LATEST NEWS

Public Safety
  • Maine State alert to corporations and non-profits regarding misleading solicitations

    11/19/2019 
    AUGUSTA - Maine corporations have recently received misleading solicitation mailings with an offer to file annual reports for the corporation, for a $185 fee.

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is reminding all corporate and non-profit entities that the Division of Corporations does not mail out the annual report form.

    The "solicitation form" looks similar to the Division of Corporations' annual report form, but it is not prescribed or recognized by the Maine Department of the Secretary of State and this mailing does not come from the departments Division of Corporations. Maine corporations have received similar solicitations in recent years from entities operating under various names.

    The legal deadline to file the 2020 annual reports with the Secretary of States office is June 1, 2020 and corporate entities can file those reports online at https://icrs.informe.org/nei-sos-icrs/ICRS beginning January 1, 2020.

    Any corporation that has questions about the solicitation or form is encouraged to obtain advice from a lawyer or business advisor. In addition, those with questions can contact the Maine Division of Corporations at (207) 624-7752 for information about corporate annual report and other business entity filing requirements under Maine law.
  • Maine Consumer Alert: Utility Disconnection Scam

    October 30, 2019  The Maine Public Utilities Commission (Commission) wants to alert consumers regarding scams involving their utility service.

    Scammers appear to be using the Commission’s Consumer Assistance and Safety Division (CASD) consumer assistance hotline number (800-452-4699) to disguise the actual phone number that they are calling from.  This practice is known as telephone number “spoofing,” a situation when a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to a person’s caller ID display to disguise the caller’s true identity.  Consumers have reported that they received a call apparently from the CASD telling them that they are behind on their utility bill and directing them to send payment immediately to avoid disconnection.  The CASD would not do this.  The CASD always issues a formal decision letter resolving customer complaints that is sent either by email or U.S. mail.

    In this instance, scammers typically contact consumers by phone and demand immediate payment, often telling consumers to make a payment using a prepaid debit/credit card and directing them to call a specific number with the card information to avoid an immediate disconnection of their utility service.  Consumers should know that neither the CASD, nor a legitimate business, will ask you to use a prepaid debit/credit card to make a payment.  If you receive a call like this, the best thing to do is just hang up.  If you are still concerned about your utility account, contact your utility at the number provided on your utility bill or call the CASD.

    The Commission offers the following advice to consumers to avoid being defrauded of their money:

    1.  Utilities will not call consumers in good standing claiming they have debt that must be paid immediately.
    2.  If a person contacts you claiming to represent a utility or the Commission, stating that you must pay a certain sum of money immediately to avoid disconnection, you can verify your account’s standing by contacting your utility at the number provided on your utility bill (not by the person contacting you). When you reach the utility, you can verify what is truly happening with your account.
    3.  Commission rules require utilities to provide consumers with proper notices regarding disconnection. Consumers should not provide information or money to a person over the phone without first contacting their utility. Consumers should contact the Commission’s Consumer Assistance Hotline (1-800-452-4699) if, after speaking with their utility, they cannot resolve a billing problem.

  • Gift Worthy Book Sale at the Camden Public Library

    For those who want to get their holiday shopping done early, or add to their own collection, the Camden Public Library will be holding the “Gift Worthy” Book Sale until the 30th of November. There will be an impressive selection of quality used books in great condition for sale on tables in the Rotunda. The book sale runs during regular library operating hours, and the tables will be regularly restocked with books for all ages and tastes.

    The book sales, which are held throughout the year, generate significant income for the Camden Public Library; during the most recent fiscal year they contributed more than $30,000 to the Library’s operating budget, and this year they are on track to do the same again. This success can only be achieved with support from the community through donations of books to the library as well as through purchases. To learn more, visit libraycamden.org.

