LATEST NEWS

Public Safety
  • Family struggles with Maine's retirement system over veteran disability benefits- Rep. Berry has fix

    Wife of former Marine Patrol Officer testified in favor of a fix authored by Rep. Seth Berry

    A Brunswick woman wants to make sure that what happened to her husband and family never happens to anyone else.

    In a public hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee this week, Darcie Couture urged passage of a measure that would make sure disabled veterans who are part of the Public Employee Retirement System qualify for disability benefits if they become unable to work.

    Couture’s husband, Scott, served in the Marine Patrol for over 15 years and, during that time, experienced increasingly serious post-traumatic stress stemming from his service in Iraq. After a while he became unable to work but was denied disability retirement benefits after a particularly unpleasant hearing process even though the VA had determined that he had a service-connected disability. 

    “My concern is that if we do not address this system and change it, it will not be long before we see the death of a veteran, who is so despondent after being grilled in a room about all of his PTSD triggers that he chooses to end the struggle once and for all,” said Couture. 

    After Scott lost his final appeal, Couture eventually connected with Rep. Seth Berry, who submitted LD 521. The measure would change the law so that, in future cases, a VA determination of a service-connected disability would automatically qualify a public employee for benefits.

    Rep. Seth Berry at home in Bowdoinham, Maine. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “No family should have to go through this,” said Berry, D-Bowdoinham. “PTSD is a major issue that affects many Maine veterans. We need to come together and close this gap before anyone else falls through it.”

    The committee will schedule a work session on Berry’s bill in the coming days.

    Berry represents House District 55: Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Swan Island, and most of Richmond. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.  

  • MPUC's anti-solar rules that would raise rates on solar power users - lawmakers need to take action

     Lawmakers could stop extreme anti-solar rules, save ratepayers money and help grow jobs

    By Ramona du Houx

    The amount of solar power added worldwide soared by over 50 percent in 2016, according to data compiled by Europe’s solar power trade body.

    New solar photovoltaic capacity installed reached more than 76 gigawatts just within 2016.

    Most of the increases took place in the US and China. Globally there is now 305GW of solar power capacity, up from around 50GW in 2010 and virtually nothing at the turn of the millennium.

    The dramatic shift in installment has a lot to do with technological advances in the industry coupled with the urgency the climate change threat poses to the world. Add that to the fact — it makes business sense to install solar power as it save consumers and businesses money — and you have a clear path forward for the solar power industry.

    But there is one hitch in Maine—the Maine Public Utilities Commission’s (MPUC’s) new net metering rules include some of the most extreme anti-solar elements in the nation. They will go into effect at the end of the year if the Legislature fails to put a stop to the onerous rules that would make rate payers with solar installments pay more.

     “Under the PUC’s extreme anti-solar rules, for the first time utilities would charge Maine homes and businesses for solar power they produce and consume themselves on site,” said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director, Natural Resources Council of Maine. “In the wake of the PUC’s decision, it is essential that Maine lawmakers pass an effective bill that overturns these rules and puts Maine on track to increase our production and use of solar power. But, if allowed to take effect, these new rules will threaten existing and potential new jobs and guarantee that we remain in last place in New England for solar jobs and energy production.”

    Rep. Seth Berry in 2008 at work in the Maine House of Representatives. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    In an expensive new requirement, new solar customers will be forced to install, and ratepayers will pay for, an extra meter for their solar panels — forcing them to pay utilities a fee for solar power they generate, power that never will enter the electricity grid.

    “This rulemaking only underscores the need for the legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future,” said Rep. Seth Berry, who is the House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “The finalized rule by the MPUC takes us in the wrong direction by making major and disruptive changes — despite overwhelming public input regarding risks to our energy and jobs markets.”

    Studies show that solar power delivers valuable benefits to society, the environment and all energy users. Solar is pollution-free, has no fuel cost and eliminates the need for dirty power plants and expensive transmission lines.

    “Clean renewable energy sources are the best pathway our state has to lower energy prices, create more good-paying jobs and lesson our carbon footprint,” said Rep. Berry.

    The MPUC failed to conduct any costs and benefits analysis of this new net metering, so they cannot say with any authority whether these rules will help or harm ratepayers. However, previous studies by the MPUC clearly indicate that increased use of distributed solar in Maine leads to lower electric rates.

    "This rulemaking only underscores the need for the Legislature to move quickly to protect jobs, ensure market stability and keep Mainers in control of their energy future. We urge the legislature to act swiftly to restore good solar policy for Maine’s future," said Environment Maine campaigns director Laura Dorle.

    The best and swiftest solution is for the Legislature to enact an effective law to move Maine forward this session, before these extreme rules take effect at the end of 2017.

    “The Legislature should be setting solar policy in Maine, not the MPUC. With others, NRCM is also likely to file a ‘motion for reconsideration’ with the PUC, giving them one last chance to set aside these extreme changes,” said Voorhees.

    The Office of the Public Advocate, which represents ratepayers, testified last year that it had “significant concerns with the rules,” noting they “include provisions that are unclear, unworkable, and potentially unlawful.”

    Public opposition to this policy included more than 4,000 comments received by the MPUC. Polling shows that a strong majority of Mainers from all counties and political affiliations oppose this rollback.

     

  • Former CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project will lead MECA

    The Maine College of Art’s (MECA) Board of Trustees has announced the appointment of Laura Freid, Ed.D., as the 18th president of the 135 year-old institution.

    Freid comes to MECA as a passionate and proven advocate for the arts and education, most recently serving in partnership with internationally acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, as CEO and Executive Director of The Silk Road Project, a global cultural arts organization based at Harvard University.

    Silkroad works to connect the world through the arts, presenting musical performances and learning programs, and fostering radical cultural collaboration around the world to lead to advancing global understanding.

    Her prior leadership experience includes serving as Executive Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations at Brown University and Chief Communications Officer at Harvard University where she was publisher ofHarvard Magazine.

    Led by alumnus Brian Wilk ’95, incoming chair of MECA’s Board of Trustees, and Vice President at Hasbro Toys, MECA’s presidential search process officially started in August  2016, when a search committee composed of a diverse group of representatives from within the MECA community convened to discuss and understand the most essential attributes needed in the College’s next leader.

    In announcing the choice, Wilk remarked on the thorough and extensive nature of the selection process. “It was clear to the entire search committee that we needed someone who has the skills, experience, and appetite to continue building our mission of educating artists for life while expanding our reputation as an international destination for world-class arts education. After carefully considering our impressively deep pool of seasoned candidates from all over the world, our search committee unanimously agreed that Dr. Laura Freid was the right person to guide MECA through our next critical period of growth.”  


    Debbie Reed, chair of the MECA Board of Trustees, described Freid as “an exceptional leader who understands MECA’s mission and the importance of creativity.” According to Reed, “From the moment we met Laura, we were interested in learning more about her demonstrated track record of engaging multiple constituencies while serving in senior leadership roles at multiple institutions. The Board of Trustees looks forward to an exciting future under Laura’s leadership as we move the College forward.”

    “I am grateful for the dynamic leadership that has guided MECA to date and to the entire College community and the city of Portland for creating such an exciting American center for the arts, culture and entrepreneurship,” Freid said. “In times as rife with international, political, and economic tensions as we are experiencing today, I believe investing in the arts has never been more imperative. Art gives us meaning and identity, helping us reflect on and shape our lives; it is fundamental to our well-being. That is why I believe providing artists with the education they need to succeed is such a critical and vital mission.”

    Freid’s educational background is rooted in the philosophy of aesthetics and in the history of reputation in higher education. She holds a B.A. in Philosophy from Washington University, an MBA from Boston University Graduate School of Management, and an Ed.D. from University of Pennsylvania.

    Freid will take office on or before July 1st, replacing Interim President Stuart Kestenbaum, Maine’s Poet Laureate and former Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Arts. Kestenbaum stepped in to lead during a transition year after Don Tuski, Ph.D. accepted the position of President at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts in Portland, Oregon, on the heels of six years of continuous enrollment and endowment growth at MECA.

  • Prescribers can play a bigger role in fighting addiction

     Editorial by Representative Colleen Madigan.

    Drug addiction is becoming Maine’s disease. Individuals may use but together our families, communities and economy all suffer.

    For too long Maine hasn’t been able to stop the drug crisis. It’s time we used everything we have to prevent addiction before it starts and effectively treat it before it claims the life of even one more Mainer.

    As a social worker, I’ve seen the toll substance addiction takes on people and their families.

    Community members, who as parents run businesses, work long hours and help each other out struggle to find treatment for an addiction that started with a legitimate prescription.

    Maine has the tools it needs to implement smart fixes that will stop the drug crisis in its tracks.

    Strengthening law enforcement to identify and prevent trafficking and funding prevention in schools are two ways we can stop the drug crisis from getting worse, but that should be only part of the solution.

    Research shows that addiction results in changes to the brain. Counseling with medication can help Mainers struggling with substance abuse to confront and gradually kick their cravings for opiates.

    Suboxone also known as Buprenorphine can give people a second chance.

    The problem? Suboxone is still hard to come by because Maine has too few trained providers who can afford to administer it.

    That means Mainers trying to get treatment for addiction have to resort to buying Suboxone off the streets.

    I once worked with a woman who served members of our community at a local pizza joint. She was given a prescription for chronic pain relief and became addicted to pain killers. After six months, she still can’t access a Suboxone provider.

    She’s not alone.

    I also worked with a Waterville father who got addicted to heroin after being unable to continue using prescription drugs. He found a Suboxone provider hours away but struggled to get there.

    Maine’s rural communities need more providers who can help people access counseling and medication assisted treatment to combat opiate addiction.

    This week I’ll present a bill to make sure physicians who prescribe opiate medications also have to be able to prescribe Suboxone.

    If you can prescribe addictive opiates to treat pain, you should be able to prescribe medication to help treat an addiction to those opiates.

    "An Act To Increase the Number of Suboxone Prescribers" also bumps up the reimbursement rate to make sure providers in rural areas can afford to proscribe Suboxone.

    This bill is one tool in our toolbox and I hope lawmakers will support it, but we can also learn from what other states are doing to identify other innovative solutions.

    Vermont for example has significantly reduced its prescription drug and heroin addiction statewide by expanding access to multiple forms of treatment and prevention, including medication assisted treatment and counseling. They’ve also focused intently on targeted solutions for rural areas that are often epicenters for growing substance abuse.

    This session Democrats will work to identify more solutions to the drug crisis using every resource Maine has to offer. 

    By recognizing addiction for what it is - a disease and a public health crisis - and treating it with smart, diverse approaches, we can help combat substance abuse addiction in Maine.

  • Legislation in Maine could help keep children out of harms way of led in water

    By Ramona du Houx

    Citing growing evidence of pervasive lead contamination in schools’ drinking water, Environment Maine launched a new Get the Lead Out campaign in February of 2017.  

    An analysis by Environment Maine Research and Policy Center gave Maine a grade of F to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school. The Maine Public Health Association, Prevent Harm, and State Senator Rebecca Millett all joined Environment Maine in calling for swift action to ensure lead-free water in Maine’s schools and daycares.

    “Schools should be safe places for our kids to learn and play, but state is failing/not doing enough to protect our kids from lead in drinking water said Laura Dorle “Kids’ developing brains are especially susceptible to highly toxic lead so it’s time to get the lead out.”

    As more Maine schools test their water, they are finding lead.  For example, last year officials in the Yarmouth School District found lead levels above the EPA’s standard of 15 parts per billion (ppb).

    Yet a new report Get the Lead Out: by Environment Maine Research and Policy Center shows that such confirmed cases of lead-laced water are likely just the tip of the iceberg.  For example, the report cites new data from Massachusetts, where half of more than 40,000 tests conducted last year showed some level of lead in water from taps at school.

    “Lead is a potent neurotoxin, affecting the way our kids learn, grow, and behave,” said Rebecca Boulos of the Maine Public Health Association.  “There is no safe level of lead for children.”  

    All too often, schools (and homes) have pipes, plumbing and/or fixtures that leach lead into drinking water.   In some cases, old service lines – the pipes that brings water from the mains in the street into buildings – are made entirely of lead. 

    Unfortunately, current state law does far too little to prevent children’s drinking water from becoming laced with lead at school.  Maine law only requires testing of water at schools that draw their water from non-public sources and does not require remediation.  In Environment Maine Research and Policy Center’s comparison of 16 states, these shortcomings gave Maine a GRADE OF F.

    “We were disappointed to find that Maine’s efforts are a GRADE at the back of the class for protecting children from lead at school.  Our kids deserve better,” said Environment Maine Research and Policy Center’s Laura Dorle.

    LD 40: An Act to Strengthen Requirements for Water Testing in Schools, introduced by State Senator Rebecca Millett, who represents South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough would help to change that by starting a system that would require all schools are rigorously testing for this issue.

    ““All families deserve to know that the drinking water at their children’s schools is safe,” said Sen. Millett. “We cannot have a strong set of standards for some schools and a lesser standard for others. Lead poisoning can have disastrous effects on children, and it is our responsibility to protect all of them, regardless of where they live. We have got to do better than that.  We owe it to our kids.”

    These efforts have wide support including from environmental health advocacy group Prevent Harm, Toxics Action Center, the Maine Academy of Pediatrics, the Maine Public Health Association, and more.   Parents are especially eager to see the bill move.

    (PHOTO: press conference at the state house about LD 40)

    “Do we really want to wait for more tests to show that our kids have been drinking lead?” asked Gretchen Migliaccio, UMaine Augusta student and parent whose daughter attends Laura E. Richards Elementary School in Gardiner.  “It’s time to get the lead out.”

    Parents in other states are demanding action too.  Environment Maine’s counterparts are working with doctors and parents and community leaders in seven other states to advance policies that Get the Lead Out of schools and daycares.

  • Maine's Franco-American veterans community program

    Contact Janet Roberts:  Coordinator, Franco-American Collection USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College 51 Westminster Street Lewiston, ME 04240 janet.roberts@maine.edu or telephone (207_753-6545.

    A program to highlight the archives will include presentations by Colonel Donald Dubay, United States Army-Retired, a native of Lewiston, Maine who grew up in Auburn and Major Adam Cote of Sanford, Maine.. VIP guests will include Ambassador Charles Dunbar of Brunswick, Maine and Severin Beliveau, Esq., honorary French Counsel to Maine, of Portland, Maine.

    Save the date! This program is free and open to the public:

    FRANCO-AMERICAN COLLECTION at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC) Contacts Doris Bonneau dbbonneau1@gmail.com and Juliana L’Heureux juliana@mainewriter.com and Janet Roberts janet.roberts@maine.edu

    USM’s Franco-American Collection preserves and promotes the culture and heritage of Maine’s Franco-American population. It holds a wealth of research materials, and it sponsors a variety of events that celebrate and promote the history and culture of Franco-Americans.

    Join us to recognize 100 years of Franco-American Veterans History.

    When:    Tuesday May 23, 2017 from 5-7:30 PM

    Where:  University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College the Franco-American Collection  51 Westminster Street in Lewiston Maine  https://usm.maine.edu/franco/overview

    What:   Reception, exhibits, recognitions, presentation and panel discussion

    Why:    To capstone the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) project to digitize the history, experiences and artifacts of Franco-American Veterans from all campaigns with a focus on World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Cold War, Vietnam, Bosnia, the Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan

    Special Guests:  Ambassador Charles Franklin Dunbar of Brunswick, ME, who will introduce the guest and honored speaker Colonel Donald Dubay USA-Ret. They will speak  in both French and in English to briefly describe their shared experiences serving with the United States diplomatic missions in the Middle East. Colonel Dubay will be the guest speaker to describe his historic service with the US Army.  Colonel Dubay is a native of Lewiston, he grew up in Auburn, a graduate of Edward Little High School and the University of Maine in Orono. He and his wife Gail Schnepf Dubay live in North Carolina and visit Maine frequently. During his Army career, Col. Dubay served during the Vietnam War, in the Middle East and during the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm).

    Panel Discussion will honor Severin Beliveau Maine’s  honorary French consular who will speak about his father’s World War I experience as an officer in France; Major Adam Cote will speak about serving in Iraq and Afghanistan; Bert Dutil- USA veteran, will speak about serving as a French army interpreter in the Korean conflict and Hon. Paul Dionne, former Lewiston Mayor, will speak about his experience in Vietnam.

    Representatives from Edward Little High School and the University of Maine will be among the VIP guests.  This event is free and open to the public.  Please save the date! Merci Beaucoup!

  • Trump unfit to serve

    Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve

    Editorial by E.J. Dionne Jr. Opinion writer The Washington Post

    Let’s not mumble or whisper about the central issue facing our country: What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?

    The Michael Flynn fiasco was the entirely predictable product of the indiscipline, deceit, incompetence and moral indifference that characterize Donald Trump’s approach to leadership.

    Even worse, Trump’s loyalties are now in doubt. Questions about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and Russia will not go away, even if congressional Republicans try to slow-walk a transparent investigation into what ties Trump has with Putin’s Russia — and who on his campaign did what, and when, with Russian intelligence officials and diplomats.

    Party leaders should listen to those Republicans who are already pondering how history will judge their actions in this wrenching moment. Senators such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham seem to know it is only a matter of time before the GOP will have to confront Trump’s unfitness. They also sense that Flynn’s resignation as national security adviser for lying about the nature of his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States raises fundamental concerns about Trump himself.

    The immediate political controversy is over how Congress should investigate this. Republican leaders say attention from Congress’s intelligence committees is sufficient, and for now Democrats have agreed to this path. But many in their ranks, along with some Republicans, argue it would be better to form a bipartisan select committee that could cross jurisdictional lines and be far more open about its work.

    Those pushing for the select committee have reason to fear that keeping things under wraps in the intelligence panels could be a way to bury the story for a while and buy Trump time. Letting Americans in on what went on here, and quickly, is the only way to bolster trust in this administration, if that is even possible. And let’s face the reality here: It could also hasten the end of a presidency that could do immense damage to the United States.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in the meantime, must immediately recuse himself from all decisions about all aspects of the Russia investigation by the FBI and the intelligence services. Sessions should step back not simply because he is an appointee of the president but, more importantly, because he was a central figure in the Trump campaign. He cannot possibly be a neutral arbiter, and his involvement would only heighten fears of a coverup.

    In this dark moment, we can celebrate the vitality of the institutions of a free society that are pushing back against a president offering the country a remarkable combination of authoritarian inclinations and ineptitude. The courts, civil servants, citizens — collectively and individually — and, yes, an unfettered media have all checked Trump and forced inconvenient facts into the sunlight.

    It is a sign of how beleaguered Trump is that his Twitter response on Wednesday morning was not to take responsibility but to assign blame. His villains are leakers and the press: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.”

    It is notable that in acknowledging that the news reports are based on “information,” Trump effectively confirmed them. At the same time, he was characteristically wrong about Russia, whose government prevents transparency and punishes those who try to foster it. There’s also this: Kremlin agents stole information from a political party in a free country. That is very different from the actions of the media’s informants inside our government who are holding our own officials accountable for their false denials and fictitious claims.

    It will be said that Trump was elected and thus deserves some benefit of the doubt. Isn’t it rash to declare him unfit after so little time?

    The answer is no, because the Trump we are seeing now is fully consistent with the vindictive, self-involved and scattered man we saw during the 17 months of his campaign. In one of the primary debates, Jeb Bush said of Trump: “He’s a chaos candidate and he’d be a chaos president.” Rarely has a politician been so prophetic.

    And this is why nearly 11 million more Americans voted against Trump than for him. His obligation was to earn the trust of the 60 percent of Americans who told exit pollsters on Election Day that they viewed him unfavorably. Instead, he has ratified their fears, and then some.

    As a country, we now need to face the truth, however awkward and difficult it might be.

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

    As the name implies, the goal of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect our environment, and it has worked toward that goal since it was created in 1970. That start date is important to the people and the environment of the lower Penobscot River, for in late 1967, the HoltraChem chlor-alkali plant began operating in Orrington on the banks of the river. In the first four years of the plant’s operation, waste mercury was routinely discharged into the river. Much of that mercury continues to contaminate the Penobscot.

    We ask that the community, and Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King — who will soon vote on the nominee to head the agency, Scott Pruitt — consider the value of the EPA and the critical importance of appointing a director who embraces the mission of protecting our environment.

    Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523 Senator Angus King – (202) 224-5344

    We are scientists. We examined the impact of the mercury discharges into the river as part of the Penobscot River Mercury Study, an independent court-ordered study of mercury contamination of the Penobscot River from the HoltraChem plant. This work gave us first-hand knowledge of the value of the EPA and of the environmental consequences when regulations are absent or not enforced.

    One of the first actions of the EPA was a thorough revision of water pollution laws and the creation of the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress in 1972.

    For the first time in our history, the government began regulating pollutant discharges into surface waters. It was no longer legal for the Orrington chemical plant to dump its waste mercury into the Penobscot. Instead, HoltraChem began storing the waste mercury in landfills that greatly reduced the amount of mercury entering the river. Yet, roughly 90 percent of an estimated nine tons of mercury that was ultimately released into the Penobscot River was discharged before the EPA began regulating pollutant discharges into our rivers, streams and lakes.

    Today, the evidence of those mercury discharges can be seen in the sediment of the Penobscot River. Buried 16 inches below the surface of the sediment is a layer of extreme mercury contamination, deposited during the early years of plant operation.

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

    Yet, buried contaminants do not always remain hidden. River and slough channels can change course, releasing long-buried mercury into the surface sediment that is swept up and down the river with the tide. So in some parts of the lower Penobscot the most contaminated sediment is not buried, but near the surface, where it enters our food web and accumulates in our fish, birds and lobster.

    Now 50 years later, we have mercury concentrations in waterfowl almost four times greater than the Maine action level for mercury in muscle tissue, prompting the state’s first health advisory on the consumption of breast meat from ducks. Migratory song birds arrive in marshes along the lower Penobscot with low mercury burdens, but quickly accumulate mercury concentrations in their blood that exceed levels known to cause reproductive failure. Average mercury concentrations in lobster living near the mouth of the Penobscot River are two to three times greater than the Maine action level, and individual lobster have concentrations over six times greater.

    There is now a state ban on lobster harvesting in that area. Without EPA regulations, the river would be even more contaminated. Finally, mercury concentrations in the surface sediments of the river are seven to 10 times greater than background concentrations in rivers Down East, and we estimate it will take a minimum of 60 to 400 years, depending on the area, for the Penobscot to clean itself.

    Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, has been nominated to head the EPA, despite the fact that he is a leading advocate against the agency. His history of suing the EPA over environmental regulations, the same regulations that now limit discharges to the Penobscot, should disqualify him from service as the agency’s director.

    This is only one example of the positive role the EPA plays in safeguarding public and environmental health. Environmental regulations save our country money, provide jobs, and ensure the health of all animals, plants and the humans who see clean air, water and soil as an American right. The EPA needs a leader who will defend that right.

    Dianne Kopec is an adjunct instructor in the department of wildlife, fisheries, and conservation biology at the University of Maine in Orono. Aram Calhoun is a professor of wetlands ecology at UMaine. Peter Santschi, a regents professor in the department of marine sciences at Texas A&M University in Galveston, and Ralph Turner, a mercury researcher at RT Geosciences Inc., also contributed to this piece.

  • DOOMSDAY CLOCK MOVES AHEAD: Because of Donald Trump


    It is now two and a half minutes to midnight

    “Words Matter”: Board Marks 70th Anniversary of Iconic Clock By Expressing Concern About “Unsettling” and “Ill-Considered” Statements of President Trump on Nuclear Weapons and Climate Change; Developments in North Korea, Russia, India and Pakistan Also Highlighted.

    By Ramona du Houx

    It is now two and a half minutes to midnight.  For the first time in the 70-year history of the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board has moved the hands of the iconic clock 30 seconds closer to midnight. That clock hasn't been so close to midnight since 1953, the begining of the arms race and the year the Soviet Union exploded the bomb.

    The Board has decided to act, in part, based on the words of a single person:  Donald Trump. 

    The decision to move the hands of the Doomsday Clock is made by the Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in consultation with theBulletin’s Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel Laureates.  Click here for the Science and Security Board’s full statement.

    In January 2016, the Doomsday Clock’s minute hand did not change, remaining at three minutes before midnight. The Clock was changed in 2015 from five to three minutes to midnight, the closest it had been since the arms race of the 1980s.

    In the statement about the Doomsday Clock, the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board notes: “Over the course of 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come effectively to grips with humanity’s most pressing existential threats, nuclear weapons and climate change … This already-threatening world situation was the backdrop for a rise in strident nationalism worldwide in 2016, including in a US presidential campaign during which the eventual victor, Donald Trump, made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons and expressed disbelief in the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change …The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute — something it has never before done — reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days …”

    “Just the same, words matter, and President Trump has had plenty to say over the last year. Both his statements and his actions as President-elect have broken with historical precedent in unsettling ways. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding the US nuclear arsenal. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or outright reject expert advice related to international security, including the conclusions of intelligence experts. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency dispute the basics of climate science. In short, even though he has just now taken office, the president’s intemperate statements, lack of openness to expert advice, and questionable cabinet nominations have already made a bad international security situation worse.”

    In addition to addressing the statements made by President Trump, the Board also expressed concern about the greater global context of nuclear and climate issues:

    ·         On nuclear issues, the Board noted: “The United States and Russia—which together possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons—remained at odds in a variety of theaters, from Syria to Ukraine to the borders of NATO; both countries continued wide-ranging modernizations of their nuclear forces, and serious arms control negotiations were nowhere to be seen.North Korea conducted its fourth and fifth underground nuclear tests and gave every indication it would continue to develop nuclear weapons delivery capabilities. Threats of nuclear warfare hung in the background as Pakistan and India faced each other warily across the Line of Control in Kashmir after militants attacked two Indian army bases.”

    ·         In surveying the status of climate matters, the Board concluded: “The climate change outlook was somewhat less dismal (in 2016) —but only somewhat. In the wake of the landmark Paris climate accord, the nations of the world have taken some actions to combat climate change, and global carbon dioxide emissions were essentially flat in 2016, compared to the previous year. Still, they have not yet started to decrease; the world continues to warm. Keeping future temperatures at less-than-catastrophic levels requires reductions in greenhouse gas emissions far beyond those agreed to in Paris—yet little appetite for additional cuts was in evidence at the November climate conference in Marrakech.”

    Rachel Bronson, executive director and publisher, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said: As we marked the 70th anniversary of the Doomsday Clock, this year’s Clock deliberations felt more urgent than usual. In addition to the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, new global realities emerged, as trusted sources of information came under attack, fake news was on the rise, and words were used by a President-elect of the United States in cavalier and often reckless ways to address the twin threats of nuclear weapons and climate change.”

    Lawrence Krauss, chair, Bulletin Board of Sponsors, director, Origins Project at Arizona State University, and foundation professor, School of Earth and Space Exploration and Physics Department, Arizona State University, said:  “Wise men and women have said that public policy is never made in the absence of politics. But in this unusual political year, we offer a corollary: Good policy takes account of politics but is never made in the absence of expertise. Facts are indeed stubborn things, and they must be taken into account if the future of humanity is to be preserved, long term. Nuclear weapons and climate change are precisely the sort of complex existential threats that cannot be properly managed without access to and reliance on expert knowledge. In 2016, world leaders not only failed to deal adequately with those threats; they actually increased the risk of nuclear war and unchecked climate change through a variety of provocative statements and actions, including careless rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons and the wanton defiance of scientific evidence. To step further back from the brink will require leaders of vision and restraint.  President Trump and President Putin can choose to act together as statesmen, or as petulant children, risking our future.  We call upon all people to speak out and send a loud message to your leaders so that they do not needlessly threaten your future, and the future of your children.”

    Retired Rear Admiral David Titley, Bulletin Science and Security Board; professor of practice, Pennsylvania State University Department of Meteorology, and founding director, Penn State’s Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, said: “Climate change should not be a partisan issue. The well-established physics of Earth’s carbon cycle is neither liberal nor conservative in character. The planet will continue to warm to ultimately dangerous levels so long as carbon dioxide continues to be pumped into the atmosphere— irrespective of political leadership.  The current political situation in the United States is of particular concern.  The Trump administration needs to state clearly and unequivocally that it accepts climate change, caused by human activity, as reality.  No problem can be solved unless its existence is first recognized. There are no ‘alternative facts’ here”.

    About the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

    The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists engages science leaders, policy makers, and the interested public on topics of nuclear weapons and disarmament, the changing energy landscape, climate change, and emerging technologies. With smart, vigorous prose, multimedia presentations, and information graphics, theBulletin puts issues and events into context and provides fact-based debates and assessments. For 70 years, the Bulletin has bridged the technology divide between scientific research, foreign policy and public engagement. See more at: http://thebulletin.org

    Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet.The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains.

  • Impact of the Affordable Care Act in Maine and how Dirigo Health helped

    By Ramona du Houx

    Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 thousands of Mainers have gained coverage, and hundreds of thousands more have had their coverage substantially improved.

    On January 16, 2017 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an extensive compilation of state-level data illustrating the substantial improvements in health care for all Americans over the last six years.

    The data show that the uninsured rate in Maine has fallen by 17 percent since the ACA was enacted, translating into 22,000 Mainers gaining coverage, some transfered to the ACA from the established state program, Dirigo Health Care. 

    Photo: President Barack Obama came to Maine after the ACA was enacted and praised Governor John Baldacci for his work on the creation of the Dirigo Health Care Act. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    “As our nation debates changes to the health care system, it’s important to take stock of where we are today compared to where we were before the Affordable Care Act,” said Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “Whether Mainers get coverage through an employer, Medicaid, the individual market, or Medicare, they have better health coverage and care today as a result of the ACA. Millions of Americans with all types of coverage have a stake in the future of health reform. We need to build on our progress and continue to improve health care access, quality, and affordability, not move our system backward.”

    Photo: Governor John Baldacci with Robin Mills talking about Dirigo Choice in 2007. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Maine was an unusual case, because the state had enacted the Dirigo Health Care Act during the Baldacci administration, and many of the ACA benefits were already apart of Dirigo. Because of Dirigo it was easier to transfer over to the ACA.

    Governor John Baldacci deserves recognition for creating a model for the ACA. Other portions of Dirigo were dismantled by Gov. Paul LePage, who succeeded Baldacci. Never-the-less Baldacci's Dirigo saved thousands of lives by giving people health insurance for the first time, by expanding preventative care, covering more young adults, by eliminating the pre-existing condition and discrimination against women in health coverage.

    Dirigo Choice, the insurance branch of Dirigo Health, insured more than 40,000 Mainers and also became a model for President Obama’s ACA. In 2010 Monique Kenyon said, "We were shocked,” when she found out her husband was suffering from cancer. “Being a middle-income family we didn’t qualify for any assistance. We couldn’t afford all the treatment without insurance, but insurance companies wouldn’t accept him because he has this preexisting condition. He’s still with us because of Dirigo Choice.”

    Signed into law in the 2003 Dirigo Health Care Reform Act was a bold step toward universal health coverage during a time when policymakers in Washington D.C. and in state houses struggled to take even small steps. A few years later Governor Romney of Massachusetts used elements of Dirigo in his health care policies.

    “In many ways, Dirigo was a pace-setter and blueprint to national reform,” said Trish Riley, former director of Maine Governor John Baldacci’s Office of Health Policy and Finance. Riley said the program saved many lives by helping thousands of uninsured gain access to medical care and enabling more than 1,000 small businesses to provide insurance for their owners and employees.

    Baldacci expanded Medicare, covering many more Mainers, but LePage has refused to accept this part of the ACA, so thousands who were on, what the state calls MaineCare were kicked off because of LePage -  too many have died.

    In 2003, Maine ranked 16th healthiest among the states; in 2010 Maine was in the top ten. In 2003, Maine ranked 19th among the states in covering the uninsured; in 2010 Maine was sixth. With Dirigo Health, Maine created an efficient public health system with eight districts that cover the entire state through Healthy Maine Partnerships. During the Baldacci administration the state reached a milestone in healthcare coverage, won awards for Dirigo and became a model for the nation. (photo below taken in 2010)

    The ACA picked up the torch and contained to save the lives and livelihoods of thousands of people in Maine.

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

    Employer Coverage: 702,000 people in Maine are covered through employer-sponsored health plans. 

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

    An end to annual and lifetime limits: Before the ACA, 431,000 Mainers with employer or individual market coverage had a lifetime limit on their insurance policy. That meant their coverage could end exactly when they needed it most. The ACA prohibits annual and lifetime limits on policies, so all Mainers with employer plans now have coverage that’s there when they need it.
    Young adults covered until age 26: An estimated 8,000 young adults in Maine have benefited from the ACA provision that allows kids to stay on their parents’ health insurance up to age 26.

    Free preventive care: Under the ACA, health plans must cover preventive services — like flu shots, cancer screenings, contraception, and mammograms – at no extra cost to consumers. This provision benefits 588,281 people in Maine, most of whom have employer coverage.

