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  • Workers and Seniors Arrested In Senator Collins office Demanding She Oppose Massive Tax Giveaway to the Wealthy

    By Ramona du Houx

    Five Maine workers and seniors sat in Senator Susan Collins’ Bangor office on Monday December 4, 2017 demanding Senator Collins oppose the massive tax giveaway to the wealthy. Praticing thier right to protest these peaceful citizens stood up for the rights of millions across the country today, and many in Maine thank them. The cause was something they thought worthy enough for to go to jail.

    “As a nurse, this bill takes healthcare away from thousands of my patients, threatens Medicare and will raise premiums for most Mainers,” said Erin Oberson, a nurse from Old Town. “This is a raw deal for working people.  Senator Collins should do right by Maine and oppose this bill.”

    Jim Betts, a retired State worker and veteran, said, “My wife and I worked our entire lives. We rely on Medicare for health coverage. This bill puts Medicare and Social Security on the chopping block and threatens the healthcare of Maine seniors.”

    “This bill gives massive tax cuts to the rich on the backs of working people.  It was written by the rich and powerful for the rich and powerful,” said Nick Paquet, an electrician from Benton.  “Senator Collins knows right from wrong and this bill is dead wrong for Maine.”

    Tina Davidson, a disability rights advocate and veteran, added, “Senator Collins needs to listen to ordinary Mainers. As someone with a disability this bill makes me extremely vulnerable and threatens all people with disabilities.  It will hurt millions of Americans.  We can do better and we all deserve better.” 

    The Republican tax plan gives massive tax cuts to the wealthiest and big corporations; takes healthcare away from thousands of Mainers and raises premium on thousands more, and would deepen student debt. The bill makes deep cuts to Medicare; lays the groundwork for future cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid, and facilitates the outsourcing of Maine jobs overseas.

  • Dunlap: I’m on Trump’s voter fraud commission and I have to sue to find out what it’s doing

    Why is a presidential advisory panel on elections operating in such secrecy? Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap filed a lawsuit against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to stop the practice.

    On Nov. 9, I filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeking to obtain the working documents, correspondence and schedule of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. What’s remarkable about my lawsuit is that I’m a member of the commission, and apparently this is the only way I can find out what we’re doing.

    The commission was formed in May to answer monster-under-the-bed questions about “voter fraud,” but the implicit rationale for its creation appears to be to substantiate President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016.

    Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, the commission has the chance to answer questions about potential fraud and to highlight best practices to enhance voter confidence in our election systems. Yet it isn’t doing that. Instead, the commission is cloaking itself in secrecy, completely contrary to federal law. Recommendations for changes in public policy – whether you agree with them or not – ought to come through an open, public discussion where any American can weigh in.

    As the secretary of state in Maine, I was asked to serve on this 12-member commission by Pence’s office. Although I’m a Democrat, I accepted because I believed that membership would allow me to defend the election process from a position of authority, as a fully informed and engaged participant in the president’s review.

    The commission has met just twice, but it’s made some waves anyway. Even before we first convened, a June 28 memo signed by commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach to the chief elections officers of all 50 states, requesting detailed voter information, was met with fury; the Mississippi secretary of state, Republican Delbert Hosemann, invited the commission to “jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” one of many colorful responses. Perhaps more striking is that the memo wasn’t written by staff – it was written by individuals who were later named to the commission but who were working outside of government at the time.

    The letter went out immediately after our first conference call, indicating that Kobach’s data-gathering effort was underway before the commission formed. But no one told members of the commission that; I learned about it from the press.

    At our first meeting, at the White House complex in July, Trump made clear his motivation for convening the commission: “This issue is very important to me because, throughout the campaign and even after it, people would come up to me and express their concerns about voter inconsistencies and irregularities, which they saw. In some cases, having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states.”

    The second meeting, held in New Hampshire in September, was electrified by unsubstantiated charges of rampant voter fraud in that state leveled by Kobach, a longtime proponent of the theory that voter fraud is a pressing danger, who also serves as Kansas secretary of state. Strangely, his charges had less to do with how voters in New Hampshire had conducted themselves than with the structure of the state’s election laws, which Kobach apparently dislikes. But neither the agenda for that meeting nor the list of witnesses invited to speak was vetted by the commission as a whole before the public session – it just appeared.

    I’ve served on many boards and commissions in my nearly 20 years in politics. I’ve never seen a session where members only learned about what would happen in a meeting when the agenda became public.

    Since that meeting, there has been total silence from the leaders and staff of the commission about work happening behind the scenes. After repeated instances of learning about the commission’s activities only because reporters asked me about them, I sent a letter to Executive Director Andrew Kossack on Oct. 17 asking for information – including communications between the commissioners and federal agencies – about what the body I’m supposed to be a part of is doing.

    My request was simple: “I am seeking information because I lack it; I am asking questions because I do not know the answers. I am a keen observer of the public discourse, and it has been made manifestly clear that there is information about this commission being created and shared among a number of parties, though apparently not universally. Thus, I am in a position where I feel compelled to inquire after the work of the Commission upon which I am sworn to serve, and am yet completely uninformed as to its activities.”

    More than a week later, on Oct. 25, I received the following reply: “I am consulting with counsel regarding a response to your request to ensure any response accords with all applicable law.”

    That same day, I was forwarded a fundraising email from the conservative Minnesota Voters Alliance touting its invitation to present at our December meeting – the first I had heard that such a meeting was even being contemplated, much less scheduled. When I asked Kossack about our future meetings, he replied that no meeting was scheduled for December. I have yet to hear anything further

    Our itinerary isn’t the only thing I can’t get clear information about. More than a month ago, The Washington Post reported on the arrest in Maryland of a researcher for the commission on charges of possession of child pornography. I can’t get answers about the disposition of the case: Is this researcher still employed by the commission? Has he been placed on leave? Has he resigned? I have no idea, as I have not received a response to my query to the commission.

    The commission was established by executive order under the auspices of the Federal Advisory Commission Act (FACA), which requires notice of our public meetings, disclosure of our work product and the opportunity for public participation. FACA was written precisely so Americans would know what the government is doing and what it is considering, so we could participate in that process.

    One of the agencies that some commissioners have been reportedly working with is the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the implementation of the Real ID Act and has designated state election systems as “critical infrastructure.” DHS may decide to enter the field of elections management, under the ubiquitous mantle of “national security.”

    Without transparency about the commission’s actions, how can you find out if a policy is being developed that may require you to have a Real ID-compliant driver’s license to vote? Or whether you’ll have to prove American citizenship at the polls? How will you know about changes under consideration to voter registration deadlines or new restrictions on absentee balloting?

    Of course, this is politics. But remember, we as American citizens are supposed to own the process. The desire to prevail in an election campaign has led to some sad episodes of voter intimidation and suppression in our country’s history. The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity should endeavor to challenge those fears and answer them, not add to them.

  • Maine State Opioid Task Force Completes Work

    Pending recommendations to be presented to full Legislature in early December 

    by Ramona du Houx

    Maine’s Task Force to Address the Opioid Crisis in the State concluded its work Tuesday, preparing to deliver its recommendations for combating the drug crisis by December 6, 2017 to the full Legislature for action.

    “Every day we hesitate literally means the death of another Mainer,” said House chair of the Task Force Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell. “From infants born drug-affected to jail cells filled with our neighbors in need of treatment, the statewide epidemic requires that we take action.  Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on increasing prevention efforts, expanding access to effective, affordable treatment, and addressing the underlying poverty and inequality that have delivered this crisis.”

    The objective of the 19-member Task Force is for lawmakers and community experts to report back to the Legislature any recommendations, including legislation, that would assist with statewide efforts to combat the opioid crisis. 

    The Task Force will be compiling its recommendations, which have not yet been released, for legislation in the areas of law enforcement, prevention and harm reduction, and treatment and recovery. As a Legislative Task Force, any recommendations in the form of legislation are required to be referred to committees for additional action prior to appearing before the House and Senate. 

    “The legislature has the opportunity to act decisively to combat this emergency.  We cannot ignore its impact or disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment.  Expecting people to pull themselves up by their boot straps just isn’t working.  This is a complex problem requiring broad-based solutions,” added Rep. McCreight. “It’s time to recognize the extreme cost of this crisis, which can be measured in lives lost, families torn apart, a workforce gutted and an economy held back. It’s time to take action to help our neighbors get the help they need.”

    In a revised interim report delivered May 15, 2017, the Task Force identified the current state of the drug crisis in Maine and analyzed treatment options, law enforcement challenges and other topics directly related to the opiate epidemic.

    According to the Maine Attorney General’s office, 185 Mainers died of a drug overdose in the first six months of this year. In 2016, the total number of deaths was 376.

    McCreight, a member of the Legislature’s Judiciary and Health and Human Services Committees, is serving her second term in the Maine House. She represents Harpswell, West Bath and part of Brunswick.

     

  • Attorney General Mills joins multistate court brief opposing roll back of contraception coverage mandate

    Attorney General Janet Mills (photo left) joined a coalition of attorneys general in an amicus brief opposing the Trump Administration's roll back of the ACA contraception requirement.

    The amicus brief, filed with the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, supports the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's lawsuit to stop the federal government from enforcing a new rule that would authorize virtually any employer with an objection to contraception to prevent employees and employees' dependents from having health insurance coverage for contraceptive services. 

    "This Trump administration's proposal is an attack on the health of women throughout our country," said Attorney General Mills. "It is an attack on the right to privacy to allow employers to interfere in the most personal decisions of their employees' lives." Since the ACA was enacted in 2010, most employers who provide health insurance coverage to their employees have been required to include coverage for contraception, at no cost to the employee. As a result of the ACA, more than 55 million women in the United States, including 253,000 women in Maine, have access to contraception without a co-pay, saving an average of $255 per year for oral pill contraceptives.

    For millions of women the ACA contraception coverage rule has reduced healthcare costs, helped address medical conditions and allowed them to make their own decisions about whether to have children. Before the contraception coverage rule, birth control accounted for 30-44% of a woman's out-of-pocket healthcare costs. 

    In the brief, the attorneys general argue that the new rule is unconstitutional because it allows the federal government to endorse certain religious or moral beliefs over a woman's right to make choices about her own health care.

    The attorneys general also argue that the proposed rule denies equal protection under the law by denying critical benefits to women, while leaving coverage for men unchanged. Additionally, they argue that the Trump administration is taking away the right to contraceptive coverage - a right that millions of women rely on - in violation of the ACA itself, and without an opportunity for public comment and without following legal procedures.

  • Maine Secretary of State Dunlap seeks preliminary injunction in lawsuit against election commission

     

    On November 16, 2017 Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap asked a federal court for an injunction to force the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI) – on which Dunlap serves as a member – to stop withholding key information.

    “I had hoped filing the complaint would convey to the commission that I’m serious about fully participating in the work awaiting us,” said Sec. Dunlap. “Unfortunately, that intention has not been met, and instead I see media reports filled with attacks and recriminations directed at me for asking for our working papers and work schedule. I’m left with the regrettable choice to push the matter further in the courts.” 

    Having repeatedly been denied access to commission documents and information, Secretary Dunlap filed a lawsuit on November 9, 2017 to force the commission to share records to which he is entitled, such as meeting materials, correspondence between commissioners and communications with witnesses. The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requires that all commissioners have access to the same level of information used by the commission, but Sec. Dunlap’s repeated requests for this information have been rebuffed. 

    In response to the lawsuit, rather than pledging to work in good faith to facilitate Sec. Dunlap’s participation, the commission’s Vice Chairman Kris Kobach called the lawsuit “baseless and paranoid,” and commissioner Hans von Spakovsky said Sec. Dunlap “should be sanctioned for filing a frivolous lawsuit and should resign from the commission.”

