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  • Maine school boards plead for budget full funding-LePage threatens with veto

    Newport Schools stand to lose $1.5 million under Fredette/LePage proposal

    by Ramona du Houx


    Last night, June 25th, the RSU 19 Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution urging the State of Maine to fund education at 55percent.

    RSU 19 serves the Maine towns of Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, and St. Albans and is the school system in House GOP Minority Leader Ken Fredette’s (R-Newport) district.

    On June 26th Governor LePage said he would veto the budget unless his demands were met in his budget proposal, which boils down to cutting education funding in school districts accross the state, amoungst other Draconian measures. 

    Despite twice voter-approved referendums instructing the state to hit this funding level,  Fredette and his House Republican caucus have been steadfast in their support of LePage’s budget proposal.

    “What is it going to take for Rep. Fredette to realize that Mainers want fair funding for their schools?” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett. “Since he hasn’t responded to voters who have asked for this twice, I sincerely hope he the educators and experts from his own hometown. It is time for Rep. Fredette and his GOP caucus to do the right thing, to support Maine people and fully fund the state’s share of K-12 public education.”

    Under the GOP education proposal, Fredette’s home district would lose $1.5 million dollars and fail to hit the 55 percent target in Maine law.

    According to the RSU 19 School Board, this lack of funding has caused towns in RSU 19 “to make up the difference, often by raising property taxes, cutting essential services, or both.” The board also makes clear that the failure is “preventing RSU 19 from recruiting highly trained, and qualified teachers; and retaining the excellent teachers already employed by the district.”

    Last night, Rep. Fredette’s school board said it loud and clear and even put it in writing - enact a budget that funds public schools at 55 percent as mandated by Maine voters to provide vital educational resources and relief to local taxpayers,” said Bartlett. “On behalf his own constituents, I’d encourage Rep. Fredette to heed their advice and support a budget that finally provides the resources necessary for kids and teachers to succeed.”

  • Obama's Facebook Statement on the US Senate's Proposed Healthcare Bill

    Former President Barack Obama's Facebook Statement on the proposed healthcare bill going through the US Senate:

    (photo of President Barack Obama in Maine after ACA healthcare legislation was passed and signed into law, photo taken 2010 by Ramona du Houx)

    Our politics are divided. They have been for a long time. And while I know that division makes it difficult to listen to Americans with whom we disagree, that’s what we need to do today.

    I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party. Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what’s really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.

    We didn’t fight for the Affordable Care Act for more than a year in the public square for any personal or political gain – we fought for it because we knew it would save lives, prevent financial misery, and ultimately set this country we love on a better, healthier course.

    Nor did we fight for it alone. Thousands upon thousands of Americans, including Republicans, threw themselves into that collective effort, not for political reasons, but for intensely personal ones – a sick child, a parent lost to cancer, the memory of medical bills that threatened to derail their dreams.

    And you made a difference. For the first time, more than ninety percent of Americans know the security of health insurance. Health care costs, while still rising, have been rising at the slowest pace in fifty years. Women can’t be charged more for their insurance, young adults can stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26, contraceptive care and preventive care are now free. Paying more, or being denied insurance altogether due to a preexisting condition – we made that a thing of the past.

    We did these things together. So many of you made that change possible.

    At the same time, I was careful to say again and again that while the Affordable Care Act represented a significant step forward for America, it was not perfect, nor could it be the end of our efforts – and that if Republicans could put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we made to our health care system, that covers as many people at less cost, I would gladly and publicly support it.

    That remains true. So I still hope that there are enough Republicans in Congress who remember that public service is not about sport or notching a political win, that there’s a reason we all chose to serve in the first place, and that hopefully, it’s to make people’s lives better, not worse.

    But right now, after eight years, the legislation rushed through the House and the Senate without public hearings or debate would do the opposite. It would raise costs, reduce coverage, roll back protections, and ruin Medicaid as we know it. That’s not my opinion, but rather the conclusion of all objective analyses, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which found that 23 million Americans would lose insurance, to America’s doctors, nurses, and hospitals on the front lines of our health care system.

    The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.

    Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

    I hope our Senators ask themselves – what will happen to the Americans grappling with opioid addiction who suddenly lose their coverage? What will happen to pregnant mothers, children with disabilities, poor adults and seniors who need long-term care once they can no longer count on Medicaid? What will happen if you have a medical emergency when insurance companies are once again allowed to exclude the benefits you need, send you unlimited bills, or set unaffordable deductibles? What impossible choices will working parents be forced to make if their child’s cancer treatment costs them more than their life savings?