    Slower premium growth: Nationally, average family premiums for employer coverage grew 5 percent per year 2010-2016, compared with 8 percent over the previous decade. Family premiums are $3,600 lower today than if growth had matched the pre-ACA decade.


    Better value through the 80/20 rule: Because of the ACA, health insurance companies must spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on health care or care improvements, rather than administrative costs like salaries or marketing, or else give consumers a refund. Mainers with employer coverage have received $2,507,067 in insurance refunds since 2012.


    Medicaid: 273,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, including 115,217 children and 52,077 seniors and people with disabilities covered by both Medicaid and Medicare. The ACA expanded Medicaid eligibility and strengthened the program for those already eligible.

    40,000 Mainers could gain coverage: An estimated 40,000 Mainers could have health insurance today if Maine expanded Medicaid under the ACA. Coverage improves access to care, financial security, and health; expansion would result in an estimated 5,000 more Mainers getting all needed care, 5,700 fewer Mainers struggling to pay medical bills, and 50 avoided deaths each year.
    Thousands of Mainers with a mental illness or substance use disorder could get help: Nearly 30 percent of those who could gain coverage if more states expanded Medicaid have a mental illness or substance use disorder.


    Maine could be saving millions in uncompensated care costs: Instead of spending $40 million on uncompensated care, which increases costs for everyone, Maine could be getting $430 million in federal support to provide low-income adults with much needed care.
    Children, people with disabilities, and seniors can more easily access Medicaid coverage: The ACA streamlined Medicaid eligibility processes, eliminating hurdles so that vulnerable Mainers could more easily access and maintain coverage.


    Maine is improving health care for individuals with chronic conditions, including those with severe mental illness: The ACA established a new Medicaid flexibility that allows states to create health homes, a new care delivery model to improve care coordination and lower costs for individuals with chronic conditions, such as severe mental illness, Hepatitis C, diabetes and heart disease
    Individual market: 75,240 people in Maine have coverage through the Marketplace. Individual market coverage is dramatically better compared to before the ACA:

    No discrimination based on pre-existing conditions: Up to 590,266 people in Maine have a pre-existing health condition. Before the ACA, these Mainers could have been denied coverage or charged an exorbitant price if they needed individual market coverage. Now, health insurance companies cannot refuse coverage or charge people more because of pre-existing conditions.
    Tax credits available to help pay for coverage: Before the ACA, only those with employer coverage generally got tax benefits to help pay for health insurance. Now, 63,896 moderate- and middle-income Mainers receive tax credits averaging $342 per month to help them get covered through HealthCare.gov.

    Women pay the same as men: Before the ACA, women were often charged more than men just because of their gender. That is now illegal thanks to the ACA, protecting roughly half the people of Maine.

    Greater transparency and choice: Before the ACA, it was virtually impossible for consumers to effectively compare insurance plan prices and shop for the best value. Under the ACA, Maine has received $5 million in federal funding to provide a more transparent marketplace where consumers can easily compare plans, choosing among 25 plans on average.

    Medicare: 315,160 people in Maine are covered by Medicare. The ACA strengthened the Medicare Trust Fund, extending its life by over a decade.

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

    Lower costs for prescription drugs: Because the ACA is closing the prescription drug donut hole, 18,970 Maine seniors are saving $19 million on drugs in 2015, an average of $986 per beneficiary.
    Free preventive services: The ACA added coverage of an annual wellness visit and eliminated cost-sharing for recommended preventive services such as cancer screenings. In 2015, 165,892 Maine seniors, or 71 percent of all Maine seniors enrolled in Medicare Part B, took advantage of at least one free preventive service.

    Fewer hospital mistakes: The ACA introduced new incentives for hospitals to avoid preventable patient harms and avoidable readmissions. Hospital readmissions for Maine Medicare beneficiaries dropped 4 percent between 2010 and 2015, which translates into 232 times Maine Medicare beneficiaries avoided an unnecessary return to the hospital in 2015. 

    More coordinated care: The ACA encouraged groups of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers to come together to provide coordinated high-quality care to the Medicare patients they serve. 6 Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) in Maine now offer Medicare beneficiaries the opportunity to receive higher quality, more coordinated care.

    ACA Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)

  • Rep. Devin combats ocean acidification, addresses conference with Gov. Jerry Brown

    Rep. Mick Devin, of Newcastle, ME, joined fellow members of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, including California Governor Jerry Brown, at a combat acidifacation launch event in CA. 

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

    In December of 2016,  U.S. and global leaders launched the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification in Coronado, CA.  Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, represented Maine at the event and was a key speaker. 

    “It was an honor to show the rest of the country how Maine is a leader when it comes to addressing the quality of the water in our oceans,” said Rep. Devin. “Scientists are working around the clock because they know how many people depend on the ocean to make a living.”

    The oceans are the primary protein source for 2.6 billion people, and support $2.5 trillion of economic activity each year. Maine's lobster industry could suffer greatly from ocean acidification. Catches like this one would only be read in history books. This lobster was put back into the ocean, as it's way beyond the size fishermen can legally catch.

    Maine is seen as the leading state on the East Coast addressing ocean acidification.  Maine was the first state to establish an Ocean Acidification Commission.  As a result of the commission the Maine Ocean and Coastal Acidification Alliance, or MOCA, was established. 

    Ocean acidification occurs when carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and other carbon sources dissolves in the water and forms carbonic acid. Other sources of acidification include fresh water from rivers and decomposing algae feeding off nutrients in runoff. Carbonic acid dissolves the shells of shellfish.

    Maine’s major inshore shellfisheries, including clams, oysters, lobsters, shrimp and sea urchins, could see major losses if ocean acidification is left unchecked.

    At the conference, Devin addressed how state leaders are using science to establish priorities in dealing with the rising acidity of the earth’s oceans. He explained how Maine used those priorities to develop a long-term action plan.  

    He stressed the importance of addressing ocean acidification by developing plans to remediate and adapt to it. Devin said that strategy is crucial for Maine to maintain its healthy marine economy, particularly the commercial fishing and aquaculture industries, which are valued well in excess of billion dollars annually. 

    Devin finished his presentation by showing a slide of a boiled lobster dinner and repeating his trademark line about one reason the marine economy matters to so many: “People do not visit the coast of Maine to eat a chicken sandwich.” 

    The Alliance includes several state governments, governments of Canadian provinces, North American tribal governments, and countries as far away as France, Chile and Nigeria. 

    While lobsters are the iconic image of Maine, many other shell fish will be effected, like musscles, and clams. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Members have five primary goals: advancing scientific understanding of ocean acidification; taking meaningful actions to reduce causes of acidification; protect the environment and coastal communities from impacts of a changing ocean; expanding public awareness and understanding of acidification; and building sustained global support for addressing the problem.

    Devin, a marine biologist at the Darling Center in Walpole and a member of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House. He represents Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Newcastle, part of Nobleboro, part of South Bristol, Monhegan Plantation and the unorganized territory of Louds Island.

     

  • The 128 Legislature and how to help the state out of stagnation

     By Ramona du Houx

    Members of the 128th Legislature were sworn into the Maine House of Representatives on December 7, 2016, led by Democratic Speaker of the House Sara Gideon. There are 25 new members and 52 returning representatives in the House, including 36 women.

    “Today, we start out with a Maine economy that is lagging behind New England and the rest of the country in terms of economic growth, recovery of jobs lost during the recession and wage growth,” said Gideon, D-Freeport.  “We lead New England when it comes to the number of Maine children and seniors living in poverty. Those are the facts.  And here is another fact: We have to do better. We will always work together and come to the table in search of common ground to help the 1.3 million Mainers who expect us to rise above politics.” 

    There are issues that could grow Maine’s economy, which haven’t been addressed during the LePage administration. Instead he’s focused on cutting benefits and lowering taxes for the wealthy. in his speach today to the lawmakers he talked about changing the Minimum wage referendum that passed, not about how to grow jobs.

    In a recent interview, Former Governor John Baldacci sited a study conducted by Former Governor King, which listed the top areas in need of investment that still remain areas that need funding.

    "The two leading factors in the study were the education and training of the population and the amount of Research and Development funds invested to help businesses get the latest cutting edge technologies so they can compete successfully with other businesses anyone in the world,” said Gov. Baldacci.

    Maine has suffered under LePage by the lack of Research and Development (R&D) funds that used to spur economic activity as the research, conducted at the University of Maine and other laboratories, was regularly used by start-up Maine companies, there-by growing jobs across Maine. The people have always voted overwhelmingly for R&D bonds in Maine. But LePage doesn’t believe in bond issues and has held bond funds hostage in the past.

    "We've been doing a terrible job at putting resources in Research and Development," said Gov. Baldacci, who invested dramatically in R&D during his administration. "We also need to focus on job training. We're not doing enough to match jobs to the industries established here. Our Labor Department needs to be our Human Resource Department. There are plenty of job opportunities out there that need trained workers and plenty of workers who want the opportunity to work. Our people, families, and small businesses aren't looking for a handout, but are looking for opportunities. Our responsibility is to make sure that happens throughout all of Maine."

    Baldacci started this work with Former Labor Secretary Laura Fortman, but little has been done to progress these job opportunities under the LePage administration.

    The lack of these investments, along with other LePage policies has led to stagnation in Maine.

    “Under Republican leadership, Maine has lagged behind in the national economic recovery. We work longer hours than our neighbors in any other state in New England, yet the purchasing power of our paychecks in one of the lowest in the country. Meanwhile, our governor has turned a blind eye as five of our friends, family members and neighbors die every week from the opioid epidemic. I look forward our leadership team’s work over the next few months to create good jobs and a fair economy that works for everyone, not just those at the top." 

    Members of the House include teachers, small business owners, nonprofit leaders, a former mill electrician, prominent civil rights advocates, farmers, former law enforcement officials, and veterans. 

    “I’m proud of the bipartisan work we achieved last session, particularly to improve services for veterans, but there is more work to be done,” said veteran Marine Rep. Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “In the short term, our first task is to pass a balanced budget that reflects the needs of our state, but we also have to keep an eye on the future. Maine needs to create good paying jobs by investing in the infrastructure our communities need to compete. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address these and other challenges facing our state.”

  • Pingree says Dr. Ben Carson not qualified to serve as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

    President-elect Trump has chosen surgeon Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). This Federal agency runs numerous programs critical to Maine communities and families. Without HUD many citizens in Maine could be without a roof over their heads.

    “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development oversees many programs that are critical to Maine communities and families. To name just a few, Community Development Block Grants help fund infrastructure improvements in our downtowns, affordable housing programs and rental assistance ensure that people in need have a roof over their heads, and Federal Housing Authority mortgage guarantees make the dream of home ownership possible for thousands of Maine families. I worry for the future of these important programs if Dr. Ben Carson is confirmed as Secretary," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

    “As any employer knows, you should base hiring decisions on someone’s relevant experience and skill set. By his own admission, Dr. Carson has neither.  He expressed just last month that he has no experience in government and has never run this scale of operation. Maine and the country deserve better. HUD is simply too important to have someone so uniquely unqualified at the helm.” 

  • What Bangor, Maine is doing to ease the state's deadly drug epidemic



    Editorial by Joseph M. Baldacci, former Mayor of Bangor now serves on the Bangor City Council
     
    According to the Maine attorney general’s office, 272 Mainers died of drug overdoses in 2015, a 30 percent increase over 2014. This year, we are easily surpassing those figures. On average, one Mainer dies each and every day from a drug overdose.
    In our own community, the fire department has seen use of Narcan — a nasal spray that can save someone from death by overdose — skyrocket in the last five years, from 15 uses of it in 2011 to 57 uses in 2015 to at least 100 uses on suspected overdoses just through Nov. 30, 2016. This spring, the Bangor City Council authorized the police department to also carry Narcan, and, as of Dec. 1, the police department has saved 16 lives with it. In 2015, the Bangor Police Department identified 66 cases as involving a possible overdose. So far this year, we are at 111 cases.
    We are fortunate and thankful to the men and women working as firefighters, paramedics and police officers. They are some of the real heroes of this effort to save lives.
    This is not a political issue, it is a human issue requiring human responses. It is an issue that requires state and national leadership — neither of which we have. Local communities are now forced to handle it with everything we have to save and protect citizens.
    Story continues below advertisement.
    Since 2014, Bangor has been in partnership with the Community Health Leadership Board as well as the hospitals and other nonprofits to better marshall local resources.
    The essential thing is that all of us act constructively and rationally in this effort. Because we have done this, we have made progress. Here’s where:
    Adult drug treatment court
    In 2012, the state closed the drug treatment court in Bangor that helped monitor on a weekly basis dozens of drug offenders as well as assist in their getting treatment. After a successful effort by both the City Council and state legislative delegation, the program has been reinstated, and it will be able to monitor and provide treatment options to at least 30 drug offenders at any one time.
    Law-Assisted Diversion Project
    The city is working on a jail diversion effort in partnership with the Health Equity Alliance. We also are working to fund a substance abuse case manager embedded in the police department. Both efforts will be coordinated with local hospitals and other providers to get nonviolent offenders treatment first, not jail first.
    Detoxification center
    The City Council has supported and sought the establishment of a 10-bed detox center to serve as a first stop for people who commit to recovery. Currently, the only places for people to detox are jail, home or the emergency room. None of those places are equipped to handle the complex needs of someone who is detoxing and establish a continuum of care for them when they leave detox.
    Regional model of continuum of care that increases rural access
    Acadia Hospital has taken the lead and has funding to enlist St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center providers in the provision of Suboxone — an alternative to methadone — in their primary care practice settings. This is currently in progress. Penobscot Community Health Care was awarded a federal grant to expand primary care medication-assisted treatment in its practices as did Health Access Network in Lincoln.
    Recovery
    The city has given strong support to Bangor Area Recovery Network efforts for its peer recovery coaching program. The city awarded funding for this important effort to help people stay clean.
    Early Recovery Treatment & Housing
    In conjunction with community partners, the city is involved in exploring several models to complete the continuum of care after someone is released from detox. We have reached out to the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative and may replicate some of its efforts here. Penquis is our lead partner on this work.
    I am proud of the work of my fellow councilors, along with a hard-working staff that works collaboratively to involve all community partners and has resulted in dozens if not hundreds of saved lives.
  • Democrats won a battle for greater transparency for LePage's forensic facility plan

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine democrats won a battle for greater transparency to build a secure forensic facility next to the Riverview Psychiatric Center on November 30, 2016. 

    Democrats said the forensic unit project needs vetting by the Legislature’s appropriations and health and human services committees for a range of reasons including the financing, operations and policy matters related to who would be housed in the facility. Gov. LePage intends for the facility to be privately run, which could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of citizens if not carefully monitored. That overseeing duty needs to be clarified by the Legislature.

    “This is a fundamental change in how Maine cares for forensic patients that demands proper legislative oversight and public input.” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon “DHHS has never brought this proposal to the Legislature, but is essentially threatening to build the project elsewhere and at greater cost if they don't get their way. We must provide proper care to Mainers with serious mental illness, and we are committed to making this happen with the proper oversight that protects this vulnerable population.”

    The Democrats present at the Legislative Council meeting – Gideon, Speaker Mark Eves and House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe – sought to table the proposal so it could be fully vetted as soon as the 128the Legislature convenes in January.

    House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, however, forced a vote to simply approve the project. His motion failed by a vote of 3-3.

    “Let’s remember what got us here in the first place. Three years ago, the feds came in and found that Riverview patients were severely abused – sometimes even with pepper spray and Tasers,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “As lawmakers, we have a duty to ensure the safety and well-being of the patients in the state’s care. We can’t simply hand a blank check over to the administration.”

     

  • Founder of Sandy Hook Promise Joins Question 3 GOTV Canvass- on Monday

    Mark Barden, one of the founders of Sandy Hook Promise, will join volunteers on Monday in a day of get out the vote activities in support of Question 3, which would require background checks for all gun sales in Maine.

    Barden’s son, Daniel, was among the 20 first graders who were killed on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. He was just 7 years old. Barden, along with other Newtown families, founded the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise to help prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.

    Barden was originally scheduled to canvass on Sunday, but was delayed by a day.

    Braden will speak to volunteers at 8:30 a.m., Monday, Nov. 7, at 55 Bell St. in Portland and then will join a canvass team knocking on doors. He will return to the office at 12:30 p.m. after canvassing. He is available for media interviews between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. or at 12:30 p.m.

    Nearly 1,000 volunteers from all across Maine are participating in get out the vote activities this weekend in support of Question 3. They are knocking on doors, making phone calls and sending texts to urge voters to support background checks for all gun sales on Nov. 8.

  • Founders of Sandy Hook Promise come to Maine to get out the vote on Question 3



    Mark and Jackie Barden, the founders of Sandy Hook Promise, will join volunteers in Maine, on Sunday to get out the vote in support of Question 3, which would require background checks for all gun sales in Maine.

    The Barden’s son, Daniel, was among the 20 first graders who were killed on Dec. 14, 2012, at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. He was just 7 years old. The Bardens, along with other Newtown families, founded the nonprofit Sandy Hook Promise to help prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.

    Mark and Jackie will speak to volunteers at 12:30 p.m., Sunday, November. 6, at 55 Bell St. in Portland and then will join a canvass team knocking on doors for the afternoon.

    Nearly 1,000 volunteers from all across Maine are participating in get out the vote activities this weekend in support of Question 3. They are knocking on doors, making phone calls and sending texts to urge voters to support background checks for all gun sales on Nov. 8.

    “Mark and Jackie have turned their grief into action, and it’s a honor to have them working with us this weekend to spread the word about how important Question 3 is,” said David Farmer, campaign manager for Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership. “No law will stop all crime, but we know that background checks work and will help to save lives in Maine.”

    Former US Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shoot and almost killed while talking with constituants, came to Maine twice to energize citizens to back Question 3.

  • Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership Supporters Join Congresswoman Giffords

    By Ramona du Houx

    Portland Maine Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, along with citizen co-sponsor of Question 3 ballot initiative, Judi Richardson, joined former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ 14-state, 42-day national “Vocal Majority Tour” in support of the Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership campaign on October 12,2016.

    The trio called on Mainers to vote to reduce gun violence in this election by voting Yes on Question 3.

    “Stopping gun violence takes courage - the courage to do what's right, and the courage of new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line,” said Congresswoman Giffords“Now is the time to come together - to be responsible! Democrats, Republicans - everyone.”

    On January 8, 2011, at a “Congress On Your Corner” event in Tucson with her constituents, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head from near point-blank range. In stepping down from Congress in January 2012, Congresswoman Giffords said, “I will return, and we will work together for Arizona and this great country.” She is doing so with her husband, Navy combat veteran and retired NASA astronaut Captain Mark Kelly, with the organization that they founded- Americans for Responsible Solutions- as a way to encourage elected officials to stand up for safer communities. 

    Police Chief Sauschuck, (photo left with Giffords) who along with the Maine Chiefs of Police Association recently endorsed the Yes on 3 campaign, called on the Vocal Majority of Americans and Maine residents who support responsible change to our gun laws to stand up and speak out. 

    “Question 3 on this year’s ballot will close an enormous loophole in the law that means criminals, domestic abuse perpetrators and the severely mentally ill can more easily access firearms in our state. While no law will stop all crime, we know that background checks are the single most effective way to reduce gun violence, said Sauschuck.

    “I’m here today with Judi Richardson and Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, because we are all standing up and speaking out for what we know to be true: background checks are the best way of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people who would use them to do harm to themselves or others.”

    Question 3 will require background checks for all gun sales in Maine, with reasonable exceptions for passing guns on to family members, and for loaning of guns between friends and neighbors while hunting.

    In states that require background checks on all handgun sales, FBI and CDC statistics have shown that there are 48 percent fewer police officers killed by handguns, 48 percent fewer suicides by firearms and 48 percent less gun trafficking.

    This measure is particularly important for Maine, where nearly half of all murders are due to domestic violence. FBI statistics indicate that in states that have similar laws to Question 3, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by their intimate partners.

     “There is more the people of Maine can be doing to help make our state safer. By voting to support Question 3 on election day, Mainers are using their voices to close the loophole in our law that means criminals can get a gun on the unlicensed market with no questions asked and face no responsibility for their actions when they use that gun in a crime. Question 3 is just a common sense solution to prevent prohibited persons from having easy access to firearms,” said Richardson, citizen co-sponsor of the Question 3 ballot initiative.

    The Vocal Majority Tour event in Portland was the 17th stop in the 42-day Tour, which Congresswoman Giffords and Captain Kelly kicked off on September 27th in Orlando, Florida, the site of the deadliest mass shooting in our country’s history, the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead.

    Following the event today in Portland, the Vocal Majority Tour will travel to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for events with the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.

    According to recent research, a strong majority of Mainers support this common-sense initiative that will help to keep guns out of the wrong hands, including closing the loopholes in our laws that let felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill buy guns without a background check.

    While some Sheriff's in Maine opose the measure the majority of police officers in the state's largest cities support the common sense plan. It's important to note that sheriffs are elected officials and many are up for re-election.

  • CodeGratitude of Maine helps first responders take part!

    Code Gratitude is a mission-driven organization dedicated to showing our appreciation to our country’s bravest and finest. CodeGratitude.com connects supportive businesses with men and women in law enforcement, fire, EMS, and in the military as well as all military veterans.

    CG uniquely partners with businesses to help create customized discounts on products or services that each business provides protectors and their loved ones.

    "It’s marketing businesses can feel good about by giving back," said Code Gratitude founder Shannon Moss, a Maine journalist and wife of a Maine police officer.

     A simple Code Gratitude table sign or sticker in the window of a business establishment stands proudly as recognition of our protectors and as an unspoken expression of gratitude. Each business, in turn, makes an even greater difference for the youth in our communities as 10 percent of all business membership fees directly support the Code Gratitude Scholarship Fund. The scholarships are awarded to high school seniors who are studying fire science, criminal justice or entering into a first responder career field.

    The Code Gratitude Scholarship Funds encourages our youth to serve their communities in a First Responder career field. First Responders and all those in uniform strive to serve, protect and defend our families, our communities, and our country with no expectation of even a simple thank you for their unwavering support, service and sacrifice.

  • Cumberland County Civic Center Employees Sue For Severance Pay

    Five current and former employees of the Cumberland County Civic Center, in Portland, Maine have filed a class action suit against the Cumberland County Recreation District seeking severance pay under Maine law due to the County’s cessation of operations of the Center.

    The Cumberland County Recreation District (CCRD) ceased operating the Center in March 2015 and terminated all of its employees. Although Spectra (formerly known as Global Spectrum), a Philadelphia-based division of Comcast that now operates the Center, hired many of the CCRD employees, those former employees who were hired now work under vastly different terms of employment.

     “The employees who accepted employment with Spectra now work under substantially inferior terms. For example, the Center employees previously could be terminated only for just cause and could sue if they lost their jobs if they did not agree there was cause; but, as long as it doesn’t discriminate unlawfully, Spectra can fire employees for good reason, bad reason, or no reason at all, and the employees have no recourse. It also offers fewer paid holidays, many fulltime employees were asked to work significantly more hours without any additional compensation, and employees have lost the ability to take comp time for excess hours worked,” stated Plaintiff Roberta Wright, the Center’s long-time marketing director, who worked for the Center for 27 years.

    According to Wright, all the employees who were discharged had to apply for jobs with Spectra, and not all were rehired. Wright worked for Spectra for several months, then retired due to the changes in working conditions.

    Matt Drivas, another Plaintiff, was one of the employees most affected by the changes. Drivas,  worked for the Center for 33 years, including the last 17 years as its concessions manager while simultaneously holding a similar job with the Portland Sea Dogs. Civic Center management and members of its board of trustees assured Drivas that his employment would continue without any changes.

    “Instead of keeping their word, I got a call from Spectra management  advising me I no longer could work both jobs. Ultimately, I chose to work for the Sea Dogs. The loss of my job with the Center cost me the majority of my annual income and retirement,” said Drivas.

     “The employees did not want to file suit. We have tried repeatedly to resolve this matter. Unfortunately, despite the many years of service of the Center’s employees, the CCRD Trustees never seemed to take them seriously. They left their dedicated employees to the whims of an out-of-state employer who provides substantially less benefits and protections. The employees had no choice but to file suit,” said Jeffrey Neil Young, who, together with Roberta de Araujo, of the Augusta law firm Johnson, Webbert & Young represents the employees.

    Young estimated that at least 121 employees would be eligible to participate in the suit.

    Under Maine law, the Center is managed by 9 trustees who reside in Cumberland County and are appointed to the CCRD Board by the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners. Each trustee serves a 3-year term.

  • MEMIC announces record $20 million dividend to Maine policyholders; nearly $220 million returned since 1998

    Workers’ compensation specialist The MEMIC Group announced October 4, 2016 that it will issue a record dividend of $20 million to about 18,000 Maine policyholders this November. 
     
    The amount represents 15 percent of premium paid by Maine policyholders in 2013, the qualifying year for this dividend declaration, and the largest percentage of premium MEMIC has ever returned. With this declaration, the MEMIC Board of Directors has authorized the return of approximately $220 million to Maine policyholders since 1998. The company has now issued a dividend in each of the last 12 years and the record $20 million dividend is 54 percent more than was returned just four years ago in 2012.
     
    “Maine employers who insure with MEMIC have earned this dividend,” said MEMIC President and CEO John T. Leonard. “We work together with our policyholders to reduce injuries through safety training and education, and to help injured workers get well and back to work promptly. It takes dedication and commitment but workplace safety really does pay dividends.”
     
    The dividend will be paid to employers who buy their workers’ compensation insurance coverage from The MEMIC Group’s mutual company, Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Company, based in Portland. Checks will be delivered in November and payments will range to more than $200,000, depending on the amount of premium an employer paid in 2013

  • Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment - A Maine Exhibit

    Justice?, by Ramona du Houx
     
    Maine's Equal Protection of the Laws: America’s 14th Amendment exhibit opens on Thursday, September 22nd and runs through December 22nd, 2016
     
    The exhibit will be at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta, 46 University Drive in Augusta.
    Featured are 36 works by 17 Maine artists who were inspired by the rights granted by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
    Themes depicted relate to many areas of American society covered by the amendment: including due process, liberty, gender and sexuality, race, legal protections, equality in the workplace, housing, education, law enforcement, rights of the incarcerated, tolerance, and local, state, and federal representation
    The exhibit is being hosted by the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, in conjunction with the Harlow Gallery of the Kennebec Valley Art Association, with support from the Maine Humanities Council and associated program support by the Maine Arts Commission.
     
    The Holocaust and Human Rights Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. or weekends and evenings by appointment or when other events are being held.
    People Power, by Ramona du Houx
     

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

    Augusta: Anthony Austin
    Bangor: Jeanne Curran
    Biddeford: Roland Salazar
    Brunswick: Mary Becker Weiss
    Camden: Claudia Noyes Griffiths
    Falmouth: Anne Strout
    Gardiner: Allison McKeen
    Hallowell: Nancy Bixler
    Lincolnville: Petrea Noyes
    Manchester: Bruce Armstrong
    Solon: Ramona du Houx
    Tenants Harbor: Otty Merrill
    Town Unknown: Julian Johnson
    Waterville: Jen Hickey
    West Rockport: Barbra Whitten
    Wilton: Rebecca Spilecki
    Winslow: Mimi McCutcheon

    There are several events planned in association with this project, including the Pride Film Festival – a series of four free films held Friday nights in October at 7 p.m. The films this year are The Boys in the Band (10/7), Fire (10/14), Paragraph 175 (10/21), and The Danish Girl (10/28).
     
    Mike Daisey’s one man play The Trump Card had sold out runs this fall in Washington and New York and is now touring throughout the country. With special permission from the playwright, HHRC Program Director and UMA adjunct professor of drama David Greenham will read the hard-hitting and hilarious monologue on Saturday, October 22nd at 7 p.m. and Sunday, October 23rd at 2 p.m.
    The Trump Card reminds all of us of the role we have played in paving the way to create one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in recent memory. Tickets for The Trump Card are $15 and proceeds benefit HHRC’s educational outreach programs.
    As the Stage Review put it, “Daisey breaks down what makes Trump tick—and in doing so illuminates the state of our American Dream and how we’ve sold it out.” 
     
    14th Amendment by Allison McKeen 
    The HHRC is also pleased to host Everyman Repertory Theater’s production of Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly November 17th, 18th and 19th. The Pulitzer Prize winning play is a love story set in Missouri in 1942 and addresses issues of prejudice and the injustices that caused many to flee Europe in the years leading up to World War II.  
    The New York Times said about the play, “It is perhaps the simplest, and the most lyrical play Wilson has written—a funny, sweet, touching and marvelously written and contrived love poem for an apple and an orange.”   Tickets go on sale September 27th.
     
    Also in November, a group of UMA drama students under the direction of adjunct drama professor Jeri Pitcher will present a reading of their work in progress called Created Equal. The project, created in partnership with the HHRC, the UMA Writing Center, and UMA students will focus on the importance of the 14th amendment today. A full performance of the piece is planned for the spring of 2017.
  • ME's proceeds from Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative’s close to $82M

    Maine makes over $2,270,635in 33rd auction

    Article by Ramona du Houx

    Maine brought in $2,265,634.20 from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), 33rd auction of carbon dioxide (CO2) allowances.

    RGGI is the first mandatory market-based program in the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. RGGI is a cooperative effort among the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

    The program, first started in Maine when Governor John Baldacci pushed for it’s implementation and had a bill introduced. The legislation won unanimous support in Maine’s Senate and House. To date RGGI has brought in $81,837,449.15 to the state for weatherization and alternative energy projects, for businesses and homes. 

    “RGGI is working. It is helping Mainers reduce our energy bills and reduce emissions. It is a win-win and a model for the entire nation," said Former State Representative Seth Berry, who sat on Maine’s legislative committee that approved the final RGGI rules.

    States sell nearly all emission allowances through auctions and invest proceeds in energy efficiency, renewable energy, and other consumer benefit programs. These programs are spurring innovation in the clean energy economy and creating green jobs in the RGGI states.

    14,911,315 CO2 allowances were sold at the auction at a clearing price of $4.54.

    The September 7th auction was the third auction of 2016, and generated $67.7 million for reinvestment in strategic programs, including energy efficiency, renewable energy, direct bill assistance, and GHG abatement programs. Cumulative proceeds from all RGGI CO2allowance auctions exceed $2.58 billion dollars.

    “This auction demonstrates RGGI’s benefits to each participating state, helping to reduce harmful emissions while generating proceeds for reinvestment. Each RGGI state directs investments according to its individual goals, and this flexibility has been key to the program’s success across a diverse region.” said Katie Dykes, Deputy Commissioner at the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Another key RGGI strength is our commitment to constant improvement, as exemplified in the program review process. The RGGI states are continuing to evaluate program elements and improvements as part of the 2016 Program Review, with the goal of reaching consensus on program revisions that support each state’s unique goals and priorities.

    Governor John Baldacci led the effort in Maine to join RGGI and had a comprehensive energy plan similar to Cuomo. Baldacci's clean energy plan focused on how to get Maine off fossil fuels and bring clean energy jobs to the state. His administration created grants to help new innovations like the floating offshore wind platforms and windmills developed at the University of Maine under Dr. Habib Dagher's leadership. (photo: by Ramona du Houx. Dr. Dagher talks with Gov. John Baldacci about the next steps for wind farm implementation offshore. The prototype of the floating windfarm is the firs photo on the page)

    Nine Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).        

    “Independent reports have found the reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is creating jobs, reducing consumers’ utility bills, and boosting state economies while driving down carbon emissions,” said Jared Snyder, Deputy Commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and Vice Chair of the RGGI, Inc. Board of Directors. “Our reinvestment of RGGI proceeds is supporting Governor Cuomo’s transformational clean energy and energy efficiency goals to generate 50 percent of New York’s energy from renewable sources and reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030, ushering in the low-carbon economy essential to the wellbeing of future generations.”

  • Infants at risk because of LePage's DHHS outsourced contract

     

    Sen. Breen and Sen. Haskell: Seemingly unnecessary sole-source contract is troubling

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Senate Democrats are asking questions about why Governor Paul LePage’s administration gave control of a critical state program for infants to a third-party without a competitive bidding process and without availing itself of the checks and balances built in to the state procurement protocol.

    A report in August 11th Bangor Daily News described how the administration had “quietly handed off financial oversight” of Maine Families, a $23 million program that provides home visitations to new parents. By working with parents, home visitors have successfully reduced abuse and neglect and improved health for thousands of infants and families.  

    The report said the contract was awarded after “a closed decision-making process, the state’s questionable justification to avoid competitive bidding, and limited communication about the transfer of a multimillion-dollar state program to the nonprofit sector.”

    “The administration has always said the competitive bidding process makes state contractors more accountable and protects taxpayer dollars. I agree, which is why I’m at a loss for why this contract was handled behind closed doors and without seeking bids,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. “The Legislature needs to take a look at state procurement rules. We need to know that transparency and accountability are baked into the process.”