    The motion filed today asks the U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to order the PACEI to immediately provide the requested documents, enable Sec. Dunlap to participate in PACEI business.

    By filing for a preliminary injunction, Sec. Dunlap foreshortens the time frame for the government to respond to the complaint from two months to one week. This will ensure Sec. Dunlap is properly informed about upcoming commission activities. A mailer from the Minnesota Voters Alliance indicated, for example, that a commission hearing was planned for December, but Sec. Dunlap has received no notice of any such meeting.

     

    Sec. Dunlap’s suit is based on the 1999 D.C. Circuit Court decision Cummock v. Gore, in which the court held that commissioners may not be denied access to information. Sec. Dunlap is represented by nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight and the law firm of Patterson Belknap, based in New York City. 

  • Sec. Dunlap files lawsuit seeking access to Elections Commission correspondence, information

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a member of the federal Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, filed a lawsuit on November 9, 2017  in an effort to obtain information about the commission’s work.

    Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the suit alleges that the commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) by excluding Dunlap and others from much of the commission’s work. The Executive Office of the President (EOP) is also a named defendant, as the office is staffing the commission and maintaining its records.

    “Since the Sept. 12 meeting, I have received no correspondence from the commission other than to acknowledge receipt of my information request,” said Sec. Dunlap. “Clearly, there is information about this commission being created and discussed, but I have no access to that information and it has not been provided upon request.

    “My goal in filing this lawsuit is to bring the commission into full compliance with FACA, which would allow me and all of my fellow commissioners to fulfill our roles as full, participating members and provide a meaningful report to the President upon concluding our work.”

    Prior to filing the lawsuit, Sec. Dunlap submitted an information request to the commission on Oct. 17 citing concerns about “a vacuum of information from the leadership or staff.” The FACA requires that all commissioners receive equal information about the commission’s work, but he has not been privy to any discussions related to meeting materials, witness invitations, goals, or outreach. His repeated requests for this information have been rebuffed.

    Dunlap’s suit is based on the 1999 DC Circuit Court decision in Cummock v. Gore, in which the court held that commissioners may not be denied access to information. Dunlap is represented by nonpartisan ethics watchdog American Oversight and the law firm of Patterson Belknap, based in New York City. 

  • Maine Attorney General Janet Mills warns public about new phone scam

     Attorney General Janet Mills is warning the public of a new phone scam in which the caller tells the recipient that they have received an award from Maine's Department of Health and Human Services. The call recipient is then asked to pay $200 for an access code to get the award. 

    AG Mills stated that one individual received a phone call claiming that the consumer had awarded a grant of money from the Department of Health and Human Services. The caller asked the individual to pay $200 for an access code to receive the grant. 

    "If you receive a similar call, don't be fooled," said Mills. ". The government will not call you to ask for your credit card information over the phone."

    Recently, many Mainers have encountered similar scams via Facebook messenger, where someone they "know" has heard of some grant and wants to share their good fortune with you. Often, the person you know is a spoofed profile of your friend, and it is a scam.

    Sometimes the scammer poses as a government official. The scammer may even have an account with a name and photo that matches that of a real office or public official. The scammer tells the potential victim that they have qualified for a free monetary grant from the government that does not have to be paid back. All the victim has to do is pay a small processing fee and the larger sum of money will be released. No matter how much money is sent to the scammers, no grants are ever released.

    "Scammers are always coming up with new ways to convince you to part with your hard-earned money," said Attorney General Mills. "If any one tells you that you can have something for nothing - they are lying to you. No governmental agency conducts business or financial transactions via Facebook or instant messenger and they will never demand that you wire money or make a payment by a prepaid money service or any card you can buy in a convenience store. If you receive one of these offers, ignore it, delete it or block the sender. If you send them any money, you will never see it again."

    If you receive a message like this, you should report it to the service provider (for instance if you are using Facebook, report it to Facebook), as they may be able to shut down the suspect account. 

    Consumers can contact the Maine Attorney General's Office with questions or concerns about these kinds of scams or other issues they have had with a business. They are encouraged to contact the Office of the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.

    Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division State House Station 6 Augusta, ME 04333-0006 Consumer.mediation@maine.gov Tel: 1-800-436-2131

    The Office of the Attorney General also offers tips on how to avoid scams athttp://www.maine.gov/ag/consumer/scams.shtml. 
  • Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Situational Awareness Statement: Wind Storm 2017

    Belfast Harbor, Belfast Maine

    11/02/2017 05:35 PM EDT

    The Maine State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) remains fully activated today after a powerful wind and rainstorm caused nearly 500,000 power outages state-wide beginning Sunday, October 29. Utilities continue to bring in mutual aid from other states and Canada to speed the restoration effort and more than half of the customers affected by power outages now have power restored.

    MEMA representatives continue to work closely with partner agencies including the National Weather Service, Red Cross, DOT, CDC, Department of Public safety, utilities, and county emergency management agencies.

    MEMA appreciates patience and encourages safety as we progress through restoring power throughout Maine. More than 2,000 utility workers, first responders and emergency management personnel from Maine and neighboring states have been working long hours for many days to continue to restore power. Power outages continue to drop, with approximately 132,000 customers without power as of Thursday afternoon,November 2, 2017.

    The State of Maine is pursuing a Federal Disaster Declaration with local municipalities and county Emergency Management Agencies, however no Federal assistance is available at this time. Below is a list of steps and resources available at this time. 

    - Individuals should document damage from the October 29 storm through photos and receipts, and first work with their homeowner's insurance.
    - Documented losses should be reported to 2-1-1 Maine by calling 2-1-1. They will need the name, address and a summary of the losses related to this storm only.
    - Those who cannot afford to fix damage from the storm should contact their municipal General Assistance Officer for assistance that may be available.
    - Check with local food pantries if you have lost food.
    - Community Action Programs may be able to provide some assistance to those who meet certain income guidelines.
    - Current SNAP benefit recipients may be able to obtain a voucher to replace lost food. Contact the Office of Family Independence at 855-797-4357.
    - Farmers who experience losses and need assistance should contact USDA Farm Service Agency at 207-990-9140.
    - Small Business Administration offers low rate emergency disaster loan assistance for businesses, private nonprofits, homeowners and renters, at https://disasterloan.sba.gov. Individuals can also contact 2-1-1 Maine for referrals for assistance.

    ###Situation

    A powerful storm began impacting Maine Sunday, October 29, leaving more than half of Maine residents without electricity.
    -Temperatures are expected to reach the high 50's in southern Maine and will be in the low 50's in northern and interior Maine.
    - Rivers and streams continue to subside. Stream flows remain high statewide but have dropped significantly in the previous 24 hours.
    - Rainfall amounts Thursday through Friday are not expected to cause flooding.
    - A large amount of debris is reported in many areas affecting road access in some cases. Caution is urged when removing debris.
    - 43 State Roads remain closed.

    ###Storm Impacts

    - Many households and businesses remain without power, and shelter and warming center lists are updated regularly. Information is available at maine.gov/MEMA, MEMA's Facebook page and Twitter, and at 211Maine.org or by dialing 2-1-1. Individuals without access to internet or 2-1-1 should check with their town or local fire station for shelter information.
    - Many areas still report a large amount of debris.
    Caution is urged when removing debris and experts should be called for larger debris or if power lines are involved. MEMA will maintain situational awareness and information flow between County EOCs and the SEOC through situational reports for decision making purposes. MEMA will also work to fulfill resource requests from all 16 counties to support response and recovery activities during the sustained response and recovery operations using available resources from state agencies, private vendors and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

    **Citizens are reminded of the following:**

    - Do not touch downed power lines and objects that are touching them.
    - Power restoration is expected to take several days; check on your neighbors.
    - Ensure generators and alternate heat sources are in good working condition and properly installed and located in a well-ventilated area.
    - Use caution when operating chainsaws for debris removal and wear personal protective equipment and/or work with experienced tree-removal services.
    - Those who have been without power for several days should discard food that has not been stored at the proper temperature (refrigerator 40 degrees or below; freezer zero degrees or below).
    - Document all damage costs to property for insurance and other assistance purposes.

    For additional preparedness, shelter and safety information, please visit MainePrepares.com, or visit MEMA on Facebook or Twitter.
  • American Red Cross Shelter established at the Brewer, Maine Auditorium

    The Brewer Auditorium, located on Wilson Street in Brewer, is an American Red Cross designated shelter with food and cots available for sleeping. Given that weather conditions overnight in Bangor include temperatures in the low 40s, Bangor residents without power are encouraged to seek shelter at the Brewer Auditorium. For those unable to get to the Brewer Auditorium, the Bangor Police Department will arrange for transport; please contact the Police by calling (207) 947-7384.

    Hot Showers - Available now, must bring own supplies (towels, soap, etc)
    Cross Insurance Center, 515 Main Street - Hot showers are available tonight until 6:00 PM and all day tomorrow from 6:30 AM to 6:00 PM, please enter the facility via the Southwest entrance (accessible via the upper parking lot).

    James F. Doughty School, 143 Fifth Street - Hot showers are available tomorrow from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM.

    Power Outage Update 
    Based on information communicated by Emera to City officials, Emera crews are currently focusing on the Webster Avenue substation, which is the primary source of power for the west side of Bangor. Power is anticipated to be restored to neighborhoods near Fairmount Park and Hammond Street. Emera crews are also working on restoring power to the east side of Bangor, including Broadway, the Tree Streets, Little City and Essex Street. Emera did not provide restoration times for the Capehart area.

    Area Hotel Availability
    The Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau is maintaining a listing of hotel availability in the Greater Bangor area on their website, https://www.visitbangormaine.com/power-check-deals/. Some hotels are offering special promotions for customers without power.

    Bangor area schools are in session tomorrow with a 2-hour delay. Superintendent Betsy Webb asks that students dress in layers.

    ##
    For information on City projects and news, see www.bangormaine.gov.

  • Don't suffer in the cold- list of warming centers across Maine due to storm

    Let's all make an attempt to check on loved ones and neighbors today! Still allot of folks without power who made need some help. TRICK OR TREAT is tonight gotta use caution on dark streets with no power. There could still be lines down in some areas.

    LIST OF WARMING CENTERS ACROSS MAINE

    Androscoggin County: Greene Town Office: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Greene, 220 Main Street
    Open until 4:30pm. Fire Dept is the backup.

    Androscoggin County: Lisbon Town Office: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Lisbon, 300 Lisbon St
    Lisbon Town Office is open with the Community Center as a backup.

    Hancock County: Brooksville Fire Station/Town Office: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Brooksville, 1 Town House Road
    Open 24 hrs.

    Hancock County: Island Community Center: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Stonington, 10 Memorial Lane
    Open from 6:00am until 8:30pm

    Lincoln County: Bristol Mills Fire Station: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Bristol, 1206 Bristol Rd
    Open until 10:00pm

    Lincoln County: New Harbor Fire Department: OPEN
    Warming Center
    New Harbor, 2561 Bristol Rd
    Open until 10:00pm

    Lincoln County: Bristol Fire and Rescue Round Pond Station: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Round Pond, ME-32
    Open until 10:00pm

    Penobscot County: Cross Insurance Center: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Bangor, 515 Main St
    Charging Station

    In Bangor also there will be hot showers at the following locations beginning tomorrow morning. Please bring your own towels and soap:

    James F. Doughty School – beginning at 6:30 am - Tomorrow morning
    Cross Insurance Center – Beginning at 6:30 am - Tomorrow morning

    Penobscot County: Old Town Middle School: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Old Town, 156 Oak St
    Warming/charging center, open until further notice

    Penobscot County: Orono Field House: OPEN
    Emergency Shelter
    Orono, 168 College Avenue
    Will open at 5:00pm as a Red Cross emergency shelter.