  • Office of the State Treasurer will send $100 relief payments to all who qualified in 2019 for Homestead Exemption

    Oct, 22, 2019

    State Treasurer Henry E.M. Beck, Esq. today announced that he has officially notified Municipal Tax Assessors of a new law affecting Maine municipalities. "An Act to Return Funds to Maine Property Taxpayers" requires the Maine Office of the State Treasurer (OST) to provide tax relief payments of no less than $100 to qualifying homesteads, when the Property Tax Relief Fund reaches a threshold of funding to support the payments. In 2019, this threshold will be met based on available funds divided by the number of homesteads net of expenses to administer the program.

    The Treasurer has directed all of Maine's Municipal Tax Assessors and the State Tax Assessor to provide the names and addresses of all property tax payers who qualified for the homestead exemption as of April 1, 2019. OST expects that approximately 305,000 property tax payers will receive a payment.

    The State Treasurer is anticipating a payment of approximately $102 to be mailed to qualified Mainers in the months of January and February. Beck noted that "Maine people made clear they want property tax relief. Speaker Gideon's bipartisan legislation will provide over $30 million in direct relief to Maine homeowners. Combined with Governor Mills' budget to dramatically increase revenue sharing and also raise the homestead exemption, this meaningful program delivers on real property tax relief for Maine people."

    For more information on the program and how the payments will be sent, please visit https://www.maine.gov/treasurer/property_tax_relief/index.html.

    About OST: The Office of the State Treasurer provides state agencies with efficient banking and financial services, which include revenue collection, payment issuance, reconciliation, and trust management. The Office also manages state investments and debt payments and issuance, ensuring that bonds authorized by voters are efficiently sold in the marketplace to provide funding for capital projects statewide. Over $200 million in unclaimed funds for Maine residents are managed by the Office of the Treasurer. FMI, www.maine.gov/treasurer

    About the Homestead exemption program: This program provides a measure of property tax relief for certain individuals that have owned homestead property in Maine for at least 12 months and make the property they occupy on April 1 their permanent residence. Property owners would receive an exemption of $20,000. FMI, https://www.maine.gov/revenue/propertytax/sidebar/exemptions.htm

  • Golden stands up demanding transparency and a public hearing on the Army Corps’ of Engineers review of CMP Transmission Corridor

    by Ramona du Houx

    October 16, 2019 (Augusta, ME)

    As Central Maine Power’s (CMP) controversial transmission corridor proposal continues to face delays and growing public opposition, Congressman Jared Golden issued a strong letter of concern this morning to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The letter highlights the Army Corps’ lack of transparency in its permitting process for the CMP corridor and its failure to respond to numerous requests by Maine residents for a public hearing.

    To address the Army Corps’ failure to respond to the public concerns, Congressman Golden asked Colonel William Conde, in the Corps’ New England District office, to: 1) provide all communications with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about the project, which the Army Corps has refused to release to the public without a formal Freedom of Information Act request; and 2) hold at least one public hearing on this project in Maine’s 2nd Congressional District.

    “I am concerned that your agency has denied repeated requests from my constituents for a public hearing. It is critical that Mainers are able to provide input and voice their opinions about the permitting of a project that will have significant environmental and economic consequences for their communities,” stated Congressman Golden.

    "While the other CA-to-MA lines have had hearings, CMP’s has not. It is disturbing that presidential and Army Corps permits are even being considered under such circumstances," said Maine State Rep. Seth Berry, who serves as House chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Energy.

    Congressman Golden highlighted an April 25, 2019 letter from the EPA to the Army Corps. This letter raised numerous environmental problems with the project and concerns regarding the Corps’ failure to provide Mainers with a complete permit application from CMP to allow for informed public comment. Since that letter was submitted, CMP has changed its project yet again, and the Army Corps still won’t provide access to an updated and complete application. 

    “As Congressman Golden noted in his letter, similar projects in Vermont and New Hampshire provided significantly greater levels of public engagement and Mainers deserve the same level of respect and participation,” said Sue Ely, Clean Energy Attorney for the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM). “The lack of transparency on the part of the Army Corps is both unacceptable and disrespectful of the strong concerns that Maine people have about this project. They are a public agency deliberating on a project that would harm Maine’s environment and economy for decades to come. The federal government should not be making decisions about the CMP corridor behind closed doors.” 