    Maine Families had been administered by a collection of groups across the state for years, with financial oversight maintained by the state. However, in April, LePage and his Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Commissioner, Mary Mayhew, signed away the program without a competitive bid or public input. The deal was also made without consultation with the state Attorney General -- a procedural safeguard in the procurement process -- thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. LePage making that safeguard “optional.”

    The report described how even board members of Maine Children’s Trust, the nonprofit awarded the sole-source contract, had questions and misgivings about the scope of its new work, the process by which it was awarded, and the effect it could have on the board’s independent advocacy for Maine children.

    “Sole-source contracts are a necessary part of government in the case of an emergency, but I can’t for the life of me see what caused the urgent need for the state to give up its role in ensuring this program’s success,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. “The facts presented in this report are troubling. As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, I would welcome an explanation from the administration.”

  • Heat Wave precautions for current USA weather

    As a heat wave spreads across the country this week, the federal government is working overtime to help state, regional, tribal, and local communities prepare for potential extreme-heat events.

    Extreme heat affects everybody – our family, friends and neighbors. Our nation’s most vulnerable include the elderly, children, emergency responders, outdoor workers, low-income households, athletes, and even our pets. In extreme heat conditions, simple daily activities like walking a dog (in my case, it’s our golden doodle Coco!), going for a jog, or spending time outside with the kids can be dangerous.

    That’s why we’re taking the threat of extreme heat so seriously. We know if we are prepared to respond to extreme heat, we can dramatically reduce the risks to ourselves and our loved ones. The majority of heat-related deaths and illnesses are preventable. We can make our communities more prepared, recognize the early warning signs of heat stroke or exhaustion, and spread the word about practical solutions and resources that are available in the face of these severe conditions. 

    1. Older adults, children, and people with chronic medical conditions are more prone to the impacts of excessive heat. When it’s extremely hot outside, check in on those at risk at least twice a day and observe them for signs of heat exhaustion, including heavy sweating, cold, pale skin, nausea, or vomiting. For heat stroke, you may observe high body temperature, hot, red, dry or moist skin, or even possible unconsciousness. Pay special attention to the impact of heat on infants and young children – who are not only less efficient at regulating heat internally than adults, but of course, have to rely on others to stay safe.

    2. Stay cool indoors. Air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death. When the weather becomes extremely hot, and if air conditioning is not available at home, spend time in air conditioned locations, including shopping malls, public libraries, or public health sponsored heat-relief shelters that may be established in your area. Athletes should avoid over exerting themselves, and in any environment, be sure to move at a comfortable pace and wear appropriate clothing.

    3. And regardless of your activity level, stay hydrated. Drink cool, nonalcoholic beverages and increase your fluid intake. Do not perform heavy exercise in an extreme heat environment, and remain hydrated while exposed.

    Average temperatures across the country are at historic highs, which means we'll have more hot days and more heat waves this summer. We need to be ready. More information on temperature predictions and toolkits to help you prepare for heat waves can be found here.

    Learn how to recognize health problems related to extreme heat and what to do in the event of an emergency in this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guide.

    Finally, download and use the free FEMA app, which helps prepare families for extreme weather and other hazardous events. The app is available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play.

    Additional resources on extreme heat, including information about understanding the risk, case studies, and heat health tools, can be found in the National Integrated Heat Health Information System toolkit.

  • President Obama's Open Letter to America's Law Enforcement Community

     

    In the wake of the tragedies in Dallas and Baton Rouge, where 8 police officers were killed, President Obama penned a letter to the men and women of America's law enforcement community. The President's letter was shared with officers around the country.

     

    To the brave members of our Nation’s law enforcement community:

     Every day, you confront danger so it does not find our families, carry burdens so they do not fall to us, and courageously meet test after test to keep us safe.  Like Dallas officer Lorne Ahrens, who bought dinner for a homeless man the night before he died, you perform good deeds beyond the call of duty and out of the spotlight.  Time and again, you make the split-second decisions that could mean life or death for you and many others in harm’s way.  You endure the tense minutes and long hours over lifetimes of service.

    Every day, you accept this responsibility and you see your colleagues do their difficult, dangerous jobs with equal valor.  I want you to know that the American people see it, too.  We recognize it, we respect it, we appreciate it, and we depend on you.  And just as your tight-knit law enforcement family feels the recent losses to your core, our Nation grieves alongside you.  Any attack on police is an unjustified attack on all of us.

    I’ve spent a lot of time with law enforcement over the past couple of weeks.  I know that you take each of these tragedies personally, and that each is as devastating as a loss in the family.  Sunday’s shooting in Baton Rouge was no different.  Together, we mourn Montrell Jackson, Matthew Gerald, and Brad Garafola.  Each was a husband.  Each was a father.  Each was a proud member of his community.  And each fallen officer is one too many.  Last week, I met with the families of the Dallas officers who were killed, and I called the families of those who were killed in the line of duty yesterday in Baton Rouge.  I let them know how deeply we ache for the loss of their loved ones. 

    Some are trying to use this moment to divide police and the communities you serve.  I reject those efforts, for they do not reflect the reality of our Nation.  Officer Jackson knew this too, when just days ago he asked us to keep hatred from our hearts.  Instead, he offered—to protestors and fellow police officers alike—a hug to anyone who saw him on the street.  He offered himself as a fellow worshipper to anyone who sought to pray.  Today, we offer our comfort and our prayers to his family, to the Geralds and the Garafolas, and to the tight-knit Baton Rouge law enforcement community.

    As you continue to serve us in this tumultuous hour, we again recognize that we can no longer ask you to solve issues we refuse to address as a society.  We should give you the resources you need to do your job, including our full-throated support.  We must give you the tools you need to build and strengthen the bonds of trust with those you serve, and our best efforts to address the underlying challenges that contribute to crime and unrest.

    As you continue to defend us with quiet dignity, we proclaim loudly our appreciation for the acts of service you perform as part of your daily routine.  When you see civilians at risk, you don’t see them as strangers.  You see them as your own family, and you lay your life on the line for them.  You put others’ safety before your own, and you remind us that loving our country means loving one another.  Even when some protest you, you protect them.  What is more professional than that?  What is more patriotic?  What is a prouder example of our most basic freedoms—to speech, to assembly, to life, and to liberty?  And at the end of the day, you have a right to go home to your family, just like anybody else.

    Robert Kennedy, once our Nation’s highest-ranking law enforcement official, lamented in the wake of unjust violence a country in which we look at our neighbors as people “with whom we share a city, but not a community.”  This is a time for us to reaffirm that what makes us special is that we are not only a country, but also a community.  That is true whether you are black or white, whether you are rich or poor, whether you are a police officer or someone they protect and serve.

    With that understanding—an understanding of the goodness and decency I have seen of our Nation not only in the past few weeks, but throughout my life—we will get through this difficult time together.

    We will do it with the love and empathy of public servants like those we have lost in recent days.  We will do it with the resilience of cities like Dallas that quickly came together to restore order and deepen unity and understanding.  We will do it with the grace of loved ones who even in their grief have spoken out against vengeance toward police.  We will do it with the good will of activists like those I have sat with in recent days, who have pledged to work together to reduce violence even as they voice their disappointments and fears.

    As we bind up our wounds, we must come together to ensure that those who try to divide us do not succeed.  We are at our best when we recognize our common humanity, set an example for our children of trust and responsibility, and honor the sacrifices of our bravest by coming together to be better.

    Thank you for your courageous service.  We have your backs.

    Sincerely,

    Barack Obama

     The National Fraternal Order of Police shared the letter on its Facebook page, and offered this comment: 

    The reason this letter has value is that we want and deserve to change the National Dialogue. The people of this country respect law enforcement. Now we continue to speak out about the issues that have helped create disconnects with members of the communities to work so hard to protect.

    We can and do provide the best quality law enforcement that we can but we cannot be held responsible for the social issues such as poverty, lack of mental health services, unemployment, and abject poverty. The work now is to assist our communities by continuing to recognize that we are but one spoke in the wheel and we will do our part. Now it's time for politicians and government to assist us in working in the communities we have always worked in to make life better for all Americans.

     

  • LePage won't join 46 other governors to sign the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction

    Governor’s refusal reflects his administration’s lack of commitment to treatment

    Governor Paul LePage is refusing to sign the Compact to Fight Opioid Addiction developed by the National Governors Association. The 46 governors who signed the compact are agreeing to redouble their efforts combatting the opioid through a number of ways, including ensuring pathways to recovery.

    LePage's outbursts concerning people who suffer from opioid addiction reflect his policies. He clearly doesn't think their lives matter.

    “Forty-six other governors understand that we need a comprehensive approach to beat the opioid crisis sweeping our country. While other governors from across the political spectrum pledged themselves to this goal, Governor LePage belittles this effort,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Instead of getting serious about this epidemic, Governor LePage, aided by Commissioner Mary Mayhew, continues to scorn the lifesaving potential of the overdose-reversal medication naloxone, makes it harder to access medication-assisted treatment, threatens to shut down methadone clinics and stands in the way of treatment options that the Legislature has approved and funded. He’s got to understand that the lives of real Mainers are hanging in the balance. This is no way to lead.” 

    Other conservative governors, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, signed the compact.

    LePage and Mayhew have opposed strategies in the compact, which include increased access to naloxone (also known by the brand name Narcan), Good Samaritan laws that encourage individuals to call for help when someone is overdosing and expanded treatment options. They have also dragged their heels on the detox center that the Legislature put into law this session. A nonprofit addiction treatment facility in Sanford said its closure was due to the LePage administration’s lack of funding support.

    Roughly 78 Americans lose their lives to the opioid epidemic each day, according to the National Governors Association. In Maine, fatal opioid overdoses kill five people each week, according to figures from the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

  • President Obama's statement on shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota

         THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.  I know we've been on a long flight, but given the extraordinary interest in the shootings that took place in Louisiana and Minnesota, I thought it would be important for me to address all of you directly. 

         And I want to begin by expressing my condolences for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. 

         As I said in the statement that I posted on Facebook, we have seen tragedies like this too many times.  The Justice Department, I know, has opened a civil rights investigation in Baton Rouge.  The governor of Minnesota, I understand, is calling for an investigation there, as well.  As is my practice, given my institutional role, I can't comment on the specific facts of these cases, and I have full confidence in the Justice Department’s ability to conduct a thorough and fair inquiry. 

         But what I can say is that all of us as Americans should be troubled by these shootings, because these are not isolated incidents.  They’re symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.  And I just want to give people a few statistics to try to put in context why emotions are so raw around these issues. 

    According to various studies -- not just one, but a wide range of studies that have been carried out over a number of years -- African Americans are 30 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over.  After being pulled over, African Americans and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched.  Last year, African Americans were shot by police at more than twice the rate of whites.  African Americans are arrested at twice the rate of whites.  African American defendants are 75 percent more likely to be charged with offenses carrying mandatory minimums.  They receive sentences that are almost 10 percent longer than comparable whites arrested for the same crime. 

         So that if you add it all up, the African American and Hispanic population, who make up only 30 percent of the general population, make up more than half of the incarcerated population.

         Now, these are facts.  And when incidents like this occur, there’s a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same.  And that hurts.  And that should trouble all of us.  This is not just a black issue.  It's not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about.  All fair-minded people should be concerned.

         Now, let me just say we have extraordinary appreciation and respect for the vast majority of police officers who put their lives on the line to protect us every single day.  They’ve got a dangerous job.  It is a tough job.  And as I've said before, they have a right to go home to their families, just like anybody else on the job.  And there are going to be circumstances in which they’ve got to make split-second decisions.  We understand that.

    But when we see data that indicates disparities in how African Americans and Latinos may be treated in various jurisdictions around the country, then it's incumbent on all of us to say, we can do better than this; we are better than this -- and to not have it degenerate into the usual political scrum.  We should be able to step back, reflect, and ask ourselves, what can we do better so that everybody feels as if they’re equal under the law?

         Now, the good news is, is that there are practices we can institute that will make a difference.  Last year, we put together a task force that was comprised of civil rights activists and community leaders, but also law enforcement officials -- police captains, sheriffs.  And they sat around a table and they looked at the data and they looked at best practices, and they came up with specific recommendations and steps that could ensure that the trust between communities and police departments were rebuilt and incidents like this would be less likely to occur.

         And there are some jurisdictions out there that have adopted these recommendations.  But there are a whole bunch that have not.  And if anything good comes out of these tragedies, my hope is, is that communities around the country take a look and say, how can we implement these recommendations, and that the overwhelming majority of police officers who are doing a great job every single day, and are doing their job without regard to race, that they encourage their leadership and organizations that represent them to get behind these recommendations.

         Because, ultimately, if you can rebuild trust between communities and the police departments that serve them, that helps us solve crime problems.  That will make life easier for police officers.  They will have more cooperation.  They will be safer.  They will be more likely to come home.  So it would be good for crime-fighting and it will avert tragedy.

         And I'm encouraged by the fact that the majority of leadership in police departments around the country recognize this.  But change has been too slow and we have to have a greater sense of urgency about this.

         I'm also encouraged, by the way, that we have bipartisan support for criminal justice reform working its way through Congress.  It has stalled and lost some momentum over the last couple of months, in part because Congress is having difficulty, generally, moving legislation forward, and we're in a political season.  But there are people of goodwill on the Republican side and the Democratic side who I've seen want to try to get something done here.  That, too, would help provide greater assurance across the country that those in power, those in authority are taking these issues seriously.  So this should be a spur to action to get that done, to get that across the finish line.  Because I know there are a lot of people who want to get it done.

         Let me just make a couple of final comments.  I mentioned in my Facebook statement that I hope we don't fall into the typical patterns that occur after these kinds of incidents occur, where right away there’s a lot of political rhetoric and it starts dividing people instead of bringing folks together.  To be concerned about these issues is not to be against law enforcement.  There are times when these incidents occur, and you see protests and you see vigils.  And I get letters -- well-meaning letters sometimes -- from law enforcement saying, how come we’re under attack?  How come not as much emphasis is made when police officers are shot? 

    And so, to all of law enforcement, I want to be very clear: We know you have a tough job.  We mourn those in uniform who are protecting us who lose their lives.  On a regular basis, I have joined with families in front of Capitol Hill to commemorate the incredible heroism that they’ve displayed.  I’ve hugged family members who’ve lost loved ones doing the right thing.  I know how much it hurts.  On a regular basis, we bring in those who’ve done heroic work in law enforcement, and have survived.  Sometimes they’ve been injured. Sometimes they’ve risked their lives in remarkable ways.  And we applaud them and appreciate them, because they’re doing a really tough job really well.

    There is no contradiction between us supporting law enforcement -- making sure they’ve got the equipment they need, making sure that their collective bargaining rights are recognized, making sure that they’re adequately staffed, making sure that they are respected, making sure their families are supported -- and also saying that there are problems across our criminal justice system, there are biases -- some conscious and unconscious -- that have to be rooted out.  That’s not an attack on law enforcement.  That is reflective of the values that the vast majority of law enforcement bring to the job. 

    But I repeat:  If communities are mistrustful of the police, that makes those law enforcement officers who are doing a great job and are doing the right thing, it makes their lives harder.  So when people say “Black Lives Matter,” that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t matter; it just means all lives matter, but right now the big concern is the fact that the data shows black folks are more vulnerable to these kinds of incidents. 

    This isn’t a matter of us comparing the value of lives.  This is recognizing that there is a particular burden that is being placed on a group of our fellow citizens.  And we should care about that.  We can’t dismiss it.  We can’t dismiss it.

    So let me just end by saying I actually, genuinely, truly believe that the vast majority of American people see this as a problem that we should all care about.  And I would just ask those who question the sincerity or the legitimacy of protests and vigils and expressions of outrage, who somehow label those expressions of outrage as “political correctness,” I’d just ask folks to step back and think, what if this happened to somebody in your family?  How would you feel? 

    To be concerned about these issues is not political correctness.  It’s just being an American, and wanting to live up to our best and highest ideals.  And it’s to recognize the reality that we’ve got some tough history and we haven’t gotten through all of that history yet.  And we don’t expect that in my lifetime, maybe not in my children’s lifetime, that all the vestiges of that past will have been cured, will have been solved, but we can do better.  People of goodwill can do better.

    And doing better involves not just addressing potential bias in the criminal justice system.  It’s recognizing that too often we’re asking police to man the barricades in communities that have been forgotten by all of us for way too long, in terms of substandard schools, and inadequate jobs, and a lack of opportunity. 

    We’ve got to tackle those things.  We can do better.  And I believe we will do better. 

  • US Maine Rep. Pingree calls on House to hold votes on bipartisan bills to strengthen gun laws

    US Capitol on Obama's Inagural Day. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree spoke on the House floor today, calling on Republican leaders to allow votes on bipartisan legislation to reduce gun violence.  In her speech, Pingree said that after the Democratic-organized sit-in two weeks ago, she's heard from many Mainers who have asked if Congress would act.

    "Will we finally do something to reduce the scourge of gun violence that is sweeping this country?  Will we finally do something to limit access to guns by criminals and suspected terrorists?" Pingree said on the House floor.

    Pingree is cosponsoring two proposals—a bill to expand background checks to cover all gun sales and legislation to block anyone on the "No Fly" list from buying guns.  She and her colleagues are demanding a vote on these two bipartisan proposals as an alternative to the NRA-backed bill that House Republicans have decided to vote on later this week.

    "The NRA works for the gun industry, not the American people.  The legislation they are supporting does nothing to make our communities safer and would make it virtually impossible to stop suspected terrorists from buying guns," Pingree said.

    Last month, Pingree and 12 of her colleagues started a sit-in on the House floor that was eventually joined by nearly every Democrat in the House and several dozen Senators and lasted for over 24 hours.

     

  • Coast Guard rescues 9 from incidents this week off the coast of Maine

    The crew at Coast Guard Station Rockland, Maine, rescued two people from a sailboat taking on water July 5th about six miles southeast of Owl’s Head Lighthouse.


    A crewmember aboard the sailboat Ingomar sent a radio hail for help to the Coast Guard station shortly before 10 a.m. reporting they were in distress and taking on water.

    A 47-foot Motor Life Boat crew and a 29-foot response boat crew from the station both deployed to help the two people.

    After arriving on scene, a rescue and assistance team with dewatering equipment went aboard the sailboat to control the flooding. The team used a pump to keep the sailboat dewatered and afloat until it arrived at Journey’s End Marina in Rockland, where it was immediately hauled out of the water.

    "Today is my fourth day since assuming command at Coast Guard Station Rockland and I couldn't have been more impressed with the response efforts all around," said Chief Warrant Officer Hans Schultz, the station's commanding officer.  "From quickly arriving on scene and dewatering the vessel to working with a local marina to expedite the sailboat's haul out, it's clear this crew is trained and ready for when their community needs them."

    On Sunday, July 3, 2016  the Coast Guard rescue crews recovered seven stranded kayakers from Burnt Porcupine Island, Maine. The seven were on a guided tour when high afternoon winds, ranging from 15 to 25 miles per hour, prevented them from returning. Rather than risk it, they located the nearest island, made landfall, and awaited recovery.

    With no local assets available, Bar Harbor Fire Department contacted Coast Guard Sector Northern New England in Portsmouth at 12:15 p.m. There, Coast Guard watchstanders diverted a 47-foot Motor Lifeboat crew from Station Southwest Harbor, already underway from another case. 

    The boat crew arrived at the island, steadied up on the leeward side, and brought the seven people and their kayaks aboard at 2:15 p.m. Roughly ten minutes later, they were all safely at the pier in Bar Harbor. 

    There were no injuries reported. 

    “These folks did the right thing,” said Chief Petty Officer David Lebrecht, command duty officer at the Sector Northern New England command center. 

    He said the wind was calm in the morning, but increased as the air temperature warmed in the afternoon, which is typical for the area. 

    “When the weather changed, they were smart to call it quits and call for help, instead of pushing on against the elements,” he said.

  • Maine Forest Service warns of High Fire Danger-be careful

    As of this morning, the Maine Forest Service is reporting that the fire danger in the entire State is High. The daily report shows that all seven weather zones are considered to be Class 3. 

    Please be careful where ever you are with your bbques. In some places they are prohibited. Check with your local city.

    All outdoor open burning in the City of Portland is suspended.  Residents are reminded to be cautious when using Gas and Charcoal grills for cooking.

    The Maine Forest Service definition of High Fire Danger:

    High. All fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is common. High-intensity burning may develop on slopes, in concentrations of fine fuel. Fires may become serious and their control difficult, unless they are hit hard and fast while small.  The color code for High is yellow.

    Guidelines to the legal types of outdoor burning in the City of Portland can be found at www.portlandfire.com 

    The Main Forest Service issues a daily Wildfire Danger Report that can be viewed on line.

    http://www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/wildfire_danger_report/index.html

     

  • ‘Better late than never’ is no way to tackle drug crisis, Alfond says

    Following questions from Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond on Thursday, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration says it is finally moving forward to establish a new detox facility approved and funded by the Legislature six months ago.

    The administration claims it has followed an appropriate timeline of its own choosing. However, the authorizing law required the administration to begin funding the detox center by June 30, 2016. Instead, a DHHS spokeswoman said it is “tentatively” scheduled to take the very first step — issuing a request for proposals — sometime next week.

    “It was good to see how quickly Gov. LePage moved to fund new law enforcement measures contained in the very same law that created this detox center. So why the snail’s pace when it came time to focus on treatment?” said Sen. Alfond. “He and his administration can hide behind bureaucratic red tape all they want, but the fact is there was no justification for this delay. The timetable was set by law.”

    “The reality is that we are losing Mainers to drugs. Children are being born already drug-dependent,” Alfond continued. “The Legislature passed a good bill as an emergency in January so that we could tackle the drug crisis quickly. ‘Better late than never’ might be good enough for the governor, but I’d like to see him justify that to a family who has lost a loved one to addiction.”

    Dr. Merideth Norris was the medical director of Spectrum Health in Sanford, a recovery program that provided medication-assisted treatment in the form of methadone, which closed its doors in August 2015 because of reduced state payments. The facility is to reopen under the management of Grace Street Services in July, and will offer comprehensive addiction treatment.

    In the meanwhile, Dr. Norris has been treating low-income Mainers suffering from addiction at her private practice. Thanks to a lack of available care, her patients travel from all over the state, including from as far away as Deer Isle, to receive treatment.

    “Until we address the demand for opioids by providing comprehensive treatment — including medication-assisted therapy — we can expect the overdoses and the deaths to continue,” Dr. Norris said. “A detox facility is a start, and can provide a safe environment where people can make the transition off drugs. But it’s just one piece of an integrative, balanced treatment plan. People in Maine are continuing to suffer and are continuing to die. They shouldn’t have to wait.”

    The governor’s refusal to obey the letter of the law regarding the detox center is just the latest example of the executive branch’s blatant disregard for the law, the co-equality of the Legislature and the separation of powers:

     

    • Earlier this week, Gov. LePage issued an executive order, saying he would not comply with portions of enacted law directing funding for county jails, pay increases for overworked and underpaid mental health professionals. Instead, he pledged to gut public health spending to pay for the initiatives.
    • A Bangor Daily News investigation on Sunday revealed that DHHS has illegally spent federal dollars reserved for impoverished children on unrelated programs.
    • Last week, Gov. LePage pledged to eliminate Maine’s administration of SNAP, a move that would violate state law, in an escalating fight with the federal government, proving Gov. LePage is willing to break the law to take food off the plates of hungry Mainers.

     

    “Given everything we’ve seen in just the past few weeks, one has to wonder what other laws Gov. LePage plans to violate in reckless pursuit of his agenda,” Sen. Alfond said.

  • LePage threatens to stop food stamps for over 200,000 Mainers

    Part of LePage's letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

    By Ramona du Houx

    Just when you think Gov. Paul LePage can’t stoop any lower with his attacks on working people that need food stamps (SNAP) to augment their minimum wage salaries, he pulled this. LePage wants to abolish Maine’s food stamp program, which is funded by the United States Federal Government, by ending the state's administration of the program. 

    "We are literally talking about taking the food off the table of Maine families struggling to make ends meet," said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.  "SNAP is a program funded by the federal government but the law is clear—it's up to the states to run it.  If Maine were to pull out of SNAP, then Maine people would not have access to it. Families that depend on SNAP—seniors, children, veterans—would go hungry.  This is not how we treat each other in Maine."

    LePage wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack informing him that if the USDA won’t allow Maine to restrict food stamps from being used to purchase sugary foods and drinks, he’ll do it anyway or withdraw from the food stamp program altogether.

    “It’s time for the federal government to wake up and smell the energy drinks,” wrote LePage. “Doubtful that it will, I will be pursuing options to implement reforms unilaterally or cease Maine’s administration of the food stamp program altogether.”

    According to Bennett, the state asked the federal government for a waiver so it could create a pilot program that wouldn’t allow food stamps to be used for the purchase of “junk food.” That waiver request was denied.

    “This latest temper tantrum threatens to punish the very people it purports to help. I’d ask the governor this: How does taking food off the tables of hungry Maine families support healthy eating habits?” said Sen. Justin Alfond.

     “The governor is free to pick as many political fights with the federal government, the Legislature and other perceived rivals as he wants. But he shouldn’t use real Maine families, dealing with real hunger, as props in his political theater."

    Approximately 200,000 Mainers receive food stamps, down from a high of more than 250,000 in 2012.

    “Threatening to eliminate this vital program scares seniors and other SNAP recipients who, undoubtedly, are some of the most at-risk individuals in the state of Maine,” stated Amy Gallant, AARP Maine Advocacy Director.

    Maine seniors are disproportionately impacted by limited access to adequate nutrition. Feeding America, a nationwide non-profit network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries, predicts a 50% increase in the number of seniors facing hunger in Maine by 2025. The sharpest increase in food insecurity is found among older Mainers living just above the poverty line. Many have a disability, live alone, are divorced, or unemployed.

    The number of Maine seniors who rely on the Food Supplement Program increased statewide by 32% in the past five years. Nearly 70% of older Mainers who are eligible for SNAP are not currently enrolled. “Older Mainers are reluctant to utilize this program because of stigma,” said Gallant.  “Political rhetoric such as threatening to eliminate the program pushes people away. Mainers are proud and independent people, and find it hard enough to ask for help when times get tough. That’s why so many Maine seniors who could benefit from SNAP do not apply.”

    SNAP continues to be the primary and best defense against hunger. If SNAP were to be reduced or eliminated in Maine, the already long wait list for Meals on Wheels would drastically and unsustainably increase.  Food pantries would not be able to meet the increasing need in their communities. “Mainers would be forced to choose between food, fuel, medicine and other essential costs,” said Gallant, “Many seniors would simply go without.”

  • Watch out for ticks in Maine

    The height of the season for blacklegged tick nymphs is now. These adolescent ticks are tiny, difficult to spot on the body and have already fed once, giving them a chance to acquire the bacteria that produces dreaded Lyme disease.

    According to the Maine Medical Research Center, 65 percent of the Lyme disease reports in Maine occur during this time of year. Nymphs, less than 2 millimeters in diameter, are about the size of poppy seed and can easily be mistaken for a freckle.

    Alan Eaton, an entomologist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension in Durham and a state expert on ticks, avoids tick sampling during this part of the year because he feels it’s too dangerous. The nymph season starts around mid-May and continues into July and later, depending on the weather.

    One of Eaton’s many tasks is identifying ticks the public brings in, which he reports to the state. He highlighted the difficulty of finding blacklegged nymphs through a recent example of a woman who dropped off a tick for identification — she found the critter hidden between her toes.

    “It’s not a place where we always think to check,” he said.

    Based on the anecdotal data from the samples he’s received this year, the nymph season is on par with last year, though the nymph population dropped in the last part of the season because of the moderate drought the region experienced in late June. Nymphs need a meal or moisture to stay alive. Once they’ve found a meal, they will molt into an adult and re-emerge in the fall. If they dry out, they die.

    While the adult ticks have had two chances to acquire Lyme disease from feeding on hosts, they are easier to spot and feel on the body. Eaton said they also take a longer time to transfer the Lyme-causing bacteria to humans. Where it generally takes 24 hours for nymphs with the disease Lyme to transfer it to humans, it takes adult ticks about 36 hours to do so.

    Lyme disease can cause a variety of symptoms, such as headaches, stiff neck and muscle and joint pain. If not caught early, other long-lasting symptoms may develop, like aseptic meningitis, encephalitis and cranial neuritis.

    Last year, New Hampshire had an estimated 1,371 cases of Lyme disease with the highest number of cases in Rockingham, Hillsborough and Strafford counties. Rockingham had 456 cases and Strafford had 163. In Maine, there were 1,171 reported cases in 2015, with York County reporting 178. Eaton said Strafford, Rockingham and York counties are all good places to find blacklegged ticks carrying the disease.

    A New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Service alert from late May stated that New Hampshire continues to have among the highest rates of Lyme disease in the nation and that roughly 60 percent of all blacklegged ticks sampled in the state were infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

    While Lyme disease gets all the attention, blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, can also carry babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan virus. Last year, there were 110 cases of anaplasmosis and 53 cases of babesiosis reported in New Hampshire, and Eaton said their presence in the state is rising. The only known case of Powassan virus in New Hampshire was reported in 2013.

    The most important prevention method is through daily checks, Eaton stresses again and again. Check yourself and check your children every day, especially this time of year. “If there is only one thing you do, do a daily tick check,” he said.

    After that, tall rubber boots can help, as the ticks slip off the rubber. DEET-based insect repellents can also help. Tucking socks into pants can help as can wearing light-colored clothing to better see ticks crawling up clothes. Staying out of high grasses and brush is also helpful.

    Last year, the New Hampshire DHHS released the “Tickborne Disease Prevention Plan,” which has a plethora of information about the disease that also outlined landscaping suggestions to help keep ticks to a minimum in the back yard. It includes ideas such as keeping children play structures in the sun and away from the woods, as ticks dry out in the sun.

    The main reservoir for ticks to acquire the Lyme pathogen is from white-footed mice. Blacklegged tick larvae often feed on these mice and get the bacteria. Keeping their habitats to a minimum around homes is another strategy to help prevent Lyme infection.

    Eaton said there are five things that keep Lyme alive: The spirochete that causes the disease; reservoir hosts (white-footed mice); ticks to spread the disease; other hosts to keep the population alive, such as deer and victims.

    “You pull any of those out and it can easily drop,” he said.

    One interesting proposed study to reduce Lyme disease may occur in Nantucket, Eaton said, which has high rates of Lyme disease. Earlier this month, according to a New York Times article, an MIT biologist proposed introducing genetically engineered white-footed mice on the island “that are immune to the Lyme-causing pathogen, or to a protein in the tick’s saliva, or both, to break the cycle of transmission,” the article states.

    “It’s a really interesting alternative, but we’ll have to evaluate the risks as well,” Eaton said.

  • Congresswoman Pingree announces $552,211 in federal funding to purchase firefighting equipment in Maine

    Congresswoman Chellie Pingree on June 1, 2016 announced two federal Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG) worth $552,211 to purchase firefighting equipment in Maine. The Sanford Fire Department will receive a grant to replace an aging pumper truck and the Maine Fire Service Institute will use funding to purchase equipment for a mobile training unit used around the state.
    “Maine firefighters depend on having the right equipment and training to protect the people they serve as well as themselves.  Tight municipal budgets, however, often make it difficult for them to get what they need,” Pingree said.  “I’m very glad these federal grants will help fill that gap and support local firefighters in their very important work of keeping our communities safe.”    
    The Sanford Fire Department will receive $301,819 to replace a pumper engine that is 31 years old. 
    The Maine Fire Service Institute will receive $250,392 for firefighting equipment, breathing apparatus, and protective clothing (also called “turnout gear”) to go with a mobile live-fire training trailer. Funded by a previous AFG grant, the trailer will be used for regional fire trainings throughout the state.
  • Belfast, Maine to receive $400,000 grant from the U.S. EPA for Brownfields Assessment Program

    The Belfast Shipyard has transformed the waterfront bringing needed economic development. The former site used to be a chicken factory, photo by Ramona du Houx

     

    The City of Belfast learned that it was recently selected to receive a $400,000 Brownfields Assessment grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which will be used to continue the City of Belfast Brownfields Assessment Program. 

    In all Maine will receive $7,340,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Program to assess and cleanup polluted properties throughout the state.

    “Brownfield grants have been absolutely critical in helping Maine communities move forward by cleaning up sites contaminated by former industrial uses so they can be redeveloped. Both directly and indirectly, they have created and supported many jobs throughout the state,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “I’m very glad that these communities will receive funds to boost economic development and protect environmental health.”

    Under this program, owners, developers, and/or prospective purchasers of ‘brownfield’ properties - commercial and industrial properties in Belfast that have redevelopment potential, but which are currently vacant or underutilized due to known or perceived contamination from petroleum or other potential hazardous materials, can receive an environmental assessment and/or cleanup plan for that property, in order to provide environmental due diligence in support of bank financing, to document the environmental liabilities and associated cleanup costs, to help revitalize these properties, and/or to protect the environment and public health. 