    York County: Wells Elementary School: OPEN
    Warming Center
    Wells, 276 Sanford Rd
    Open to Wells residents, Showers available

    Scheduled to Open:
    Penobscot County: Bangor Public Library: WILL OPEN
    Warming Center
    Bangor, 145 Harlow St
    Open from 10:00am until 8:00pm

    York County: Seeds of Hope: WILL OPEN
    Warming Center
    Biddeford, 35 South St
    Open from 9:00am until 1:00pm

    Now Closed:
    Knox County: Hahn Center: CLOSED
    Other
    Friendship, 31 Main Street
    Open from 1:00pm to 5:00pm as a charging station

    Penobscot County: Brewer Public Safety: CLOSED
    Other
    Brewer, 151 Parkway
    Open as charging station until 9:00pm.

    Penobscot County: Etna Community Hall: CLOSED
    Warming Center
    Etna, 17 Shadow Lane
    Hours 2:00pm to 10:00pm

    Waldo County: Troy Howard Middle School: CLOSED
    Warming Center
    Belfast, 173 Lincolnville Avenue
    Closed at 6 PM.

  • Prescription Drug Take-Back Day event in Maine

    AUGUSTA - Mainers have an opportunity to do their part in combating the opioid epidemic by participating in the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day event on Oct. 28, 2017.

    The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in collaboration with the New England High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), is working to reduce the availability of unwanted and unused prescriptions by highlighting drug take-back locations across the state that are available year-round.

    "We encourage people to dispose of their unused prescription medication in one of the several drug disposal boxes found in communities across Maine," stated Commissioner Ricker Hamilton. "Doing this significantly reduces the availability of and access to these drugs."

    The proper disposal of unused prescriptions can help save lives-especially the lives of Maine's youth. Two thirds of teens who misused pain relievers in the past year say that they got them from family and friends, including the medicine cabinets in their own homes.

    During the last National Drug Take-Back Day, the state of Maine collected more than 24,000 pounds of prescription drugs-greater than the combined collections of New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont, and Rhode Island.

    "In keeping unused prescription drugs readily accessible in your home, you introduce the possible risks of harmful exposure or misuse to friends and family members," said State Health Officer Dr. Christopher Pezzullo. "Educating the public on local drug disposal sites and the importance of proper prescription drug disposal are key elements in combating the State's ongoing opioid crisis."

    Prescription drugs may be disposed of at any time throughout the year, not just on National Drug Take-Back Day. To find a permanent drug disposal site near you, enter your zip code into the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy Drug Disposal Locator: nabp.pharmacy/initiatives/awarxe/drug-disposal-locator or check with your local police department.

    If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, dial 2-1-1 in Maine or visitwww.211Maine.org to be connected to local resources.
  • Madawaska-Edmundston Bridge in Maine Weight Limit to be Lowered

    Madawaska - The Madawaska-Edmundston International Bridge linking Madawaska, Maine and Edmundston, New Brunswick will have an immediate down-posting (weight limit) to five tons beginning on Friday, October 27th.

    During a recent inspection of the bridge, inspectors found significantly more steel deterioration on the floor beams and stringers than expected. As a result, engineers have determined the need for the five ton posting.

    The new weight limit ensures that the bridge remains safe for passenger vehicles but restricts all commercial vehicles over five tons, including tractor trailers, box trucks, buses and fire trucks. 

    The bridge will require temporary strengthening to address critical repairs. MaineDOT and NB DTI (New Brunswick Department of Transportation and Infrastructure) are currently working on a plan to complete these temporary repairs as soon as possible. 

    Once the temporary strengthening is complete, the bridge will be evaluated to determine if the structure can provide better functionality. However, weight restrictions of some magnitude will remain in effect until a replacement bridge is complete. 

    Beginning in January of this year, MaineDOT and NB DTI have been working collaboratively with United States and Canadian Border Agencies on developing a long-term solution to replace or rehabilitate this 96-year-old bridge.
  • Major Augusta, Maine Detour Begins Monday, October 30

    Augusta - Beginning on Monday, October 30th, all southbound Interstate 95 traffic at Exit 109 destined for Western Avenue in Augusta will be directed off Exit 109B onto Western Avenue westbound. Motorists traveling east on Western Avenue will need to proceed westerly to access one of the reverse direction loops at Edison Drive or Old Winthrop Road.

    On October 3rd, a MaineDOT maintenance worker discovered the south exterior beam of the Ramp F Bridge over I-95 had been struck by a vehicle causing significant damage. There is currently a partial crack in the southern beam. Barrels have been placed along the south shoulder of the bridge to keep traffic off the damaged area.

    Another recent hit has damaged the north exterior beam of the same bridge but to a lesser extent. MaineDOT personnel will continue to monitor the damage on both sides of the bridge to ensure it remains safe under legal loads. 

    On Saturday, October 28th, MaineDOT crews will work to pave and alter striping patterns. Motorists should expect slight delays.

    This bridge carries two-way traffic as part of the I-95 Exit 109 interchange as well as I-95 southbound traffic accessing Western Avenue headed east to the downtown and the Capitol complex. It also supports Western Avenue traffic bound for I-95 south.

    Drivers are advised to find alternate routes. For more information and to sign up for email alerts, please visit mainedot.gov

    MaineDOT has been investigating what may have caused this damage with little success to date. Anyone with any information is asked to call MaineDOT's Legal Division at (207) 624-3020.

    Construction materials act differently under cold temperatures. Although the bridge is currently safe for all legal loads, the Department feels it is prudent to remove one lane of traffic from the bridge before cold weather arrives and then remove all traffic from the bridge so that construction of a new bridge may move as quickly as possible. The following is a plan to move quickly, while maintaining public safety and minimizing impacts to our customers.

    Short Term - Beginning Monday, October 30th all I-95, Exit 109, south bound traffic destined for Western Avenue in Augusta will be directed off Exit 109B onto Western Avenue westbound. Traffic wanting to head east on Western Avenue will need to proceed westerly to access one of the reverse direction loops at Edison Drive or Old Winthrop Road. During this period, travelers will be advised to seek alternate routes as much as possible. 

    Mid Term - In three to five weeks, using accelerated contracting methods, a new set of temporary ramps will be built from Exit 109A onto Whitten Road. Travelers will then access Western Avenue from the Whitten Road Intersection. Exit 109B will resume as before serving westbound Western Avenue travel to Manchester, Winthrop, etc. Travelers wanting to access I-95 southbound from Western Avenue will do so from Whitten Road. 

    Permanent Solution - When considering the significant effort, cost and traffic impacts associated with repairing the existing bridge, coupled with a strong likelihood of continued damage due to "over height" strikes, MaineDOT is working rapidly to develop and execute plans to replace the entire Ramp F bridge superstructure. As part of replacing the superstructure, we will increase the "under clearance" by over a foot to reduce the potential of future impacts and to be consistent with the clearances achieved with recent bridge projects over Interstate 95.

    The Department plans to implement accelerated construction techniques to have a new bridge in place before spring of 2018. However, that could be affected by the type of winter weather before us.

    MaineDOT will also be installing an over-height load warning system to protect other bridges, such as the overpass carrying Western Avenue over I-95.
  • Anthem Insurance withdraws from Maine’s A.C.A. Individual Exchange Market

    By Ramona du Houx

    Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield announced on September 27, 2017 that they will not sell individual insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act market in Maine in 2018. In the statement from Anthem, they cite a volatile market and changes and uncertainty in the federal government. “It is critical that all Maine people have access to quality, affordable health care. I am extremely disappointed by Anthem’s decision,” said Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives Sara Gideon. “I hope that this is a clear signal to all members of Congress and President Trump that we need stability and predictability, not to throw the entire industry into chaos every few months on political whims. The responsible course of action is to address existing issues in the Affordable Care Act.”

     Existing customers who purchased Anthem plans through the exchange can renew their current plan in 2018, but only off the exchange and without federal financial assistance. This change will not affect Medicare patients or those enrolled in employer-based insurance.

    “Anthem’s tragic decision for Mainers is a direct result of the flawed effort by Republicans in Washington to destroy the Affordable Care Act,” said Rep. Mark Lawrence, Chair of the Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee. “This is what happens when you turn healthcare into a partisan issue, despite the fact that the public wants the ACA improved, not repealed. Moving forward, we must focus on fixing existing issues and engendering stability.”

    “ObamaCare is continuing to implode and cause significant hardships for Maine’s people,” said Governor Paul LePage. 

    However LePage neglected to site the fact that by not accepting the free Medicaid funding from the A.C.A. he has caused hardships in Maine to hospitals, patients and insurance companies like Anthem. By not accepting the federal A.C.A. funding 10,000 people are still without health insurance and costs have sky rocketed for hospital medical treatment because those who use the emergency room for healthcare make insurance rates increase.

    Governor John Baldacci at a press conference for his Dirigo Health Care Act in 2005, photo by Ramona du Houx

    Governor John Baldacci’s Dirigo Health Care Act made sure costs were shared and quality health care became accessible to all Mainers. Dirigo Health became a model for America and many components were used in drafting the A.C.A. 

    States with governors that never accepted the federal Medicaid funding to implement the A.C.A. have put a burden on the entire A.C.A. system thereby making reforms necessary.

    Harvard Pilgrim has announced it will stay in Maine’s A.C.A. marketplace.

     

  • Maine's New Licensing Rules for Child Care Providers Might Put Children at Risk

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

    Hymanson: “Regulations need to keep children safe and ensure quality.”

    A new set of licensing rules for in-home child care providers developed by the Department of Health and Human Services took effect Wednesday, September 27, 2017. The new rules potentially put Maine's children at risk.

    “Access to high-quality, affordable child care is critical to early development, and therefore critical to Maine’s future. Many people in our large, rural state have limited choices for their child care providers, so the regulations need to keep children safe and ensure quality by standards set by child-care experts. These, our next generation of citizens and their parents, deserve that,"said Health and Human Services Chair, Dr. Patty Hymanson.

    “Rolling back these regulations has been opposed by advocates, experts and legislators. Parents need to have access to every piece of information about every part of the day care center where they entrust care and education of their child. These rules will negatively impact the quality and standard of care and I will work within the legislative process to ensure the safety of our kids.”

    The new rules allow in-home child care providers to care for more children than the state previously allowed, without having to add staff. They will also lessen the amount of information to which parents receive about the facility and restrict the degree of access parents have to their children while they’re in care. 

    “High-quality, affordable child care is out of reach for too many families in our state. I regularly hear from people in my district who either cannot find care they can afford, cannot find suitable care or cannot find open spots for their children at all," said Sen. Ben Chipman of Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. "The department’s solution to this problem is to impose new rules on childcare providers that diminish the standards of care. But that’s not a solution that works for Maine families. I’m committed to doing what’s necessary to make sure state regulations expand access to safe, responsible and affordable child care.  Our families deserve nothing less.”

  • Press freedom groups that deserve support in age of Trump

    DONALD TRUMP HAS BEEN A BLESSING, albeit a mixed one, to some First Amendment and media law organizations. Since the election, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has received more than  $3 million in support, including $1 million from Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. Meryl Streep gave the Committee to Protect Journalists a shout-out during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards in January, resulting in a flood of donations. And the Freedom of the Press Foundation has stepped up its crowdfunding efforts and its digital security training for journalists.

    The work those organizations do is increasingly important because of the threats posed by Trump’s rhetoric and the economic challenges the news industry is facing, especially at the local level. A study last year reported that 53 percent of US newspaper editors agreed that “news organizations are no longer prepared to go to court to preserve First Amendment freedoms,” while 27 percent said they had been unable to bring a case at their own outlets because of the cost. More journos are working as freelancers, too, and new platforms are less likely to have in-house counsel or the resources to hire trial lawyers.