    To put the American people through that pain – while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return – that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

    That might take some time and compromise between Democrats and Republicans. But I believe that’s what people want to see. I believe it would demonstrate the kind of leadership that appeals to Americans across party lines. And I believe that it’s possible – if you are willing to make a difference again. If you’re willing to call your members of Congress. If you are willing to visit their offices. If you are willing to speak out, let them and the country know, in very real terms, what this means for you and your family.

    After all, this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country – who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that’s always worth fighting for.

  • Revised AHCA Would Devastate Health Care in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    As details emerge about the latest version of the American Health Care Act, it’s clear that bill still targets low-income workers, people with disabilities and the older people to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. 

    “The Senate version of the American Health Care Act remains cruel at its core and will lead to millions of people losing health insurance,” said Ann Woloson of Maine Equal Justice Partners. “This devastating proposal was built in secret, without debate or public input. And now Senate leadership is trying to rush a vote before the terrible impact of this bill becomes clear.”

    Sen. Susan Collins's vote is critical to help hold back this bill that will end up kicking millions off healthcare, and result in many deaths.

    According to published reports, the Senate version of the bill cuts Medicaid even more deeply than the House version and phases out Medicaid expansion, which has made health insurance available to millions of Americans.

     The AHCA uses a per-person funding scheme that will starve Medicaid of the resources it needs over time. 

    The bill also allows states to request waivers that would allow them to reduce insurance coverage requirements for everyone, including people with pre-existing conditions.

    “Voters have made clear they want more affordable health care, not less, and they certainly reject cuts to care to pay for tax breaks for the wealthy,” Woloson said. “The Senate bill will be devastating to Maine, and particularly to rural parts of the state, children and people with disabilities and older Mainers. Low-wage workers would also be hurt as they would likely see increases in premiums they pay for marketplace coverage.” 

    For more than 40 years, Medicaid, a federal-state partnership, has provided quality health care to low-income families. About 263,000 Mainers count on Medicaid for care.

    In addition to cuts, changes in the funding mechanism for Medicaid are also being considered as part of the American Health Care Act. These funding schemes, including per-capita caps, would end the federal commitment to pay for the care each person needs, ratcheting down overall funding and shifting costs to states and individuals.

    Older Mainers, people with disabilities, children and people living in rural Maine stand to lose the most under these proposals.

     Maine is the oldest state in the nation and the percentage of people with disabilities is also 30 percent higher than the national average. Any reduction in federal Medicaid funds would have a devastating impact on older Mainers and people with disabilities. It would cause thousands to lose care and threaten the well-being of Maine’s most vulnerable residents.

    • Nearly 50,000 low-income older Mainers receive health care through Medicaid as well 63,000 Maine people with disabilities.
    • Two out of three nursing home residents are enrolled in Medicaid. The single largest expenditure for Medicaid is residential services, which includes nursing home and assisted living facilities.
    • Maine has a chronic shortage of direct care workers for both older Mainers and persons with serious mental health or other disabilities, meaning that fewer services are delivered than are needed. Federal cuts would jeopardize this already too-small workforce.

    Maine’s rural counties have the highest percentages of residents who rely on Medicaid for their health care — any federal cuts will disproportionately impact these counties.

    • Rural counties with the largest Medicaid populations are projected to be among those with the greatest growth of seniors 65 and older. Federal cuts from block grants or per-capita caps would grow just as Maine’s population is aging creating a two-fold blow to rural Maine.
    • Maine’s rural hospitals are economic drivers in their communities but they’re already in trouble and federal cuts would put them in serious jeopardy. With fewer people covered and cuts in services and provider rates, more people will seek care in hospital emergency rooms. Uncompensated care costs will go up. Hospitals may be forced to close. Medical services will leave Maine’s rural communities.

    The Together for Medicaid is a collaborative effort by organizations from across the state that have joined together in opposition to significant changes to Medicaid’s financing structure that would undermine the program.

     

  • D-Day Memorial Park named after Maine WWII Veteran Penobscot Indian Elder Charles Shay

    First Park in France to honor North American Indian WWII soldiers

    By Ramona du Houx

    Penobscot Tribal Elder Charles Shay served as a combat medic in the First Division Infantry, and was one of the first to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

    On June 5, 2017, Shay was honored at a ceremony dedicating the Charles Shay Indian Memorial in Saint Laurent-sur-Mer Park, on the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.

    The park features a bench, a large turtle carved out of blue granite (being unveiled in the photo above) by Mr. Shay’s nephew Penobscot Indian artist Tim Shay, and a plaque inscribed in English with a French translation. The opening line of the plaque reads: “In honor of Charles Norman Shay and in grateful memory of the 500 American and Canadian Indian soldiers who participated in Operation Neptune for the liberation of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.”