    The City of Belfast Brownfields Assessment Program is a voluntary program, and the services are provided at no charge; however the information and reports that are generated by this program become available to the general public.  Owners, purchasers, and/or developers submit a brief application to the City’s Brownfields Selection Committee, who selects the brownfields to be assessed under this program.  

    The City’s program, launched at the beginning of 2012, has already resulted in the assessment of 19 brownfield sites, including ones where the assessments have been followed by environmental cleanup, such as the Old Waldo County Jail, the City-owned parcel located at 45 Front Street (known formerly as the Maskers’ Theater property), and 12-28 Washington Street.  To date, the City of Belfast has received a total of $1.0 million in brownfields assessment funding, with grants being previously awarded in both 2011 and in 2013. 

    The City plans to begin outreach and promotion for their program over the next few months, to find new sites to enroll and assess.  

    Persons with interest in the City’s Brownfields Assessment Program are encouraged to contact Thomas Kittredge, Economic Development Director, at (207) 338-3370, extension 16, or via e-mail at economicdevelopment@cityofbelfast.org, where they can have confidential, no-obligation discussions regarding the program and their site(s).  Information about the City of Belfast Brownfields Assessment Program can also be found at www.cityofbelfast.org/brownfields.

    EPA's Brownfields Program is designed to empower states, communities, and other stakeholders in economic redevelopment to work together in a timely manner to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields. 

     

  • $7.34 million in federal Brownfield grants for Maine

     On May 21,2016 Congresswoman Chellie Pingree announced that Maine will receive $7,340,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Program to assess and cleanup polluted properties throughout the state.

    “Brownfield grants have been absolutely critical in helping Maine communities move forward by cleaning up sites contaminated by former industrial uses so they can be redeveloped. Both directly and indirectly, they have created and supported many jobs throughout the state,” said Pingree.  “I’m very glad that these communities will receive funds to boost economic development and protect environmental health.”

    Projects in Pingree’s District—which covers Southern, Midcoast, and parts of Central Maine—accounted for $4.14 million of the total. Nine other projects in Maine also received funding.

    Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, which oversees funding for EPA programs.

    Details on projects in Pingree’s District below.

    • Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, $820,000 (revolving loan fund for Prime Tanning site in Berwick)
    • Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission, $200,000 (assessment for Prime Tanning)
    • Town of Berwick, $500,000 (cleanup for Prime Tanning)
    • Marble Block Redevelopment Corp., $200,000 (assessment for Prime Tanning)
    • Greater Portland Council of Governments, $400,000 (assessment)
    • City of Portland, $800,000 (revolving loan fund)
    • City of Gardiner, $200,000 (assessment)
    • City of Gardiner, $200,000 (cleanup)
    • Midcoast Economic Development District, $820,000 (revolving loan fund)
  • Volunteers launch gun background check campaign in Maine

     Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership, a new coalition of law enforcement officials, gun violence survivors, sportsmen, gun owners and gun violence prevention advocates, officially launched the campaign to close a dangerous loophole in Maine’s background check system with volunteer events across the state.

    “Mainers have a culture of responsible gun ownership and a proud hunting and sporting heritage,” said Lincoln County Sheriff Todd Brackett. “The background check initiative, which will be on the ballot in November, protects law-abiding gun owners while making it harder for dangerous people to get guns.” 

    On May 14, 2016 the coalition conducted door-to-door canvasses in Damariscotta, Portland and Rockland and a volunteer phonebank in Bangor. Throughout the following week, volunteers will hold events across the state – including in Eastport, Belfast, Norway and Houlton – to talk to their friends and neighbors about the initiative.

    “Background checks work,” said Caribou Chief of Police Michael Gahagan. “Since 1998, they have prevented more than 2.4 million felons, domestic abusers, people with severe mental illness and other dangerous people from getting guns nationwide. And in states that already require background checks for all gun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their partners and 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are killed by handguns.”

    Currently in Maine, criminal background checks are only required for gun sales at licensed dealers. That means felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people can easily buy guns anonymously from unlicensed sellers — including at gun shows, through classified ads and from strangers they meet online — no background check required, no questions asked. The Maine Background Check Initiative would close this loophole by requiring that everyone buying a gun in Maine get the same background check, no matter where they buy it or who they buy it from.

    “While this initiative will not prevent every tragedy, it will make Maine safer and save lives,” said Judi Richardson of South Portland, whose daughter, Darien, died six years ago as a result of gunshot wounds. Judi and her husband, Wayne, are two of the citizen sponsors of the ballot measure. “We cannot bring Darien back, but we are committed to doing everything possible to protect others from this pain by reducing gun violence.” 

    About Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership

    Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership is a coalition of community organizations, survivors of gun violence, law enforcement, faith leaders, domestic violence prevention advocates, sportsmen, law enforcement officials and other concerned Mainers working to close the background check loophole in Maine law.

     

  • Eve's to file appeal after federal judge ruled in favor of Gov. LePage

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and his attorney David Webbert talk to reporters after a federal judge ruled Gov. LePage's office gave him immunitiy.

    By Ramona du Houx

    A federal judge on Tuesday ruled in favor of Gov. Paul LePage and dismissed a lawsuit filed by House Speaker Mark Eves over his loss of a job at Good Will-Hinckley.

    David Webbert, Eves’ attorney said, "Mark Eves will file an appeal and have his case reviewed by three judges on the Court of Appeals in Boston. We are confident that the Court of Appeals will agree that Governor LePage violated the basic rules of our Constitution when he used taxpayer money to blackmail a private organization into firing his political opponent for partisan purposes. Mark Eves is determined to hold Governor LePage accountable for his abuses of power that undermine our democracy." 

    U.S. District Judge George Singal issued a 44 page ruling that declared LePage was immune from the lawsuit.

    “Ultimately, the governor’s alleged threats were made in his official capacity, and the individuals hearing those threats believed that the governor could exercise his executive discretion to impound amounts appropriated in the budget,” Singal concluded. “Therefore, even assuming his threats to withhold such funds from GWH amounted to an abuse of his discretion, the court finds that the Governor is entitled to immunity under [the law].”

    David Webbert, Eves’ attorney, said the decision would be appealed to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.

  • Last minute overrides of Gov.LePage vetoes give hope for public safety and well being of citizens

    By Ramona du Houx

    While the Solar energy bill that would have created over 600 jobs and helped Mainers save on their electricity bills failed to be overridden. Other important bills did meet the challenge standing up to Gov. LePage's veto pen.

    Notably, An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders, which was a bill that drew national attention because of Gov. LePage's outrageous comments concerning addicts. LePage basically said if someone overdoses they should die. The bill empowers the police to revive people who suffer from an overdose by using Naloxone Hydrochloride. Without police intervention many people who overdose would die. It's important to say, a lot of these citizens are everyday people caught in the recent up turn of drug addiction because drug companies have been promoting the use of prescription drugs which have often led to heroin addictions.

    “With their votes today, Maine lawmakers declared that we must seize every opportunity to prevent overdose deaths,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, the bill’s sponsor. “The opioid epidemic in our state is claiming the lives of five Mainers every week and inflicting heartache on countless others. We know that putting naloxone in more hands saves lives. Our actions can make all the difference for Mainers struggling with addiction.”

    An Act To Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions also survived by a large bi-partisan margin. This bill will help Dorethea Dix mental hospital in Bangor and Riverview in Augusta. Both have undergone LePage administration cuts. Riverview failed to meet federal standards and was fined by the US government.

    Also, An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program survived. The law continues an important transparency program, so that the public can have a watchman-an ombudsman-looking our for long term care in Maine. The list, with unofficial tallies, of April 29th's over-ride session are below:

    VETO LETTER DATE

    LD #

    TITLE

    SPONSOR

    HOUSE

    SENATE

    OVERRIDEN/SUSTAINED

    4/27/2016

    690

    An Act To Ensure the Safety of Home Birth

    Volk

    127-17

    28-7

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1253

    An Act To Improve the Evaluation of Public Schools

    Bates

    112-31

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1472

    Resolve, To Enhance the Administration of the Child and Adult Care Food Program by Creating Clear Guidelines for Organizations and Streamlining the Application Process

    Alfond

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1481

    An Act To Protect Maine's Natural Resources Jobs by Exempting from Sales Tax Petroleum Products Used in Commercial Farming, Fishing and Forestry

    Davis

    4/27/2016

    1489

    An Act To Clarify Expenditures Regarding Androscoggin County

    Rotundo

    87-61

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1629

    An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Study the Public Reserved Lands Management Fund

    Hickman (introducer)

    90-58

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1645

    An Act To Address Employee Recruitment and Retention Issues at State Mental Health Institutions

    Katz

    116-25

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1649

    An Act To Modernize Maine's Solar Power Policy and Encourage Economic Development

    Dion (introducer)

    93-50

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1675

    Resolve, To Create the Task Force on Public-private Partnerships To Support Public Education

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    137-12

    30-4

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1689

    An Act To Protect Children in the State from Possible Sexual, Physical and Emotional Abuse by Persons Who Have Been Convicted of Crimes

    Maker

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1552

    An Act To Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Injected Drugs

    Vachon

    108-40

    25-9

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    365

    An Act To Provide a Tax Reduction for Modifications To Make a Home More Accessible for a Person with a Disability

    Verow

    148-0

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    419

    An Act To Promote Academic Opportunities for Maine Youth during Summer Months

    Pierce, T

    93-56

    Sustained

    4/26/2016

    1514

    An Act To Conform Maine Law to the Requirements of the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation

    Sirocki

    141-7

    20-14

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1279

    An Act To Authorize Advance Deposit Wagering for Horse Racing

    Picchiotti

    120-29

    23-11

    overridden

    4/25/2016

    1521

    An Act To Create Equity among Essential Nonprofit Health Care Providers in Relation to the Sales Tax

    Gattine

    139-10

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1579

    An Act Regarding the Maine Clean Election Fund

    Rotundo

    84-63

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1465

    An Act To Require the State To Adequately Pay for Emergency Medical Services

    Lajoie

    139-10

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1498

    An Act To Clarify Medicaid Managed Care Ombudsman Services

    Vachon

    118-28

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1696

    Resolve, To Establish a Moratorium on Rate Changes Related to Rule Chapter 101: MaineCare Benefits Manual, Sections 13, 17, 28 and 65

    HHS Committee Majority

    102-45

    28-6

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    867

    An Act To Provide Tax Fairness and To Lower Medical Expenses for Patients under the Maine Medical Use of Marijuana Act

    Libby

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    655

    Resolve, To Study the Feasibility of a State Firefighter Training Facility

    Lajoie

    93-55

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1692

    An Act To Amend and Clarify the Laws Governing the Brunswick Naval Air Station Job Increment Financing Fund

    Gerzofsky

    85-62

    26-9

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1617

    An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program

    Brakey

    34-1

    129-18

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1614

    Resolve, To Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund

    Rosen

    148-0

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1224

    An Act To Amend the Child Protective Services Laws

    Malaby

    147-1

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    654

    An Act To Expand the 1998 Special Retirement Plan To Include Detectives in the Office of the Attorney General

    Nadeau

    96-53

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1394

    An Act To Implement the Recommendations of the Commission To Strengthen the Adequacy and Equity of Certain Cost Components of the School Funding Formula

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    95-52

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1398

    An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses

    Mason

    110-38

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1468

    An Act To Improve the Safety of Ferries in the State

    Miramant

    113-32

    35-0

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1540

    An Act To Protect All Students in Elementary or Secondary Schools from Sexual Assault by School Officials

    Cyrway

    140-6

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1547

    An Act To Provide Access to Affordable Naloxone Hydrochloride for First Responders

    Gideon

    132-14

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1686

    An Act To Amend the Finance Authority of Maine Act

    Volk

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

     

  • Maine air quality improved but still high levels of ozone pollution

    Bangor (above) was named one of four cleanest cities in the Northeast in the Lung Association’s 2016 State of the AirReport. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx

    Air quality in Maine and around the country is improving, according to the American Lung Association’s 17th annual State of the Air report released today, and Bangor was ranked as one of the four cleanest cities in the Northeast.  But despite the trend, high ozone levels continue to plague many counties in Maine, especially in southern and coastal regions.  York County received a grade of “F” for ozone pollution and Cumberland County received a “D”.  Knox and Hancock both received a grade of “C” for ozone pollution.  The town of York, a popular beach town in the summer, had the unhealthiest air in region, according to the national study. 

    “We are very happy for Bangor and to be seeing healthier air overall,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “This is what happens when the Clean Air Act is allowed to work as intended, cleaning up smokestacks and tailpipes in order to make our air healthier.  But it’s not all good news, especially if you live in southern or coastal Maine, where unhealthy ozone levels persist and can lead to asthma attacks, reduced lung function, and expensive hospital admissions.”

    Each year the State of the Air report looks at the two most widespread types of pollution - ozone and particle pollution.  Ozone, which is also known as smog, is created in the atmosphere by the reaction of warm air and sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other pollution sources.  When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs and can cause immediate health problems including wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even premature death.  The impacts of ozone pollution are sometimes compared to a “sunburn on the lungs”.

    “Air pollution doesn’t respect state borders and the health effects can be very dangerous,” stated Dr. Marguerite Pennoyer, an allergist and immunologist from Scarborough.  “Children, the elderly, and people with lung or heart disease are most at risk, but even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors can be harmed.  Maine already has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation.  Couple that with the ever-growing impacts of climate change, and you’ve got a recipe for expensive health problems for generations to come.”

    Particle pollution, called fine particulate matter or soot, is a mixture of very tiny solid and liquid particles which come directly from car exhaust, wood fires, coal burning power plants and other smokestacks.  The body's natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, can fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs.  Particle pollution can trigger asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer, and early death.

    “I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone,” said Jeanette MacNeille, a Topsham (photo above) resident with asthma.  "I have had hundreds of severe asthma episodes, and each comes with the unstoppable terror from being unable to breathe. There is nothing more important than cleaning up our air so that Maine children and adults don’t have to face asthma attacks so often in the future."

    The State of the Air report covers data collected in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and analyzes particle pollution in two ways - through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. In Maine, year-round particle pollution levels were similar to those in the 2015 report, with all counties with particulate monitors receiving either an “A” or a “B” grade.  These same counties did not see any spikes in short-term particle pollution that reached unhealthy levels.

    “Here in Maine we are on the receiving end of pollution from states to the south and west of us,” said Tyler St. Clair, Healthy Air Coordinator for the American Lung Association in Maine.  “We depend on our neighbors to keep our air healthy.  That’s why we need strong national ozone standards and common sense limits on carbon pollution from power plants.  Maine’s Congressional delegation must push back against the relentless efforts of polluters to weaken or dismantle the Clean Air Act.  We need to make the same progress on ozone pollution that we’ve made on soot particles. Maine kids shouldn’t have to wait one more day for healthier air.”

    York County, home to almost 200,000 people, had 14 days of unhealthy ozone levels in the three-year reporting period.  Cumberland County, with a population of 285,000, followed with nine unhealthy ozone days, while Knox County had five and Hancock County had four unhealthy days.

    “Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” added Pennoyer.  “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.” 

    Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because of efforts to clean up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.  But counter-balancing this reduction in emissions is the growing impact of climate change, which brings warmer temperatures worldwide that lead to the creation of more ozone pollution.

    “The impacts of climate change on our health and our economy cannot be ignored,” stated Julie Osgood, Senior Director of Operations at MaineHealth.  “Warmer temperatures create a breeding ground for ozone and are amplifying the amount of air pollution and natural allergens we are forced to breathe.  These are costly outcomes that affect children’s learning and workers’ productivity.  That’s why it’s so important to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, put protective ozone standards into use, and ensure that health protections under the Clean Air Act remain effective and enforced.”

     

  • On last day, Maine lawmakers override veto of bill to protect social workers

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    ON the last day of the Maine Legislature, lawmakers were able to overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would help ensure the safety of Maine social workers by prohibiting the publication of their home addresses. The vote was 105-43 in the House and 30-3 in the Senate.

    “This is a matter of safety,” said Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, the sponsor of the bill. “We need to ensure that our social workers are protected from retaliation if they are dealing with a disgruntled employee or client. There is no reason for a person’s private information to be listed publicly on a state website.”

    Goode submitted the legislation after a Vermont social worker was shot and killed by a woman who was upset about losing custody of her child.

    A similar incident occurred in Maine in 1988 when a disgruntled administrator of a home for people with mental illness obtained the names and addresses of state licensing officials. After he was fired, the individual shot and critically injured then-Department of Health and Human Services licensing administrator Louis Dorogi in the kitchen of his Topsham home.

    “This bill was a bipartisan effort by the Judiciary Committee,” said Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, House chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “We worked hard to come to a consensus that would ensure that social workers were protected while honoring the public’s right to know.”

    Goode’s bill, LD 1499, improves the safety and privacy of social workers who hold a license from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The change ensures that the home address of a social worker is confidential and not open to the public. The social work profession is predominantly female.

    “There are times on the job when we face unhappy clients,” said Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, a retired social worker and member of the Judiciary Committee. “This concern for safety poses challenges to the personal lives of social workers if their home addresses are made available over the internet.”

    The Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to the “Right to Know” Advisory Committee asking them to look at making home addresses private for other professions as well.

    The legislation becomes law 90 days after the adjournment of the legislative session.

    Goode is House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and a social worker. He is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Bangor.

    Hobbins House chair of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and is in his eighth non-consecutive term in the House. He has also served five terms in the Senate.

    McCreight is in her first term in the Maine House and represents Harpswell, West Bath and part of Brunswick. She serves on both the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and Marine Resources Committee.

  • Maine's proposed $3 Million Bond to Study Ocean Acidification still under consideration by lawmakers

    A short animation about the potential impact of ocean acidification on sea life in the Gulf of Maine. Produced with support from Maine Sea Grant, Dalhousie University, MEOPAR (Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network), NERACOOS (The Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems) and NECAN (Northeast Coastal Acidification Network). 

    By Ramona du Houx 

    The Maine Legislature is still considering a bond proposal aimed at addressing ocean acidification (OA) in the Gulf of Maine. LD 998, sponsored by Rep. Wayne Parry (R-Arundel) and Rep. Mick Devin (D-Newcastle), would ask voters to approve a bond to borrow $3 million to be used to collect data, monitor waterways and test ocean acidity along the Maine coast and study its impact on wildlife and commercial shellfish species. 

    “Maine faces a tremendous, fast-evolving environmental challenge,” said Sebastian Belle, executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Association and member of FocusMaine, in testimony last June. “The implications of ocean acidification are only beginning to be understood, but one thing is clear, unless we have the tools to accurately monitor ocean acidification trends, we will be unable to react in terms of management and policy decisions.”

    There is virtual consensus among scientists that about a quarter of the carbon dioxide emitted from fossil fuels and deforestation ends up in the oceans. “There is no argument about this. This is really simple high school chemistry,” said University of New Hampshire OA expert Joe Salisbury.

    As the C02 gets absorbed into the ocean it reacts with seawater to form corrosive carbonic acid, which reduces the alkalinity of the water and inhibits the formation of the molecule calcium carbonate. Maine's hallmark shellfish like clams, lobsters, mussels, shrimp, scallops, oysters and sea urchins use calcium carbonate as the building blocks to form their shells. With fewer calcium carbonate molecules, they have to spend more energy for shell production, which hinders their ability to grow. If the water gets too acidic, it can even dissolve shells. 

    This could devastate Maine's shellfish industry which is a huge part of the state's tourism industry.

    Under ordinary circumstances, the ocean can naturally buffer excess C02. But ever since the Industrial Revolution, humans have emitted so much carbon dioxide into the air and water that chemical changes are happening much faster than at any time during the past 200,000 years.

    The Gulf of Maine's uniqueness also unveils it's inherent weakness to the effects of rapid OA.

    "The northwestern Atlantic, where we live, is particularly sensitive to OA, and it could change really quickly based on water mass changes and we really need to know a lot more,” said Salisbury.

    The Gulf of Maine is particularly susceptible to acidification because it receives so much fresh water from the region’s many large rivers, as well as cold, fresh water from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and snow and ice melt from the Arctic via the Labrador Current. While the region’s complex flow of water delivers some of the best shell fish on the planet the flow also compounds the acidifying effect because carbon dioxide is more soluble in cold water and fresh water has lower concentrations of carbonate and calcium ions. 

    If the saturation state of calcium carbonate, which is typically 2-5 in the global ocean, goes below 1.6, it can have a detrimental effect on shellfish, especially during their larval stages. 

    “Hatcheries are definitely the canaries in the coal mine,” said Bill Mook, who owns Mook Sea Farm in Walpole. “The window of conditions that are going to be sufficient for natural bivalve larvae is going to continue to close and you’re going to see less predictable recruitment. And that’s what you’re seeing in a lot of places.” 

    Mook hopes Maine law makers will be able to take a proactive approach to the problem and look at how OA impacts the entire Gulf of Maine ecosystem rather than just individual species.

    “We need to demand that the government spends more money in establishing monitoring systems and doing the thoughtful, correct research that’s going to provide businesses like mine with enough information so that we can do a little more planning and come up with strategies to cope with all of this. We can’t avert crises if we don’t know about them and information is really key to our survival.”

  • Attorney General Mills calls for federal rule change to add methadone clinics to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program oversight

    Cross Building where Maine's AG offices are located. photo by Ramona du Houx

    Attorney General Janet T. Mills is calling on the federal government to close a loophole that keeps methadone clinics from reporting their dispensing data to state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs).  Closing the gap will allow prescribers to avoid dispensing opioids to people who are also receiving treatment for opioid addiction.

    PDMPs are statewide programs that collect patient-specific data on various controlled prescription medications, like highly addictive opioids, enabling prescribers, pharmacists, and regulatory boards to access this information.  These programs are valuable tools to improve patient safety and health outcomes.  PDMPs aid in the care of patients with chronic conditions and help identify persons engaged in high-risk behavior, such as doctor shopping and prescription forgery, indicating possible abuse of or dependence on controlled substances.

    “Maine is considering legislation that would require prescribers and pharmacists to check the database when prescribing or dispensing prescriptions for controlled substances,” said Attorney General Mills.  “The current federal rule blocking methadone clinics from participating in the PDMP is a dangerous barrier preventing medical professionals from accessing their patients’ full medical history.” 

    In the bipartisan letter signed by 33 state Attorneys General the chief legal officers called on HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to address the gap by revising the proposed Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records regulation to require methadone clinics to submit their dispensing data to state PDMPs.  PDMPs already require strict confidentiality and may only be accessed by authorized users.

    “Requiring methadone clinics to register and use the PDMP will reduce diversion, misuse and abuse of opioids and enable individuals with substance abuse disorders to receive comprehensive, safe and more effective treatment for their disorder. This will save lives,” stated Mills.

    The letter, coauthored by Maine Attorney General Mills and Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, was submitted as a comment to Confidentiality of Substance Use Disorder Patient Records, 81 Federal Register 6988 (February 9, 2016).  Attorney General Mills expressed appreciation to Attorney General Olens, all of the co-sponsors and to the Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence for their assistance in addressing this issue.

  • Maine House advances bill to fund county jails

    Bipartisan measure critical to preventing increases in property taxes 

    After a strong vote in the Senate, House Democrats along with some House Republicans united Monday to advance a bill that provides desperately needed funding to support Maine’s county jails.

    “We’ve heard loud and clear from sheriffs and other county officials from across rural Maine,” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “We need this solution to protect property taxpayers, especially for residents of areas like Somerset County where other factors like inadequate education funding and falling valuations of key properties are already squeezing them.”

    As amended, LD 1614, Resolve, to Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund, provides approximately $2.4 million for fiscal year 2016 for Maine’s county and regional jails. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Kim Rosen, R-Hancock, earned a strong 102-44 vote in the House.

    “Today, lawmakers voted to protect Maine’s cities and towns from bearing rising costs that could lead to devastating tax increases for Maine’s families,“ said Rep. Lori Fowle, D-Vassalboro,  House chair of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. “We found a way to connect our county jails with the resources they desperately need and protect our families at the same time.”

    Despite support from all House members on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, both Republican and Democratic (two senators voted against the bill), and a strong earlier vote on the House floor, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, and Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling, R-New Gloucester, voted against the bill.

    In testimony before the Criminal Justice Committee, Lincoln County jail administrators said a 9 percent funding cut from 2015 to 2016 has left them inadequately funded and has led to staff layoffs. The Oxford County jail faces even more dire circumstances and will be forced into insolvency in 2017 if ongoing deficits are not addressed.

  • Gov. LePage said he will not release voter approved bonds for needed housing

    By Ramona du Houx 

    At a town hall meeting in Orono on April 6,2016 Governor Paul LePage stated that, as long as he is governor, he will not release the Housing Bond funds.

    “AARP Maine is deeply disappointed by the Governor’s statement especially given the thousands of Maine seniors who need affordable housing,” stated Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director.  “At-risk Mainers cannot afford to wait. AARP Maine will continue to work with housing advocates, contractors and developers to ensure Maine people have the housing they need.  We urge the Governor to reconsider his position.” 

    At the Orono town hall meeting, the Governor raised concern that the bonds will only mean profit for developers in Maine. The truth is the bond dollars are to be specifically allocated by the Maine State Housing Authority (MSHA) and will benifit Mainers who need homes and the communities in which they will be built. These bonds also represent good paying jobs for construction workers.

    The $15 million bond was approved by 69 percent of Maine voters last November, but no progress has been made toward implementing it. In July of last year, the Governor attempted to veto the senior affordable housing bond, LD 1205, but he failed. 

    MSHA has an established process to request proposals to build affordable housing throughout Maine. They have received and spent bond funds on affordable housing, including senior projects, numerous times in the past.

    A number of senior projects throughout Maine, including those in Washington County and Waterville, are prepared to submit proposals as soon as MSHA requests them. On February 16th, the MSHA Board sent a letter to the Governor stating in part, "Before we encourage developers to invest their time and money and before we obligate staff resources to this project, it would be helpful to know if and when you plan to approve the bonds." 

    The Housing Bond will begin to enable more Mainers to age in place by building new, affordable homes for older Mainers and dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of existing homes, some of the oldest in the country.  Right now, 37 percent of those aged 80 and over in Maine pay more than 30 percent of income for housing.

    “Survey after survey shows us that Mainers want to safely age in place, in their own homes and communities,” said Parham.  “The Housing Bond was a bipartisan measure with overwhelming support first from the legislature and then from Maine voters on Election Day.  Contractors and builders are ready to start construction of these homes which represent only a fraction of those that are needed.  Maine cannot afford to wait any longer.”

    For an overall in depth report on the Housing Bond please go HERE.

  • Maine State Senate breathes new life into naloxone bill

      The Maine Senate has resuscitated a bill that expands access to the lifesaving drug naloxone hydrochloride, which can be successfully used to stop an opioid overdose in its tracks.

    Last week, the bill — LD 1547, “An Act to Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride — failed an enactment vote in the House, where it won majority support, but not the two-thirds support it needed to pass as an emergency measure.

    The Senate on Wednesday successfully passed the bill with a unanimous vote after stripping it of its emergency clause.  It now returns to the House, where it can be enacted with a simple majority vote.

    “You can’t treat people suffering with addiction if they’re not alive,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “We know that naloxone saves lives. If this bill prevents just one Mainer from losing their battle with substance use, it’s worth it.”

    The bill, sponsored by House Majority Whip Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, permits pharmacists to provide naloxone without a prescription to eligible individuals, including addicts’ family members and friends, who can respond to  an opiate overdose more quickly than emergency responders.

    That faster response time can be the difference between life and death.

     According to the Attorney General, 272 people died in Maine as the result of overdosing in 2015. That’s a 31 percent jump over the previous year.

     

  • Maine Democrats successfully block bill to put Riverview mental patients in prison

    Democrats in the Maine Senate on April 6, 2016 blocked a bill by Gov. Paul LePage that would allow the state to transfer mental health patients at Riverview Psychiatric Center to a super-maximum security prison, even if they had never been convicted of a crime.

    In a 17-18 vote, the 15 Senate Democrats were joined by three Senate Republicans -- Roger Katz of Augusta, Brian Langley of Ellsworth and David Woodsome of North Waterboro -- in blocking the bill.

    The bill would have allowed the state to transfer patients from Riverview to the Intensive Mental Health Unit, or IMHU, at the state prison in Warren. Instead, the Senate passed an amended version of the bill, which ensures patients in state custody will continue to receive the appropriate level of care, even if they are transferred from Riverview.

    “We agree with the governor that patients from Riverview need quality health care in a facility that provides hospital level of care,” said Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, a member of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Noncriminal patients do not belong in a prison but in a hospital where treatment is the priority.”

    Having been passed in the House earlier this week, the bill now faces final votes in both chambers.

    “The very idea that patients who have never been convicted of a crime would be put in a prison setting is appalling, and I’m thankful we were able to defeat this bill,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “Instead, we passed a responsible bill that recognizes the sometimes dangerous environment at Riverview while respecting patients’ rights.”

    As amended, LD 1577 requires forensic patients in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services to be cared for in facilities that provide hospital level of care. Forensic patients are those who are determined by the court to be incompetent to stand trial or not criminally responsible.

    The measure requires DHHS to place patients in state-owned hospitals that provide the appropriate level of care, such as Dorothea Dix in Bangor. If that is not possible, the next choice would be another accredited hospital in Maine. Barring that, patients could be sent to an accredited hospital out of state.

    Last month, Dr. James Fine, the psychiatrist at the IMHU, told the committee that the unit is nothing like a hospital in that it is focused on behavior control and security. He also said that the intensive mental health unit can be dangerous, with a recent rape reported within the unit and potentially fatal fights.

    According to Fine and the Department of Corrections, if Riverview patients were brought to the IMHU, they would be kept in a unit that serves primarily inmates with a history of violent crime such as murder and rape. They would spend periods of the day subject to lockdown, have regular interactions with prison guards, be shackled during movement and be subject to other protocols meant to handle inmates at a maximum-security prison. Behavioral problems would be addressed with mace, shackles or other interventions typical of corrections facilities. The committee heard a graphic description of how inmates at the IMHU are sometimes forcibly “extracted” from their cells.

    During his appearance before the committee last month, LePage said that when he proposed the bill he believed that the IMHU provided the same level of care as a hospital. When he learned he was mistaken, he said that it ought to.

  • Hundreds stand against administration’s DHHS mental health service cuts in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Community supports help affected Mainers live in their homes, prevent hospitalization 

    Hundreds of Mainers turned out Friday to stand united against the LePage administration’s cuts to mental health services and testify to the harm that they and their families will suffer as a result.

    Tiffany Murchison of Bath told the Health and Human Services Committee how she developed agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder, causing her world to shrink until she could not even go outside to get her mail. With the support of a community support worker, she slowly arrived at where she is today, standing before the committee, a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a business owner. Under the proposed changes, she would not have been eligible for the services she credits with saving her life.

    “Mental illness does not require medical equipment such as a wheelchair; however community services are a mental health patient’s wheelchair. Like a wheelchair, community support allows mental health patients to live more independently,” Murchison testified.

    The crowd packed the committee room and required five additional overflow rooms. They were among the 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness who were recently notified that this month they may lose the services that help them stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services.

    The Department of Health and Human Services is planning to limit automatic eligibility to Mainers with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, potentially leaving behind Mainers with post-traumatic stress disorder, major anxiety disorder and other diagnoses.

    Sen. Cathy Breen testified about her 21-year-old daughter, who has been living child-onset schizophrenia since the sixth grade. She would remain eligible, but would lose critical services nonetheless because the changes are causing Merrymeeting Behavioral Health Services in Brunswick to close. Breen said her daughter is certain she will wind up back in the hospital if she loses the services.

    “How does she know that? Because that’s exactly what happened last summer,” said Breen, D-Falmouth. “Like many families in this bumpy transition from the child mental health system to the adult system, we had a gap in support services. She deteriorated rapidly, and by August, she had a cast of characters in her head who – every day, all day – threatened to kill her family if she didn’t get to the nearest overpass and throw herself onto Interstate 295.”

    The administration is imposing the cuts through eligibility changes to Section 17 of the state’s MaineCare rules. The administration categorizes the eligibility changes as “routine technical” ones, which do not require review and approval from the Legislature. However, affected individuals made use of a rarely used option to petition the Legislature for review.

    “We cannot allow the administration to dismantle the supports that allows Mainers with mental illness to live independently and avoid institutionalization,” said Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the committee. “DHHS is playing a shell game with people’s lives – cutting services here, reducing reimbursement rates for providers there and directing attention to other services that simply aren’t available for many Mainers.”

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs while also planning devastating rate cuts of 24 to 48 percent for those services that providers won’t be able to absorb. DHHS also suggests its “behavioral health home” program as an alternative, but the program is so new that availability is extremely limited and, in some area, not an option at all.

    The committee will have the opportunity to propose legislation protecting people from these cuts. Any bill reported out by the committee ultimately will need approval from the full Legislature to go into effect.

    This is the second time in two months that Maine citizens have asked the Legislature to intervene because of the harm they would suffer under administration plans to cut support services for vulnerable Mainers.

