more to help these veterans rebuild their lives,” said Fowle. “The Veteran’s Treatment Court is already achieving success, and this bill will ensure that success continues.”

The two-part bill would fund a part-time prosecutor to ensure that Kennebec County’s veterans court can continue on stable financial footing.

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Maine youth mental health gap coverage bill to smooth transition to independence goes to governor

April 18th, 2014 · Filed under: Community Maine, Health Care

A bill to provide continuity of mental health support for young people after they graduate from high school passed in the Legislature.

LD 1367, addresses the fact that first instance of a severe mental illness often occurs during early adulthood, often after the young person is cut off from support systems available at school.Individuals who are 16 to 25 years old are at high risk of developing a mental illness or substance use disorder, and are at high risk for suicide.These youth are among the least likely to seek help and, as a result, they may fall through the cracks and not receive the help they need to assume safe and productive adult roles and responsibilities.

“This is a commonsense measure to provide real support to those who need it after they graduate from the public school system,” said Rep. Anne Graham,the bill’s primary sponsor and a pediatric nurse practitioner. “I see this bill as an example of the compassion needed to address Maine’s mental health needs.”

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Maine to get $600,000 to help increase value of crops grown in the state

April 18th, 2014 · Filed under: Business & Innovation, Community Maine, News from Washington

1044461_637727639590596_2065773848_n1Maine will get $600,000 in Specialty Crop Block Grants, a 50 percent increase over the previous year’s funding. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, who serves on the Appropriations Committee that sets funding levels for the US Department of Agriculture, successfully pushed for a significant increase in funding for the program.

“This is great news for Maine and will help support the state’s farmers,” said Pingree. “Whether it’s a blueberry grower Down East or a small vegetable farm in western Maine, this grant money will help farmers increase the value of their crops through research, planning, and educational programs. Farmers can do a lot with a little bit of money and this funding will go a long way in helping grow Maine’s farm economy.

‘Specialty crops’ are really the food that most consumers eat—apples, tomatoes and carrots for example. This program provides funding for research and marketing to help raise the value of these crops. Last year Maine got $400,000 in funding and the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry divided the money up for eight projects around the state.

The 2014 Farm Bill, which sets the nation’s agriculture policy every five years, was signed into law by President Obama earlier this year. Pingree wrote and advocated for numerous provisions that will promote local agriculture, sustainable farming, and help young farmers.

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Bill would have provided rebates for heat pumps and solar panels in Maine killed by Republicans

April 18th, 2014 · Filed under: Capitol news, Creative Economy, Energy Issues

ReVision installation on EcoVillage’s showcase GO Logic passive solar home. photo by Ramona du houx

ReVision installation on EcoVillage’s showcase GO Logic passive solar home. photo by Ramona du houx

In a 22-13 vote, the Senate Republicans sustained Governor LePage’s veto of a bill that would have provided rebates for solar panels and heat pumps for low-income Mainers. Overriding a veto requires two-thirds, or 24 Senate votes.The Senate originally supported the measure in a vote of 22-12. Republican Senator Ron Collins initially supported the bill then flipped his vote and supported Governor LePage’s veto.

“Despite Maine’s abundant solar resource, we are the only state in New England with zero policy support for solar energy. Gov. LePage’s veto of the solar rebate bill, and the Senate’s failure to override the veto, demonstrate that our state leadership thinks fossil fuels are the way to go. This is reckless in a state that already has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in New England, while the state’s biggest industry, tourism, is predicated on a pristine natural environment,” said Phil Coupe of Revision Energy.

The measure would have reestablished the solar rebate program under Efficiency Maine and helped Mainers install more than 1,250 new solar panels and heat pumps at Maine homes and businesses.

“This bill would have created jobs in an emerging industry and helped low-income Mainers heat their homes,” said Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson of Allagash. “Why would you oppose jobs for Maine, or assistance for the elderly and low-income Mainers struggling to pay their oil bills? It’s disappointing Governor LePage’s veto spree has once again hurt our economy and hurt some of our most vulnerable neighbors.”

Maine spends $5 billion per year importing fossil fuels and is the most petroleum-dependent state for home heating, with more than 70% of households using it as their primary heating source.

According to a 2010 report, rooftop solar panels alone could provide 24% of Maine’s electricity.

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Maine Governor signs Speaker’s bill to increase property tax credit

April 18th, 2014 · Filed under: Capitol news, Taxes

A measure that would bolster the state’s property tax fairness credit for Maine families will become law.

Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday signed the bill, LD 1751, which would double property tax credits for low and middle income residents and seniors.

“This is fantastic news for Maine families struggling to keep up with rising property taxes,” said bill sponsor Speaker of the House Mark Eves . “By increasing this credit, we will be putting more money back in the pockets of middle and low income families and seniors.”

The measure increases the dollar amount of property tax credits for low and middle income residents under age 65 from $300 to $600 and from $400 to $900 for filers 65 years of age and older. It also expands eligibility to more renters.

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Lawmakers pass East Coast’s first ocean acidification bill

April 18th, 2014 · Filed under: Business & Innovation, Capitol news, Environment, Farming

The Legislature on Thursday passed the East Coast’s first bill to address the threat of ocean acidification as the Senate gave the measure its final approval with a vote of 33-0. The bill, LD 1602, now goes to Gov. Paul LePage.

“Maine has the opportunity to lead on this issue,” said Rep. Mick Devin, the bill’s sponsor and a marine biologist. “The overwhelming support for my bill shows that Maine understands that ocean acidification is a real problem. It poses a threat to our coastal environment and the jobs that depend on it. We must address this threat head-on.”

The measure would establish a commission to study and address the negative effects of ocean acidification on the ecosystem and major inshore shellfisheries. The committee membership would be made up of stakeholders including fishermen, aquaculturists, scientists and legislators.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use are causing changes in ocean chemistry. As carbon dioxide and seawater combine, carbonic acid forms. Carbonic acid can dissolve the shells of shellfish, an important commercial marine resource. Over the past two centuries, ocean acidity levels have increased 30 percent.

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