    So the work the big organizations like the RCFP, CPJ, and FPF do is more and more necessary (and routinely excellent). But they’re not the only players in this space.

    Just a few weeks ago, The Washington Post published a story about the lesser-known Student Press Law Center, which advocates for student journalists. It’s deserving of support, but hasn’t benefited from the recent financial and publicity groundswell. (Disclosure: I’m a volunteer attorney for the SPLC.)

    Groups like the SPLC—dedicated to First Amendment and media law, and doing impactful work, but not as well known as some of its bigger brethren—deserve attention. Many provide niche services or tailored expertise; some are also vulnerable to economic challenges, or risk being overlooked. With that in mind, I recently conducted short interviews with representatives at 10 such organizations. I’m sharing them here in the hope that CJR readers will find the information helpful—or perhaps even consider one of the groups worthy of support.

    I left out many good organizations, some because they’re already well known (the Sunlight Foundation, the Knight First Amendment Institute, and the First Amendment Center), and others because they do First Amendment work but have broader missions ( the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation), and still others because of space constraints.

    That said, here are some First Amendment and media law organizations that deserve attention:

    Our work strengthens First Amendment and related rights for all citizens by ensuring that the attorneys who defend those rights are equipped to do so.

    Media Law Resource Center (Jeff Hermes, deputy director)

    What does the organization do? Our primary focus is on providing the lawyers who represent media organizations and First Amendment interests with the information and resources they need to carry out that role. We also have a charitable sister organization, the MLRC Institute, whose mission is to educate the public [about] First Amendment rights.” Has the main organization’s work changed under Trump? “Certain issues have taken greater prominence: press access to the executive branch; protection of journalistic sources and reporters against retaliation for reporting on the government; and maintaining the strong protections…for media organizations in defamation and other content-liability lawsuits in the face of public statements attacking the press. When the…attacks [began], we asked our members whether they might be available for pro bono help in cases where the administration attempts to use litigation to chill speech, and a large number responded positively.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “Most directly, we support our members who receive our benefits…Some MLRC resources are available to the public, too. And more broadly, our work strengthens First Amendment and related rights for all citizens by ensuring that the attorneys who defend those rights are equipped to do so.

    There has been more discussion and a deeper interest among students and teachers about free speech rights.

    First Amendment Law Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law (Nancy Costello, director)

    What does the organization do? “[We] provide pro bono legal [services] to [student] journalists grappling with censorship and other First Amendment issues, …and [we] offer workshops to high school journalists and their faculty advisors…to teach them about student press rights. (Law students teach the workshops, which have visited 40 schools since 2011.) The law students also submit FOIA requests [for] information about policies at Michigan schools to monitor whether they restrict protected speech.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “There has been more discussion and a deeper interest among students and teachers about free speech rights. Much of the class discussion led by [our] law students focuses on current events.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “Mostly [student journalists] and their faculty advisors. In the late fall, [we are] launching the McLellan Free Speech Online Library…to provide a cache of legal answers to often-asked questions about student speech and press rights. It will also offer a general guide to news sources [and] a Q&A section for students to send in questions and receive answers in a short period of time. The website will be geared for people between 14 and 21.” 

    We have taken on many new matters dealing with executive branch accountability and potential conflicts of interest in the new administration.

    Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School (Hannah Bloch-Wehba, Stanton First Amendment Fellow)

    What does the organization do? “[We are] a law student clinic dedicated to increasing government transparency, defending the essential work of news gatherers, and protecting freedom of expression. We provide pro bono representation to…news organizations, freelance journalists, academics, and activists…[We’ve] litigated FOI cases that compelled the release of information about the negotiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [and] the rules for closing the military commissions at Guantanamo.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “Government accountability, national security, and newsgathering rights have been at the core of [our] work since…2009. The election confirmed the need for our [work], and…we have taken on many new matters dealing with executive branch accountability and potential conflicts of interest in the new administration.” Who benefits from the organization’s work?“Our clients benefit most directly [but not exclusively]…Last year, for example, the clinic obtained a federal court order recognizing a constitutional right of…access to all phases of an execution. We also obtained a court order requiring the Department of Defense to release statistics about the…personnel stationed at its Guantanamo Bay detention center. These are wins not just for our clients…but also for the public.”   

    The president’s negative statements pertaining to US news media create an atmosphere of distrust for our nation’s largest distributor[s] of information about their government.

    National Freedom of Information Coalition (Daniel Bevarly, executive director

    )What does the organization do? “NFOIC and its 45 state affiliates make sure state and local governments and public institutions have laws, policies, and procedures to ensure the public’s access to their records and proceedings.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “There is much more attention being focused on…the freedoms of speech and press. The president’s negative statements pertaining to US news media create an atmosphere of distrust for our nation’s largest distributor[s] of information about their government.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “While our organization is dominated by journalists and media lawyers…our programs and work help citizens, journalists, attorneys, businesses, (and anyone who seeks public information).”

    Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? ‘No.’

    Scott & Cyan Banister First Amendment Clinic at UCLA School of Law (Eugene Volokh, director)

    What does the organization do? “We file friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of various organizations and academics in First Amendment cases throughout the country, in state and federal court.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “No.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “The courts, which get useful perspectives; nonprofits such as the Reporters Committee [for Freedom of the Press]…and Electronic Frontier Foundation, whom we represent pro bono; and students, who work on all of the cases.” 

    The highest elected office in the land has set a tone of hostility to free speech and access.

    First Amendment Coalition (David Snyder, executive director)

    What does the organization do? “[Our] mission…is to protect and promote freedom of expression and the people’s right to know…Our activities include free legal consultations for journalists; educational and informational programs; legislative oversight of bills affecting access to government; and public advocacy through writing of op-eds and public speaking.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “Our core mission and activities remain the same, but the focus and emphasis have changed…The highest elected office in the land has set a tone of hostility to free speech and access. This…has made much more difficult the work of journalists and others seeking to gather facts in order to understand and critique their government…[W]e see more questions from reporters about the ‘disappearing’ of information from websites…, and the need for litigation that pushes back against the executive branch has increased.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “The public, including the media,…for whom the acquisition and understanding of the government is an essential component of their business model.”

    Trump’s blocking of people on Twitter sparked me to write an op-ed about whether that violated a First Amendment right of citizens to access his account.

    Brechner First Amendment Project at the University of Florida (Clay Calvert, director)

    What does the organization do? “The project analyzes current First Amendment issues—from whether rap music lyrics constitute true threats of violence to the constitutionality of regulating fake news—by filing friend-of-the-court briefs, writing scholarly articles, publishing op-eds, and providing testimony if needed to legislative bodies.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “Trump’s blocking of people on Twittersparked me to write an op-ed about whether that violated a First Amendment right of citizens to access his account. His obsession with fake news directly led to three of my graduate research fellows…co-authoring a paper on the First Amendment aspects of regulating fake news. [And] I field more media calls now that Trump is in office. [He] is truly lifetime employment for those of us who comment on [media law] issues. Who benefits from the organization’s work? “Hopefully the public benefits most. That’s why going beyond writing academic articles and amicus briefs is so important. Responding swiftly and thoughtfully to great questions posed by journalists’ calls and emails really is key in the public education process.” 

    Free expression has been a core value of the internet since its earliest days, and it faces increasing pressures from a range of sources, beyond President Trump’s suspicion of the media.

    Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society (Vivek Krishnamurthy, instructor)

    What does the organization do? “[We] provide pro-bono legal services…in areas related to law and technology, including First Amendment and media law. Our work…ranges from counseling freelance journalists threatened with defamation claims to representing amici in litigation on state anti-SLAPP laws.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “Free expression has been a core value of the internet since its earliest days, and it faces increasing pressures from a range of sources, beyond President Trump’s suspicion of the media. As…more content comes under the control of a few large entities, it’s key to track the consequences and hold those organizations accountable. Policies aimed at reducing online harassment and combating ‘fake news’…may have significant impacts on free speech if not…narrowly tailored.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “Ideally, both our clients and our students: the clients in that they receive free, high-quality legal services, and the students in that they develop their knowledge and professional skills.”

    Because of the administration’s anti-press…public persona, I have gotten a lot of calls from media.

    Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University (Roy Gutterman, director)

    What does the organization do? “[We] educate students and the public on…First Amendment values. We host events [and] speakers, and [give] the Tully Free Speech Award to a journalist who has faced significant turmoil in performing journalism…Last year, we honored Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post reporter who was in prison in Iran, …and a student told me afterward that meeting him changed her life.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “Because of the administration’s anti-press…public persona, I have gotten a lot of calls from media. On campus, I have…participated in a number of speeches and teach-ins to help people understand the role of the First Amendment.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? “Students and the campus community are the primary beneficiaries…[We] have hosted some of the biggest events on campus [featuring] Daniel Ellsberg, Larry Flynt, and Mary Beth Tinker.”

    "I can’t explicitly relate requests to President Trump, but one wonders if there is a greater willingness to make more specious requests in a culture where the president is regularly caught misleading the public.

    New Media Rights at California Western School of Law (Art Neill, founder and executive director)

    What does the organization do? “We work primarily on the effect that overreach by rights-holders in the copyright and trademark space has on…freedom of speech. We provide legal services, education, and policy advocacy for creators—including journalists, startups, and consumers.” Has the organization’s work changed under Trump? “Anecdotally, we have seen an uptick in content takedown defense requests. In addition to that uptick, there is a significant uptick in the amount of [takedown] requests that are baseless. I can’t explicitly relate [those] requests to President Trump, but one wonders if there is a greater willingness to make more specious requests in a culture where the president is regularly caught misleading the public.” Who benefits from the organization’s work? Creators [and others] who need intellectual property, privacy, and media law expertise.And with the proliferation of nonprofit journalism projects, they…need the services any other new nonprofit or business needs. We [draft] contracts for [them], distribution agreements for their clients, and terms of use and privacy policies for their apps and websites. They also need to know how to form and structure the business.”

    Jonathan Peters is CJR’s press freedom correspondent. He is a media law professor at the University of Georgia, with posts in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the School of Law.
  • Journalism is a public service. We should fund it like one

    LOCAL NEWS IS IN DIRE STRAITS.

    In a quest for profit, publishers have gutted newsrooms and hollowed outcoverage of local communities. As the industry struggles to build the business model of the future, it’s missing an opportunity to embrace a funding mechanism that can enshrine journalism as a public service: the special service district.

    The United States currently hosts more than 30,000 special service districts, which fund everything from local fire departments and water infrastructure projects to sanitation services and hospitals. Special service districts are paid for by taxes or annual fees assessed in a geographic area; and, in turn, they deliver services to the communities that fund them. They can be created by town councils or voted into existence via referendum.

    During the past year, my colleagues and I at Community Information Districts worked to lay the foundation for a special service district model for local journalism. Journalists we spoke with were intrigued by the idea, though some become apprehensive when asked to view the proposal as a taxpayer. But we also spoke with taxpayers, who were generally receptive.

    At a series of New Jersey community forums on improving local media across the state, those residents in attendance understood the model and supported the mission. The community news and information needs raised at these events can be met, but not every community can currently support viable business models to meet those needs. That’s where a community information district (CiD) comes in.

    MY HOMETOWN OF FAIR LAWN, New Jersey, has a population of 32,000 people. An annual $40 contribution per household could deliver a $500,000 operating budget to a newsroom devoted to understanding and serving the local news and information needs of its community.

    That budget could support print or online newspapers, or livestreaming town council meetings. A special service district for local journalism could convene community forums or media literacy classes, launch a text message and email alert system, or pay for chatbots that answer locally relevant questions, like “Is alternate side parking in effect?”