    In February, the first petition effort ultimately led to a bill that would require legislative oversight for any changes to the services for adults with intellectual disabilities and autism. That bill, LD 1682, won final Senate approval April 1, 2016.

  • Maine police chiefs want to expand MaineCare

    Extending health coverage can help mitigate the pain and suffering caused by addiction.

    The numbers are distressing: 272 drug overdose deaths in Maine — a 31 percent increase in 2015.

    We’ve seen the devastating consequences of addiction and unimaginable sadness that comes from telling a family about the unnecessary death of a loved one taken too soon from this world. We know treatment saves lives and health coverage is important in accessing treatment. We see coverage as a vital community-wide benefit that can prevent crime, violence and suffering, saving our criminal justice system resources, time, and money.

    Extending health coverage to people with low income, most who work but often can’t afford coverage, would help them access health care, including mental health and substance abuse services.

    ADDRESSES THE GAP

    The Maine Sheriffs’ and Maine Chiefs of Police Association support accepting the enhanced federal health care funds to provide low income Mainers who suffer from addiction or mental health illness with health care, including treatment. With the federal government picking up most of the costs, it’s the most affordable option we have to promptly address the gap in treatment many face.

    Drug and mental health treatment is necessary, if not critical, to reducing drug related crime in Maine. People are dying of the torrid epidemic of opioid and heroin addiction. Mainers across the state are struggling to rid themselves of this disease. While more are seeking treatment with the goal of living a useful and productive life free of addiction, many face barriers to accessing the treatment they need to turn their lives around. The result is a costly cycle in and out of jail and a drain on our criminal justice system.

    Sixty percent of Maine’s inmates suffer from substance abuse and 40 percent from some degree of mental illness. Jails have become de facto triage treatment centers. It is time to change the way we are doing things.

    Other states are using the federal health care funds to treat addiction and reduce drug related crime. They are seeing savings and success in reducing incarceration and reentry into the criminal justice system.

    State and county corrections departments across the country have launched health coverage enrollment programs as part of the discharge planning process. Over 64 programs were operating in jails, prisons, probation and parole systems last year, enrolling individuals during detention, incarceration, and during the release process. If we are serious about defeating this epidemic, we must use all available resources, including those from the federal government that other states have seen success with.

    Washington State uses the federal funds to provide treatment to people who have been involved in the criminal justice system – services previously funded with state-only tax dollars that helped to reduce arrests by 17-33 percent. Replacing state funds with federal funds has created savings for local law enforcement, jails, courts and state corrections agencies.

    States use the federal funds to pay for treatment provided through mental health and drug courts. Maine’ 2014 Annual Report on Adult Drug Treatment Courts confirms our drug courts offer a successful approach to the challenge of substance abuse and crime but are underutilized.

    COURTS CAN’T DO IT ALL

    Drug court funding is described as being uncertain, in spite of demonstrated cost avoidance and benefits and that without funding for treatment, adult drug courts cannot be sustained. Federal health care funds could help pay for these services.

    States are using the federal funds to pay for inpatient hospital services provided to inmates and seeing savings. Ohio saved $10.3 million in in 2014. Kentucky, Michigan, Colorado, Washington and Arkansas have booked millions in savings. We are struggling to pay for the costs of jails in Maine, while other states are finding solutions.

    Inmates suffering with substance abuse have a better chance of overcoming addiction and reducing their chances of re-offending if connected to treatment. The federal health care funds could be used to relieve jails of significant health-related expenses.

    Not long ago the legislature passed the anti-heroin/opioid bill that began to address this terrible problem. Many legislators said it was only a down payment on what it would take to effectively deal with the epidemic. We can take another significant step in ridding our state of this problem. By accepting the federal health care funds, we will improve access to treatment and care. In the end, this will save taxpayers money and save lives, for which we cannot measure in dollars and cents.

    Sheriff Joel A. Merry of Sagadahoc County is president of the Maine Sheriffs’ Association. Chief Michael W. Field of the Bath Police Department is president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

  • LePage’s damaging attacks on Maine’s most needy must be stopped

    In his budget proposal last year, Gov. Paul LePage sought sweeping cuts to services for people with mental illness, children with autism and health care for seniors. He fought tooth and nail for his harmful agenda and the Legislature had to override his budget veto to finally stop him.

    This year the governor hasn’t submitted a budget, but that hasn’t stopped his attacks on people with disabilities. Instead of using the budget as a weapon, the governor is using his broad executive powers against vulnerable Mainers. The Maine Legislature needs to stop him again.

    The year started with the governor’s attempt to slash services for adults with intellectual disabilities. These are people who in the past would have lived their entire lives in institutions but now live at home with appropriate support. The governor proposed a new “one size fits all” assessment that would have dramatically reduced care for these people and left them at risk. There was public outcry against these devastating cuts but the governor and Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew refused to listen and stubbornly plowed ahead. Undeterred, over 1,300 affected citizens, their families and their supporters took the extraordinary step of formally petitioning the Legislature to stop the new rules. All seven Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee, along with two of our Republican colleagues, agreed to intervene. In the face of this public outrage, the governor and Commissioner Mayhew finally retreated from their plan.

    Did the governor and commissioner learn any lessons? Did they get the message that Mainers will not tolerate cuts that put our vulnerable neighbors at risk? Apparently not. Just last week DHHS told over 24,000 Mainers with serious mental illness that they may see their services cut in April. These services support people struggling to stay in their homes and avoid more costly hospitalization and residential services. We heard from people like Alaina, who has major depression and PTSD. Without services, Alaina isolates herself at home and cannot even leave without suffering from panic attacks. And Courtney, whose depression is so severe that she can’t get out to appointments or reliably pay her bills. When these frightened Mainers called DHHS, they received an automated message instructing them to contact their mental health provider. Mental health providers, however, had no warning that thousands of clients would be receiving these upsetting notices.

    DHHS is telling Mainers they might be able to get care in other programs. But DHHS told providers last week that it is planning a huge rate cut for those services. These programs already have waitlists. DHHS must know that providers can’t absorb proposed cuts of 25 to 48 percent. DHHS argues that members might be able to get services through its new “behavioral health home” program. However, this program is so new that access to services provided by the program are limited and some parts of Maine have no behavioral health homes at all. Further, the funding provided to run these services is so low that people will receive a greatly reduced level of services if they can get any at all.

    It doesn’t stop there. Just last week, DHHS also announced that it was moving ahead with a plan that will result in the closure of four out of Maine’s 12 mental health peer centers. Peer centers are a critical community resource for people struggling with mental illness. They are a valuable lifeline that help people avoid isolation and loneliness. Peer centers help people who have worked their whole lives to remain in the community and stay out of institutions.

    It is impossible to understand the reasoning behind the LePage administration’s relentless attacks on Maine’s mental health system. Five years of mismanagement at Riverview Psychiatric Center has left patients and staff at serious risk and put the taxpayers on the hook for $60 million in costs because DHHS can’t meet minimum federal standards. Now the governor has focused his attention on dismantling of outpatient services that are essential to helping people with mental illness achieve wellness and avoid hospitalization.

    Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, is serving his second term in the Maine House of Representatives, representing District 34, which encompasses part of Westbrook. He is House chair of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

  • At Gov. LePage’s Bath town hall, three WANTED posters were erected outside by the governor's office

    Photos by Chris Cousins of the BDN

    Bangor City Councilor, Joe Baldacci calls for LePage's resignation

    At Governor Paul LePage’s Bath town hall, three "wanted" posters were erected outside by the governor's office.

    Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, unabashedly admitted the posters were produced and paid for by the governor’s office and that there might be more posters like them at future town hall meetings.

    "It is deeply disturbing that our governor would target Maine people with “Wanted” posters," said Phil Bartlett, Chairman of the Maine Democratic Party. "With the violence we've been seeing at Trump rallies, it is imperative for all political leaders to dial down the rhetoric. It is not funny. It is irresponsible and dangerous."

    The three "wanted" posters unveiled March 10, 2016 featured Matt Schlobohm of the Maine AFL-CIO, Ben Chin, former candidate for Lewiston mayor who works at the Maine People’s Alliance, and Nick Bennett of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

    “Governor LePage’s most wanted posters are reckless, disrespectful and fuel the worst in our politics. They are also the classic LePage playbook of attacking anyone who disagrees with you as a way to hide from your own failed record. Scratch below the bluster and blunder and you have a Governor who has consistently sided with the wealthy and powerful over working people. Maine people deserve better than Gov. LePage’s divisive and reckless approach," said Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director Matt Schlobohm.

    LePages' wanted posters were stylied after FBI notices. Offical wanted posters include a picture of the alleged criminal or of a facial composite image produced by police.

    “When is the governor going to get serious about having a genuine dialogue with Maine people? His latest antics are at best childish and possibly even reckless in our current political climate,” saidHouse Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “What’s next? ‘Wanted’ signs for the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, AARP, Maine Municipal Association, Maine Hospital Association and Maine State Chamber of Commerce because they have spoken out against the governor’s political short-sightedness?” 

    Bangor City Councilor, Joe Baldacci called for LePage's resignation over the Wanted posters.

    "Putting out of Wanted posters on some of your political opponents is just more political garbage- which it is. But it is also an invitation to not only make our politics coarser, meaner and less productive but to dehumanize your opponents," said Bangor City Councilor Baldacci. "Lepage is almost taunting his political opponents. He should resign."

    LePages' posters have no place in Maine politics being paid for by the Governor's Office. These are attacks on private citizens, putting them and their organizations they are affiliated with -- at risk.

    Attorney General Janet Mills should be asked to investigate the issue as it clearly is defamatory.

  • Index highlights LePage administration’s failure to provide for rural Mainers

    by 


    A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) reveals that 52,000 Mainers live in distressed communities and demonstrates the extent of the LePage administration’s failed economic policies in the wake of the Great Recession.

    For a project called The Distressed Communities IndexEIG identified the zip codes with the greatest levels of economic distress using a series of economic indicators. The indicators, which were measured in 2013, include: education levels, housing occupancy, labor force participation rate, poverty rate, ratio of median income to the statewide median, the change in employment since 2010, and the change in number of businesses since 2010. These indicators show long-term, structural economic problems.

    In one respect, Maine fares better than most states. Only 4 percent of its population lives in zip codes with more than 500 people identified as “distressed” by the study—that ranks Maine 40th out of 50 states and Washington, DC.

    Still, approximately 52,000 Maine people live in distressed communities. The disparity between Maine’s most and least distressed communities is striking and represent two different narratives of economic recovery since the Great Recession.

    Most Distressed: 04774 (St. Francis)

    Maine Average

    Least Distressed: 04021 (Cumberland)

    No High School Degree 23% 9% 2%
    Housing Vacancy Rate 10% 7% 0%
    Adults Not Working 65% 41% 31%
    Poverty Rate 21% 14% 2%
    Median Income vs. State Median 51% 100% 194%
    Change in Employment, 2010-13 -11.8% 1.3% 48.7%
    Change in Businesses, 2010-13 -3.6% -0.8% 15.1%
    Distress Score (out of 100) 95.6 0.0

    St. Francis, Maine’s most distressed community by zip code, has twice the proportion of its adult population not working compared to Cumberland. This is partly because the population of St. Francis is older (in 2013, it had a median age of 53.9, compared to 45.0 for Cumberland), which is itself a symptom of economic distress. But other indicators affirm the disparity between these two communities. The median income in St. Francis is almost one quarter what it is in Cumberland, and half the statewide average. St. Francis has lost jobs and businesses while Cumberland has seen significant increases in these indicators.

    The general disparity between Maine’s southern and coastal communities and the rural areas inland and Down East has been a growing concern for policymakers and has only gotten worse since the recession. While many in Southern Maine have seen jobs and incomes return to pre-recession levels, those in other areas are still hurting desperately.  Statewide economic statistics that show Maine (slowly) emerging from the worst of the downturn mask this divergence.

    Against this backdrop, it is instructive to evaluate LePage administration policies. Time and again, the administration has undercut programs and investments that could buffer rural Mainers from the continued impacts of the recession and leave them better positioned to seize emergent opportunities. Refusal to accept federal funds to provide health care access to tens of thousands of Mainers has a disproportionate impact on rural Mainers and undercuts jobs. The administration’s refusal to apply for a federal waiver last year to make nutrition assistance more widely available also hits rural residents hardest.

    In fact, the most distressed communities based on EIG’s analysis are the same communities that stand to gain the most from Medicaid expansion and supplemental nutrition assistance. Beyond these programs, policies that cut income and estate taxes reduce state funding for schools and local services and are a step in the wrong direction. They ultimately trigger property tax increases for residents in communities with little capacity to absorb such cost shifts and are a recipe for increasing inequality.

  • 272 People died of a drug overdose in Maine in 2015 – 31 percent jump

    Maine has recorded another grim record due to drug overdose deaths.  272 people died in Maine in 2015 due to drug overdose, a 31% increase over 2014, which saw a record 208 overdose deaths.  The final analysis of drug overdose deaths exceeded initial estimates largely due to an increase in deaths caused by heroin and/or fentanyl in the second half of the year. 

    “These figures are shocking,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills.  “Maine averaged more than five drug deaths per week.  That is five families every week losing a loved one to drugs.  These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our neighbors, our friends.  I applaud the families who have come forward to share their stories about the struggles they have endured in watching a loved one succumb to addiction and the pain it has caused."

    In 2015, 157 deaths were caused by heroin and/or non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and 111 were caused by pharmaceutical opioids.  Overdose deaths in 2015 caused by illicit drugs exceeded overdose deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids for the first time, even though the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical opioids increased slightly as well.  Nearly all deaths were in combination with other intoxicants.

    "Behind every one of these deaths is a story that must be told as a warning to anyone who thinks opiates are a harmless party drug with no consequences. No one is immune from addiction.  No one is immune from overdose. No one is immune from death.  We must use every effort to intervene in these people’s lives before it is too late,” said Attorney General Mills. 

    Two-thirds of the decedents in 2015 from a drug overdose were men.  The ages of decedents ranged from 18 to 89, though most deaths were of those under the age of 60.  The average age of a decedent was 42 (the average age of a Maine resident is 43).

    While all counties recorded at least one overdose death, approximately 78% of the overdose deaths occurred in Maine’s five most populous counties, which account for 65% of Maine’s population.  Cumberland County recorded 32% (86) of the statewide total.  The City of Portland recorded 46 deaths, followed by Lewiston with 15 deaths and Bangor with 13 deaths.

    Comparing the 2014 and 2015 death rate per 100,000 of population for the five largest counties, Cumberland County's rate increased from 15.3 to 30.5, an increase of 100%, Kennebec County increased 65%, Penobscot County increased 30%, Androscoggin County increased 4%, and York County increased 3%. 

    In 2015 there were 107 deaths attributable to heroin; 94 of which included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  Of the 87 deaths attributable to fentanyl or acetyl fentanyl, 68 included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  There were 34 deaths in which cocaine was involved in 2015, up from 24 in 2014.

    “These death statistics are just one measure of Maine’s drug crisis,” said Attorney General Mills.  “More must be done to preserve lives and protect our communities from the negative effects that drug abuse has on us. Prevention, intervention, treatment and law enforcement all must play larger roles in stemming this deadly tide.”

     

    The drug overdose death analysis was conducted for the Attorney General, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Marcella Sorg, PhD, D-ABFA of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. 

  • We should be concerned over Poland Spring's contract with Fryeburg Water Co.

    First appeared in the BDN
    The recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court oral arguments regarding the contract between the Fryeburg Water Co., a small water company, and Poland Spring, as part of the Nestle corporation, has spurred information in the media that we believe is alarmist and inaccurate.

    As water utility providers in Maine, we are not concerned or alarmed by the contract between the water system in Fryeburg and a large customer. Here’s why:

    — There are Maine laws and regulations already in place that protect Maine’s natural water resources, including the use of groundwater, that ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of Maine’s water.

    — Maine is water rich, and with 24 trillion gallons of water falling on the state each and every year, our water resources are recharged at least annually, including the groundwater and aquifers. The amount of groundwater used by water utilities and water bottlers each year is less than 1 percent of the entire annual recharge of the groundwater.

    — Many Maine water utilities have contracts in place with large water users, including breweries, carbonated drink manufacturers, ice manufacturers and distributors and water bottlers, which provide an important source of revenue that lower and stabilize water rates for all customers.

    — Maine has many wonderful, renewable natural resources that are exported each year, and each promotes the beauty and pristine nature of our state. Our long and successful history of exporting trees, blueberries, lobsters, potatoes and water are a source of pride, as well as an economic benefit.

    As Maine water utility professionals, we are stewards of Maine’s water resources, and we have a mission of providing safe and adequate drinking water to our customers each and every day. We know our service is essential to life, and we are fortunate to have an abundant source of water. We believe strongly that the contract between Fryeburg Water and Poland Spring is consistent with this mission with no detrimental impact on the environment and our water resources.

    Finally, we are proud that what we do each day in providing clean drinking water to our customers is complemented and promoted with the export of this same pristine natural resource outside the state. The water bottlers in Maine, including Poland Spring, endorse the value of drinking just good ol’ water and in doing so endorse Maine.

  • Citizens’ initiative to regulate and tax marijuana does not qualify for ballot

    by Ramona du Houx

    The citizens’ initiative petition effort to legalize and tax marijuana does not have enough valid signatures of Maine voters to qualify for the 2016 ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed on March 2, 2016.

    Over 47 thousand petitions submitted were not valid. That's right, 47,000.

    The petitions for “An Act To Legalize Marijuana,” which was combined with a similar citizens’ initiative effort to legalize marijuana, had been in circulation since April 28, 2015. On Feb. 1, 2016, the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions received 20,671 petitions with 99,229 total signatures of those who support the initiative.

    Staff members at the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions have completed the process of certifying all of the petitions and have found a maximum of 51,543 valid signatures (subject to checking for duplicates), while 47,686 proved to be not valid. A minimum of 61,123 valid signatures from registered Maine voters is required in the citizens’ initiative process and the effort has failed to meet that threshold.

    According to the proposed bill summary, this legislation proposed to legalize the possession, purchase, growth and sale of marijuana to those who are at least 21 years of age, and tax its sale, among other provisions. Visithttp://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/index.html to view the proposed legislation in its entirety. 

  • Bill to Increase Access to Affordable Drug Addiction Treatment Advances


    Committee Vote Unanimous For Higher Reimbursement Rates

      Today, members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee voted unanimously in support of a bill to increase reimbursement rates for substance abuse treatment providers.


    “Methadone treatment is heavily researched and evidence based.  It gets people back on their feet, back to their families, and back to work,” said Speaker Eves (D-North Berwick).  “Providing more sufficient reimbursement to methadone providers will enable more Mainers to access life-saving treatment and regain their lives.” 

    LD 1473 “Resolve to Increase Access to Opiate Addiction Treatment in Maine” sponsored by Senator Woodsome (R-York) passed as amended.

    The report of the HHS Committee partially restores the MaineCare reimbursement rate paid to outpatient opioid treatment providers from $60 to $72 a week. The rate increase will sunset on June 30, 2017 pending a rate study to further analyze its effectiveness. The committee will then hear a report back by the end of December in that year.

    This proposal will lower the burden on treatment providers who will then be able to increase patient access and provide crucial individual and group counseling in addition to critical medication, including methadone.

    “This session alone, we have heard dozens of hours of testimony urging us to increase availability of drug treatment and support services,” said HHS House Chair Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook).  “Increased access to proven Methadone treatment will provide a vital tool to addressing the opioid crisis that has gripped our state.”

    LD 1473 now faces action in both the House and Senate.   

  • Legislation would protect social workers from violent retaliation in Maine

    Maine State Rep. Adam Goode’s bill to ensure the safety of Maine social workers by prohibiting the publication of their home addresses earned support at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    “The goal of this legislation is to minimize the likelihood of social workers being exposed to harassment from disgruntled former clients,” said Goode, D-Bangor. “Having home addresses of social workers accessible on the licensing board’s website makes them more vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, loss of privacy and assault from an individual who may be emotionally unstable.”

    Goode submitted the legislation after a Vermont social worker was shot and killed by a woman who was upset about losing the custody of her child.

    A similar incident occurred in Maine in 1988 when a disgruntled administrator of a home for people with mental illness obtained the names and addresses of state licensing officials. After he was fired, the individual shot and critically injured then-Department of Health and Human Services licensing administrator Louis Dorogi in the kitchen of his Topsham home.

    Goode’s bill, LD 1499, seeks to improve the safety and privacy of social workers who hold a license from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The change would ensure that the home address of a social worker is confidential and not open to the public.

    April Tuner, a senior at the University of Maine studying social work, testified in favor of the legislation. 

    “For safety and privacy reasons, it is important that the home address of social workers not be made public,” said Turner. “As a mother, I am concerned that my family could be placed in danger because a client that I work with could obtain my home address. As a foster parent that concern grows even greater since I am expected to provide a safe home for a child that has already experienced trauma.”

    The National Association of Social Workers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also testified in support of the bill.

    “It is unfortunate, but true, that social workers practice in settings that are increasingly unpredictable or unsafe,” Goode said. “This had led to some social workers becoming permanently injured or losing their lives.”

    The committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks.

    Goode is House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and a social worker. He is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Bangor

  • Prison is no place for innocent, sick Mainers

    Editorial by Senator Anne Haskell from Portland

    The state-run psychiatric hospital in Augusta has many, many problems, and Governor Paul LePage’s plan to fix it is to put sick, innocent Mainers in prison. That’s just wrong.

    This week, Governor LePage proposed a bill to move patients out of the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, and into the Maine State Prison in Warren. The idea, he said, was to take unruly patients and put them in the prison’s mental health unit. He said the move was necessary for security reasons.

    But there’s one big problem with the governor’s plans: These patients, no matter how unruly, have not been convicted of any crime. They aren’t criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. So why would we ever put them in prison? This flies in the face of the very foundation of our justice system.

    Our state has been down this road before. Like most states, we have an embarrassing history of treating our mentally ill neighbors like a problem — and one best hidden from the rest of society. We’ve even traveled the dark path of mixing sick Mainers with criminals before.

    But we decided decades ago that it was wrong to treat sick people like the guilty. We recognized that no matter how severe a mental illness may be, sick Mainers need treatment and care, not to be locked away.

     Hospitals, like Riverview, are designed first and foremost for treatment, with recovery as an outcome. In a correctional setting, the goal is stabilization, so they can be moved back into the general prison population.

     The Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine State Prison is a good facility, and the staff there do good work. But it is not designed to meet the needs of non-criminal patients.

     We know that Riverview has been badly mismanaged by this administration. That mismanagement has led to chronic understaffing, numerous security incidents, and the loss of federal accreditation. Things have gotten so bad that a Court Master has been charged with oversight of the hospital.

     We need solutions to fix Riverview and make it a success, but the governor’s answer is to swap one problem for an entirely different one.

     Simply put, criminalizing mental illness is not a solution for the problems at Riverview. The hospital needs more staff, better resources, and a sound turnaround plan.

    A real solution may even include the creation of a new, independent unit designed specifically for patients with behavioral issues or violent behavior. But that facility must be a hospital setting, not a correctional one.       

    As the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, I will oppose the governor’s bill with all my might. And I’ll urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to do the same.

  • Bipartisan drug prevention, enforcement and treatment bill signed into law by Maine governor

    Legislature unanimously enacts law to fight drug addiction

    By Ramona du Houx

    On january 18, 2016, a bipartisan bill to combat the drug crisis in Maine passed both bodies of the Legislature. LD 1537 “An Act to Combat Drug Addiction Through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery”, passed both the Senate and House unanimously as amended.  

    The new measure is in responce to Maine's drug crisis. Five Mainers are dying every week from drug overdose.

    The bill was sponsored by Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and co-sponsored by Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).The law includes efforts to reinforce Maine’s law enforcement capacity to fight drug dealers on the streets and to strengthen the state’s treatment efforts to help more struggling Mainers break free from addiction. Governor Paul LePage initially only wanted to help fund an increase in law enforcement.

    “While many others have advocated for law enforcement funding alone, Speaker Eves and President Thibodeau have helped change the conversation by fighting for a more complete approach. By championing prevention, treatment, and expanded resources for law enforcement, they’re standing with families like mine and yours,” said Karen Walsh, Portland parent of a young person in recovery.

    “We did what many skeptics said we could not: we came together to pass a bipartisan, targeted, meaningful plan to address the drug crisis in Maine,” said Speaker Eves. “Today, our law enforcement, medical professionals, families, and young people trying to build a better life for themselves heard our commitment to provide the help they desperately need.”

    The final $3.7m package includes vital funding for prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement.

     Funding for the MDEA agents comes from the Gambling Control Board while the prevention and treatment portions will be funded through the Maine Medical Marijuana Fund and grants to law enforcement for treatment initiatives will be administered by the Department of Public Safety. 

    The new law will provide $2.4 million for additional addiction treatment programs, including a new 10-bed detoxification facility to be located somewhere in the underserved Northern or Eastern Maine regions. It will also support increased access to treatment services for uninsured Mainers, and bolster peer support recovery centers, which help those in recovery avoid relapse.

    “With a divided Legislature, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. But we knew that to address the drug addiction crisis, we needed to put politics aside,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This plan addresses both the supply and demand side of our drug problem, and will result in more treatment options for Mainers struggling to escape the grip of substance use disorder.”

    The bill also supports continued funding for 10 new MDEA agents. Those agents, once hired, will lead additional investigations that will continue MDEA’s work to bust trafficking operations and keep drugs off the streets. Additionally, it provides start-up grants for local law enforcement agencies to establish projects similar to Scarborough’s Operation HOPE, to connect addicts with treatment, recovery and support services.

    The bill was signed into law, by Governor Paul LePage who said,"I had expressed concerns about funding sources and the grant-making authority, but I thank legislative leadership for their willingness to broker changes that both the administration and the legislature could support."

  • Rep. Gideon’s measure would increase access to overdose reversal drug

    Bill would help put the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone in the hands of first responders

     A measure by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon would put the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone in the hands of more first responders.

    “We are experiencing a public health crisis in our state, which is taking lives at a tragic, alarming and growing rate,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “Naloxone saves lives. It’s a crucial tool to prevent overdose deaths. This bill is a crucial part of a comprehensive approach to addressing our addiction epidemic.”

    The measure, LD 1547, enables the Maine Attorney General’s Office to facilitate the bulk purchase of naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, in order to make the drug more accessible to municipalities. That will make it easier and more affordable for cities and towns to put naloxone in the hands of first responders who can use it to save lives.

    According to the Attorney General’s office, more than 200 Mainers died of a drug overdose in 2014. In the first nine months of 2015, there were 174 overdose deaths, putting the state on track to reach between 230 and 250 overdose deaths last year.

    Gideon sponsored emergency legislation passed in 2014 that allowed first responders with training to administer naloxone in order to prevent overdose deaths. Maine lawmakers approved an additional measure to expand access to the antidote sponsored by Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, last year. Since 2001, 16 other states have also passed laws making it easier to prescribe, dispense and administer naloxone.

    Also known by its trade name, Narcan, naloxone is not addictive and does not produce euphoria. It has no effect if there are no narcotics in a person’s system.

    The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee, which will schedule a public hearing in the coming weeks.

    Gideon is serving her second term in the Maine House.  She represents Freeport and part of Pownal.

  • President Obama's full State of the Union, 2016

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, my fellow Americans:  

    Tonight marks the eighth year that I’ve come here to report on the State of the Union.  And for this final one, I’m going to try to make it a little shorter.  (Applause.)  I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa.  (Laughter.)  I've been there.  I'll be shaking hands afterwards if you want some tips.  (Laughter.) 

    And I understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we will achieve this year are low.  But, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach that you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families.  So I hope we can work together this year on some bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform -- (applause) -- and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse.  (Applause.)  So, who knows, we might surprise the cynics again. 

    But tonight, I want to go easy on the traditional list of proposals for the year ahead.  Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty, from helping students learn to write computer code to personalizing medical treatments for patients.  And I will keep pushing for progress on the work that I believe still needs to be done.  Fixing a broken immigration system.  (Applause.)  Protecting our kids from gun violence.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  Paid leave.  (Applause.)  Raising the minimum wage. (Applause.)  All these things still matter to hardworking families.  They’re still the right thing to do.  And I won't let up until they get done.

    But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to just talk about next year.  I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond.  I want to focus on our future.

    We live in a time of extraordinary change -- change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.  It’s change that promises amazing medical breakthroughs, but also economic disruptions that strain working families.  It promises education for girls in the most remote villages, but also connects terrorists plotting an ocean away.  It’s change that can broaden opportunity, or widen inequality.  And whether we like it or not, the pace of this change will only accelerate.

    America has been through big changes before -- wars and depression, the influx of new immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, movements to expand civil rights.  Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change; who promised to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control.  And each time, we overcame those fears.  We did not, in the words of Lincoln, adhere to the “dogmas of the quiet past.”  Instead we thought anew, and acted anew.  We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people.  And because we did -- because we saw opportunity where others saw only peril -- we emerged stronger and better than before.

    What was true then can be true now.  Our unique strengths as a nation -- our optimism and work ethic, our spirit of discovery, our diversity, our commitment to rule of law -- these things give us everything we need to ensure prosperity and security for generations to come. 

    In fact, it’s in that spirit that we have made progress these past seven years.  That's how we recovered from the worst economic crisis in generations.  (Applause.)  That's how we reformed our health care system, and reinvented our energy sector.  (Applause.)  That's how we delivered more care and benefits to our troops coming home and our veterans.  (Applause.) That's how we secured the freedom in every state to marry the person we love.  (Applause.) 

    But such progress is not inevitable.  It’s the result of choices we make together.  And we face such choices right now.  Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, turning against each other as a people?  Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, in what we stand for, in the incredible things that we can do together?

    So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that I believe we as a country have to answer -- regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress. 

    First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?  (Applause.) 

    Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us -- especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?  (Applause.) 

    Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?  (Applause.) 

    And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?

    Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact:  The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world.  (Applause.)  We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history.  (Applause.)  More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ‘90s, an unemployment rate cut in half.  Our auto industry just had its best year ever.  (Applause.)  That's just part of a manufacturing surge that's created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years.  And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.  (Applause.) 

    Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction.  (Applause.)  Now, what is true -- and the reason that a lot of Americans feel anxious -- is that the economy has been changing in profound ways, changes that started long before the Great Recession hit; changes that have not let up. 

    Today, technology doesn’t just replace jobs on the assembly line, but any job where work can be automated.  Companies in a global economy can locate anywhere, and they face tougher competition.  As a result, workers have less leverage for a raise.  Companies have less loyalty to their communities.  And more and more wealth and income is concentrated at the very top.

    All these trends have squeezed workers, even when they have jobs; even when the economy is growing.  It’s made it harder for a hardworking family to pull itself out of poverty, harder for young people to start their careers, tougher for workers to retire when they want to.  And although none of these trends are unique to America, they do offend our uniquely American belief that everybody who works hard should get a fair shot.

    For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works also better for everybody.  We’ve made progress.  But we need to make more.  And despite all the political arguments that we’ve had these past few years, there are actually some areas where Americans broadly agree.

    We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all and -- (applause) -- offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.  We should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.  (Applause.) 

    And we have to make college affordable for every American.  (Applause.)  No hardworking student should be stuck in the red.  We’ve already reduced student loan payments to 10 percent of a borrower’s income.  And that's good.  But now, we’ve actually got to cut the cost of college.  (Applause.)  Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.  (Applause.)  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.) 

    But a great education isn’t all we need in this new economy. We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security.  It’s not too much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package for 30 years are sitting in this chamber.  (Laughter.)  For everyone else, especially folks in their 40s and 50s, saving for retirement or bouncing back from job loss has gotten a lot tougher.  Americans understand that at some point in their careers, in this new economy, they may have to retool and they may have to retrain.  But they shouldn’t lose what they’ve already worked so hard to build in the process. 

    That’s why Social Security and Medicare are more important than ever.  We shouldn’t weaken them; we should strengthen them. (Applause.)  And for Americans short of retirement, basic benefits should be just as mobile as everything else is today.  That, by the way, is what the Affordable Care Act is all about.  It’s about filling the gaps in employer-based care so that when you lose a job, or you go back to school, or you strike out and launch that new business, you’ll still have coverage.  Nearly 18 million people have gained coverage so far.  (Applause.)  And in the process, health care inflation has slowed.  And our businesses have created jobs every single month since it became law.

    Now, I’m guessing we won’t agree on health care anytime soon.  (Applause.)  A little applause right there.  Laughter.)  Just a guess.  But there should be other ways parties can work together to improve economic security.  Say a hardworking American loses his job -- we shouldn’t just make sure that he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that’s ready to hire him.  If that new job doesn’t pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills.  And even if he’s going from job to job, he should still be able to save for retirement and take his savings with him.  That’s the way we make the new economy work better for everybody.

    I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty.  America is about giving everybody willing to work a chance, a hand up.  And I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers who don't have children.  (Applause.)  

