Entries Filed in '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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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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Tags: Economy·Government transparency
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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Tags: Civil Rights·Elections·Government transparency·Shenna Bellows
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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Tags: LePage's refusal to help mental illness in Maine·Need the ACA in Maine
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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Tags: Medical marijuana and unions
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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Tags: Government transparency·Maine's Gov. LePage nontransparency
Congressman Mike Michaud signed a discharge petition to force the House to bring up and vote on legislation to raise the federal minimum wage. Michaud is a cosponsor of the bill, which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 within two years. A discharge petition allows a majority of members to bypass the Speaker of the House and bring a bill to the floor for consideration.
“No one who works every day to pay the bills, take care of their family, and put food on the table should have to live in poverty. It’s time to raise the minimum wage so that hard-working Mainers can receive a living wage,” said Michaud. “It has been nearly seven years since a Republican President signed a minimum wage increase into law. It’s time for Congress to act to ensure that all American workers receive a fair and honest wage.”
The Fair Minimum Wage Act would raise the minimum wage to $8.20 an hour within three months of enactment. The wage would increase to $9.15 an hour within a year, and to $10.10 an hour within two years. A recent study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would generate $22 billion in increased economic activity.
Tags: Minimum wage increase
On February 20,1014, the Senate unanimously approved a measure sponsored by Democratic Senator John Patrick to support a Maine program that prevents layoffs. The Maine House already voted to enact the measure.
“When a company participates in the work-sharing program, for many workers, it can be the difference between putting food on the table or having to turn to the local food bank to feed their families,” said Senator Patrick. “We need to make sure the hardworking people of Maine continue to have access to these critical programs.”
Senator Patrick’s measure conforms Maine law to federal standards in order to maintain the work-sharing program.The work-sharing program enable companies to reduce employee hours to avoid layoffs. According to Susan Wasserott of the Maine Department of Labor, since the implementation of the program in 2013, 193 layoffs have been avoided, which has resulted in a savings of more $700,000 in short-term unemployment benefits.
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Tags: Workers rights in Maine
In a largely party line vote of 89 to 52, the Maine House defeated a controversial bill that would undercut human rights protections and reproductive rights by creating a loophole in the state’s strong non-discrimination laws.
“This is not a bill about religious freedom; it will only create religious discrimination,” said Rep. Charles Priest of Brunswick, who chairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “Maine’s law and constitution has strong protections for religious freedom. This bill is not necessary.”
Democrats argued the religious discrimination bill, LD 1428, would carve out an exception for religious beliefs in the state’s non-discrimination laws, such as the Maine’s Human Rights Act. Maine is one of 32 states that does not allow for religious exceptions in non-discrimination laws
In the last 10 years, only six states have enacted similar bills.
The political digital news organization Talking Points Memo published a report about the GOP effort in states to define anti-gay discrimination as “religious freedom.”
“This fight will continue across the country. Many states still do not have a human rights law that covers sexual orientation. But in maine our voters have settled this, ” said Rep. Matt Moonen of Portland, during the floor debate.
Nationally, laws like LD 1428 have been used to infringe upon women’s access to health care. In Texas a municipal bus driver refused to drive a woman to a reproductive health clinic on his bus route. At the federal level, corporations are trying to use the religious exception or loophole to avoid providing employees with health care that covers reproductive health.
“This bill moves Maine backwards on equality and women’s rights,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick. “This is not religious freedom it is legalized hate.”
During the public hearing on the bill, one survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke about his experiences coming to America to escape persecution and asked the committee to oppose the bill.
The Maine Attorney General also opposed the measure.
The bill has met with strong opposition from a broad group of organizations, including ACLU of Maine, Coalition for Maine Women, Equality Maine, Family Planning Association of Maine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Choice Coalition, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Maine Education Association, Maine LGBT Coalition, Maine Medical Association, Maine People’s Alliance, Maine School Management Association, Maine State Employees Association, Maine Women’s Lobby, Religious Coalition Against.
This morning, in a 19-16 vote, the Senate voted against a controversial bill that would allow people to use their religious beliefs as a reason for breaking laws including non-discrimination laws such as the Maine Human Rights Act.
“As a Christian, I am glad that I have the freedom to practice my religion. But I know firsthand how dangerous it can be to decide that your personal beliefs entitle you to break laws that protect us all,” said Apollo Karara, a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke about his experiences coming to America to escape persecution and asked the committee to oppose the bill. “I came to America for safety and freedom–please do not take that away.”
Attorney General Janet Mills, the Maine Medical Association, the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, the Maine Education Association, and the Maine Human Rights Commission, all opposed the bill.
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