    Shay was only 19 years old when he struggled ashore Omaha Beach, as a platoon medic serving in Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment. The 16th Infantry Regiment was one of three combat regiments in the 1st Infantry Division that spearheaded the assault on D-Day.

    “On the evening of June 5, 1944, I was aboard the Henrico heading across the Channel, when I had a surprise visit from a Penobscot Indian warrior named Melvin Neptune,” Shay recalled. “He didn’t trouble me with his combat experience, nor did he offer me advice. Instead, we talked about home because he knew I had never been in combat … all hell was about to break loose on me.”

    “Only two of us appear to have survived the war without being wounded,” Shay continued. “We were lucky. Call it what you want, fate, destiny, angels, spirits or God. All I know is that my mother prayed for me.”

    French and American dignitaries attended the event, including Penobscot Indian Nation representatives. Penobscot language instructor Mr. Gabe Paul sang the traditional Penobscot Honor Song, and Maine singer-songwriter Lisa Redfern sang her ballad written about Shay.

    “I was honored to tell part of his life story in a song,” said Redfern.

    Senator Angus King sent a letter that was read out. In it he wrote:

    “While no words ca truly thank you for the courage you showed as a medic on that beach, please know that this park will act as a timeless reminder to generations to come that democracy triumphed over tyranny—than good triumphed over evil—because soldiers, like you and your Native American comrades, selflessly served and sacrificed in the face of great odds in the D-Day invasion.”

    “The contributions of members of the Penobscot Nation and other Indian tribes who participated in this Allied invasion will never be forgotten. This park is a testament to your heroism and to the valor of your fellow service-members who fell in the line of duty, and I humbly join all those at the dedication, today, to express my deepest gratitude.”

    Over the last decade, Shay has given many talks in France and in the U.S. about his military service and Indian heritage. On one of his trips he met In Normandy, Madame Marie Legrand of Caen in Normandy. Shortly thereafter, Caen launched an effort to establish a memorial park honoring all North American Indians who landed on the shores of Normandy on D-Day.

    In 2007, retired Master Sgt. Shay made his first pilgrimage to Omaha Beach, and several other major World War II battlefields. During that trip, for the first time, Shay spoke about his heartrending wartime experiences, including being a comfort to many who didn’t survive and saving wounded soldiers on the beach that ran red with blood.

    That same year, this Silver Star veteran received the Légion d’Honneur directly from President Nicolas Sarkozy at the French Ambassador’s residence in Washington, DC., for his heroic duty to France.

    Every year since 2007 he returns to pay tribute to his fallen comrades on the beach in Normandy, where he performs a Native American sage ceremony. (the photo above shows the set up for the ceramony. The book cover shows the ceramony in progress)

    Governor John Baldacci honored him in 2007, and working with Charles also established the Maine state law making June 21st Native American Veterans Day.

    Shay wrote an autobiography, Project Omaha Beach: The Life and Military Service of a Penobscot Indian Elder, published by Polar Bear & Company.

    Shay will turn 93 this year. Despite his years, during his annual trips to France, he’s also been re-establishing Penobscot-French relations that reach back to France’s alliance with Maine Indians in the colonial period.

    Shay is a direct descendent of the French military officer and aristocrat Baron de St. Castin, for whom the small seaport of Castine, Maine, is named, and his Penobscot Indian wife, Pidianiske, the daughter of the famous Grand Chief Madockawando.

    Please visit his website dedicated to Native Americans called Indian Connections, indianconnections.org

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

    The official tabulation of votes from the June 13, 2017 Special Referendum Election show that the bond issue was approved overwhemingly by Maine voters.

    The Elections Division has certified the results and Gov. Paul LePage signed the official vote proclamation.

    The certified election results show a total of 63,468 votes in favor of the bond issue, and 39,549 votes in opposition. Voters cast a total of 104,213 ballots in this single-question statewide referendum, with 1,196 blanks.

    Question 1 asked: “Do you favor a $50,000,000 bond issue to provide $45,000,000 in funds for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State to be used for infrastructure, equipment and technology upgrades that enable organizations to gain and hold market share, to increase revenues and to expand employment or preserve jobs for Maine people, to be awarded through a competitive process to Maine-based public and private entities, leveraging other funds in a one-to-one ratio and $5,000,000 in funds to create jobs and economic growth by lending to or investing in small businesses with the potential for significant growth and strong job creation?”

    The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services. Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment. Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.