    More than 20 towns in Maine have voted to rescind support or oppose the CMP corridor, and residents have started a signature gathering process to place a citizen-initiated question about the CMP corridor on the ballot.

  • Powerful Nor'Easter Affects Maine

    Photo: the Inn on Pine Street in Portland
    10/17/2019 10:26 AM EDT
    Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) partially activated the State EOC at 4 a.m. this morning in response to the strong nor'easter currently affecting the state. The heavy rain combined with 60 mph wind gusts has knocked down trees and power lines and this has caused thousands of outages.

    As of Thursday morning, more than 179,000 CMP customers and 36,000 Emera customers are without power. A number of roads have been blocked by debris due to falling trees and branches. Peter Rogers, acting Director of MEMA urges those venturing out to be cautious. "Conditions continue to change, look for hazards and be careful as you head out." MEMA is monitoring the ongoing situation and coordinating with state partners and others in response to this storm.

    Rogers asked that everyone check on friends and neighbors when safe to do so and made the following safety recommendations:

    - Stay informed about weather conditions in your area - monitor National Weather Service forecasts and radio, along with broadcast weather reports

    - Drive slowly, use your headlights and allow extra space between vehicles

    - Yield to emergency vehicles and give them plenty of room to work

    - Use your generator safely, always use outside with exhaust pointed away from any windows and doors

    - Turn around, dont drown do not drive through flooded roadways

    - Check our website for information on being prepared at Maine.gov/mema
  • Maine's anti-hunger groups applaud waiver to return SNAP benefits to those in need

    By Ramona du Houx

    October 4, 2019

    Anti-hunger advocates, including Maine Equal Justice, Preble Street, the Maine Center for Economic Policy, and Food AND Medicine, cheered a move by the Mills administration to bring millions in additional federal food assistance funds to Maine Friday. Maine has received a waiver for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that will help thousands of low-income people put food on the table.

    The “geographic waiver” will allow Maine to take advantage of a federal option to provide food assistance to households in high-unemployment areas whose benefits would otherwise be limited to three months in a 36-month period unless they meet certain requirements for an exemption.  The Dept. of Health and Human Services posted a list of more than 200 towns that fall under the new waiver online.

    “Geographic waivers were a key tool Maine used to reduce food insecurity for nearly 20 years until the previous administration rejected the option in 2015,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, a policy analyst with Maine Equal Justice. “At that time nearly 10,000 people lost their food assistance, with thousands more losing help since then. A year later, two-thirds of those Mainers losing food assistance remained unemployed, undermining claims that these policies would get people to work.”

    Today 36 states, including all the New England states apart from Maine, have adopted this option to tackle hunger in regions where people face the greatest barriers to work.

    “Bringing these federal food dollars back will provide targeted resources for Maine, especially our rural areas, to fight our hunger crisis,” said James Myall, Policy Analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy. “Maine has high rates of food insecurity, with 568,000 households experiencing food insecurity, and 5.9 percent of Maine households experiencing very low food security—these are Mainers struggling with chronic hunger.”

    “The areas eligible for a waiver to the three-month time limit are largely in rural parts of the state where jobs are most scarce and the economy could most benefit from the stimulus effect of SNAP benefits,” said Josh Kauppila of Food AND Medicine. 

    More than 1,500 Maine retailers statewide participate in the program, and SNAP injects more than $215 million dollars into Maine’s economy annually. Every five dollars in SNAP spending generates around $9 in economic activity, according to the USDA.

    Mark Swann, Executive Director of Preble Street concluded, “The waiver will help Mainers who are searching for stable jobs put food on their tables during a difficult time in their lives.  We’re encouraged that the Mills administration is taking advantage of this common-sense option to address our high hunger rates in Maine.” 

