Entries Filed in 'Civil Rights'

Maine parents protest by returning products containing toxic chemicals to Walgreens in Portland, Bangor

April 17th, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, Community Maine, Health Care, Healthy Lifestyles, Issue 40

Two dozen parents, pregnant women, and medical professionals showed up at Walgreens drug stores in Portland and Bangor, April 16th, to return a variety of products that contain high levels of the chemical phthalates, according to new testing results released today by HealthyStuff.org. Participants called on the national pharmacy chain to do more to keep these dangerous chemicals off store shelves.

“Walgreens and other giant retailers have an important role to play in making everyday products safer,” stated Emma Halas O’Connor, Coordinator for the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine. “We need lawmakers to set science-based standards and we also need large companies like Walgreens to mind the store and use their market power to increase demand for safer alternatives. No child should be exposed to the hormone havoc of phthalates while they play with their favorite toy or get ready for their next day at school.”

Phthalates are known to cause serious health effects, including abnormal development of male sex organs; learning and behavior problems; diabetes; increased rates of asthma and allergies; and greater risk of prostate and testicular cancer. They are commonly used to soften vinyl plastic and are routinely added to hundreds of everyday products and building materials found in the home, including lunch boxes, kids’ backpacks, school supplies, rain coats and boots, shower curtains, tablecloths, floor tiles and wall covering. Phthalates are also a common ingredient of “fragrance” found in many cosmetics, lotions and other personal care products.

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New Maine law to increase accountability for jails

April 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights, Public Safety

In an unanimous vote, the Senate enacted a measure to reform Maine’s county jail system.

“With this bill, we will truly have a consolidated state and county jail system,” said Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, the sponsor of the bill. “We have finally given the Board of Corrections the authority to better manage our jails, including mental health and community services.”

The bill authorizes major financial reforms, guides county jail operations, and clarifies the management authority of the Board of Corrections (BOC), which was formed with the creation of the consolidated jail system in 2008.

The bill is the result of two years of work with stakeholders including sheriffs, county commissioners, and municipal officials. It includes a more systematic and controlled budget process that is streamlined and better able to predict cost increases, benchmarks for the unified system and increased accountability for individual jails, and a clear lines of authority and duties for the BOC, county officials, and the sheriff.

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Supreme Court McCutcheon Decision reflects latest assault on campaign finance laws

April 3rd, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, News from Washington

U.S. Suprime Court, Washington D.C. Photo du Houx

U.S. Suprime Court, Washington D.C. Photo du Houx

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning released a decision that continues to erode campaign finance laws meant to protect the nation’s democratic process.

“The re­sult, as I said at the outset, is a decision that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform,” said Justice Breyer’s in his written and verbal dissent.

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Maine’s Rep. Fowle’s veterans tax exemption bill signed into law

March 17th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights

Gov. Paul LePage has signed a bill sponsored by Rep. Lori Fowle, that would ensure Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can take advantage of a small property tax exemption that their peers who served in earlier conflicts already receive.

“I want to thank the Legislature and the governor for acting to support veterans,” said Fowle, a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “This law will make it much easier for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to gain access to this modest but important benefit that they have earned through their service.”

Both the Maine House and Senate sent Fowle’s bill to the governor with unanimous votes earlier this month. The measure clarifies that veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible to exempt $6,000 of property value from their property tax assessment.

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Maine House unanimously enacts Rep. Fowle’s veterans tax exemption bill

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights

The Maine House Tuesday gave its final approval to a bill sponsored by Rep. Lori Fowle, that would ensure Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can take advantage of a small property tax exemption that their peers who served in earlier conflicts already receive.The vote was 144-0.

“I want to thank the House for voting to support veterans,” said Fowle, a member of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. “This bill will make it much easier for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to gain access to this modest but important benefit that they have earned through their service.”

Fowle’s bill would clarify that veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible to exempt $6,000 of property value from their property tax assessment.

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Michaud urges President to take immediate action with effort to prohibit discrimination in federal workplace

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, News from Washington

Today, Congressman Mike Michaud announced that he will help lead an effort to urge President Obama to take action to prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. Michaud and several of his colleagues have begun circulating a letter for signature by members of Congress urging the President to issue an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“In the absence of Congressional action, the President should follow the example of strong anti-discrimination laws in Maine and other states to ensure that no one in the federal workplace is discriminated against because of who they are or who they love.” said Michaud. “Executive action by the President would be a significant first step, but the House still needs to act to ensure workplace protections are available to all Americans. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to push for a vote on the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

Maine already has strong protections for LGBT citizens. In 2005, Maine voters upheld a law passed by the legislature prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression with regard to employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations.