    Access to news and information is key to democratic governance. The CiD model offers a financial engine for sustainable and radically local journalism.

    Each community could shape its own information district through a needs assessment or a targeted engagement campaign. To prevent political interference, a board of trustees made up of residents and community stakeholders, could oversee their local CiD. Communities could allocate funding through a participatory budgeting process, and hold regular referendums to determine whether or not it should reauthorize the CiD.

    Community information districts are not a cure-all, and there are obstacles to establishing them. Some communities might resist the notion of an additional tax. Others may not have the tax base to support such services in the first place. We are still looking for solutions to these issues, but they are not insurmountable. Next year, my colleagues and I plan to release a guide to help communities establish their own CiDs and navigate variations in state law. The guide will also establish good governance guidelines, offer samples of legislative language, and outline best practices in local journalism and community information for CiDs.

    Access to news and information is key to democratic governance. The CiD model offers a financial engine for sustainable and radically local journalism, which supports the regional and national press in turn. It provides a direct financial incentive for journalists to leave the coasts, deeply engage their communities, and prioritize the impact of their work above pageviews. CiDs could revitalize and sustain local news, rebuild trust, and increase civic engagement across the country.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • West Virginia journalist arrested after asking HHS Secretary Price a direct news question

    "This formidable censor of the public functionaries, by arraigning them at the tribunal of public opinion, produces reform peaceably, which must otherwise be done by revolution. It is also the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man and improving him as a rational, moral, and social being." --Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823. ME 15:489 about a free press.

    "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it." --Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1786.

    By Samantha Schmidt May 10 - article in the Washington Post

    West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman attempted to ask Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price a question about the Republican health-care bill on May 9. He was arrested for “Willful Disruption of State Government Processes." (Valerie Woody/West Virginia Citizen Action Group)

    As Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price walked through a hallway Tuesday in the West Virginia state capitol, veteran reporter Dan Heyman followed alongside him, holding up his phone to Price while attempting to ask him a question.

    Heyman, a journalist with Public News Service, repeatedly asked the secretary whether domestic violence would be considered a preexisting condition under the Republican bill to overhaul the nation’s health care system, he said.

    “He didn’t say anything,” Heyman said later in a news conference. “So I persisted.”

    Then, an officer in the capitol pulled him aside, handcuffed him and arrested him. Heyman was jailed on the charge of willful disruption of state government processes and was released later on $5,000 bail.

    Authorities said while Secret Service agents were providing security in the capitol for Price and Kellyanne Conway, special counsel to the president, Heyman was “aggressively breaching” the agents to the point where they were “forced to remove him a couple of times from the area,” according to a criminal complaint.

    Heyman “was causing a disturbance by yelling questions at Ms. Conway and Secretary Price,” the complaint stated.

    But Heyman said he was simply fulfilling his role as a journalist and feels that his arrest sets a “terrible example” for members of the press seeking answers to questions.

    “This is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do,” Heyman said. “I think it’s a question that deserves to be answered. I think it’s my job to ask questions and I think it’s my job to try to get answers.”

    Price and Conway were visiting Charleston, W.Va., to hear about efforts to fight opioid addiction in a state that has the nation’s highest drug overdose death rate. They met privately with state and local policymakers and members of several groups, including officials of an addiction treatment center and an addiction hotline, according to the Associated Press.

    Before Heyman’s arrest, no police officer told him he was in the wrong place, Heyman said. He was wearing a press pass as well as a shirt with a Public News Service logo on the front, and identified himself to police as a reporter, he said.

    At the news conference, Heyman’s lawyer called the arrest a “highly unusual case” and said he has never had a client arrested for “talking too loud.” The lawyer, Tim DiPiero, described Heyman as a mild-mannered, reputable journalist and called the arrest “bizarre” and “way over the top.”

    Heyman has worked as a reporter for about 30 years, and his stories have appeared in the New York Times, NPR and other national news outlets, he said. Since 2009, he has worked as a West Virginia-based producer and reporter for Public News Service, a nonprofit news service that provides content to media outlets while also publishing its own stories.

    Lark Corbeil, chief executive and founder of Public News Service, said Heyman’s arrest took the organization “very much by surprise.”

    “From what we can understand, he did nothing out of the ordinary,” Corbeil said in an interview with The Washington Post. “He was doing what any journalist would normally do, calling out a question and trying to get an answer.”

    The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia said in a statement that Heyman’s arrest constituted “a blatant attempt to chill an independent, free press.” It called the charges against Heyman “outrageous” and demanded they be dropped immediately.

    “This is a dangerous time in our country,” the statement read. “Freedom of the press is being eroded every day.”

    Today was a dark day for democracy,” the ACLU of West Virginia added. “But the rule of law will prevail. The First Amendment will prevail.”

    Heyman said he has been reporting on health care issues for many years, calling it “well-trodden ground” in his coverage. As a veteran journalist, he is used to criticism, he said, but he has never heard of a reporter being arrested for asking a question. Heyman said he thinks the public relies on journalists aggressively “pursuing the truth.”

    “If they don’t like the stories I write, that’s fine,” Heyman said. “They can criticize me all they want.”

    “But just saying that I shouldn’t be able to do my job is a bit ridiculous,” he added.

  • First Amendment Coalition opposes ME legislation that would delay release of public records

     
    APRIL 24 LETTER
    The New England First Amendment Coalition recently opposed Maine legislation that would cause unnecessary delays to the release of public records. 

    The legislation, L.D. 1432, allows an agency or official to "require payment of all costs before the public record is provided to the requester" under the state's Freedom of Access Act

    If L.D. 1432 were to become law, NEFAC explained, inexpensive and routine documents could be withheld for the sake of the relatively low fees collected in return, creating "a system ripe for obfuscation and needless delay." 

    The coalition submitted written testimony April 24 to the state's Committee on the Judiciary, which is currently considering the legislation. The testimony was provided on behalf of NEFAC by Maine attorney and coalition board member Sigmund Schutz and Justin Silverman, NEFAC's executive director.

    "L.D. 1432 will discourage public records requests under FOAA and cause unnecessary delay by state agencies and local municipalities," they wrote. "Worse, the law would violate the spirit of FOAA by making it more difficult for Maine citizens to monitor their government."
     
    As explained in the letter, the concern L.D. 1432 seeks to address - loss of money from unpaid records requests - is already covered by the state's public records law:

    L.D. 1432 would allow a custodian to require advance payment for all costs of producing a record - no matter how small - before that record is provided. While this may seem like a practical way for agencies to recoup their costs and prevent non-payment of fees, there is already a sufficient safeguard for agency budgets: § 408-A (10). This provision of FOAA allows custodians to require advance payment for requests made by individuals who have previously failed to pay a fee or are requesting records that will cost more than $100 to produce. Under § 408-A (10), advance payment can be required even before any time is expended on the search and retrieval process.

    The coalition outlined several scenarios under which the legislation could lead to excessive delays, including when a fee dispute arises between the custodian and requester. Rather than releasing the reports in expectation of future payment, the custodian in this example could instead use the new law to withhold all documents until a court adjudicates the conflict and payment is made. The public interest in those reports would meanwhile dissipate in the delay.

    The legislation also conflicts with the spirit of FOAA, the coalition testified, and would ultimately cost more to the public's right to know than whatever financial savings may occur. 

    "The intent of FOAA is to open government records to public view so Maine residents can better oversee the work being done on their behalf," according to the coalition. "The law should facilitate the flow of information not allow basic low-cost record requests to bottleneck while payment is pending."
  • Family care bill would modernize ME child care, elderly services system

    Editorial by Lori Moses is executive director of Catherine Morrill Day Nursery in Portland

    As the director of a licensed child care facility in Portland, I know first-hand that our existing child care system is fundamentally flawed. The ways our families live and work have changed dramatically over the past few decades, yet our caregiving policies are stuck in the 1950s.

    This is one of the reasons why so many families today are struggling in ways that their parents did not. While we once could rely on women’s unpaid labor at home to care for children, that is no longer the reality, as more women are in the workforce than ever before.

    Child care is the backbone of a healthy economy. Without it, many parents wouldn’t be able to work. Yet we are one of the few countries where child care is almost exclusively left up to the private market, and where the entire cost of child care is paid for by families. This has serious consequences for everyone involved, from families, to the owners and operators of child care facilities, to the child care professionals who keep them running.

    I know first-hand how difficult it can be for parents to afford quality child care. The private tuition for infants in my program is $15,236 a year, which is far out of reach for most residents of Maine. The state’s reimbursement rates for federal vouchers are about 20 percent lower than our private tuition, which is why so many child care providers can’t afford to accept them, resulting in limited access to child care for families who qualify for a voucher. My program is fortunate to have gap funding through various grants and contracts, or many of our families would not be able to access our program either.

    Ironically, even as most families cannot afford the cost of child care, providers like myself are faced with the slimmest of margins and can barely cover our own costs. While we do our best to pay fair wages to the child care professionals at our center, and are fortunate to be able to offer benefits for full-time work, the truth of the matter is that wages are still way too low.

    Essentially, the low wages of our child care staff subsidizes the entire child care system. This is a moral problem, in that those who care for others should be paid dignified wages, as well as a pragmatic one, as it makes it difficult to attract and retain qualified teachers. The high turnover in our field, especially in this tight labor market, isn’t good for workers, it isn’t good for families and certainly it isn’t good for the children.

    We are on an unsustainable path right now that benefits no one. Because of the high cost of care, many families are forced to make impossible choices between work and caring for their loved ones. Many Mainers end up leaving the workforce, losing income and affecting their future retirement security, as well as hurting our state’s economy. Some parents are forced to make child care choices in the informal, underground market that may actually do harm to the children. Clearly, our children are not our priority.

    It’s time we address this new reality and modernize our social safety net to meet the needs of families. It’s up to states like ours to lead the way.

    This is why I support the universal family care bill introduced by Rep. Drew Gattine, which would provide universal child care, support for stay-at-home parents and universal home care for seniors and people with disabilities. This would all be paid for by ensuring that the wealthiest of our residents contribute their fair share in taxes. It would also address the low wages currently being paid to child care and home care professionals by guaranteeing a living wage, which would go a long way toward attracting the workforce that our children and our seniors need and deserve.

    If we really want all of our children to reach their potential, we must find a different way to support them, their families and our economy. That solution for Maine is universal family care.

  • Rep. Golden introduces bill to protect workers from wage theft

     

    Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden’s bill introduced his bill to protect workers from wage theft and make sure they are compensated when they become the victim of it to the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee today.

    “People work hard for their money and they should get paid every dollar they have earned,” said Golden, D-Lewiston. “Wage theft is illegal and morally wrong. It’s not just the wages that get stolen; it’s also the respect of being paid for the hard work you put in. We need strong consequesnces to deter employers from committing wage violations in the first place, but also good protections so that workers can speak up and recoup their wages when they aren’t paid what they’ve earned.”

    Golden offered an amendment to the bill at the public hearing. As amended, the measure would increase penalties for violating timely pay statutes to $500 for the first violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation. It would institute triple damages as remedies for wage theft and allow for an employee’s right to take legal action to recoup wages and damages. It also strengthens protections against employer retaliation for workers who take action against wage violations.

    “An honest day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. Everyone in Maine agrees that workers should be paid their full wages for all of the hours they work,” said Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO. “Unfortunately, wage theft is a serious problem in Maine. Wage theft hurts working people and it gives an unfair advantage to low road employers over honest Maine businesses. We need stronger enforcement to ensure that every worker is paid what they are owed.”

    “In general, businesses in Maine care about their employees and bend over backwards to fix wage mistakes that happen in good faith,” said Rep. Mike Sylvester, D-Portland, a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the committee. “This bill is trying to provide relief for those employees who work for employers trying to game the system by withholding wages. Intentional wage theft is wrong and, if it’s occurring, workers should have protections.”