  • Maine Joins Multistate Coalition Against Trump's Rule Restricting Asylum Access

    08/15/2019 

     Attorney General Aaron M. Frey today joined a multistate coalition, led by California and Massachusetts, in filing a comment letter opposing the Trump Administration's attempt to illegally limit access to the asylum process. Under the rule, individuals entering the United States at the southern border, except in limited circumstances, are no longer able to seek asylum unless they applied for and were denied protection in at least one country they transited through prior to their arrival. In a comment letter, the coalition urges the U.S. Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to rescind the policy.


    "This proposed rule is part of a series of attempts by the federal government to weaken the asylum process," said Frey. "The proposal violates two federal laws and is contrary to our values. Individuals fleeing dangerous circumstances, who want to live and work in our country, should be allowed to seek asylum here and not be arbitrarily blocked from doing so."

    In the comment letter, the coalition maintains that, among other things, the rule violates both the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the Administrative Procedure Act. Under INA, any foreign national may apply for asylum upon their presence or arrival to the United States. These asylum protections were built on the principles of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which sought to mitigate some of the horrors visited upon refugees during and after World War II. INA sets forth very specific circumstances under which an individual can be barred from asylum and provides protections for particularly vulnerable groups. 

    In promulgating the rule, the Trump Administration failed to provide adequate notice or articulate a reasoned explanation for the rule, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act. In addition, the rule will have a particularly negative effect on unaccompanied children, LGBTQ applicants, and women asylum-seekers, for whom applying for asylum in a third country is extremely dangerous. In fact, recognizing the rule is likely contrary to law, a federal court has already halted its initial implementation. In submitting the comment letter, Attorney General Frey joins the Attorneys General of California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawai'i, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
  • Maine's beaches 93 percent safe according to DEP

    Rockland beach, photo by Ramona du Houx

    On July 26, 2019 the Maine DEP issued this statement regarding water quality at the state's beaches.
     A recent report by the Environment America Research and Policy Center titled “Safe for Swimming? Water Quality at Our Beaches” has generated a lot of interest in beach water quality in Maine. The information referenced in that report for the State of Maine was generated by the Maine Healthy Beaches (MHB) Program.  This is a voluntary program administered by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) with the support of local beach managers and volunteers who collect water quality samples throughout the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day). 
    While the headlines pulled from the report suggest problems with water quality at Maine beaches, the reality is that 93 percent of all samples collected in 2018 by the MHB program were below Maine’s EPA-approved threshold for safe recreation in marine waters and 97.2 percent of beach days in 2018 were free from contamination advisories and closures.
    While there are occasions where high bacteria counts are observed at Maine’s beaches, the majority of these are related to rain storms that result in stormwater runoff carrying contaminants from upland areas to the beach.  An exceedance of the safety threshold does not necessarily mean that someone swimming at that location will get sick, but rather it is an indicator that the risk of getting sick is increased. The municipalities where exceedances have occurred, in conjunction with the State, are actively working to identify and address any potential sources contributing to high bacteria at the beach. Furthermore, because Maine’s water quality is typically very good, the MHB program intentionally locates monitoring sites near freshwater inputs (streams, rivers, storm drains) or other suspect areas to be as protective of public health as possible.

    To learn more about the MHB program, read the 2018 Season Summary Report to EPA, or check the status of MHB participating beaches visit: http://mainehealthybeaches.org/

  • Maine and 11 state AG's send letter to Trump Environmental Protection Agency to stop rollback of clean car rule

    Attorney General Aaron M. Frey, along with 11 other state Attorneys General, sent on July 24, 2019 to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requesting that they withdraw their rollback of federal Clean Car Rules.

    "Maine has been proactive in establishing stringent vehicle emission standards in order to protect the quality of the air we breathe," said Frey. "The Federal government is acting to weaken emission standards and failed to involve states in their decision-making."