    But there are some areas where we just have to be honest -- it has been difficult to find agreement over the last seven years.  And a lot of them fall under the category of what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations.  (Applause.) And it's an honest disagreement, and the American people have a choice to make.

    I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy.  I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed.  There is red tape that needs to be cut.  (Applause.)  There you go!  Yes!  (Applause  But after years now of record corporate profits, working families won’t get more opportunity or bigger paychecks just by letting big banks or big oil or hedge funds make their own rules at everybody else’s expense.  (Applause.)  Middle-class families are not going to feel more secure because we allowed attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered.  Food Stamp recipients did not cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did.  (Applause.)  Immigrants aren’t the principal reason wages haven’t gone up; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that all too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns.  It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts.  (Applause.)   

    The point is, I believe that in this In new economy, workers and start-ups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.  The rules should work for them.  (Applause.)  And I'm not alone in this.  This year I plan to lift up the many businesses who’ve figured out that doing right by their workers or their customers or their communities ends up being good for their shareholders.  (Applause.)  And I want to spread those best practices across America.  That's part of a brighter future.  (Applause.) 

    In fact, it turns out many of our best corporate citizens are also our most creative.  And this brings me to the second big question we as a country have to answer:  How do we reignite that spirit of innovation to meet our biggest challenges?

    Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there.  (Laughter.)  We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight.  And 12 years later, we were walking on the moon.  (Applause.)   

    Now, that spirit of discovery is in our DNA.  America is Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver.  America is Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride.  America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world.  (Applause.)  That's who we are. 

    And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.  We’ve protected an open Internet, and taken bold new steps to get more students and low-income Americans online.  (Applause.)  We’ve launched next-generation manufacturing hubs, and online tools that give an entrepreneur everything he or she needs to start a business in a single day.  But we can do so much more. 

    Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer.  Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources that they’ve had in over a decade. (Applause.)  So tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done.  And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us on so many issues over the past 40 years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control.  (Applause.)  For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the families that we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.  (Applause.) 

    Medical research is critical.  We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.  (Applause.)  Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it.  You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.  (Applause.)   

    But even if -- even if the planet wasn’t at stake, even if 2014 wasn’t the warmest year on record -- until 2015 turned out to be even hotter -- why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future? (Applause.) 

    Listen, seven years ago, we made the single biggest investment in clean energy in our history.  Here are the results. In fields from Iowa to Texas, wind power is now cheaper than dirtier, conventional power.  On rooftops from Arizona to New York, solar is saving Americans tens of millions of dollars a year on their energy bills, and employs more Americans than coal -- in jobs that pay better than average.  We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy -- something, by the way, that environmentalists and Tea Partiers have teamed up to support.   And meanwhile, we’ve cut our imports of foreign oil by nearly 60 percent, and cut carbon pollution more than any other country on Earth.  (Applause.)  Gas under two bucks a gallon ain’t bad, either.  (Applause.) 

    Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from old, dirtier energy sources.  Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future -- especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels.  We do them no favor when we don't show them where the trends are going.  That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. And that way, we put money back into those communities, and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.  (Applause.) 

    Now, none of this is going to happen overnight.  And, yes, there are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.  But the jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, the planet we’ll preserve -- that is the kind of future our kids and our grandkids deserve.  And it's within our grasp. 

    Climate change is just one of many issues where our security is linked to the rest of the world.  And that’s why the third big question that we have to answer together is how to keep America safe and strong without either isolating ourselves or trying to nation-build everywhere there’s a problem.

    I told you earlier all the talk of America’s economic decline is political hot air.  Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker.  Let me tell you something.  The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth.  Period. (Applause.)  Period.  It’s not even close.  It's not even close. (Applause.)  It's not even close.  We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.  Our troops are the finest fighting force in the history of the world.  (Applause.)  No nation attacks us directly, or our allies, because they know that’s the path to ruin.  Surveys show our standing around the world is higher than when I was elected to this office, and when it comes to every important international issue, people of the world do not look to Beijing or Moscow to lead -- they call us.  (Applause.)

    I mean, it's useful to level the set here, because when we don't, we don't make good decisions.    

    Now, as someone who begins every day with an intelligence briefing, I know this is a dangerous time.  But that’s not primarily because of some looming superpower out there, and certainly not because of diminished American strength.  In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states. 

    The Middle East is going through a transformation that will play out for a generation, rooted in conflicts that date back millennia.  Economic headwinds are blowing in from a Chinese economy that is in significant transition.  Even as their economy severely contracts, Russia is pouring resources in to prop up Ukraine and Syria -- client states that they saw slipping away from their orbit.  And the international system we built after World War II is now struggling to keep pace with this new reality.

    It’s up to us, the United States of America, to help remake that system.  And to do that well it means that we’ve got to set priorities.

    Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks.  (Applause.)  Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage.  They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country.  Their actions undermine and destabilize our allies.  We have to take them out.

    But as we focus on destroying ISIL, over-the-top claims that this is World War III just play into their hands.  Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks, twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages -- they pose an enormous danger to civilians; they have to be stopped.  But they do not threaten our national existence.  (Applause.)  That is the story ISIL wants to tell.  That’s the kind of propaganda they use to recruit.  We don’t need to build them up to show that we’re serious, and we sure don't need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.  (Applause.)  We just need to call them what they are -- killers and fanatics who have to be rooted out, hunted down, and destroyed.  (Applause.)  

    And that’s exactly what we’re doing.  For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology.  With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we’re taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, their weapons.  We’re training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria. 

    If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, authorize the use of military force against ISIL.  Take a vote.  (Applause.)  Take a vote.  But the American people should know that with or without congressional action, ISIL will learn the same lessons as terrorists before them.  If you doubt America’s commitment -- or mine -- to see that justice is done, just ask Osama bin Laden.  (Applause.)  Ask the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, who was taken out last year, or the perpetrator of the Benghazi attacks, who sits in a prison cell.  When you come after Americans, we go after you.  (Applause.)  And it may take time, but we have long memories, and our reach has no limits.  (Applause.)  

    Our foreign policy hast to be focused on the threat from ISIL and al Qaeda, but it can’t stop there.  For even without ISIL, even without al Qaeda, instability will continue for decades in many parts of the world -- in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, in parts of Central America, in Africa, and Asia.  Some of these places may become safe havens for new terrorist networks.  Others will just fall victim to ethnic conflict, or famine, feeding the next wave of refugees.  The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet-bomb civilians.  That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

    We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis, even if it's done with the best of intentions.  (Applause.)  That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately will weaken us.  It’s the lesson of Vietnam; it's the lesson of Iraq -- and we should have learned it by now.  (Applause.)   

    Fortunately, there is a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy that uses every element of our national power.  It says America will always act, alone if necessary, to protect our people and our allies; but on issues of global concern, we will mobilize the world to work with us, and make sure other countries pull their own weight.   

    That’s our approach to conflicts like Syria, where we’re partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace.

    That’s why we built a global coalition, with sanctions and principled diplomacy, to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.  And as we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war.  (Applause.)   

    That’s how we stopped the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  (Applause.)  Our military, our doctors, our development workers -- they were heroic; they set up the platform that then allowed other countries to join in behind us and stamp out that epidemic. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a couple million lives were saved.

    That’s how we forged a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open markets, and protect workers and the environment, and advance American leadership in Asia.  It cuts 18,000 taxes on products made in America, which will then support more good jobs here in America.  With TPP, China does not set the rules in that region; we do.  You want to show our strength in this new century?  Approve this agreement.  Give us the tools to enforce it.  It's the right thing to do.  (Applause.)   

    Let me give you another example.  Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, and set us back in Latin America.  That’s why we restored diplomatic relations -- (applause) -- opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people.  (Applause.) So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over -- lift the embargo.  (Applause.)  

    The point is American leadership in the 21st century is not a choice between ignoring the rest of the world -- except when we kill terrorists -- or occupying and rebuilding whatever society is unraveling.  Leadership means a wise application of military power, and rallying the world behind causes that are right.  It means seeing our foreign assistance as a part of our national security, not something separate, not charity. 

    When we lead nearly 200 nations to the most ambitious agreement in history to fight climate change, yes, that helps vulnerable countries, but it also protects our kids.  When we help Ukraine defend its democracy, or Colombia resolve a decades-long war, that strengthens the international order we depend on. When we help African countries feed their people and care for the sick -- (applause) -- it's the right thing to do, and it prevents the next pandemic from reaching our shores.  Right now, we’re on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS.  That's within our grasp.  (Applause.)  And we have the chance to accomplish the same thing with malaria -- something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.  (Applause.) 

    That's American strength.  That's American leadership.  And that kind of leadership depends on the power of our example.  That’s why I will keep working to shut down the prison at Guantanamo.  (Applause.)  It is expensive, it is unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies.  (Applause.)  There’s a better way.  (Applause.)   

    And that’s why we need to reject any politics -- any politics -- that targets people because of race or religion.  (Applause.)  Let me just say this.  This is not a matter of political correctness.  This is a matter of understanding just what it is that makes us strong.  The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity, and our openness, and the way we respect every faith. 

    His Holiness, Pope Francis, told this body from the very spot that I'm standing on tonight that “to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place.”  When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or our fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer.  That’s not telling it like it is.  It’s just wrong.  (Applause.)  It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.  It makes it harder to achieve our goals.  It betrays who we are as a country.  (Applause.) 

    “We the People.”  Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together, and that's how we might perfect our Union.  And that brings me to the fourth, and maybe the most important thing that I want to say tonight.

    The future we want -- all of us want -- opportunity and security for our families, a rising standard of living, a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids -- all that is within our reach.  But it will only happen if we work together.  It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates.  It will only happen if we fix our politics.

    A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything.  This is a big country -- different regions, different attitudes, different interests.  That’s one of our strengths, too.  Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

    But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens.  It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice.  It doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.  Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise, or when even basic facts are contested, or when we listen only to those who agree with us.  Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention.  And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest.

    Too many Americans feel that way right now.  It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.  I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office.

    But, my fellow Americans, this cannot be my task -- or any President’s -- alone.  There are a whole lot of folks in this chamber, good people who would like to see more cooperation, would like to see a more elevated debate in Washington, but feel trapped by the imperatives of getting elected, by the noise coming out of your base.  I know; you’ve told me.  It's the worst-kept secret in Washington.  And a lot of you aren't enjoying being trapped in that kind of rancor. 

    But that means if we want a better politics -- and I'm addressing the American people now -- if we want a better politics, it’s not enough just to change a congressman or change a senator or even change a President.  We have to change the system to reflect our better selves.  I think we've got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.  (Applause.)  Let a bipartisan group do it.  (Applause.) 

    We have to reduce the influence of money in our politics, so that a handful of families or hidden interests can’t bankroll our elections.  (Applause.)  And if our existing approach to campaign finance reform can’t pass muster in the courts, we need to work together to find a real solution -- because it's a problem.  And most of you don't like raising money.  I know; I've done it.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make it easier to vote, not harder.  (Applause.)  We need to modernize it for the way we live now.  (Applause.)  This is America:  We want to make it easier for people to participate.  And over the course of this year, I intend to travel the country to push for reforms that do just that.

    But I can’t do these things on my own.  (Applause.)  Changes in our political process -- in not just who gets elected, but how they get elected -- that will only happen when the American people demand it.  It depends on you.  That’s what’s meant by a government of, by, and for the people. 

    What I’m suggesting is hard.  It’s a lot easier to be cynical; to accept that change is not possible, and politics is hopeless, and the problem is all the folks who are elected don't care, and to believe that our voices and actions don’t matter.  But if we give up now, then we forsake a better future.  Those with money and power will gain greater control over the decisions that could send a young soldier to war, or allow another economic disaster, or roll back the equal rights and voting rights that generations of Americans have fought, even died, to secure.  And then, as frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into our respective tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background.

    We can’t afford to go down that path.  It won’t deliver the economy we want.  It will not produce the security we want.  But most of all, it contradicts everything that makes us the envy of the world. 

    So, my fellow Americans, whatever you may believe, whether you prefer one party or no party, whether you supported my agenda or fought as hard as you could against it -- our collective futures depends on your willingness to uphold your duties as a citizen.  To vote.  To speak out.  To stand up for others, especially the weak, especially the vulnerable, knowing that each of us is only here because somebody, somewhere, stood up for us. (Applause.)  We need every American to stay active in our public life -- and not just during election time -- so that our public life reflects the goodness and the decency that I see in the American people every single day. 

    It is not easy.  Our brand of democracy is hard.  But I can promise that a little over a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I will be right there with you as a citizen, inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that helped America travel so far.  Voices that help us see ourselves not, first and foremost, as black or white, or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrat or Republican, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed.  Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word -- voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love. 

    And they’re out there, those voices.  They don’t get a lot of attention; they don't seek a lot of fanfare; but they’re busy doing the work this country needs doing.  I see them everywhere I travel in this incredible country of ours.  I see you, the American people.  And in your daily acts of citizenship, I see our future unfolding.

    I see it in the worker on the assembly line who clocked extra shifts to keep his company open, and the boss who pays him higher wages instead of laying him off. 

    I see it in the Dreamer who stays up late at night to finish her science project, and the teacher who comes in early, and maybe with some extra supplies that she bought because she knows that that young girl might someday cure a disease.

    I see it in the American who served his time, and bad mistakes as a child but now is dreaming of starting over -- and I see it in the business owner who gives him that second chance.  The protester determined to prove that justice matters -- and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the soldier who gives almost everything to save his brothers, the nurse who tends to him till he can run a marathon, the community that lines up to cheer him on.

    It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.  (Applause.) 

    I see it in the elderly woman who will wait in line to cast her vote as long as she has to; the new citizen who casts his vote for the first time; the volunteers at the polls who believe every vote should count -- because each of them in different ways know how much that precious right is worth.

    That's the America I know.  That’s the country we love.   Clear-eyed.  Big-hearted.  Undaunted by challenge.  Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.  (Applause.)  That’s what makes me so hopeful about our future.  I believe in change because I believe in you, the American people.  

    And that’s why I stand here confident as I have ever been that the State of our Union is strong.  (Applause.) 

    Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America. 

  • Portland, ME, police ask for help in solving commercial burglaries

    Commercial Burglaries – Gas Stations and Cigarette Shops in Portland, Maine

    Portland Police Detectives are investigating a series of Commercial Burglaries in the city.  

    Over the past month, there have been several burglaries or attempted burglaries to gas stations, markets, and cigarette shops. All burglaries have occurred during the overnight hours and entry was gained by either prying doors or breaking glass.  Items stolen include cash and large quantities of cigarettes.

    These burglaries have occurred at;

    • Hilltop Superette 135 Congress St.on December 16th
    •  Peace Food Market 21 Chestnut St. on December 24th
    • Cigarette Shopper 263 St. John on December 30th
    • Jakes’ Quik Stop 205 Brighton Av. on January 10th
    • The Riverton Gas Station 1585 Forest Av. on January 10th and 11th
    • Clipper Mart 55 Riverside St on January 11th

    Images have been obtained of at least two male suspects.  Police are working to determine the identities of the suspects shown in these images. Officers have increased patrols around various markets and gas stations.  We encourage business to limit any cash that they may leave in a business at night and to evaluate the placement of surveillance systems.

    Anyone with investigative information, please contact the Portland Police Detective Bureau at 207-874-8533.   For emergency calls please contact the Portland Police Communications center by dialing 911 or at 874-8575 for non-emergencies. 

     

     To provide information anonymously, community members may contact us by text, internet, or phone.

    • Mobile phone users can text the keyword “GOTCHA” plus their message to 274637 (CRIMES).
    • Submit tips by going to the Portland Police Department website:

                    www.portland-police.com and clicking "Submit an Anonymous Crime Tip.”

    • Anonymous phone tips can be left on the Department’s Crime Tip line:

    207-874-8584.

      ­­  

  • DuPont knowingly kept using a toxic chemical

    The Editorial Board of the New York Times-read the origional piece HERE.

    An article in The Times Magazine on Sunday has laid bare the unconscionable decades-long efforts of the DuPont company to hide the dangers of an obscure chemical and bamboozle regulators into allowing toxic pollution to continue long after the dangers were known to the company. The article by Nathaniel Rich described how a corporate lawyer, Rob Bilott, built a devastating case against DuPont, based on the company’s own studies and internal documents. The case illustrates the urgent need for Congress to complete its efforts to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has allowed tens of thousands of untested chemicals to remain on the market with little more than the manufacturer’s say-so that they are safe.

    The chemical that DuPont was protecting is known as PFOA, or perfluorooctanoic acid. It is used in the production of Teflon for non-stick frying pans, a huge source of profits for DuPont. When the Toxic Substances Control Act was enacted in 1976, PFOA was one of a multitude of untested chemicals allowed to remain on the market. The act also made it extremely difficult for the Environmental Protection Agency to require safety tests or crack down on chemicals known to be hazardous. Only a handful have been restricted over the past 40 years.

    In the case of PFOA, DuPont brazenly dumped its toxic waste into a creek that ran through a pasture where farmers grazed and watered their cows, causing grotesque malformations and deaths among the animals. Meanwhile, the company hid evidence that the chemical had contaminated the local water supply well beyond what the company’s own scientists considered safe and far beyond what independent scientists considered safe.

    The Senate and the House have passed bills that would go a long way toward preventing such tragedies. What remains is for the two chambers to reconcile their versions into one bill that can be sent to the president for his signature. The Senate bill is the stronger of the two. Both would make it harder for companies to hide information from the public and from federal or state agencies by claiming it is confidential business information. Both bills would require companies to justify claims of confidentiality, but the stronger Senate bill would also require the E.P.A. to review such claims. The Senate bill would also require full public disclosure of any chemical that was found to be hazardous in testing.

    The Senate bill would eliminate a “Catch-22” provision in existing law that says the E.P.A. can’t require safety testing unless it has evidence, which companies often try to hide, that a chemical may present an unreasonable risk. That is virtually impossible to demonstrate without the data that required testing would provide.

    For regulatory purposes, the existing law divides chemicals into two groups — “existing chemicals,” more than 60,000, that were on the market when the first Toxic Substances Control Act was established in 1979, and “new chemicals,” more than 20,000, that entered commerce after 1979.

    Although the law theoretically gave the E.P.A. authority to review “new chemicals” before they entered the market, it allowed companies to sell an untested chemical within 90 days if the overburdened agency didn’t challenge them, as was usually the case. The Senate bill, but not the House version, would mandate that the E.P.A. find the chemical safe before it can be marketed.

    The current law has no requirements for the E.P.A. to review the safety of existing chemicals. The Senate bill would require it to prioritize all chemicals in active commerce and set deadlines for their review. The House bill would largely leave the status quo untouched.

    Both bills would allow industry to nominate chemicals for priority review, but the House bill would require the E.P.A. to evaluate any chemical a manufacturer submits, potentially eating up all of the agency’s time and effort, whereas the Senate bill caps industry requests and gives the E.P.A. greater power to set its own priorities.

    There is strong bipartisan support in Congress to reform the existing law. The frightening DuPont saga is further reason for Congress to choose the strongest possible reform.

  • Maine Public testimony reveals dire need for action to fight drug epidemic

    Editorial by Senator Linda Valentino from Saco. 

    We know that Maine’s drug addiction crisis requires swift action. That was confirmed again this week when we heard directly from citizens about the grip substance abuse has on their loved ones and their communities.

     I serve on the Legislature’s budget committee. We started work this week on a bipartisan plan to bolster drug addiction treatment and support our law enforcement efforts. This multi-pronged approach is an important first step to solving our drug crisis.

    However, there are some in Augusta who pay lip service to the seriousness of the situation, but then they argue we already do enough and spend enough. They say we need to pump the brakes on fighting back.

    But the drug crisis can’t wait while politicians bicker and argue and fight over political points.

     Mainers spoke out during a public hearing this week. People travelled from all over our state and waited hours to tell us about the gravity of the situation. They know there’s no time to waste.

     Police officers told us horror stories about families devastated when addiction claimed the life of a child or sibling. They want to help sick people in their towns find help, but often there aren’t enough treatment resources to go around.

    Health providers that specialize in treating the disease of addiction said they’re doing everything they can, but are unequipped to face an epidemic that just keeps growing.

    But the most chilling and heart-wrenching testimony came from a regular Maine mother from Freeport. She said her son had struggled with addiction for much of his life. Unable to find help in Maine, he had to go to Minnesota and Montana to get on the path to recovery. Things seemed to be going well. Her son came home and finally earned his high school degree. But one relapse was enough to mean he had to leave again. This time he was lucky enough to find help in New Hampshire.

    That mom begged us to put politics aside and take action now.

    2015 set a new record for heroin deaths in Maine. Five Mainers die every week from a drug overdose. We know that stereotypes about addicts don’t tell the true story. For the truth, you need to read the obituaries. There, you’ll learn that heroin addiction doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor, or whether you have a college degree or not. It affects unemployed young people and adults with good-paying jobs and families alike.

    How many more families need to be torn apart because their son or daughter is sick and needs help, but can’t get it here in Maine? People who want to leave drugs behind shouldn’t have to leave their families and everything they know.

    Those in Augusta who ask us to slow down say the waitlists for drug addiction treatment are “short,” but we know that’s not the whole story. People who want to take the first step toward recovery can’t afford to wait weeks or even months. Every day outside treatment is a day that could be their last.

    We have to do better. That mom in Freeport expects us to do our jobs. We know what needs to be done to save lives and start stemming the tide of drug abuse and addiction. The time for talking is over. It’s time to act.

  • President Obama announces bold new executive actions to curb gun violence

     
    President expands background checks for online sellers and gun shows and calls on Congress to expand funding for mental health treatment and gun research

    By Ramona du Houx

    On January 5, 2016, President Barack Obama announced new executive actions to curb gun violence, during an event in the East Room, which was packed with families of gun-violence victims and gun control activists.

    “We do have to feel a sense of urgency. People are dying. ... And the constant excuses for inaction no longer suffice," said Pres. Obama, who became visably emotional holding back tears when he discussed the murders at Sandy Hill Elementary School."From high schoolers at Columbine and from first graders at Newtown. First graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."

    Obama's executive actions will sidestep Congress. The centerpiece of the president’s actions will require background checks on firearm sales at gun shows, flea markets and online.

    At these venues too many sellers don’t register with the federal government as dealers, a practice that allows buyers to avoid background checks.

    The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) will issue new guidance that says anyone who is “in the business of selling firearms” will be considered a dealer, no matter where they sell guns.

    Obama's actions will also strengthen enforcement of current gun laws. The Federal Bureau of Investigation will also hire 230 additional employees to speed up processing of background checks.

    There is a portion of the President’s recommendations that call on Congressman action, such as the hiring of more FBI and ATF agents as well as the enhancement of mental health services under the Affordable Care Act.

    The issue of guns, which used to be bipartisan, has become “one of the most polarizing, most partisan debates in the country,” said Obama. And the reason why: Some members of Congress use it to win elections.

    “I want to be absolutely clear at the start, I believe in the second amendment," he said. "It's there written on the paper—it guarantees the right to bear arms. No matter how many times people try to twist my words around—I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this. But I also believe we can find ways to reduce violence consistent with the second amendment."

    Several Republican candidates running to replace Obama have vowed to reverse his actions.

    The Presidents full remarks:

     

         Mark, I want to thank you for your introduction.  I still remember the first time we met, the time we spent together, and the conversation we had about Daniel.  And that changed me that day.  And my hope, earnestly, has been that it would change the country. 

     

         Five years ago this week, a sitting member of Congress and 18 others were shot at, at a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.  It wasn’t the first time I had to talk to the nation in response to a mass shooting, nor would it be the last.  Fort Hood.  Binghamton.  Aurora.  Oak Creek.  Newtown.  The Navy Yard.  Santa Barbara.  Charleston.  San Bernardino.  Too many.

     

         AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Too many.

     

         AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Too many.

     

         AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Too many.

     

         THE PRESIDENT:  Thanks to a great medical team and the love of her husband, Mark, my dear friend and colleague, Gabby Giffords, survived.  She’s here with us today, with her wonderful mom.  (Applause.)  Thanks to a great medical team, her wonderful husband, Mark -- who, by the way, the last time I met with Mark  -- this is just a small aside -- you may know Mark’s twin brother is in outer space.  (Laughter.)  He came to the office, and I said, how often are you talking to him?  And he says, well, I usually talk to him every day, but the call was coming in right before the meeting so I think I may have not answered his call -- (laughter) -- which made me feel kind of bad.  (Laughter.)    That’s a long-distance call.  (Laughter.)  So I told him if his brother, Scott, is calling today, that he should take it.  (Laughter.)  Turn the ringer on.  (Laughter.) 

     

         I was there with Gabby when she was still in the hospital, and we didn’t think necessarily at that point that she was going to survive.  And that visit right before a memorial -- about an hour later Gabby first opened her eyes.  And I remember talking to mom about that.  But I know the pain that she and her family have endured these past five years, and the rehabilitation and the work and the effort to recover from shattering injuries.

     

    And then I think of all the Americans who aren’t as fortunate.  Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns -- 30,000.  Suicides.  Domestic violence.  Gang shootouts.  Accidents.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children.  Many have had to learn to live with a disability, or learned to live without the love of their life. 

     

    A number of those people are here today.  They can tell you some stories.  In this room right here, there are a lot of stories.  There’s a lot of heartache.  There’s a lot of resilience, there’s a lot of strength, but there’s also a lot of pain.  And this is just a small sample.

     

         The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people.  We are not inherently more prone to violence.  But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.  It doesn't happen in other advanced countries.  It’s not even close.  And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.

     

    And instead of thinking about how to solve the problem, this has become one of our most polarized, partisan debates -- despite the fact that there’s a general consensus in America about what needs to be done.  That’s part of the reason why, on Thursday, I’m going to hold a town hall meeting in Virginia on gun violence.  Because my goal here is to bring good people on both sides of this issue together for an open discussion. 

     

    I’m not on the ballot again.  I’m not looking to score some points.  I think we can disagree without impugning other people’s motives or without being disagreeable.  We don't need to be talking past one another.  But we do have to feel a sense of urgency about it.  In Dr. King’s words, we need to feel the “fierce urgency of now.”  Because people are dying.  And the constant excuses for inaction no longer do, no longer suffice. 

     

    That’s why we’re here today.  Not to debate the last mass shooting, but to do something to try to prevent the next one.  (Applause.)  To prove that the vast majority of Americans, even if our voices aren’t always the loudest or most extreme, care enough about a little boy like Daniel to come together and take common-sense steps to save lives and protect more of our children.

     

         Now, I want to be absolutely clear at the start -- and I’ve said this over and over again, this also becomes routine, there is a ritual about this whole thing that I have to do -- I believe in the Second Amendment.  It’s there written on the paper.  It guarantees a right to bear arms.  No matter how many times people try to twist my words around -- I taught constitutional law, I know a little about this -- (applause) -- I get it.  But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment. 

     

    I mean, think about it.  We all believe in the First Amendment, the guarantee of free speech, but we accept that you can’t yell “fire” in a theater.  We understand there are some constraints on our freedom in order to protect innocent people.  We cherish our right to privacy, but we accept that you have to go through metal detectors before being allowed to board a plane. It’s not because people like doing that, but we understand that that’s part of the price of living in a civilized society. 

     

    And what’s often ignored in this debate is that a majority of gun owners actually agree.  A majority of gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking feud from inflicting harm on a massive scale. 

     

    Today, background checks are required at gun stores.  If a father wants to teach his daughter how to hunt, he can walk into a gun store, get a background check, purchase his weapon safely and responsibly.  This is not seen as an infringement on the Second Amendment.  Contrary to the claims of what some gun rights proponents have suggested, this hasn’t been the first step in some slippery slope to mass confiscation.  Contrary to claims of some presidential candidates, apparently, before this meeting, this is not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.  You pass a background check; you purchase a firearm. 

     

         The problem is some gun sellers have been operating under a different set of rules.  A violent felon can buy the exact same weapon over the Internet with no background check, no questions asked.  A recent study found that about one in 30 people looking to buy guns on one website had criminal records -- one out of 30 had a criminal record.  We’re talking about individuals convicted of serious crimes -- aggravated assault, domestic violence, robbery, illegal gun possession.  People with lengthy criminal histories buying deadly weapons all too easily.  And this was just one website within the span of a few months. 

     

         So we’ve created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules than a responsible gun owner who buys his or her gun the right way and subjects themselves to a background check.  That doesn’t make sense.  Everybody should have to abide by the same rules.  Most Americans and gun owners agree.  And that’s what we tried to change three years ago, after 26 Americans -– including 20 children -– were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary. 

     

    Two United States Senators -– Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, and Pat Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, both gun owners, both strong defenders of our Second Amendment rights, both with “A” grades from the NRA –- that’s hard to get  -- worked together in good faith, consulting with folks like our Vice President, who has been a champion on this for a long time, to write a common-sense compromise bill that would have required virtually everyone who buys a gun to get a background check.  That was it.  Pretty common-sense stuff.  Ninety percent of Americans supported that idea.  Ninety percent of Democrats in the Senate voted for that idea.  But it failed because 90 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against that idea.  

     

         How did this become such a partisan issue?  Republican President George W. Bush once said, “I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere to make sure that guns don’t get into the hands of people that shouldn’t have them.”  Senator John McCain introduced a bipartisan measure to address the gun show loophole, saying, “We need this amendment because criminals and terrorists have exploited and are exploiting this very obvious loophole in our gun safety laws.”  Even the NRA used to support expanded background checks.  And by the way, most of its members still do.  Most Republican voters still do. 

     

    How did we get here?  How did we get to the place where people think requiring a comprehensive background check means taking away people’s guns?

     

         Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying.  I reject that thinking.  (Applause.)  We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world.  But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence. 

     

    Some of you may recall, at the same time that Sandy Hook happened, a disturbed person in China took a knife and tried to kill -- with a knife -- a bunch of children in China.  But most of them survived because he didn’t have access to a powerful weapon.  We maybe can’t save everybody, but we could save some.  Just as we don’t prevent all traffic accidents but we take steps to try to reduce traffic accidents.

     

         As Ronald Reagan once said, if mandatory background checks could save more lives, “it would be well worth making it the law of the land.”  The bill before Congress three years ago met that test.  Unfortunately, too many senators failed theirs.  (Applause.) 

     

         In fact, we know that background checks make a difference.  After Connecticut passed a law requiring background checks and gun safety courses, gun deaths decreased by 40 percent -- 40 percent.  (Applause.)  Meanwhile, since Missouri repealed a law requiring comprehensive background checks and purchase permits, gun deaths have increased to almost 50 percent higher than the national average.  One study found, unsurprisingly, that criminals in Missouri now have easier access to guns. 

     

    And the evidence tells us that in states that require background checks, law-abiding Americans don’t find it any harder to purchase guns whatsoever.  Their guns have not been confiscated.  Their rights have not been infringed. 

     

         And that’s just the information we have access to.  With more research, we could further improve gun safety.  Just as with more research, we’ve reduced traffic fatalities enormously over the last 30 years.  We do research when cars, food, medicine, even toys harm people so that we make them safer.  And you know what -- research, science -- those are good things.  They work.  (Laughter and applause.)  They do. 

     

         But think about this.  When it comes to an inherently deadly weapon -- nobody argues that guns are potentially deadly -- weapons that kill tens of thousands of Americans every year, Congress actually voted to make it harder for public health experts to conduct research into gun violence; made it harder to collect data and facts and develop strategies to reduce gun violence.  Even after San Bernardino, they’ve refused to make it harder for terror suspects who can’t get on a plane to buy semi-automatic weapons.  That’s not right.  That can't be right.

     

    So the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage.  (Applause.)  We do not have to accept this carnage as the price of freedom.  (Applause.)

     

    Now, I want to be clear.  Congress still needs to act.  The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does.  (Applause.)  Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures we can reduce gun violence a whole lot more.  But we also can't wait.  Until we have a Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives -– actions that protect our rights and our kids.

     

         After Sandy Hook, Joe and I worked together with our teams and we put forward a whole series of executive actions to try to tighten up the existing rules and systems that we had in place.  But today, we want to take it a step further.  So let me outline what we're going to be doing. 

     

    Number one, anybody in the business of selling firearms must get a license and conduct background checks, or be subject to criminal prosecutions.  (Applause.)  It doesn’t matter whether you’re doing it over the Internet or at a gun show.  It’s not where you do it, but what you do. 

     

    We’re also expanding background checks to cover violent criminals who try to buy some of the most dangerous firearms by hiding behind trusts and corporations and various cutouts.

     

    We're also taking steps to make the background check system more efficient.  Under the guidance of Jim Comey and the FBI, our Deputy Director Tom Brandon at ATF, we’re going to hire more folks to process applications faster, and we’re going to bring an outdated background check system into the 21st century.  (Applause.)

     

    And these steps will actually lead to a smoother process for law-abiding gun owners, a smoother process for responsible gun dealers, a stronger process for protecting the people from -- the public from dangerous people.  So that's number one.