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

    Sylvester is in his first term in the Maine House and represents District 39, which includes the East End of Portland, Upper Bayside and many of the islands of Casco Bay. He serves on the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.

  • It’s high time to invest in Maine’s transportation infrastructure

    Editorial By Representative Andrew McLean of Gorham

    In my view, there is nothing more fundamental than the work our government does to provide for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods.

    Our transportation network of roads, bridges, airports, rail lines, seaports, and bike and pedestrian facilities is critical to the success of our economy.

    During times of great peril and when our country had fewer means than we do now, we invested in our infrastructure. During the Civil War, we built the Transcontinental Railroad.

    During the Great Depression, we built the Hoover Dam, and, right after World War II, we constructed our Interstate Highway System. These were - and continue to be - monuments of our collective will and vision.

    While previous generations constructed these engineering marvels, over the last few years we have not even been able to find the funding to maintain our state’s basic assets.

    Traffic congestion, pedestrian and driver safety, damage to vehicles from bad roads, businesses that don’t have easy access to market - all of these and more cost our economy millions of dollars every year.

    In fact, the Maine Department of Transportation has estimated that we need $160 million every single year just to keep up with basic maintenance.

    There’s no way around it. It’s going to cost money to fix this problem and there will be growing pains until we get there.

    The only way to succeed in building a long-lasting statewide infrastructure is by ensuring everyone - gas companies, consumers, green car manufacturers and communities - have equal stakes in the outcome.

    This session I have a bill which combines Republican and Democratic proposals to fund improvements in Maine’s infrastructure by raising revenue from four sources, including gas sales, motor vehicle and green vehicle registrations and the sales tax.

    Gas prices are the lowest they’ve been in over a decade, and yet the gas tax hasn’t been adjusted.

    Motor vehicle registration fees have not been raised since the 1970s and actually cost the state money.

    Hybrid and electric car producers pay less or nothing at all while still using our roads and bridges.

    And our sales tax, while taxing transportation related items such as tires, motor fuel and other items, currently doesn’t pay for our infrastructure needs, and it should.  

    My bill is a starting point. There are many other ideas that could be viable options for raising revenue to pay for a long-term plan to improve Maine’s infrastructure.

    This issue is not just important to people who sit on the left or right side of the political spectrum.

    It doesn’t matter if we come from Kittery or Fort Kent. We don’t drive on Democratic roads or Republican roads - we drive on Maine roads.

    Now more than ever, we need an honest and constructive conversation on how to fix our transportation. And, frankly, there couldn’t be a better time. Without a solution, we will continue to tread water, falling further and further behind every year.

    Our economy is counting on bold and innovative leadership on this issue. This bill and these ideas begin that conversation.

     

     

  • Barry Hobbins nominated to become Maine's Public Advocate

    Governor Paul R. LePage nominated the Hon. Barry J. Hobbins of Saco on April 12, 2017 to serve as the Public Advocate, a position that represents the interests of Maine ratepayers in proceedings before the Maine Public Utilities Commission, including issues regarding electricity and natural gas prices. The Office of the Public Advocate also supports Mainers on matters related to telecommunications, including accessibility to broadband internet.

    Hobbins, a lawyer in private practice for 39 years, has concentrated in telecommunications law, real estate, municipal and administrative law, land use planning, business and corporate law, criminal and family law.

    “Maine's Public Advocate plays a critical role in protecting the interests of consumers and ratepayers before the Public Utilities Commission, the Legislature and elsewhere. Tim Schneider has done an outstanding job leading this office, and will be sorely missed,” said Rep. Berry, D-Bowdoinham.

    “Barry Hobbins has extensive experience as a legislator, legislative leader, and as my predecessor in co-chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities & Technology.  Having served with Barry for eight years, I have seen firsthand his commitment to public service. I look forward to holding a confirmation hearing soon, and learning more about how Barry hopes to stand up for consumers and ratepayers.”

    A well-known and respected legislator, Hobbins was first elected in 1972 as the youngest member of the 106th Maine Legislature. He also served in the 114th Legislature, then the 122nd through 125th Legislatures. During his time in the State House, he was a member of many Committees, including Business Legislation, Labor and Judiciary, and served as both House Chair and Senate Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology.

    While serving on the EUT committee, he developed a thorough knowledge of energy issues and was in charge of overseeing the Office of the Public Advocate as it related to wholesale electricity markets, interstate electricity transmission and interstate gas transportation. He also became familiar with the workings of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates interstate communications of radio, television, satellite and cable systems.

    A lifelong resident of Saco, Hobbins is a graduate of Thornton Academy. He earned a B.A. degree from University Maine Orono and his law degree from the Franklin Pierce Law Center, now known as the New Hampshire School of Law.

  • Update on Senate Investigations into Russia's Hack, by Sen. Angus King

    Editorial by Sen. Angus King.

    As you’ve likely seen in the news, the congressional investigations into Russia’s meddling in our democracy have been getting a lot of attention lately – and rightfully so. I am a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and this work has been keeping me very busy. I wanted to give you an update on the focus of our investigation and let you know that our Senate committee is approaching our work with all the gravity it calls for.

    In this investigation, we are working to find answers to three important questions:

    • First, what exactly did the Russians do during the 2016 election, and how did they do it?
    • Second, was there a relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
    • And third – a question that deserves a great deal more attention than it is currently receiving – what was the level of Russian interference in state and local voting systems?

    Though it hasn’t been discussed as much as other issues at play, that third question concerns some scary stuff: We have evidence the Russians tried to probe and prod into state and local election processes in 2016 – raising questions about whether they might attempt to monkey around with voter registration, polling machines and ballots. Everything we know so far suggests they were unsuccessful, but they weren’t doing it for fun – and they will be back. If the Russians had somehow managed to change a few hundred thousand votes in Michigan, for example, it could throw our entire political system into chaos – and that’s exactly what Putin wants.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee is dedicated to conducting our investigation in a fully bipartisan manner. It’s the only way to ensure our report has credibility when we get to the end of the road. The committee is carefully balanced – composed of eight Republicans, six Democrats and me – and we’ve been consulting and meeting nearly every day. Everybody knows this is an issue fraught with partisan overtones, and I won’t pretend this will be easy work. But this won’t be a whitewashing, and it won’t be a witch hunt, either. In fact, I rank this right up there with the most important work of my career, and many of my colleagues – Democrats and Republicans alike – feel the same way. Putin isn’t a Democrat or a Republican. He’s an opportunist, and this wasn't just a one-off; we need to be prepared for the same tactics in the next election.

    I know everyone wishes we could report our findings tomorrow, but this will be a long process. We have a mountain of materials – thousands of pages of documents – to go through, and we don’t want to leave a single stone unturned. Optimistically, I’d say six months is a reasonable estimate for our timeline, but it may take longer. In my eyes, the most important thing is that we end this process with a credible report for the American people.

    That’s why I’m pushing for as many open hearings as possible. In order for our work to be credible, it must be done as publicly as possible. We can’t go behind closed doors for six months and come out and say, “Here’s what we found.” That won’t cut it. My hope is that so much of our work will be done in the open that, once we release our findings, you’ll say, “Yeah. I saw the evidence for myself, and I came to the same conclusion.”

    Thanks for taking the time to read this – it’s important to me to keep you informed of developments like this, and I appreciate your support.

  • Mainers Wearing Hazmat Suits Tell Susan Collins: No Nuclear Option!

    Senator Collins pivotal in debate over ending 60-vote threshold for Supreme Court confirmations

    Mainers wearing hazmat suits visited Senator Susan Collins’ Portland office today to urge her to oppose the so called “nuclear option.”

    The move, being considered by Senate Republicans, would change the Senate filibuster rule to remove the 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court nominees. With 44 Senators committed to filibustering President Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, he will not get the 60 votes required for confirmation via normal procedure. The event was organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership (MFAL) and Progressive Portland.

    “Senator Collins should reject the nuclear option. It’s toxic,” said Steven Biel of Progressive Portland. “We are bringing her this hazmat suit because we hope she will take the lead in cleaning up the mess created by over a year of partisan warfare, starting with the unprecedented blockade of Merrick Garland.”

    With both houses of Congress controlled by Republicans and Donald Trump in the White House, MFAL and Progressive Portland believe that this is not the time to erode the system of checks and balances.

    “If Senator Collins believes in the Senate rules, she must uphold them even when it benefits the other side,” said April Humphrey of Mainers for Accountable Leadership.

    In 2005, when Democrats filibustered a number of former President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, Senator Collins was one of 14 senators who brokered a bipartisan deal to avert the nuclear option. Then, in 2013, when then-Majority Leader Harry Reid led efforts to eliminate the filibuster for some presidential appointments, Collins said:

    I have consistently worked to protect the rights of the minority whether I was serving in the minority or the majority. In 2005, I strongly opposed a Republican plan to employ the so-called ‘nuclear option.’ I was deeply concerned that, by adopting changes in the standing rules by a simple majority, party-line vote, the majority party would have had unprecedented power to limit debate [which] impedes careful consideration of the most important matters before Congress and is not in our country's best interest

    “If Neil Gorsuch can’t get 60 votes, then Republicans shouldn’t change the rules. They should change the nominee,” said Jackie McNeil of MFAL.

    The group pointed out that because of the narrow Republican majority in the senate, moderates like Senator Collins have enormous leverage to diffuse the partisan conflict.

    “Senator Collins and her fellow Senate moderates hold all the cards. They could team with moderate Democrats to insist on a mainstream Republican in the mold of an Anthony Kennedy. The question is whether they want to,” said Biel.

  • Sen. King Opposes Judge Neil Gorsuch and will join Filibuster with Democrats

    Basing his decision on a close study of judicial record, King concludes with no ‘do-overs,’ he cannot support nomination

     U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today announced his opposition to the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Senator King also announced that he will oppose a procedural motion to end debate to move the nomination forward.

    In his statement, Senator King said that, while he approached this nomination with an open mind, attended Judge Gorsuch’s hearing, and heard from Maine people on all sides of the question, several issues ultimately convinced him to oppose the nomination – from Judge Gorsuch’s glaring refusal to answer questions about his judicial philosophy during the confirmation hearing, to an appellate record that constrains the ability of the government to respond to national priorities and elevates the rights of corporations over their employees, to the unchecked flow of dark money that has gone into pushing his nomination. Given those concerns, and the significance of the lifetime appointment, Senator King said that he will oppose his nomination and vote ‘no’ on cloture.

    Senator King’s statement is as follows:

    +++

    “I am announcing today my opposition to the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the United States Supreme Court. This has not been an easy decision; I have read many of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions, met with him personally, attended a portion of his hearing before the Judiciary Committee, watched other parts of the hearing, listened to the people of Maine on both sides of this question, and read all I could find on his background, judicial philosophy, and temperament.

    “I started this process with an open mind and an inclination to support a nominee with this judge’s educational and judicial experience. I know that many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle shared this initial impression. But as I got further into my research, and especially after watching his interactions with the Committee at his hearing, my opinion changed. Here is why –

    “First – While at first coming across as sincere, personable and thoughtful, over time I found that his answers seemed, at best, increasingly evasive, and, at worst, simply not forthright. I fully understand that a nominee in this situation cannot opine on matters likely to come before the Court, but Judge Gorsuch’s steadfast refusal to answer reasonable questions as to his thinking on important legal issues and prior Supreme Court cases went far beyond this ‘future issues’ limitation. I found it particularly striking that he was willing to discuss some precedents (Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer or Brown v. Board or Education, for example), but not others (Citizens UnitedRoe v. Wade). If Youngstown was fair game for discussion and analysis (he likes it), why not Citizens United (does he like it or not)? At the end of the hearing, he left us with no real conclusions about his judicial philosophy and some confusion about where he stood on just about anything. As the hearing wore on, it became clear to me that this was a deliberate strategy to reveal as little as possible about what kind of justice he would be.