    In their proposal to roll back federal Clean Car Rules (GHG standards and fuel economy standards), the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also propose to preempt states from maintaining their own more stringent standards. The agencies falsely asserted they had complied with state consultation requirements of a longstanding Executive Order requiring federal agencies proposing a rule that will preempt state law to consult with states early in the process of developing the proposal. 

    The EPA/NHTSA Clean Car rollback's proposed state preemption would have substantial impact on the preempted states both by: 

    1) revoking California's waiver under the federal Clean Air Act to adopt and enforce more stringent vehicle emission standards than those adopted nationally, which would thereby also preempt the 12 states that follow CA's lead; and 

    2) asserting that the states' separate clean car standards are preempted by the statute under which NHTSA sets fuel economy standards. 

    The EPA went further, proposing that states are preempted from adopting California's standards even if California's standards were to remain un-preempted. 

    At the time EPA/NHTSA proposed the rollback and asserted the compliance with the Executive Order, the states in the coalition had no knowledge of ever being consulted on the proposed preemption by EPA/NHTSA, so the states requested documents under the federal Freedom of Information Act for any records supporting such consultation. In its much-delayed FOIA response whereby the states sued to compel the agency to respond, the agencies provided no records of any consultation with any state of the rollback proposal's preemption. 

    The comments filed today request that EPA/NHSTA withdraw the rollback rule and comply with the Executive Order's consultation requirement before issuing another rule, and that EPA/NHSTA correct the public record to reflect that they, in fact, did not comply with the Executive Order. 

    The states that submitted the comments include Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Washington. 

  • Rare tick-borne infection confirmed in Maine for the first time since 2017

    The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says a case of a rare tick-borne infection has been confirmed in the state for the first time since 2017.

    Maine CDC says an adult resident of southern Maine has been hospitalized in New Hampshire with Powassan virus. The agency says the person is believed to have contracted the illness in Maine.

    "Powassan, although rare, can be serious so it is important to be aware of your surroundings and take steps to avoid being bitten by ticks," said Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. "Use caution in wooded and bushy areas and follow the No Ticks 4 ME approach to help reduce exposure to ticks and lower the risk of disease."

    Symptoms can begin from one week to one month after the tick bite. Unlike Lyme disease, Powassan virus does not result in a rash. There is no medication to treat Powassan virus infection, though people who develop severe illness may receive treatment for their symptoms.

    There are only about seven cases of Powassan virus reported in the U.S. per year, and Maine has had only 11 since 2000. It’s transmitted through a bite from an infected woodchuck or deer tick. Symptoms can include fever, headache, weakness, confusion and seizures.

    Powassan can be fatal, though many people experience no symptoms at all.

    Maine CDC says residents should exercise normal precautions about ticks, such as using repellent.

  • Maine AG and AG's from 47 States, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico Reach a $600 Million Settlement with Equifax

    Maine Attorney General Aaron M. Frey announced on July 22, 2019 that he and Attorneys General from 47 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico have reached an historic $600 million settlement with Equifax Inc. following the largest data breach enforcement action in history. The settlement, which is part of a global settlement that Equifax reached with the Federal Trade Commission ("FTC"), the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") and the multi-district class actions, is the result of an investigation into a massive 2017 data breach.
    Equifax will pay $300 million dollars, and up to an additional $125 million dollars, into a single Consumer Restitution Fund for the benefit of consumers affected by the breach. In addition, Equifax will pay the Attorneys General a total of $175 million, of which Maine will receive $1,000,000. 

    "This settlement will enable Maine consumers to obtain relief in the event they experience identity theft resulting from Equifax's failure to protect personal information," said Frey. "Entities like Equifax who store our personal information have a duty to make every effort to ensure that information is secure from unlawful access."

    Equifax is the oldest and one of the three largest American consumer credit reporting agencies. The settlement resolves allegations by the Attorneys General that Equifax failed to adequately inform consumers about its data protection practices, and to take reasonable steps to protect consumers' personal information from the 2017 data breach. The breach affected more than half of the U.S. population - more than 147 million U.S. consumers - of which 542,268 are Maine residents. Breached information included social security numbers, names, dates of birth, addresses, credit card numbers and, in some cases, driver's license numbers.