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Bellows urges Collins and committee to help release torture report

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, News from Washington

Shenna Bellows, Maine’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, called on Republican Susan Collins and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to release a 6,000-page torture report by the Senate Committee on Intelligence. The long-awaited report, which took nearly 4 years to complete, shines a light on the CIA’s controversial torture practices.

“Americans deserve to know the full extent of our country’s use of torture under the Bush administration,” said Bellows. “We need to properly address these mistakes of the past, so that history may never repeat itself. It’s time to end the secrecy and restore the rule of law.”

As the former Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, Bellows strongly advocated against the use of torture by both American intelligence agencies and the military. She has written many pieces on the subject of torture, and she led a successful campaign against solitary confinement, a form of torture, in Maine prisons. Bellows has also been a long-time advocate of the freedom of information, serving on Maine’s Freedom of Information Coalition and the Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee for several years.

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New Report: Refusal to expand medicaid will hurt 21,000 Mainers with mental illness

March 3rd, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights, Health Care, Healthy Lifestyles

Maine's capitol at night, photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine’s capitol at night, photo by Ramona du Houx

Citizens suffering from mental illness in Maine will lose out on access to health care if Governor Paul LePage and his allies in the Legislature refuse to accept a Republican-led proposal to cover 70,000 Maine people, including nearly 3,000 veterans.

“The struggle of mental illness is hard enough without having to worry about how you’ll pay for your medicine or hold down a job,” said Senator Troy Jackson. “We have an opportunity to do right by our citizens and we shouldn’t pass it up because of politics.”

If the compromise measure does not pass, 21,000 Maine people with mental illness and substance abuse conditions will lose out on health coverage, according to a new report from the American Health Counselors Association.

“As a mental health care professional, I’ve seen first hand how damaging a lack of health care can be for those suffering from mental illness,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves, a marriage and family therapist by training. “Simply being able to afford your medicine and therapy is vital to maintaining a job and playing a productive role in your community.”

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First time for a federal agency asserts jurisdiction over the medical marijuana industry in Maine

February 28th, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, Economy, Health Care, Healthy Lifestyles

For the first time, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has recognized that federal labor law protects workers in the medical marijuana industry. The government authorized a complaint absent settlement of the charges that Wellness Connection of Maine, a medical marijuana company, repeatedly retaliated against and interfered with workers who were exercising their right to form a union. The charges allege nearly a dozen instances where Wellness Connection violated the National Labor Relations Act and the rights of its employees.

The alleged violations began last February, after workers at an Auburn cultivation site organized a walk-out in protest of the company’s unlawful practice of applying pesticides. The federal government is prepared to issue a complaint stating that the company unlawfully disciplined workers who stood together, and interfered with their right to join the UFCW by interrogating them, creating the impression of surveillance, and soliciting them to oppose the union. The NLRB also found merit to the charges that the company maintained several overly broad confidentiality policies that unlawfully prevented employees from discussing their wages and working conditions.

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Federal investigation shows Gov. Lepage “Endangered the fair hearing process”

February 27th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights

Maine's capitol at night, photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine’s capitol at night, photo by Ramona du Houx

Federal officials have determined that Governor LePage and members of his administration interfered with unemployment hearing officers and unfairly endangered the quasi-judicial process.

“The federal government has confirmed what we knew to be true, that the Governor was wrong to interfere in the unemployment insurance process by asking hearing officers to rule more often in favor of employers,” said Don Berry, President of the Maine AFL-CIO.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor found that behavior by Governor Paul LePage and his political appointees “endangered the fair hearings process” for Unemployment Compensation appeals. The review specifically cited LePage’s March 21, 2013 Blaine House meeting with hearing officers.

“For three years we have heard story after story about the Governor’s intimidation and bullying tactics. Today, the cat’s out of the bag. Governor LePage and his political appointees will stoop to any level of intimidation to get what they want,” said Sen. Troy Jackson, the Senate Majority Leader.

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