    “Second – The nature of any Supreme Court nomination puts it into a different category than any of our other votes in the Senate; most of our votes are in some sense temporary – laws can be amended or repealed at any time, but a Supreme Court Justice is for life (in this case probably at least 30 years). There are no do-overs or second chances on this vote, which makes it all the more important to understand as specifically as possible who or what we are voting for.  

    “Third – From reading his opinions and analyzing his work as an appellate judge, however, a picture does emerge, not of an independent judge, but of a judicial activist well to the right of the current members of the Court, except perhaps Justice Thomas, on fundamental issues of constitutional structure. In short, a careful reading of his decisions and writings over the years has convinced me that he would favor a return to pre-1935 jurisprudence whereby the federal government (including Congress) was severely constrained in its ability to address urgent national priorities. 

    “This is the judicial version of ‘deconstruction’, a term now much in use within the current Administration. Although there are certainly examples of regulatory overreach, few of us would support eliminating laws and regulations which protect Maine air and water, insure safe workplaces, or rein in the excesses of the financial system which brought us to the brink of world-wide depression less than ten years ago.

    “Fourth – Hobby Lobby. In this case which involved whether a corporation was a ‘person’ whose religious principles were abridged by its employees receiving insurance coverage for contraceptive services under the ACA, Judge Gorsuch began his concurring opinion with these astounding words, ‘All of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others.’

    “Aside from the dubious proposition that a for-profit corporation can have a religion, consider the implications of the phrase ‘the wrongdoing of others’ – that a woman choosing how to manage her reproductive life is ‘wrongdoing’ which her corporate employer can limit or control, regardless of her religious or moral principles. (Note that we’re not talking about abortion here, but about contraception). I find it very hard to support a judge who would so easily elevate a corporate employer’s values over those of its workers, particularly women, in a case of this importance.

    “Striking down an integral part of a major piece of legislation on such questionable grounds, by the way, is the definition of ‘judicial activism’.

    “Fifth – aside from these concerns, my final decision has been driven in part by the expenditure of more than $10 million on behalf of this nominee by people who are purposely concealing their identities (on top of $7 million spent last year by what appear to be the same groups to stall and defeat the nomination of Merrick Garland, a judge of equal distinction and experience). My thinking is that while the hearing may have left many of us uncertain as to Judge Gorsuch’s philosophy and likely conduct on the Court, the sponsors of this campaign are not uncertain at all. They are not spending this huge sum on speculation; they know what they are getting, and that, in itself, raises serious concerns, particularly given the judge’s reluctance to discuss the Citizens United decision.

    “Sixth – Finally is the question of how to vote on the cloture motion which the Majority Leader will file in connection with this nomination. Under current Senate Rules, it takes 60 votes to end debate on the nomination of a Supreme Court justice and proceed to a simple majority up-or-down vote on confirmation, just as it does on substantive legislation. On the one hand, this can be viewed as simply a procedural vote to end debate, but by consistent practice (I’ve had to vote on more than 350 cloture motions during my four years here), the 60 vote threshold is THE operative vote; if sixty votes are not obtained, the bill (or nomination) is dead.

    “Although I came here deeply skeptical of this practice, I have come over time (even when I was a member of the majority caucus) to appreciate its role in forcing a modicum of bi-partisanship in connection with important issues. While I still believe in reform of the institution so that we can stop the logjam in Washington, it seems to me that for major policy decisions, like a lifetime appointment, it is not unreasonable to require 60 votes in order to garner broader, more sustainable bipartisan support, which I think is in the interest of the nation.

    “Although there could be circumstances where it might be appropriate to support cloture and then vote against the nomination, the current status of this procedure does not strike me as such a case. If I am opposed to this nomination, it seems logical to oppose cloture because under the current rules, this would defeat the nomination. To support cloture in the current circumstance would make me guilty of ‘complicity’, to borrow Judge Gorsuch’s memorable term. 

    “If Judge Gorsuch is ultimately confirmed, I sincerely hope my concerns and fears will be proven wrong; I would be delighted if this is the case. But in good conscience, I must vote my convictions and not my hopes – and my convictions in this case tell me ‘no’.”

  • 96 Maine Attorneys Sign Letter to Collins and King Opposing Confirmation of Gorsuch to Supreme Court


    Ninety Six Maine attorneys have signed a letter to Maine Senators Collins and King today opposing the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and urging the two Senators to filibuster the nomination. Senator Collins has already endorsed Gorsuch, while not taking a position on the filibuster rule, while Senator King is still deliberating both issues.

    The letter, organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership, expressed the lawyers’ concern about Gorsuch’s extreme, conservative views and about the wisdom of confirming a lifetime appointment to the Court while the President is under federal investigation.

    “Gorsuch would shape our jurisprudence for generations and his opinions show that he is not a normal candidate, but an activist judge with an extreme agenda,” said Jackie Sartoris, an attorney in Brunswick. “He consistently sides with corporate interests, and against the least powerful. His opinions on administrative agency decisions, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, show that he is even more willing to overturn federal regulations than was Justice Scalia​. He treats corporations as people. And our Senators should support regular order in the Senate, which requires 60 votes to allow a confirmation vote for a Supreme Court nominee.”  

    “Russian intrusion in the 2016 US election and Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign have compromised the integrity and legitimacy, of this White House. Nobody should get a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court while the investigations are underway,” said Theressa Harrigan of Cornish, an MFAL member.

    The letter was drafted by Sartoris, a MFAL member who is also a leader of Brunswick Area Rising, two “Indivisible” affiliate groups. It was a direct response to a letter from 49 Maine lawyers endorsing Gorsuch released last week days before Collins endorsed Gorsuch. MFAL’s analysis of that letter revealed it was signed by a veritable who’s who of Maine’s Republican Party establishment, including attorneys connected to Collins, Governor Paul LePage and other Republican operatives and donors.

    “The 49-lawyer letter seems orchestrated to provide political cover for Collins’s decision to back the extremist Gorsuch,” said April Humphrey of Yarmouth, an MFAL Leader. “Collins support of such an extreme candidate raises doubts about her moderation. And Sen. KIng needs to come off the fence and speak for Mainers in defending the filibuster rule and opposing Gorsuch”

    “Over 10 million dollars have been spent by corporate-backed interests to secure Gorsuch’s seat,” said Dini Merz of Falmouth, an MFAL leader. “Regular Mainers have to work hard just to be heard against this sort of big money. This letter, from experienced professionals, reflects a broader concern Mainer’s have about this appointment.”

    ##

    The Text of the Letter:

    The Honorable Susan Collins                                                                                                       United States Senate 413                                                                                                                 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

    The Honorable Angus King                                                                                                                   United States Senate 133                                                                                                                 Hart Senate Office Building Washington, D.C. 20510

    Dear Senators Collins and King:

    We, the undersigned Maine attorneys, oppose the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. We have reached a decision to make this request independently. We view your vote on the nomination to this lifetime appointment to be of enough gravity that we come forward publicly and urge you to vote against confirmation of Judge Gorsuch.

    Our reasons for opposing the nomination of Judge Gorsuch are varied. In an effort to inform your understanding of concerns raised by this group of your constituents, this letter will touch on issues that have been raised but should not be assumed to characterize the views of each of the signers on all points.

    The influence of each Supreme Court nominee on our system of justice typically continues long after a President leaves office. The decisions of the Court collectively reach into every corner of the experience of United States citizens, affects much of our nation's public policy and even touches on intimate aspects of our personal lives. The Court, to a significant degree, shapes who we are as a nation for generations to come. We, as attorneys and officers of the court, have both professional and personal investments in maintaining and strengthening respect for the rule of law and for the Judiciary. For this and other reasons, we are invested in the choices of the Justices of the Supreme Court and the Senate's "advise and consent" role.

    Concerns over the Gorsuch nomination arise over a number of points ranging from the context of the current moment in American governance and the integrity of our democratic republic to various aspects of the nominee's record. Concerns arise from the following: 1) the unprecedented events that presaged this nomination; 2) the reasoning underlying a number of judicial decisions written by the nominee; and 3) other indicators from the nominee's speeches, interviews and extra-judicial writing of an agenda out of step with the mainstream of American jurisprudence.

    Judge Gorsuch’s nomination takes place against an unprecedented backdrop. Just last month, F.B.I. director, James B. Comey publicly confirmed an investigation into interference by agents of the government of Russia into the presidential election and whether associates of the president were in contact with Moscow. With evidence showing, for the first time in our nation’s history, that the Presidency is occupied by a person elected with the benefit of foreign interference in our election process. Given the gravity of these concerns and the credibility of the officials and sources raising them, the issue of whether it is appropriate for the President, while an investigation is ongoing, to fill a vacancy to the Court that stands to be the final arbiter in matters arising from these events.

    Concerns also center around the President's open admission that the selection process involved vetting by ideologically skewed interests groups, including specifically the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. During the campaign Trump explicitly stated that if he were elected president, his judicial nominees would “all [be] picked by the Federalist Society.” He later added the Heritage Foundation to the list of vetters. These two organizations have rigid ideological views. It is reported that Judge Gorsuch is a Federalist Society member who has spoken and been honored at society events. These connections and how they could control or influence the nominee's decisions if confirmed to the Court were not laid to rest during the confirmation hearings.

    In a similar vein, where prior presidents have made plain that they do not apply litmus tests to judicial nominees, candidate Trump pledged to only choose "pro-life judges" who would overturn Roe v. Wade and nominees with expansive views of Second Amendment rights. Given that this nominee was apparently chosen based on a litmus test, Judge Gorsuch needed to adequately assure us that he did not provide the assurances expected by the official who nominated him. As with other questions, Judge Gorsuch declined to go into detail on the matter.

    A leading point for many of those concerned about the nominee's record of jurisprudence is concern that Judge Gorsuch too consistently demonstrates a bias in favor of business interests over the rights and interests of powerless individuals. Judge Gorsuch has written eloquently about impingement on the rights of corporations. In contrast, Gorsuch has expressed direct and explicit disapproval of individuals who in his view too readily turn to the courts to protect their civil rights and other interests. In 2005, Judge Gorsuch wrote in an essay entitled “Liberals’N’Lawsuits" published in the National Review: “American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom . . . as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage” to other issues. He went further in the same essay to say that individuals bringing cases and controversies of public concern to the courts is “bad for the country.”

    Concern also arises over Judge Gorsuch's narrow view on deference to be given to scientists and policy experts during judicial review of administrative actions. In Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, Judge Gorsuch wrote not only the majority opinion but a separate concurrence to challenge the Supreme Court ruling in in the case of Chevron v. NRDC. In Chevron, the Supreme Court held that where federal law is unclear or vague, the courts should defer to interpretations by the agency experts that implement the law, except where the agencies clearly get it wrong. Chevron is a common-sense approach to judging voluminous, complicated regulations. Gorsuch disagrees with such "Chevron deference" arguing instead for judges, like himself to draw their own conclusions with far less knowledge on detailed, technical regulations. Judge Gorsuch's approach is frequently favored by regulated business entities who are more confident in their ability to convince judges instead of true experts in the field. Some people feel his hostility to Chevron deference also aligns with Steve Bannon's expressed desire to see “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

    Another concern over the Gorsuch nomination arises in connection with the issue of campaign finance. In Judge Gorsuch's concurring opinion in the case of Riddle v. Hickenlooper he wrote “[n]o one before us disputes that the act of contributing to political campaigns implicates a ‘basic constitutional freedom,’ one lying ‘at the foundation of a free society’ and enjoying a significant relationship to the right to speak and associate—both expressly protected First Amendment activities.” Here and elsewhere, Gorsuch makes plain that he believes that political money and free speech rights are inextricably linked. He supports a higher standard of review for any limits to political campaign contributions. This approach again benefits corporate interests over ordinary citizens who are not high donors.