     

         Number two, we’re going to do everything we can to ensure the smart and effective enforcement of gun safety laws that are already on the books, which means we're going to add 200 more ATF agents and investigators.  We're going to require firearms dealers to report more lost or stolen guns on a timely basis. We're working with advocates to protect victims of domestic abuse from gun violence, where too often -- (applause) -- where too often, people are not getting the protection that they need.

     

         Number three, we're going to do more to help those suffering from mental illness get the help that they need.  (Applause.)  High-profile mass shootings tend to shine a light on those few mentally unstable people who inflict harm on others.  But the truth is, is that nearly two in three gun deaths are from suicides.  So a lot of our work is to prevent people from hurting themselves. 

     

    That’s why we made sure that the Affordable Care Act -- also known as Obamacare -- (laughter and applause) -- that law made sure that treatment for mental health was covered the same as treatment for any other illness.  And that’s why we’re going to invest $500 million to expand access to treatment across the country.  (Applause.) 

     

         It’s also why we’re going to ensure that federal mental health records are submitted to the background check system, and remove barriers that prevent states from reporting relevant information.  If we can continue to de-stigmatize mental health issues, get folks proper care, and fill gaps in the background check system, then we can spare more families the pain of losing a loved one to suicide. 

     

    And for those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts.  Put your money where your mouth is.  (Applause.) 

     

         Number four, we’re going to boost gun safety technology.  Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen or misused or discharged accidentally.  In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents –- and that includes 30 children younger than five years old.  In the greatest, most technologically advanced nation on Earth, there is no reason for this.  We need to develop new technologies that make guns safer.  If we can set it up so you can’t unlock your phone unless you’ve got the right fingerprint, why can’t we do the same thing for our guns?  (Applause.)  If there’s an app that can help us find a missing tablet -- which happens to me often the older I get -- (laughter) -- if we can do it for your iPad, there’s no reason we can’t do it with a stolen gun.  If a child can’t open a bottle of aspirin, we should make sure that they can’t pull a trigger on a gun.  (Applause.)  Right? 

     

         So we’re going to advance research.  We’re going to work with the private sector to update firearms technology. 

     

    And some gun retailers are already stepping up by refusing to finalize a purchase without a complete background check, or by refraining from selling semi-automatic weapons or high-capacity magazines.  And I hope that more retailers and more manufacturers join them -- because they should care as much as anybody about a product that now kills almost as many Americans as car accidents.

     

         I make this point because none of us can do this alone.  I think Mark made that point earlier.  All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important -- Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them.  Because our right to worship freely and safely –- that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina.  (Applause.)  And that was denied Jews in Kansas City.  And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek.  (Applause.)  They had rights, too.  (Applause.) 

     

    Our right to peaceful assembly -– that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette.  Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -– those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown.  First-graders.  And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun. 

     

         Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad.  And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.  (Applause.) 

     

    So all of us need to demand a Congress brave enough to stand up to the gun lobby’s lies.  All of us need to stand up and protect its citizens.  All of us need to demand governors and legislatures and businesses do their part to make our communities safer.  We need the wide majority of responsible gun owners who grieve with us every time this happens and feel like your views are not being properly represented to join with us to demand something better.  (Applause.) 

     

    And we need voters who want safer gun laws, and who are disappointed in leaders who stand in their way, to remember come election time.  (Applause.) 

     

    I mean, some of this is just simple math.  Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized in defense of making it effortless for guns to be available for anybody, any time.  Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate.  We have to be just as organized in defense of our kids.  This is not that complicated.  The reason Congress blocks laws is because they want to win elections.  And if you make it hard for them to win an election if they block those laws, they’ll change course, I promise you.  (Applause.)

     

         And, yes, it will be hard, and it won’t happen overnight.  It won’t happen during this Congress.  It won’t happen during my presidency.  But a lot of things don’t happen overnight.  A woman’s right to vote didn’t happen overnight.  The liberation of African Americans didn’t happen overnight.  LGBT rights -- that was decades’ worth of work.  So just because it’s hard, that’s no excuse not to try. 

     

    And if you have any doubt as to why you should feel that “fierce urgency of now,” think about what happened three weeks ago.  Zaevion Dobson was a sophomore at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tennessee.  He played football; beloved by his classmates and his teachers.  His own mayor called him one of their city’s success stories.  The week before Christmas, he headed to a friend’s house to play video games.  He wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He hadn’t made a bad decision.  He was exactly where any other kid would be.  Your kid.  My kids. And then gunmen started firing.  And Zaevion -- who was in high school, hadn’t even gotten started in life -- dove on top of three girls to shield them from the bullets.  And he was shot in the head.  And the girls were spared.  He gave his life to save theirs –- an act of heroism a lot bigger than anything we should ever expect from a 15-year-old.  “Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.” 

     

    We are not asked to do what Zaevion Dobson did.  We’re not asked to have shoulders that big; a heart that strong; reactions that quick.  I’m not asking people to have that same level of courage, or sacrifice, or love.  But if we love our kids and care about their prospects, and if we love this country and care about its future, then we can find the courage to vote.  We can find the courage to get mobilized and organized.  We can find the courage to cut through all the noise and do what a sensible country would do.

     

    That’s what we’re doing today.  And tomorrow, we should do more.  And we should do more the day after that.  And if we do, we’ll leave behind a nation that’s stronger than the one we inherited and worthy of the sacrifice of a young man like Zaevion.  (Applause.)

     

    Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  Thank you.  God bless America.

  • Pres. Obama comments on recommendations on gun safety

    At 2:42 pm President Barack Obama made this statement confirming that his administration will put announced new gun safety laws this week:

     

         THE PRESIDENT:  Happy New Year, everybody.  Before the New Year, I mentioned that I had given the charge to my Attorney General, FBI Director, Deputy Director at the ATF, and personnel at my White House to work together to see what more we could do to prevent a scourge of gun violence in this country. 

         I think everybody here is all too familiar with the statistics.  We have tens of thousands of people every single year who are killed by guns.  We have suicides that are committed by firearms at a rate that far exceeds other countries.  We have a frequency of mass shootings that far exceeds other countries in frequency. 

         And although it is my strong belief that for us to get our complete arm around the problem Congress needs to act, what I asked my team to do is to see what more we could do to strengthen our enforcement and prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands to make sure that criminals, people who are mentally unstable, those who could pose a danger to themselves or others are less likely to get them. 

         And I’ve just received back a report from Attorney General Lynch, Director Comey, as well as Deputy Director Brandon about some of the ideas and initiatives that they think can make a difference.  And the good news is, is that these are not only recommendations that are well within my legal authority and the executive branch, but they’re also ones that the overwhelming majority of the American people, including gun owners, support and believe. 

         So, over the next several days, we’ll be rolling out these initiatives.  We’ll be making sure that people have a very clear understanding of what can make a difference and what we can do.  And although we have to be very clear that this is not going to solve every violent crime in this country, it’s not going to prevent every mass shooting, it’s not going to keep every gun out of the hands of a criminal, it will potentially save lives and spare families the pain and the extraordinary loss that they’ve suffered as a consequence of a firearm getting in the hands of the wrong people.

          I’m also confident that the recommendations that are being made by my team here are ones that are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and people’s lawful right to bear arms.  And we’ve been very careful recognizing that, although we have a strong tradition of gun ownership in this country, that even though it’s who possess firearms for hunting, for self-protection, and for other legitimate reasons, I want to make sure that the wrong people don’t have them for the wrong reasons.

          So, I want to say how much I appreciate the outstanding work that the team has done.  Many of you worked over the holidays to get this set of recommendations to me.  And I’m looking forward to speaking to the American people over the next several days in more detail about it.

    FACT SHEET: New Executive Actions to Reduce Gun Violence and Make Our Communities Safer

     

    Gun violence has taken a heartbreaking toll on too many communities across the country.  Over the past decade in America, more than 100,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence—and millions more have been the victim of assaults, robberies, and other crimes involving a gun.  Many of these crimes were committed by people who never should have been able to purchase a gun in the first place.  Over the same period, hundreds of thousands of other people in our communities committed suicide with a gun and nearly half a million people suffered other gun injuries.  Hundreds of law enforcement officers have been shot to death protecting their communities.  And too many children are killed or injured by firearms every year, often by accident.  The vast majority of Americans—including the vast majority of gun owners—believe we must take sensible steps to address these horrible tragedies.

     

    The President and Vice President are committed to using every tool at the Administration’s disposal to reduce gun violence.  Some of the gaps in our country’s gun laws can only be fixed through legislation, which is why the President continues to call on Congress to pass the kind of commonsense gun safety reforms supported by a majority of the American people.  And while Congress has repeatedly failed to take action and pass laws that would expand background checks and reduce gun violence, today, building on the significant steps that have already been taken over the past several years, the Administration is announcing a series of commonsense executive actions designed to:

     

    1. Keep guns out of the wrong hands through background checks.

     

    • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is making clear that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet:  If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.

     

    • ATF is finalizing a rule to require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust, corporation, or other legal entity.

     

    • Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch has sent a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.

     

    • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient.  The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun.  The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.

     

    1. Make our communities safer from gun violence.

     

    • The Attorney General convened a call with U.S. Attorneys around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.

     

    • The President’s FY2017 budget will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws.

     

    • ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking and is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.

     

    • ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.

     

    • The Attorney General issued a memo encouraging every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.

     

    1. Increase mental health treatment and reporting to the background check system.

     

    • The Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to increase access to mental health care.

     

    • The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.

     

    • The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.

     

    1. Shape the future of gun safety technology.

     

    • The President has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology.

     

    • The President has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.

     

    Congress should support the President’s request for resources for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce our gun laws, as well as a new $500 million investment to address mental health issues.

     

    Because we all must do our part to keep our communities safe, the Administration is also calling on States and local governments to do all they can to keep guns out of the wrong hands and reduce gun violence.  It is also calling on private-sector leaders to follow the lead of other businesses that have taken voluntary steps to make it harder for dangerous individuals to get their hands on a gun.  In the coming weeks, the Administration will engage with manufacturers, retailers, and other private-sector leaders to explore what more they can do.

     

    New Actions by the Federal Government

     

    Keeping Guns Out of the Wrong Hands Through Background Checks

     

    The most important thing we can do to prevent gun violence is to make sure those who would commit violent acts cannot get a firearm in the first place.  The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which was created by Congress to prevent guns from being sold to prohibited individuals, is a critical tool in achieving that goal.  According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the background check system has prevented more than 2 million guns from getting into the wrong hands.  We know that making the system more efficient, and ensuring that it has all appropriate records about prohibited purchasers, will help enhance public safety.  Today, the Administration is announcing the following executive actions to ensure that all gun dealers are licensed and run background checks, and to strengthen the background check system itself:

     

    • Clarify that it doesn’t matter where you conduct your business—from a store, at gun shows, or over the Internet:  If you’re in the business of selling firearms, you must get a license and conduct background checks.  Background checks have been shown to keep guns out of the wrong hands, but too many gun sales—particularly online and at gun shows—occur without basic background checks.  Today, the Administration took action to ensure that anyone who is “engaged in the business” of selling firearms is licensed and conducts background checks on their customers.  Consistent with court rulings on this issue, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has clarified the following principles:

     

    o   A person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms regardless of the location in which firearm transactions are conducted.  For example, a person can be engaged in the business of dealing in firearms even if the person only conducts firearm transactions at gun shows or through the Internet.  Those engaged in the business of dealing in firearms who utilize the Internet or other technologies must obtain a license, just as a dealer whose business is run out of a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

     

    o   Quantity and frequency of sales are relevant indicators.  There is no specific threshold number of firearms purchased or sold that triggers the licensure requirement.  But it is important to note that even a few transactions, when combined with other evidence, can be sufficient to establish that a person is “engaged in the business.”  For example, courts have upheld convictions for dealing without a license when as few as two firearms were sold or when only one or two transactions took place, when other factors also were present.

     

    o   There are criminal penalties for failing to comply with these requirements.  A person who willfully engages in the business of dealing in firearms without the required license is subject to criminal prosecution and can be sentenced up to five years in prison and fined up to $250,000.  Dealers are also subject to penalties for failing to conduct background checks before completing a sale.

     

    • Require background checks for people trying to buy some of the most dangerous weapons and other items through a trust or corporation. The National Firearms Act imposes restrictions on sales of some of the most dangerous weapons, such as machine guns and sawed-off shotguns.  But because of outdated regulations, individuals have been able to avoid the background check requirement by applying to acquire these firearms and other items through trusts, corporations, and other legal entities.  In fact, the number of these applications has increased significantly over the years—from fewer than 900 applications in the year 2000 to more than 90,000 applications in 2014.  ATF is finalizing a rule that makes clear that people will no longer be able to avoid background checks by buying NFA guns and other items through a trust or corporation.

     

    • Ensure States are providing records to the background check system, and work cooperatively with jurisdictions to improve reporting. Congress has prohibited specific categories of people from buying guns—from convicted felons to users of illegal drugs to individuals convicted of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence.  In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, Congress also created incentives for States to make as many relevant records as possible accessible to NICS.  Over the past three years, States have increased the number of records they make accessible by nearly 70 percent.  To further encourage this reporting, the Attorney General has written a letter to States highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified for mental health reasons, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.  The Administration will begin a new dialogue with States to ensure the background check system is as robust as possible, which is a public safety imperative.

     

    • Make the background check system more efficient and effective.  In 2015, NICS received more than 22.2 million background check requests, an average of more than 63,000 per day.  By law, a gun dealer can complete a sale to a customer if the background check comes back clean or has taken more than three days to complete.  But features of the current system, which was built in the 1990s, are outdated.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) will take the following steps to ensure NICS operates more efficiently and effectively to keep guns out of the wrong hands: 

     

    o   FBI will hire more than 230 additional NICS examiners and other staff members to assist with processing mandatory background checks.  This new hiring will begin immediately and increase the existing workforce by 50 percent.  This will reduce the strain on the NICS system and improve its ability to identify dangerous people who are prohibited from buying a gun before the transfer of a firearm is completed.

     

    o   FBI has partnered with the U.S. Digital Service (USDS) to modernize NICS.   Although NICS has been routinely upgraded since its launch in 1998, the FBI is committed to making the system more efficient and effective, so that as many background checks as possible are fully processed within the three-day period before a dealer can legally sell a gun even if a background check is not complete.  The improvements envisioned by FBI and USDS include processing background checks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to improve overall response time and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to purchase a firearm.

     

    Making Our Communities Safer from Gun Violence

     

    In order to improve public safety, we need to do more to ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws and make sure that criminals and other prohibited persons cannot get their hands on lost or stolen weapons.  The Administration is therefore taking the following actions:

     

    • Ensure smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.  In a call earlier today, the Attorney General discussed the importance of today’s announcements and directed the Nation’s 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country to continue to focus their resources—as they have for the past several years under the Department’s Smart on Crime initiative—on the most impactful cases, including those targeting violent offenders, illegal firearms traffickers, and dangerous individuals who bypass the background check system to acquire weapons illegally.  During the call, the Attorney General also emphasized ongoing initiatives to assist communities in combating violent crime, including ATF’s efforts to target the “worst of the worst” gun crimes.  These efforts will also complement the following actions announced today:

     

    o   The President’s budget for FY2017 will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators who can help enforce our gun laws, including the measures announced today.  Strategic and impactful enforcement will help take violent criminals off the street, deter other unlawful activity, and prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands.

     

    o   ATF is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network (NIBIN).  The NIBIN database includes ballistic evidence that can be used by analysts and investigators to link violent crimes across jurisdictions and to track down shooters who prey on our communities.  In February 2016, ATF is standing up the National NIBIN Correlation and Training Center—which will ultimately provide NIBIN matching services at one national location, rather than requiring local police departments to do that work themselves.  The Center will provide consistent and capable correlation services, making connections between ballistic crime scene evidence and crime guns locally, regionally, and nationally.  These enhancements will support ATF’s crime gun intelligence and enforcement efforts, particularly in communities most affected by violent crime.

     

    o   ATF has established an Internet Investigations Center (IIC) staffed with federal agents, legal counsel, and investigators to track illegal online firearms trafficking and to provide actionable intelligence to agents in the field.  The IIC has already identified a number of significant traffickers operating over the Internet.  This work has led to prosecutions against individuals or groups using the “dark net” to traffic guns to criminals or attempting to buy firearms illegally online.

     

    • Ensure that dealers notify law enforcement about the theft or loss of their guns.  Under current law, federal firearms dealers and other licensees must report when a gun from their inventory has been lost or stolen.  The regulations are ambiguous, however, about who has this responsibility when a gun is lost or stolen in transit.  Many lost and stolen guns end up being used in crimes.  Over the past five years, an average of 1,333 guns recovered in criminal investigations each year were traced back to a licensee that claimed it never received the gun even though it was never reported lost or stolen either.  Today, ATF issued a final rule clarifying that the licensee shipping a gun is responsible for notifying law enforcement upon discovery that it was lost or stolen in transit.

     

    • Issue a memo directing every U.S. Attorney’s Office to renew domestic violence outreach efforts.  In the event of an emergency, victims of domestic violence should call 911 or otherwise contact state or local law enforcement officials, who have a broader range of options for responding to these crimes.  To provide an additional resource for state, local, and tribal law enforcement and community groups focused on domestic violence, the Attorney General is issuing a memo directing U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the country to engage in renewed efforts to coordinate with these groups to help combat domestic violence and to prevent prohibited persons from obtaining firearms.

     

    Increase Mental Health Treatment and Reporting to the Background Check System

     

    The Administration is committed to improving care for Americans experiencing mental health issues.  In the last seven years, our country has made extraordinary progress in expanding mental health coverage for millions of Americans.  This includes the Affordable Care Act’s end to insurance company discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, required coverage of mental health and substance use disorder services in the individual and small group markets, and an expansion of mental health and substance use disorder parity policies, all of which are estimated to help more than 60 million Americans.  About 13.5 million more Americans have gained Medicaid coverage since October 2013, significantly improving access to mental health care.  And thanks to more than $100 million in funding from the Affordable Care Act, community health centers have expanded behavioral health services for nearly 900,000 people nationwide over the past two years.  We must continue to remove the stigma around mental illness and its treatment—and make sure that these individuals and their families know they are not alone.  While individuals with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, incidents of violence continue to highlight a crisis in America’s mental health system.  In addition to helping people get the treatment they need, we must make sure we keep guns out of the hands of those who are prohibited by law from having them.  Today, the Administration is announcing the following steps to help achieve these goals:

     

    • Dedicate significant new resources to increase access to mental health care.  Despite our recent significant gains, less than half of children and adults with diagnosable mental health problems receive the treatment they need.  To address this, the Administration is proposing a new $500 million investment to help engage individuals with serious mental illness in care, improve access to care by increasing service capacity and the behavioral health workforce, and ensure that behavioral health care systems work for everyone.  This effort would increase access to mental health services to protect the health of children and communities, prevent suicide, and promote mental health as a top priority. 

     

    • Include information from the Social Security Administration in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm.  Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs.  The Social Security Administration (SSA) has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to ensure that appropriate information in its records is reported to NICS.  The reporting that SSA, in consultation with the Department of Justice, is expected to require will cover appropriate records of the approximately 75,000 people each year who have a documented mental health issue, receive disability benefits, and are unable to manage those benefits because of their mental impairment, or who have been found by a state or federal court to be legally incompetent.  The rulemaking will also provide a mechanism for people to seek relief from the federal prohibition on possessing a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

     

    • Remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information to the background check system.  Although States generally report criminal history information to NICS, many continue to report little information about individuals who are prohibited by Federal law from possessing or receiving a gun for specific mental health reasons.  Some State officials raised concerns about whether such reporting would be precluded by the Privacy Rule issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  Today, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule expressly permitting certain HIPAA covered entities to provide to the NICS limited demographic and other necessary information about these individuals.

     

    Shaping the Future of Gun Safety Technology

     

    Tens of thousands of people are injured or killed by firearms every year—in many cases by guns that were sold legally but then stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally.  Developing and promoting technology that would help prevent these tragedies is an urgent priority.  America has done this in many other areas—from making cars safer to improving the tablets and phones we use every day.  We know that researchers and engineers are already exploring ideas for improving gun safety and the tracing of lost or stolen guns.  Millions of dollars have already been invested to support research into concepts that range from fingerprint scanners to radio-frequency identification to microstamping technology.

     

    As the single largest purchaser of firearms in the country, the Federal Government has a unique opportunity to advance this research and ensure that smart gun technology becomes a reality—and it is possible to do so in a way that makes the public safer and is consistent with the Second Amendment.  Today, the President is taking action to further this work in the following way:

     

    • Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security to take two important steps to promote smart gun technology.

     

    o   Increase research and development efforts.  The Presidential Memorandum directs the departments to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology that would reduce the frequency of accidental discharge or unauthorized use of firearms, and improve the tracing of lost or stolen guns.  Within 90 days, these agencies must prepare a report outlining a research-and-development strategy designed to expedite the real-world deployment of such technology for use in practice.

     

    o   Promote the use and acquisition of new technology.  The Presidential Memorandum also directs the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.  In connection with these efforts, the departments will consult with other agencies that acquire firearms and take appropriate steps to consider whether including such technology in specifications for acquisition of firearms would be consistent with operational needs.

  • Bangor/UMaine police Kids 'n' Kops trading cards promote healthy messages for youths

    The Bangor and University of Maine police departments have launched a new Kids ‘n’ Kops trading card program intended to raise awareness about bullying and substance abuse prevention among elementary and middle school youngsters, according to a news release from UMaine.

    The series of 14 trading cards features male and female UMaine student-athletes who play Division I sports at the state’s flagship university. Members of the Bangor and UMaine police departments will distribute the cards at community events, including university athletic games at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor and on campus.

    Youngsters can collect five cards and bring them to one of the two police departments for a free Kids ‘n’ Kops T-shirt and two tickets to a UMaine basketball game.

    The goal, say the organizers, is to foster positive interactions between police officers and youths, and reinforce important messages about health and well-being.

    “We are pleased to be part of a program that promotes an active lifestyle for the youngsters in our community by using student-athletes as an example of hard work and healthy choices,” says Bangor Police Chief Mark Hathaway in the release. “We appreciate our partnership with UMaine and thank the UMaine student-athletes for their participation.”

    “We want to be proactive in promoting quality goals for healthy living to young people, many of whom we hope will be future UMaine Black Bears,” said UMaine Police Chief Roland LaCroix in the release. “It’s important that youths know that police officers can be helpful resources and UMaine student-athletes are role models they can look up to.”

    From 1986 to 1988, a similar program called Kids & Kops, spearheaded by then-UMaine men’s basketball coach and UMaine alumnus Skip Chappelle, featured UMaine and other area law enforcement officials distributing trading cards as part of an anti-drug campaign. Those trading cards also featured UMaine student-athletes, several of whom went on to professional sports careers.

    “We believe in the long-term value of a program that brings together the youth of our community and the police,” said Chappelle, in the release, who is helping coordinate this campaign with another UMaine alumnus — Irv Marsters, owner of Bangor Letter Shop. “This program also communicates the messages of health and well-being through sports.”

    Maine Savings Federal Credit Union is a corporate sponsor of this year’s Kids ‘n’ Kops campaign.

  • Portland, Maine's, snow shoveling program for those 65 and older

    After coordinating the service for ten years, 80-year-old Munjoy Hill resident, Joan Sheedy, passed the torch to keep the snow shoveling program for elderly residents in operation. This winter, the City of Portland's Office of Elder Affairs, with help from volunteer coordinators in several Portland neighborhoods, will match Portland residents who are aged 65+ or have physical disabilities that make snow shoveling difficult with volunteer groups and individuals willing to shovel.

    Volunteers are asked to shovel the steps and a path from the front door to the sidewalk as well as the stretch of sidewalk in front of the property. They are not asked to shovel the entire driveway or clear snow from roofs. The idea is to create a path which allows the senior citizen, emergency responders, Meals on Wheels delivery people, mail carriers and other visitors to get in and out of the house safely.

    Once a volunteer receives an “assignment”, they will shovel for the same resident(s) after each storm throughout the winter.

    To request snow shoveling assistance or to volunteer, please contact one of the following individuals, depending on your location:

    Deering -         Leah Koch      207-239-7051 

    East End -       Molly McCarthy   857-204-6856

    West End -      Wells Lyons      207-274-1221

    Back Cove -    Carol Colton     207-899-3092 or 508-728-1296

    Other neighborhoods (and FMI) Linda Weare, Office of Elder Affairs, City of Portland 207-541-6620

  • Strong safety net should mean no welfare cash for lottery tickets

    Recently, this paper and several others published a story by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting that revealed Mainers receiving state assistance had taken home more than $22 million in lottery winnings from 2010-2014.

    We know that for every big jackpot winner, there are countless others who spent an enormous amount of money to play and walked away with nothing. To win that much, those Mainers would have had to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on losing lottery tickets.

    The facts here just don’t sit right for most Mainers. We know that while the lottery can be fun, it’s not an appropriate use of welfare money. That’s why Sen. Alfond submitted a bill to ban the use of need-based cash benefits, such as TANF, from being used on the lottery.

    Seems sensible enough to us.

    But the BDN’s Editorial Board argued that proposals such as this “turn attention away from where policymakers should be focused: on public policies that help low-income people beat poverty.” They couldn’t be more wrong.

    It is our commitment to ensuring the social safety net is strong and effective that prompted this legislation. We know that every dollar not wasted on the lottery is a dollar that can be spent to pay for rent, food, heat, medical expenses or other bills that need to be paid.

    Mainers have always supported policies that take care of the vulnerable among us. In today’s uncertain economy, many of us are just one layoff, health emergency, home repair or family tragedy away from needing a hand up ourselves.

    Our support for programs, such as TANF, is why we must be vigilant to ensure the program is set up for success. Allowing taxpayer dollars to be thrown away on the lottery when they are supposed to be helping Mainers pull themselves out of poverty is contrary to our values.

    That’s why every Senate Democrat, and many Democrats in the House, supported a bill in 2014 to ban the use of welfare dollars on the lottery, as well as other gambling activities, bail, alcohol and tobacco. The bill would have notified TANF recipients of the new ban, and punished them if they violated it. Republicans have supported that idea in the past, but they voted lockstep against the bill, and it died. (Your guess as to why is as good as mine, but we suspect it’s because they’d rather continue to use “welfare reform” for political gain than pass sensible reform agreed to by both parties.)

    In its editorial, the BDN also said banning welfare from being spent on the lottery was wrong because it would be “nearly impossible to enforce.”

    While the BDN Editorial Board seems to think we should give up before we’ve even begun, we’re confident that a solution is possible. Maine isn’t the first state to deal with this problem. Several others have developed innovative ways to address the intersection of lottery purchases and public assistance. This bill will kick-start a focused conversation on doing the same.

    While we must find a creative way to stop the misuse of taxpayer-funded cash assistance in the first place, we also have to ensure that those who receive a huge lottery windfall don’t collect a welfare benefit the next week.

    Michigan has enacted a simple solution, which cross-checks the names of lottery winners with those of TANF recipients to ensure cash assistance goes only where it’s needed. The bill would examine Michigan’s rules, and those in other states, to find best practices that can be applied in Maine as well.

    Maine’s Democratic lawmakers are the staunchest defenders of our obligation to help the neediest people in our state, and we’ll continue to defend the right of Mainers to live with dignity regardless of their circumstance.

    But defending the right of people to have food on the table and a roof over their heads doesn’t mean defending programs in the face of inefficiencies. We need to seal up the holes in our safety net if it’s going to protect Mainers from hitting rock bottom.

    Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland and Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan are the Democratic leaders of the Maine Senate and Maine House of Representatives, respectively.

     

  • Action from DHHS is demanded as Maine ranks last in food assistance program delivery

    By Ramona du Houx

     According to the Food and Nutrition Service’s most recent report, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has the lowest application procession timeliness rate in the country for the food stamp program— known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

    From January to June of 2015 the state’s processing time rate was 68.97 percent. It is an appalling figure that has led Maine to become known as the worst state in delivering SNAP assistance. Maine is now ranked 53 out of 53 agencies that deliver SNAP.

    Applicants should receive SNAP benefits by the 7th day from the date of application. Maine’s worst processing case, number 78901234 of 2014, took 59 days to process.

    Imagine the anxiety of a parent having to wait for assistance to feed their children.

    Senate Democratic Leader Justin Alfond is demanding immediate accountability from DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew and Gov. Paul LePage after the Department of Health and Human Services over the issue.

    “While more and more people in our state don’t have enough to eat, the Department is dragging its feet,” said Sen. Alfond. “Maine children and seniors who are playing by the rules and eligible for food assistance are left hungry and waiting because DHHS can’t or won’t do its job.”

    It’s important to remember that SNAP is a federal program where no state funds are used.

    In a Dec. 7 letter, the U.S. Department of Agriculture notified DHHS that it faced a potential loss of federal SNAP administration funds if DHHS doesn’t improve its delivery rate. In fiscal year 2014, that funding was roughly $10.2 million.

    The letter outlined the Department's failure to process SNAP applications on time. Those delays mean hungry Mainers miss more meals because of broken DHHS bureaucracy. It detailed the state’s “chronically poor performance” in meeting laws “meant to protect a low-income household’s right to receive nutrition assistance benefits in a timely manner.” 

     If DHHS loses its contract with the federal government to deliver SNAP in a timely way — so people are not put at risk from hunger — the federal government would find another agency to deliver the SNAP benefits to people.

    The letter also described DHHS’s failure to adequately address problems in its administration of SNAP, which have been raised again and again by the USDA.

    “DHHS has shown a brazen disregard for accountability,” said Sen. Alfond. “They have bristled at those who would hold them responsible for the dangerous conditions at Riverview, the sudden decision to end contracts that provide needed health care services, and now, the failure to administer the SNAP program. Now the state faces a potential multi-million dollar penalty for that mismanagement.”

    Sen. Alfond is exploring his options to hold the department accountable and ensure it is fulfilling its mission to serve Maine people.

    Sen. Alfond is also leading an effort to ensure school children are fed during summer months when there is no access to meals at their schools.

  • Bigelow Laboratory designated safe scientific diving facility

     Certification promotes diving safety and enables reciprocity with other safe-diving institutions: Pinkham designated as Dive Safety Officer

     Science diving using self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (SCUBA) requires the scientist to not only pay attention to typical safety concerns while underwater –  air pressure, depth, obstacles and other hazards, and time beneath the surface – they have added concerns like lugging equipment, taking notes, censusing moving sea creatures, and keeping track of all that is going on around them and each other at a specific site.

    SCUBA diving to conduct research is generally more challenging than diving for pleasure. 

    “AAUS requires scientific divers to have a higher level of training and proficiency than most recreational divers so that diving procedures become second-nature,” explained Senior Research Scientist and certified diver Nichole Price, who has logged more than 1000 dives below the surface. 

    To conduct scientific work while underwater requires significant preparation. Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences has recently completed a very rigorous yearlong evaluation to ensure that its scientists who dive are fully prepared to dive safely while conducting underwater research. 

    The American Academy of Underwater Sciences certified Bigelow Laboratory to conduct underwater scientific sampling and experiments. This certification currently covers six Bigelow Laboratory scientists, with more expected as the program expands. The AAUS certification also has a reciprocity condition that makes it possible for Bigelow Laboratory scientists to dive with collaborator scientists in Maine and at other currently AAUS-certified institutions across the globe.

    In addition to the Laboratory’s membership, Facility Manager Timothy Pinkham was also awarded the designation of Dive Safety Officer, which required more than 300 hours of training and additional certifications. Training allowed Pinkham, who was a standard open-water diver, to move through the ranks of an advanced open-water diver to Master Diver to Assistant Dive Instructor to Instructor, all over the course of five months. Pinkham participated in 40 dives that included deep dives (greater then 100'), night dives, dives as an instructor, safety dives, Nitrox dives, cold and warm water dives, and blue water dives As a Dive Safety Officer, Tim will oversee the scientific diving activities at Bigelow Laboratory to ensure they meet the safety the AAUS standards for safe diving.

    “This AAUS program is great for Bigelow Laboratory because it helps to make sure scientific divers remain safe, while conducting really important work in shallow coastal waters that we can’t accomplish without seeing firsthand,” said Price, who has done most of her scientific diving in the tropics, but has expanded her interests to colder Maine waters. 

    AAUS has endeavored to promote safe, effective scientific diving since 1951.  As dive technology has improved, allowing more scientists to dive deeper and longer, the necessity for proper training has subsequently increased. The AAUS designation helps to ensure divers are well trained and demonstrates the commitment of their institutions to dive safety.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. 

  • Lawmakers call on Maine DHHS to follow the law

    Department Violates State and Federal Laws Over Ombudsman Services

     

    A bipartisan group of legislators joined Consumers for Affordable Health Care and Maine residents to protest a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to end contract ombudsman services through the state Medicaid Managed Care program.

    The decision violates both state and federal law, and leaves Maine families without the services they need to navigate a complex health care system that includes MaineCare, the health insurance marketplace and private insurance.