    The Elections Division will post the results online this week at http://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/results/index.html.

    The legislation will become law 30 days from the date of the official proclamation (July 21, 2017).

  • Multi-Million Dollar Outreach Effort to Defend the Environment

    By Ramona du Houx


    Environment Maine and Environment America announced a $7.5 million public education campaign in June, to convince a majority of U.S. senators to stand up for a cleaner, healthier future, and oppose a return to a dirtier, more dangerous past.
     
    "Here in Maine, the campaign is running out of our campaign office in Portland. We’ll be talking to 23,651 people about threats to Maine’s beloved environment. Across the country with 30+ campaign offices in 22 states and the District of Columbia, the summer-long effort will educate over 1 million Americans face-to-face, over the phone, and online about the need for our members of Congress to stand up for our core environmental and health protections.  
     
    “Since the first Earth Day nearly 50 years ago, our air has gotten cleaner, our waterways have become less polluted, and more of our treasured landscapes have been protected. But we're still not close to having the clean and healthy environment we need or deserve and we need to keep moving forward, not backward," said Julia Gesensway, Campaign Organizer of Environment Maine.
     
    Research from The Frontier Group and the Environment America Research & Policy Center, as of 2015, reveals that Americans in nearly every state still breathe polluted air. Too many beautiful and ecologically and culturally sensitive areas are threatened by drilling, mining or other destructive activities, while too many waterways are polluted.

    Unfortunately, President Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement along with his many proposals that weaken existing climate and clean air safeguards, fail to solve our environmental problems and jeopardize the progress we've already made to reduce pollution.

    So far this session Congress, with Republican's in the majority, has failed to champion clean air and clean water. While Rep. Chellie Pingree received a perfect scorecard of 100 percent, Rep. Bruce Poliquin received a score of only 9 percent. 

    "To give our families and future generations a great chance at a healthy and safe environment, we need to stop environmental rollbacks and move quickly and boldly to ensure clean air and water and a livable planet. We need a funded and functioning EPA and we need to strengthen--not weaken--our core environmental, conservation and public health protections," noted Gesensway.
     
    Environment America's outreach campaign, reaching from Maine to California, is calling on Congress to be part of a Green Line of Defense, voting to stop any rollbacks of current law and instead push the nation towards 100 percent renewable energy, fully protected waterways, and increased federal protection of sensitive lands.

    In addition, the organization’s outreach teams will collect hundreds of thousands of petitions, help generate 10,000 calls to senators, and organize visibility events encouraging each congressional delegation to take strong environmental action. 

    Gesensway added, "The science has never been clearer, there's never been as much mobilized public support as there is today for a clean and healthy environment, and the means for achieving it are well within our reach. I'm confident our campaign will help galvanize the public, and make sure people's voices are heard loud and clear. Together, I know we'll find the way to protect the environmental values we share and the places we love. Our families and our future depend on it.”

  • Students welcome spring with orchard plantings across Maine

    Hundreds of students at eight Maine public schools got their hands dirty in orchard plantings this spring. Thanks to the nonprofit ReTreeUS, these grade school, middle, and high school students are leaving their mark for years to come. The organization, in its fifth year of planting, is dedicated to promoting an environmentally sustainable, socially-just food system through education, practical resources and mentorship. It lives up to its mission: before each planting is a lesson.

    “We believe that by engaging students in the process of growing their own food and caring for trees, we can create lasting change,” says Richard Hodges, ReTreeUS Program Manager. This spring, a variety of 128 apple, peach, plum and pear trees were dispersed among the eight school orchards: Manchester Elementary, Oxford Hills, Walker Elementary, Ellsworth, Pownal, Connors Emerson, Newport, and Bath Middle School. Schools become eligible for their own orchard by applying to participate through ReTreeUS, and at no expense.

    The trees provide shade, look better, provide a habitat for animals and birds, and provide food for the cafeteria,” said Pam Lanz, school garden coordinator at Manchester Elementary. In about five years, these trees will start to produce fruit. For now, it’s an education in sustainability and understanding where your food comes from.

    “I really like educational experiences like this. I've learned a lot already!” says a Bath Middle School student. Twelve varieties of apples and pear trees were planted among the orchards. “Often these kids think that the apples they see in grocery stores are the only varieties,” Hodges explained. “We are teaching them that types like Liberty, Enterprise, and Wolfe River also exist, and can be grown right here in Maine.”

    The mornings began with the dormant trees soaking in water while students dug holes. They then mixed compost into the piles of soil from each hole and pushed the mixture over the roots to plant. “These are your trees,” Hodges says to the students at the end of each planting. The orchard is made complete with ReTreeUS signs about apple history, pollination, and its environmental impact to make the space accessible for self-guided tours.