    Many observers raised concerns over what they see as Judge Gorsuch's narrow view on civil rights. His jurisprudence reveals a deep skepticism even hostility towards important civil rights that are not explicitly set forth in the Bill of Rights. Many are concerned that he will not uphold rights to privacy, autonomy and self-determination, rights to be a parent, to reproductive freedom, to engage in private consensual adult relationships, and to marry. His opinions, for example, regarding access to birth control, including in the case of Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, put great emphasis on corporate personhood and business “religious freedom” while shortchanging rights of privacy and access to health care, particularly for women.

    In short, Judge Gorsuch conveys a consistent bias towards powerful business interests over individuals and entities with less power and influence. These are among the concerns raised by Maine attorneys like those whose signatures appear below. We urge you to oppose the confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

  • Protesters demand Maine’s elected leaders stop Gorsuch confirmation but Collins might break filibuster

    By Ramona du Houx

    After shoveling out of a spring snow storm that dumped up to a foot about a hundred Brunswick area residents gathered for an outdoor rally organized by two indivisible groups: Mainers for Accountable Leadership and Brunswick Area Rising. The looming vote on Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was one focus of the citizen's protest.

    The rally was part of the growing political movement in Maine and across the nation that recently blocked Republican’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

    “Make no mistake, rallies and protests just like today were responsible for stopping Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” said April Humphrey, a leader of MFAL and a small business owner who relies on the ACA for health insurance.

    “A lot of commentators pointed to the Freedom Caucus, saying they sank the Trump/Ryan repeal bill. The fact is, it was too moderate for the Freedom Caucus from the get go because we pushed moderate lawmakers to oppose outright repeal. We are going to keep mobilizing, keep calling our Senators, keep showing up at their offices to put a stop to the extreme agenda Republicans are trying to push through.”

    Participants called on Maine’s elected leaders in Washington, D.C. to halt the confirmation process for the Supreme Court nominee, saying that no decision should be made on his appointment until there is an independent, impartial investigation of Trump’s ties with Russia.

    On Friday March 31st an MFAL delegation delivered a petition to Senators Collins and Kings offices signed by 600 Mainers opposing the Gorsuch nomination and McConnell’s plan to change senate rules to make it possible to confirm Gorsuch by only 51 votes.

    “A Supreme Court Justice is forever. Judge Neil Gorsuch is only 48 years old. His past opinions show that he is no normal candidate, but an activist judge with an extreme agenda,” said Jackie Sartoris, a Brunswick attorney and leader of Brunswick Area Rising.

    “He consistently takes the side of corporate interests, and against the least powerful. His opinions respecting the work of agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and others indicates that he is more extreme in his willingness to overturn their regulations even than was Justice Scalia​, giving even more power to corporate interests.

    "He thinks that corporations are people, and that they should be able to impose their religious beliefs on employees​, including on a woman's right to access birth control and make health care choices. Judge Gorsuch is an extreme, activist nominee, and he must be rejected. Our Senators must oppose any change to Senate rules that would bypass the normal process requiring a 60 vote threshold for Supreme Court confirmations.”

    The groups were adamant about the need for a thorough investigation of the ties the Trump campaign and transition had to Russian intelligence officials involved in illegal manipulation of the 2016 election. Both Senators Collins and King support the ongoing Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, but the groups say that investigation cannot be independent.

    “Russian intrusion into the 2016 US election and intimate ties between the Trump campaign and transition have compromised the integrity, even the legitimacy of this White House. The House investigation is fatally compromised and, despite promises, the credibility of the Senate investigation is doubtful,” said Gordon Adams, former White House official and a leader of MFAL.

    “Only an independent commission and Special Counsel can credibly get to the bottom of this crisis. Maine’s delegation, particularly our two senators who sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, should be demanding such a commission and counsel. Moreover, as long as this investigation and any subsequent prosecution are incomplete, Senators Collins and King ought to vote against confirming Judge Gorsuch, a conservative activist, to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

    The groups also took aim at administration threats to reproductive rights and environmental protections, and called for continued vigilance against renewed efforts to repeal the ACA and replace it with an even more extreme version of the doomed ACHA.

    “Education funding and policy are being challenged at the federal and state levels as never before, and placing an extraordinary burden on our towns.  Education is a public good - yes, it benefits individuals, but it also benefits our communities, and is a critical foundation of our democracy.  This foundation is undermined when we do not provide educators with the support needed to work with the complex reality for each child in each classroom.  That reality is sometimes wonderful, sometimes messy, and is rarely measured by test scores,” said Joy Prescott, Brunswick School Board Member.

    “So what can we do?  Support our schools locally, make our voices heard in Augusta and Washington, and stay engaged to make sure our leaders understand the issues - complicated, nuanced, and yet critically important issues - that will affect both our children and the everyday fabric of our communities.​”

    “Corporate money and power has shifted the Republican party, with its longstanding history of conservation, into one that stands up only for short-term profits. The Trump administration, like the LePage administration, places no value on what can't make a quick profit, no matter the future cost, said Stephen Walker, Brunswick Town Councilor and wildlife biologist.

    “The cost is to our natural resources, and it will be borne by our children and grandchildren. Our natural resources and our Maine values are under attack, and we need to stand up now and organize to turn this around.”

  • Maine Rangers deserve pay raise that would create parity for law enforcement

    Measure will bring pay in line with salaries raised by lawmakers last year

    A measure from Rep. Catherine Nadeau to provide wage parity among state law enforcement is necessary to recruit and retain talent, law enforcement officers told a legislative panel March 31, 2017

    “Last session, we passed into law a measure that provided certain law enforcement with pay raises necessary for successful recruitment and retention,” said Nadeau, D-Winslow. “That was an important first step. Let’s finish the job and pay the men and women included in this measure a fair, appropriate salary for the work they do to keep our communities safe.” 

    Maine Rangers deserve a pay raise that would create parity for law enforcement, they patrol the state's vast forestlands and seaside. 

    Lawmakers voted last year to provide some state law enforcement officers with pay raises necessary for successful recruitment and retention. Nadeau’s bill would provide similar increases to law enforcement officers who were not included in the previous measure, including forest rangers, investigators with several state agencies and probation officers. 

    Lincoln Mazzei, a forest ranger pilot with the Maine Forest Service, told the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee that the agency has struggled to attract and retain qualified pilots during his decade as a forest ranger. The relatively low pay, he said, is part of the reason would-be rangers look for work elsewhere. 

    “This job is important,” Mazzei testified. “I realize I could leave and find better compensation elsewhere, but I don’t want to leave. This is my home, my children’s home and I know that the work I do makes a difference.”

    The committee is scheduled to hold a work session on the measure, LD 861, April, 7, 2017. At that time, committee members will have the opportunity to offer amendments and make a recommendation to the full Legislature. 

    Nadeau is serving her third term in the Maine House. She represents Winslow and part of Benton. She is a member of both the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

     

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  • LePage Proposes Bill that would Directly Increase Maine Kids living in Poverty



    By Ramona du Houx

    Governor LePage, Commissioner Mayhew, and Rep. Ken Fredette rolled out the draft idea of a proposed bill that would plunge Maine children, and their families, further into poverty. The governor needs the bill to codify some changes to welfare programs that his administration has already made by executive action. Many of the proposals outlined by LePage have been introduced as bills in the past but died in the legislature.

    Since LePgae's so called reforms have been put in place the number of children living in deep poverty and the infant mortality rate has risen. According to the 2016 Kids Count Data Book, more Maine children live in poverty than before the recession. Now, over 82,000 children in Maine — more than the entire populations of Bangor, Augusta and Biddeford combined - live in poverty.

    The USDA estimates that 15.8 percent of Maine households, or more than 209,000 individuals, are food insecure.
     
    “These so-called ‘reforms’ by the administration have created lasting damage. We’ve driven children and families deeper into poverty, increased childhood hunger, and removed basic health care from struggling families," said Health and Human Services Chair, Dr. Patty Hymanson. 
     
    "I believe that true reform means improving people’s lives, not driving them deeper into poverty. True reform should be based on a vision that would reduce child poverty by creating real opportunities for Maine families. I propose stabilizing families so that they can meet their basic needs, breaking down barriers to work, eliminating the welfare ‘cliff,’ expanding access to education for better paying jobs, making child care and transportation more accessible and affordable and holding government accountable to administer programs that truly reduce poverty."

    Trying to promote the package that would potentially endanger thousands of children LePage has the audacity to call his proposed changes — the Welfare Reform for Increased Security and Employment Act.

    "If we want Maine children to thrive, we need to reduce the number of children living in poverty. That starts with supporting and properly administering effective anti-poverty programs, while creating an economy that works for everyone," said Rita Furlow is senior policy analyst at the Maine Children’s Alliance.

    LePage's Draconian measure will:

    Shorten the lifetime limit for Maine families under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from five years to three years, also codifying a work requirement for the same program and establishing a $5,000 asset test on certain households that get food stamps. It will also:

    — Place photographs on electronic benefits cards
    — Ban or suspend parents not cooperating with child support services from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify lottery and gambling winners of $5,000 or more from receiving food assistance
    — Require education programs paid for with TANF money to be for jobs with average or better outlooks
    — Ban repeat felony drug offenders from receiving food assistance
    — Disqualify all adults in a household from receiving TANF if an individual is convicted of welfare-related theft or fraud

    While the Republicans declare they want less government LePage continues to propose more government invasion into the lives of Maine citizens.

  • NEFAC, Media Groups Argue for Right to Record Police in Second Circuit

    The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined an amici curiae brief in a case involving a journalist arrested in 2011 while recording police at an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.
     
    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit - which has jurisdiction in Vermont and Connecticut - is currently hearing the case and has an opportunity to find a clearly established First Amendment right to record police in public places.

    "Without a clearly defined right to record, journalists and citizens seeking to document police activity run the risk of being arrested - even when the act of recording does not interfere with the duties being carried out by law enforcement," argued NEFAC and 62 fellow amici in a March 17 brief drafted by the National Press Photographers Association.
     
    The case, Higginbotham v. City of New York, involves a journalist who was covering the Occupy Wall Street protest on Nov. 15, 2011, at Zuccotti Park in New York. The journalist was arrested while recording the separate arrest of a protester by police. The journalist claimed the police retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights.
     
    In the brief, NEFAC and fellow amici argue for a clarification of the constitutional right to record police activity in public places and that this right should be determined "clearly established." This determination is important because police officers can be protected by qualified immunity against lawsuits involving the right to record if that right isn't clearly established by the courts.
     
    According to the brief:
     
    [T]his court should embrace the opportunity to provide judicial assurance that the right to photograph and record police activity in public places is enshrined in the First Amendment. In addition, since the First Amendment guarantees the freedom to document police activity, this court should give that guarantee teeth by holding that the constitutional right to record police is "clearly established." Otherwise, officers in this circuit will continue to argue . . . that the doctrine of qualified immunity provides blanket protection against lawsuits challenging arrests aimed at thwarting the lawful recording of police activity.
     
    Other New England states - Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Rhode Island - are in the jurisdiction of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. That court in 2011 confirmed a First Amendment right to openly record police officers carrying out their duties in a public place. 
     
    In Glik v. Cunniffe, the First Circuit court explained that "gathering information about government officials in a form that can be readily disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting the free discussion of governmental affairs."
  • 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.