    “Contracts change all the time. I understand that. And the Department has an obligation to review contracts to make sure that the work they are paying for is needed and is getting done,” said Rep. Karen Vachon. “But the Department also has an obligation to follow the law and to take care of Maine residents. In this case, they are Maine residents who need help to navigate our confusing health care system to get coverage.”

    In June, DHHS abruptly eliminated its long-standing contract with Consumers for Affordable Health Care to provide ombudsman services through Medicaid Managed Care section of state law.

    “The Department has consistently set up roadblocks for families seeking health care and other forms of assistance, and it has shown a disregard for the law, for rulemaking and for the Legislature in general,” said Rep. Linda Sandborn. “The Legislature has spoken and said that it requires the department to provide the ombudsman and navigation services. The Department is ignoring the law, and that’s hurting real people who need help figuring out how to get health insurance.”

     The contract to provide the ombudsman and navigation services does not use state dollars. It is funded through a combination of federal dollars and privately raised matching dollars. 

    “Mainers need these services now more than ever,” said Emily Brostek, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care. “Maine is the only state in the country where the number of kids without health coverage is going up. Too often, families are going without coverage or care because they’ve been told they don’t qualify for services when in fact they do. These families need an ombudsman program that is fighting for them – not just because federal and state law require these services, but because they deserve it.”

    This contract does not cost the state any money

    • It is funded entirely by federal matching dollars and funds raised privately by CAHC.   
    • The state will have to increase its General Fund budget (or if excess staff is available, forego other efficiencies) to provide these services. 

    The services performed under this contract are required by federal and state law

    • This contract allows DHHS to deliver outreach services REQUIRED by Federal law without using any general fund dollars nor tying up any State FTEs to do so.
    • State law REQUIRES that DHHS contract with a Maine nonprofit to provide services of this nature for as long as it doesn’t cost the state any general fund money. This contract meets that standard.

    This contractual relationship saves DHHS both time and money

    • CAHC has performed the duties under this contract since 2006. We are good at it.
    • Without CAHC’s services, DHHS would have to invest in training personnel to provide the outreach.
    • Because of CAHC, fewer people go to DHHS with questions.  CAHC educates on ALL options (Marketplace plans, FQHCs, free clinics, PHIP, prescription assistance, and hospital free care), thus minimizing the impact of required outreach on MaineCare spending. 
    • CAHC resolves eligibility disputes informally, which helps DHHS reduce costly and time-consuming consumer appeals.  Without CAHC there will be more formal appeals, more state employee work.
    • The number served under this contract has increased dramatically. HelpLine calls alone have increased nearly six fold (from 1,622 in 2006 to over 6,700 in 2014).  Just answering the calls would require tremendous DHHS staff time.  Still more resources would be used to screen for all options. 

    “Last year, Maine families called the Consumers for Affordable Care helpline nearly 6,000 times because they were having trouble navigating a complex health care market place or because they couldn’t make progress with the Department of Health and Human Services,” said State Sen. Geoff Gratwick. “The ombudsman services CAHC has provided to our state, including this HelpLine, are critical to Maine families.”

     

    Consumers for Affordable Health Care is a nonprofit advocacy organization committed to helping all Maine people obtain quality, affordable, health care. For more information, visit:http://www.mainecahc.org/about-us/

  • Legislative leaders announce bipartisan $4.8 million plan to combat drug crisis in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Legislative leaders presented a $4.8 million dollar legislative package to fight the drug crisis in Maine on December 9, 2015. The bipartisan plan includes prevention, treatment and 10 more drug agents.

    The drug crisis is huge in Maine and along with it unwarranted stigmas about addicts.

    The number of overdoses in Maine and the country surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents and gunshots in 2014. In Maine 208 people died from an overdose, of those 57 died primarily because of heroin and 43 because of fentanyl.

    The overprescription of potent narcotics by physicians, mainly because pharmaceutical companies promoted them, inadvertently addicted thousands of people. As doctors corrected the problem, the street supply of prescription narcotics decreased. Unfortunately, a vast supply of cheap heroin, often laced with potent synthetic drugs like fentanyl, replaced those prescription drugs to continue to supply the new demand.

    “Now more than half of my practice time is spent taking care of drug-dependent people. I have witnessed how drug addiction is ravaging Maine… Addicted individuals are not ‘bad people from away.’ They are our parents, our children and grandchildren. They are our friends and co-workers and neighbors. They deserve access to treatment,” stated Dr. Gust Stringos, D.O., of Somerset Primary Care.

    “We’ve crafted a targeted, comprehensive plan that addresses the reality of drug addiction in Maine. We wanted to focus on what was practical, what was possible and what is a good first step toward a healthier Maine,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves.

    The plan invests $2.4 million in treatment efforts over 18 months, including $1 million in funding for a new 10-bed detox unit in Bangor. In addition, the plan increases access to inpatient and outpatient treatment for the uninsured, and doubles the number of peer-to-peer support recovery centers across the state.

    The plan also provides $2.4 million to strengthen law enforcement efforts, including funding 10 new MDEA agents and a statewide coordinator to connect law enforcement to treatment providers.

    If the initiative becomes law funding is included in the bill to launch programs at five police departments around the state to be modeled after the successful Operation Hope, the Heroin- Opiate Prevention Effort, and/or the Law Enforcement Addiction Advocacy Program.

    “This plan will provide critical support to law enforcement on the front lines and enable us to better serve members of our communities who need help,“ said Officer John Gill, who has witnessed the success of Operation Hope as a member the Scarborough Police Department.

    Operation Hope consists of specialized law enforcement training, public education with outreach, and treatment with assistance as well as other services. The program has served over 50 people in its first 50 days.

    Under the LePage administration drug treatment funding has been cut.

    “I fear that more Mainers will have to go without treatment. This year, we saw the flagship treatment program at Mercy Hospital in Portland close for lack of funding,” said Doctor Stringos. “Patients who are lucky enough to get into treatment in Maine usually struggle with the costs. Many young adults have no insurance and do not qualify for MaineCare because of the governor’s refusal to expand the program.”

    Portland parent Julie Lawson, who is currently in recovery, recounted her experience with addiction and the treatment she received from Mercy Hospital’s treatment program prior to its closure. “Because of treatment I’m going to be there to watch my son grow up. I’m living proof that treatment works and that it can save families like mine,” she said.

    The irony, which was not lost on the Cover Maine Now! Coalition is that existing federal resources, with the ACA, would pay for many of the treatment services being proposed with the lawmakers plan.

    “The plan is a good first step, and we are particularly encouraged that Republicans and Democrats were able to come together to find common ground and to move the state forward,” said Ann Woloson, a member of the Cover Maine Now! Coalition. “We also want to remind lawmakers that the most cost effective, comprehensive and efficient way to increase funding for drug treatment would be to accept federal funding to expand access to MaineCare.”

    Gov. LePage has rejected the expansion of MaineCare, which could have happened under President Obama’s free expansion of Medicaid to states, with the Affordable Care Act. As a result about 70,000 Mainers do not have healthcare coverage because of LePage. In addition the state and hospitals would have been able to make money if LePage had just accepted the Medicaid funds.

    State’s that have implemented the ACA have witnessed their economies grow. They also have more drug treatment options.

    “Maine has an opportunity to harness significant resources to address persistent criminal justice issues, including drug addiction and the incarceration of people with severe mental illness who could be better treated outside of prison or jail,” said Woloson. “We hope the same spirit of bipartisan cooperation that lead to this plan can be a building block to providing health insurance to 70,000 Mainers, including comprehensive drug addiction treatment services for those most in need.”

    Speaker Eves and other lawmakers have tried with various bills to expand Medicaid with the ACA but every attempt has met with a veto from Gov. LePage.

    Now the drug crisis is unfolding under his watch and lawmakers that have proposed bills are determined to stem the epidemic.

     “We stand with law enforcement, treatment providers, and parents in saying enough is enough. Over the next legislative session, we will work to implement these and other efforts to help keep our families and communities healthy and safe,” said Speaker Eves. 

     The proposal is on an accelerated track, as legislative committees will hold hearings and work sessions before the full Legislature returns on January 6, 2015.

    The plan joins five other bills approved by Legislative Council last month that address the drug crisis. One bill lawmakers will consider next year would restore MaineCare reimbursement rates, that were cut during LePage’s administration, for methadone providers to 2010 levels.

     

  • Portland, ME, launches landlord registration process

    Photo of Portland, Maine in the sumertime by Ramona du Houx

    Rental housing registration form now available, due by January 1

    Following the creation of the Housing Safety Office, Portland, Maine, is now ready to launch the rental housing registration process, which requires landlords to register their rental properties and pay a $35 fee per unit by January 1, 2016.

    The form can be found at www.portlandmaine.gov/housingsafety and the fee can be paid online.

    "The rental housing registration will allow us to gather much needed data on our rental housing stock in Portland,” said Jon Jennings, City Manager. “This data will be used to help build a database for our inspectors, and be available as a resource for the public. We urge landlords to submit their registration forms as quickly as possible so we can begin building the database and performing inspections in the new year.”

    Landlords can reduce the registration fee through the use of the following approved discounts:

    • $10 for a fully-sprinkled building (verification: testing/maintenance report and/or maintenance contract)
    • $7.50 for a centrally-monitored fire alarm (verification: Fire Department logs and/or alarm contract)
    • $5 for a HUD HQS inspection (verification: inspection report within last year)
    • $10 for a HUD UPCS inspection (verification: inspection report within last year)
    • $2.50 for a smoke-free policy (verification: copy of lease and spot checks)

    The fee cannot drop below $15 per unit.

    The City Council approved the creation of the Housing Safety Office on June 25, 2015 following recommendations presented to them by the Fire/Code Inspections Task Force. In addition to the new Administrator and inspectors who will be cross-trained in code enforcement and fire safety, the Housing Safety Office is charged with implementing a risk-based prioritization process for inspections; conducting inspections; and overseeing and enforcing the revised landlord registration ordinance.  

  • Paris Climate Change summit opens with Pres. Obama's call for action

    President Barack Obama will be in Paris at the Climate Change summit to help guide nations on this issue. He said that last year carbon emissions world wide did not grow, or diminish, while third world countries economies grew. This signaled that the world understands fighting climate change with new technologies also grows economies.

    Pres. Obama said, "old"arguments for inaction on (climate change) had been broken... I come here personally as the leader of world’s biggest economy and second biggest emitter to say that America not only acknowledges its role in climate change but embraces doing something about it," said Pres. Obama during the opening session of a United Nations conference attended by 196 nations, he said the "old" arguments for inaction on (climate change) had been broken.

    Some 151 world leaders converged on the exhibition halls at Le Bourget Airport just outside the French capital to attend the summit.

    For the first time in history, we have a chance to put in place a global climate agreement that will spur countries to take ambitious action that will reduce carbon pollution, support clean energy, and ensure we deliver a planet that is worthy of future generations.

  • United States issues travel alert

    In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, the State Department has issued a worldwide travel alert on Monday, November 23rd for American citizens,  until  Feb. 24, 2016. The State Department noted that citizens should be more alert and watchful during the holiday season.

    According to the alert, the government has information suggesting that the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and other extremist groups “continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.”

    The alert added that the likelihood of attacks had risen as members of the Islamic State “return from Iraq and Syria.”

  • AARP survey: Maine shoppers susceptible to holiday scams

         With Black Friday and the launch of the holiday shopping season just days away, AARP Maine is releasing a new survey from the AARP Fraud Watch Network.  The survey found that 63 percent of Maine consumers failed a quiz about how to stay safe from common holiday scams, and many are regularly engaging in behaviors which put them at risk of being victimized by con artists.

    A report, Beware the Grinch: Consumers at Risk of Being Scammed During the Holidays, details AARP’s polling of Maine residents regarding the most common holiday scams, including those related to charitable giving, gift cards, package deliveries, and use of public Wi-Fi.  The survey included seven questions about scams, with 63% of the survey participants answering four or fewer of the questions correctly.

    “While most of us focus on family and friends during the holidays, fraudsters are zeroing in on our wallets and bank accounts,” said Jane Margesson, AARP Maine Communications Director.  “We’re encouraging consumers to elevate their awareness of some emerging and popular scams, and to also share the information with their families to help keep them safe this holiday season.”

    Prompted by the survey results, the Fraud Watch Network has launched an education campaign, including a new web page, designed to educate the public about the top five holiday scams:

    Charitable Giving? Ask and Check

    Last year, Americans gave $358 billion dollars to charity according to the National Philanthropic Trust.  Government officials who regulate charities and fundraisers say that while most charities are legitimate, there are many fundraisers, especially telemarketers, who keep 85-90 percent of the money they raise. 

    AARP’s survey found that 65 percent of Mainers who donated to a charity or fundraiser in the past 12 months did so without asking any questions about how that donation would be spent, and 61 percent made donations without verifying that the charity groups were legally authorized to raise money in their state.

    About one third of Maine consumers don’t know (16 percent) or aren’t sure (14 percent) that, in most states, professional fundraisers must be registered with the government and report how much they raise and how much goes to the charitable purpose.  Almost none (1 percent) could correctly name the government agency they should contact to verify the legitimacy of the charity or fundraiser (Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation).

    Gift Cards: Skip the Rack

    Fraud experts report that thieves sometimes hit store gift card racks, secretly write down or electronically scan the numbers off the cards, then check online or call the toll-free number to see if someone has bought the cards and activated them. As soon as a card is active, the scammers drain the funds. By the time you try to use the same card, the money is long gone. 

    Fifty-one percent of respondents in the FWN survey report they will buy gift cards from a rack at a big box store, pharmacy or grocery store this holiday season.  Nearly four in ten (39 percent) do not realize that gift cards purchased from a gift card rack at a grocery store are NOT as safe from hackers or thieves as gift cards purchased online.

    Consider Swiping that Other Card

    Consumer protection experts recommend the use of credit cards rather than debit cards for most purchases, to better protect consumers from fraud and theft.  With credit cards, you are liable for only up to $50 of fraudulent use. But in the case of a lost or stolen debit card, financial losses to the consumer can be much more significant. 

     Two thirds of Maine holiday shoppers surveyed said they will buy holiday gifts this year using a debit card.

    Public Wi-Fi: Surf Safely, or It Could Empty Your Account

    Many holiday shoppers incorrectly believe that it is safe to access sensitive information via free Wi-Fi networks as long as websites are secured by “https.”  In fact, online security experts warn that consumers should never use public Wi-Fi to access bank accounts or to buy products online. 

    The survey indicates that 54% of internet users in this survey say they will use free public Wi-Fi.  Many of them, while using public Wi-Fi, will make purchases (45%), access their bank accounts (27%), and check their credit card accounts (19%).

     

    Require a Package Delivery Sign Off

    More than 50 percent of holiday shoppers are unaware that package delivery companies are not responsible for stolen packages that are left at your front door without requiring a delivery signature.  Nearly half of Maine respondents said they ship packages and never require a signature. Seventy-eight percent say they receive home deliveries without having to provide a signature “some” or “all of the time.”

    The FWN survey also asked participants if they have experienced a recent stressful life event, which fraud experts say can make it more difficult to spot and resist holiday scams.  More than 70 percent of consumers have experienced at least one life stress event in the past six months.

     Thanks to a new law, all Mainers can place a freeze on their credit report with all three major credit bureaus for free.  Because a credit freeze safeguards a person’s credit report, it is one of the most effective ways to protect consumers from identity theft.

    For information and detailed tips on how to avoid all manner of holiday scams, including those detailed above, visit AARP’s holiday fraud web page.  Consumers may also visit the Fraud Watch Networkto receive timely fraud alerts for their local area.

  • Maine State Sen. Haskell says LePage and lawmakers must take holistic approach to end drug crisis

     Editorial by State Senator Anne Haskell, from Portland

    It’s becoming more urgent every day for state leaders to work together as  more and more Mainers become victims of drug addiction.

     It’s no secret that Maine has a drug addiction problem. Here in Portland this summer, our city experienced a hellish 24-hour period that saw 14 people overdose on heroin. Two people died, and more deaths likely would have occurred if not for the heroic work of our emergency responders.

    The story from a statewide perspective is even worse.

    In the first half of 2015, 105 of our friends and neighbors died from a drug overdose. Of those, more than half were caused by heroin or fentanyl, a narcotic that’s 40 or 50 times stronger than pure heroin.

    Our state is becoming a case study on rampant drug addiction. Stories of suffering Mainers  — or worse, their mourning families — are making headlines around the country.

    Last week, I was honored to attend an annual celebration hosted by Day One, a substance abuse treatment center for young people in our state. The keynote speaker was Chris Herren, a former player for the Boston Celtics. He recounted his own harrowing story of addiction, which followed him throughout his pro sports career.  

    Herren’s story makes clear that drugs don’t only prey upon people in the streets. They come for all — rich and poor, rural and urban, black and white. This is a problem for all Maine people.

    Make no mistake, the epidemics of drug addiction, overdose and death are one of the biggest threats facing our state. Last week, Gov. Paul LePage made  an unexpected visit to the Appropriations Committee, where he issued a heartfelt call to action.

    I share the governor’s passion to fight this fight. But I disagree with his approach. He told the committee he is focused on law enforcement alone. He demanded the Legislature provide more agents to fight the drug war, but has little interest in increasing our support for treatment and education.

    If our drug crisis is anything, it is complex, as Chris Herren’s story illustrates. We need a commitment from not only our state and local leaders, but our everyday Mainers, to stop this epidemic for good. That means a holistic approach that combats drug addiction on multiple fronts.

    Of course we have to put bad guys in jail. But we cannot arrest our way out of this problem. Every time we arrest a drug dealer, a new one will cross our state borders with the intention of poisoning our friends, our neighbors, and our children. So we must also treat those suffering from addiction, and prevent others from becoming addicted in the first place.

    After all, if there is no demand for drugs, there will be no business for dealers in Maine.

    It is time to act now, before the disease of addiction can claim any more lives. The Legislature has always taken the drug crisis seriously, and we will continue to do so. The bipartisan budget provided additional resources to fight the drug crisis head-on.  We know that we must do more.

    Democrats are ready to work with the Gov. LePage to put together a plan that addresses trafficking, addiction and treatment. It is my sincere hope the governor will collaborate with us — not just make demands — to tackle this catastrophe and save lives.

     

  • Vive La France - messages of love, peace and commitment to the French

    Jean Jullien, a French graphic designer who currently lives in London, tweeted these images out shortly after the attacks, with the simple message “Peace for Paris,” and it spread quickly. 

    In the wake of the horrifying terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015 that claimed at least 127 lives, many took to social media to express their condolences and concern for the people of the French capital with images like this peace sign with an Eiffel Tower in the center.

    "Once again we've seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians. This is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share," said President Barack Obama.

    "We will stand together. We will never bow. We will never break. That’s the character of our two nations. We are bound by timeless democratic values that the cowardice and perverse ideologues of extremist networks can never match, wherever they are. Such savagery can never threaten who we are. We will respond. We will overcome. We will endure," stated Vice President Biden.

    The French spirit is strong, as shown by the French Resistence during WWII. Those brave souls fighting for their freedom, their democracy, played a huge part in winning that War with the intellegance they gathered, and putting their lives on the line.

    "Paris itself represents the timeless values of human progress. Those who think that they can terrorize the people of France or the values that they stand for are wrong. The American people draw strength from the French people’s commitment to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. We are reminded in this time of tragedy that the bonds of liberté and égalité and fraternité are not only values that the French people care so deeply about, but they are values that we share. And those values are going to endure far beyond any act of terrorism or the hateful vision of those who perpetrated the crimes this evening," said Obama.

    "We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people."

    Congresswomen Chellie Pingree said, "France is our oldest and one of our closest allies. Our hearts are with the French people and we will stand with them as a nation."

    When the Germans first occupied France in WWII Winston Churchill made a radio address, "Gather Strength for the Morning."  This is how it ends:

    "Good night, then. Sleep to gather strength for the morning, for the morning will come. Brightly will it shine on the brave and true; kindly upon all who suffer for the cause; glorious upon the tombs of heroes—thus will shine the dawn.

    "Vive la France! Long live, also, the forward march of the common people in all the lands toward their just and true inheritance and toward the broader and fuller age."

  • AARP Maine hosts “Fraud Watch Maine” workshop to train First Responders on scam awareness

    By Ramona du Houx

    In reaction to the proliferation of scams and frauds throughout the state, AARP Maine worked in collaboration with the Portland Police Department to host a half-day training workshop designed to heighten awareness among first responders. The workshops were packed with over 100 participants, including police officers, legislators, representatives from state agencies, senior centers, and others.

    “Our aging population is being taken advantage of by these scammers, and it's time we arm ourselves with the knowledge to stop this from happening,” said Lieutenant Glen McGary of the Portland Police Department.  “Working together with other departments in the state, and using effective presentations such as those we learned today at the AARP Maine workshop, we can broaden our reach in our own communities to mobilize Maine fraud fighters everywhere.”

     The state’s first Fraud Watch Maine: Mobilizing for Effective Scam Prevention training offered three field-tested presentations tackling several topics: The Con Artist Playbook and Commons Scams in Maine, Mail Fraud and Lottery Scams, and Cyber Security.

    “The goal of our workshop is to make each presentation easily replicable so that participants can deliver the same or slightly modified presentations in their own communities,” said Jane Margesson, Communications Director with AARP Maine, who ran the Con Artist Palybook presentation.  “With representatives in attendance today from many organizations, agencies, and law enforcement, we hope to broaden outreach efforts to effectively combat scams and fraud in our state.”  

    Every year, millions of Americans lose billions of dollars to scams and fraud.  As is the case in many states, identity theft tops of the list of crimes in Maine. 

     “All scams are designed for a single purpose -- to separate you from your money. It is vital that consumers know and trust the people to whom they are sending money because if it’s fraud, they will never see their money again,” said retired US Postal Inspector Michael Desrosiers 

    According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were more than 500 reported cases of identity theft in the state in 2013.  Legislation designed to safeguard a person’s credit report through the placement of a credit freeze was enacted on October 15, 2015 and participants received information about this important proactive measure.  Because a credit freeze safeguards a person’s credit report, it is one of the most effective ways to protect consumers from identity theft. The bill was introduced by AARP Maine and sponsored by Senator Rod Whittemore.

     “As with many other crooks, cyber criminals are usually after the money,” said Professor Edward Sihler, Technical Director of the Maine Cyber Security Cluster, an organization sponsored by the University of Maine System.  “If they can't get use your credit card, maybe they can empty your bank account or file a false tax return.  Thus it is important to guard your passwords, account information and your identity.”

      AARP’s Fraud Watch Network (FWN), a national initiative, arms Americans with the tools they need to spot and avoid fraud and scams so they can protect themselves and their families.  Anyone, of any age, can access FWN resources at no cost.

    In Maine, AARP staff and volunteers regularly deliver scam awareness presentations and work in collaboration with the Maine Council on Aging, law enforcement, community leaders and other organizations to combat fraud and scams in the state. 

    In 2014, AARP Maine released a survey of Maine registered voters age 50 and older which included statistics concerning residents’ experiences with scams. According to the survey, four out of ten registered voters in Maine age 50 and older have encountered a fraud or scam or know someone else who has in the past five years.

    “Identity theft, investment fraud and scams rob millions of Americans of their hard-earned money every year,” said Margesson.  “Through events like our scam prevention training, we can raise awareness about these crimes and work together to empower Mainers and their families as fraud fighters.” 

    Earlier this year, AARP Maine hosted a “Scam Jam” at the Augusta Civic center with over 300 Mainers in attendance. 

    On November 12th, AARP hosted a free shredding event in collaboration with the Farmington Police Department, and  Attorney General Janet Mills made an appearance.

      “Securely disposing of sensitive documents is a good way to keep personal information out of the hands of identity thieves,” said Margesson. 

  • USDA rural development announces $10.6 million investment in Maine water systems

    USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced loans and grants for 141 projects to build and improve water and wastewater infrastructure in rural communities across the nation. In Maine three systems have been selected to receive a total of $10.6 million for essential upgrades. 

    "Many rural communities need to upgrade and repair their water and wastewater systems, but often lack the resources to do so," said Vilsack. "These loans and grants will help accomplish this goal. USDA's support for infrastructure improvements is an essential part of building strong rural economies."

     “This significant $10.6 million investment in Maine’s wastewater infrastructure will have an important impact on the communities served through providing the necessary infrastructure for economic development, benefiting jobs and local businesses, improving facilities for household users, and preserving Maine’s waterways for the wildlife they support,” said USDA Rural Development State Director Virginia Manuel.

    In Maine, three systems have been selected to receive a total of $10.6 million for upgrades:

     

    • City of Brewer has been selected to receive a total of $1.9 million (Water and Waste Direct Loan of $1,500,000 and Water and Waste Grant of $400,000). Funds will be used to Rural Development funds will be used by the City of Brewer for essential wastewater collection system and treatment facility upgrades.  The project will prevent public health concerns and comply with standards of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. The sewer system currently serves approximately 2800 households and 370 businesses and public facilities. This project will provide the upgrades needed so that the City can continue to provide adequate wastewater services to the community and preserve the Penobscot River, which is home to Atlantic salmon and shortnose sturgeon, among other wildlife populations.
    • Town of Wilton has been selected to receive a total of $4.1 million (Water and Waste Direct Loan of $2,750,000 and Water and Waste Grant of $1,350,000). Funds will be used for a cost-overrun. This project Rural Development funds are being used to upgrade the wastewater treatment system that has surpassed its 20 year expected useful life by approximately 12 years. If the wastewater treatment system were to fail due to the age or the inoperable, undersized, or obsolete technology it would potentially cause a discharge of untreated wastewater into Wilson Stream which is a prime brook trout stream. Also a failure of one of the systems 16 antiquated pump stations located along Wilson Pond could allow for a raw sewerage spill into Wilson Pond. This project will benefit 885 users.

     

    • Town of Oxford has been selected to receive a total of $4.6 million (Water and Waste Direct Loan of $3,601,000 and Water and Waste Grant of $999,000). Funds will be used for a cost-overrun to the project. Rural Development funding is being used to build an entirely new wastewater treatment facility and collection system. This consists of a series of 7 pump stations, 48,350 linear feet of pipes, and a Membrane Bioreactor Waste System. The system was built with the needs of the current potential users and future capacity and economic development of the area and job creation in mind. This project will benefit 383 users.

     

    USDA is awarding $299 million for 88 projects in the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program and $15 million for 53 grants in the Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program..

    ECWAG grants enable water systems that serve eligible rural communities to prepare for, or recover from, imminent or actual emergencies that threaten the availability of safe drinking water. Water and Waste program recipients can use funds to construct water and waste facilities in rural communities.

    Since 2009, USDA has helped provide improved water and wastewater services to nearly 18 million rural residents by investing $12.3 billion in 5,174 projects.

    Funding of each award announced today is contingent upon the recipient meeting the terms of the grant and loan agreement.

       USDA Rural Development is accepting applications for loans and grants to build rural water infrastructure. Applications may be completed online through RDAPPLY, a new electronic filing system, and atstate and local Rural Development offices. Public entities (counties, townships and communities), non-profit organizations and tribal communities with a population of 10,000 or less are eligible to apply. Interest rates for this program are at historically low levels, ranging from 2 percent to 3.25 percent. Loan terms can be up to 40 years. For more information, visit http://www.rd.usda.gov/programs-services/rd-apply.

         USDA Rural Development has Area Offices located in Presque Isle, Bangor, Lewiston, and Scarborough, as well as a State Office, located in Bangor. There are 60 employees working to deliver the agency’s Housing, Business, and Community Programs, which are designed to improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, and farmers, and improve the quality of life in rural Maine. Further information on rural programs is available at a local USDA Rural Development office or by visiting USDA Rural Development's web site athttp://www.rd.usda.gov/me.

  • Maine lawmakers want to invest in citizens instead of income tax breaks for wealthy with liquor contract funds

    Democratic lawmakers are proposing legislation for the second session that would use some of the revenue from the state’s liquor contract to invest in Maine’s future and assist some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

    Four bills are seeking to use a portion of the liquor contract revenues for transportation, public education, heating assistance and to reduce the waiting lists for non-medical services that help Mainers with disabilities live independently. Gov. Paul LePage and the Maine Republican Party, meanwhile, are proposing to use the funds to lower and eventually eliminate the state income tax.

    “Do Mainers want to use these funds to provide a tax break to the wealthiest Mainers that will mean higher property and sales for the rest of us? How can we justify that when there so many other pressing needs, like the ones addressed by each of these bills?” said House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “I agree with the governor that heating assistance for needy families is a top priority. Here’s a way to provide that without harming public lands as his unsustainable and possibly unconstitutional timber harvesting plan would do.”

    The bills are:

    • LR2359, An Act To Provide Heating Assistance for Maine Seniors and Families (House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe)
    • LR 2488, An Act To Revitalize Infrastructure Investment To Create Jobs (sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon)
    • LR 2450, An Act To Eliminate the Waiting List for Community-based Services Provided under MaineCare for Individuals with a Brain Injury, an Intellectual Disability or Autism (Rep. Drew Gattine)
    • LR 2553, An Act To Transfer Excess Revenue from the State’s Liquor Contract in Fiscal Year 2016-17 to General Purpose Aid to Local Schools (Rep. John Martin)

     

    On each of these bills, the Legislative Council voted 5-5 last month to allow it in for the second session that begins in January. For sessions in even-numbered years, bills need a majority vote to advance to the full Legislature.

    The sponsors of these four bills are appealing the decisions. The Legislative Council will consider appeals on Nov. 19.

    “There‘s broad bipartisan consensus that Maine’s economy cannot realize its full potential without a robust transportation system,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “The liquor contract provides a unique opportunity to improve our roads and bridges, help businesses move their goods more effectively and boost the construction sector. That is a much better investment than tax cuts for the wealthy.”

    Gideon is appealing as a new report underscores Maine’s pressing transportation needs. Fifteen percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 18 percent are functionally obsolete, according to thereport by TRIP. Earlier this year, the Maine Department found that current funding levels are at only half the level needed to maintain the safety and integrity of state bridges.

    Maine’s roads also are in dire need of attention. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave a “D” grade to the state’s roads, 83 percent of which are in fair to unacceptable condition.

    Liquor contract revenues could also make a big difference in the lives of Mainers with intellectual disabilities by providing services that help them live independently in their communities.

    “We should all be able to agree that we need to protect Maine’s most vulnerable citizens. We have a wonderful opportunity to help Mainers with disabilities live more independently – without sacrificing seniors’ ability to pay for their medicines as the governor tried to do,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook, the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Ask yourself, ‘What’s the priority? A tax giveaway for the state’s highest earners that will blow a hole in future budgets? Or key services for our neighbors with intellectual disabilities, with the feds tripling our investment”     

    Martin’s bill would into put liquor contract revenue into the General Purpose Aid, the state’s baseline share of funding for K-12 public education.

    “The governor and the GOP have hatched a scheme to provide a windfall to the wealthy. The budget hole they would create would be so big that it would swallow up all state funding for local schools, higher education and more,” said Martin, D-Eagle Lake, who is on the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and is a board member of School Administrative District 27. “Instead of shifting the tax burden to everyday Mainers and their communities, let’s put money in classrooms so it can benefit our kids and our state’s economy.”

    The new state liquor contracts are yielding higher profits that expected. The first year resulted in $46 million profit, which puts the state on track to exceed the $450 million in profits originally expected over the 10-year life of the contracts. Approximately $9.7 million in revenue from the contracts’ first year is not earmarked for hospital debt bond repayment or other items.

  • Maine House Speaker Eves praises housing bond victory, urges LePage to act quickly

     Speaker of the House Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, on Tuesday night praised the passage of bond Question 2 on the statewide ballot. The bond passed with 68 percent of the vote.

    Eves led the bipartisan effort in the State Legislature to pass the $15 million bond proposal to invest in affordable and efficient housing for Maine seniors.

    “The passage of the housing bond is a huge victory for Maine seniors and the economy. It’s a win win for communities across the state,” said Eves, who sponsored the bond proposal. “The investment will help a dire need for affordable housing for Maine seniors, while also helping to create construction jobs in communities in rural and urban areas of our state. Maine voters sent a strong message tonight in support of seniors. I urge the governor to release the bond quickly and honor the will of the voters.”

    Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older adults, and that this shortfall will grow to more than 15,000 by 2022 unless action is taken to address the problem, according to a report by independent national research firm Abt Associates.

     “With the passage of the Housing Bond, Maine can start to scale that number back through improved affordable housing measures in some of our most vulnerable communities,”said Lori Parham, AARP Maine State Director. 

    The Senior Housing Bond will enable more Mainers to age in their own homes by revitalizing communities and providing new homes for older Mainers; dedicating funds to home repair and weatherization of some existing homes; and by creating jobs in the construction industry.

    AARP Maine heard from thousands of their 230,000 members in the state regarding this issue in the weeks leading up to the election.  On October 20th, more than 4,000 AARP members participated in a live tele-town hall with Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and House Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).  Participants were invited to ask questions during the town hall meeting and many callers expressed their support for the state’s investment in affordable housing.