    The eight schools that participated in this spring’s planting have ended their day with a new orchard for all to enjoy. “Each orchard is a legacy in the school,” Hodges says. “Fruit trees take awhile to come into production, students watch the trees grow over time and know that they will be giving back to future generations.”

    Apply for an Orchard Planting: ReTreeUS is now accepting applications for Spring 2018 school plantings. If your school is interested, learn more at retreeus.org or by emailing richard@retreeus.org.

  • Maine House advances measure to train educators on youth mental health first aid

    A bill to ensure health educators in secondary schools receive youth mental health first aid earned initial approval from the Maine House of Representatives Monday.

    “I appreciate the bipartisan support this bill has received,” said Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, the bill’s sponsor. “It makes sense to make sure our secondary school health teachers, who are already teaching a mental health curriculum, have access to training that provides them with the most up-to-date, non-judgmental information about mental health and substance use disorders.”

    Youth Mental Health First Aid, or YMHFA, is a national, best-practice, evidence-based certification course that empowers people with the information they need to recognize, respond to, and have the information to guide someone with mental health needs to the appropriate help. The standards for the program have been set by the National Council for Behavioral Health and target youth ages 12 to 18. 

    Providing training in Youth Mental Health First Aid for educators who teach health education to secondary school students would ensure that they have access to accurate, un-stigmatized information about what mental illness is and what resources and supports are available locally.

    During the public hearing, McCreight cited data from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, the annual, self-report tool used in public schools to track trends in student behaviors and functioning.

    “Only 22 percent of Maine youth report having support from an adult,” said McCreight. “However, one proven way to help youth who are struggling with mental health issues is a relationship with at least one adult who understands what mental illness really is and who can provide adequate support that connects them with help.”

    Funding for YMHFA training would be available through Now Is The Time federal grant monies through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration administered by Maine’s Public Health Regional System, Project Aware grant.  The grant would provide for trainers, materials, payment for substitute teachers and subsidies for teachers who do the training on their own time.  National Alliance on Mental Illness, Maine is currently receiving funding through the federal grant until 2018 and has already trained 105 health educators of the estimated 380 health educators statewide.

    “The goal of this bill is to make sure that every health educator in our secondary schools, and all of their students, have access to the benefits gained by this training,” said McCreight.

    The measure, LD 1335, faces further votes in both the House and Senate.

    McCreight, a member of the Legislature’s Judiciary and Taxation Committees, is serving her second term in the Maine House and represents Harpswell, West Bath and part of Brunswick. She is also the House Chair of the Task Force to Address the Opiate Crisis.

     

  • Stephen King's tweets have been blocked by Trump - what's the world coming to?

    Stephen King twitter account has been blocked by Mr. Trump .... there is truth in some tweets. Depends who tweets.

    Many, including the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, have questioned the constitutionality of blocking access to tweets considered official communications from the President of the United States.

  • Rep. Golden’s bill to help veterans transition to civilian jobs signed into law

    A bill sponsored by Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, to help veterans use their military training to transition to the civilian workforce was signed into law by Governor LePage last week. The bill had earlier passed the House and Senate unanimously.

    “When veterans leave the service, they often have to go through entire civilian educational programs for fields they were trained in during their military service,” said Golden, a Marine veteran. “This results in wasted time and expense going over things they already know and have experience with. This bill will help remove barriers that veterans shouldn’t have to face. 

    The bill, LD 1592, grants the director of the Office of Professional and Occupational Regulation the authority to modify licensing requirements of professional licensing boards for veterans on a case by case basis.  It will go into effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session.

    Golden is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston.

  • Vote June 13th for bonds that will grow jobs

    Since the Baldacci administration we havn't had bond issues to fuel our innovative economy.

    Yes On Question 1: Good For Our Economy, Good For Maine

    Question 1 is a bond measure that will provide funds for $50 million for investment in research, development and commercialization in the State. The funds will support job growth in Maine’s high tech industries, creating good-paying jobs, new products and new services.  Mainers will benefit from innovation in biotech, forest products, marine resources and information technologies. 

    New construction projects will create additional jobs for building contractors, tradespeople, equipment suppliers, and professional service providers, increasing economic activity throughout the State.  

    The funds will be administered by the Maine Technology Institute (MTI)www.mainetechnology.org and applicants will be selected through an independent, review process to select projects with the greatest potential for return on investment.  Applicants are required to match dollar-for-dollar, the amount of the grant award -increasing private sector investments and accountability.