    As part of the settlement with the Attorneys General, Equifax will offer consumers affected by the 2017 data breach free credit monitoring services for 10 years, and free Identity Theft Restoration services. Equifax will also take other steps to assist consumers in making it easier for consumers to freeze and thaw their credit and to dispute inaccurate information in credit reports; and requiring Equifax to maintain sufficient staff dedicated to assisting consumers who may be victims of identity theft. In addition, Equifax will strengthen its security practices, including by minimizing its collection of sensitive data and the use of consumers' Social Security numbers, performing regular security monitoring, logging and testing, and using new policies regarding the identification and deployment of critical security updates and patches. 

    The program to pay restitution to consumers will be conducted in connection with the settlements that Equifax reached with the FTC, the CFPB and the multi-district class actions. Consumers who are eligible for relief from the Consumer Restitution Fund will be required to submit claims online or by mail. Paper claim forms can also be requested over the phone. Consumers can obtain information about the settlement, check their eligibility to file a claim, and file a claim on the Equifax Settlement Breach online registry. To receive email updates regarding the launch of this online registry, consumers can sign up at www.ftc.gov/equifax-data-breach. Consumers can also call the settlement administrator at 1-888-759-2982 for more information. 
  • Maine is now the 19th state to adopt an Automatic Voter Registration system

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    On June 20,2019 Governor Janet Mills signed a bill to create an Automatic Voter Registration system in Maine.  LD 1463, “An Act To Create An Automatic Voter Registration System,” creates a process that would automatically register eligible Mainers to vote when they interact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or another approved state agency where they already provide proof of eligibility for voter registration.

    “The foundation of America is built on every eligible citizen’s ability to participate in our democracy, and that starts with making the right to exercise our vote as easy and accessible as possible,” said Speaker Sara Gideon, sponser of the legislation. “We know that greater participation in our democracy will make our government more responsible and make elected officials more representative of the people we serve. Making that participation easier while improving the integrity and security of our elections is something we should all be able to support.

    Maine is now the 19th state to adopt an  Automatic Voter Registration system. Oregon became the first in 2015, and that effort is widely considered a success. Since then, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar laws.

    LD 1463 will allow eligible Mainers to be registered to vote when they interact with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles or another approved state agency where they provide proof of eligibility for voter registration—including name, address, citizenship status, and signature. For an eligible voter, this information would be automatically added to the Central Voter Registration file. Election officials will then make available an option for the voter to enroll with a party or to decline registration altogether. Outdated information, e.g. old addresses, of registered voters will also be automatically updated.

     

    Voters can still register with a voter registration card at their town hall if they prefer, and registration would not become mandatory. If an eligible Mainer does not wish to register and have their information on the voter rolls, they will be provided the opportunity to decline registration.

  • Task force created to help transform juvenile justice in Maine

    New task force is collaboration of state legislators, the Department of Corrections and the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group

    Rep. Michael Brennan, D-Portland, announced on May 16, 2019 a newly formed task force to examine the state’s juvenile justice system and develop recommendations for continuum of care for system-involved youth and those at risk for becoming involved in the justice system.

    Chaired by Brennan, Department of Corrections Commissioner Randall Liberty and Jill Ward of the Maine Center for Juvenile Policy and Law, the task force brings together state government leaders from multiple agencies, legislators, the Judiciary branch, practitioners and impacted communities. The task force will work with national experts to assess the efficacy of the current system and develop recommendations to improve outcomes for system-involved youth. The group will study ways Maine can develop a more comprehensive, coordinated continuum of care that more effectively targets resources to meet individual needs in ways that support families and strengthen communities. 

    The work of the task force will be guided by LD 1108, legislation introduced by Brennan, and previous work of the Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. The task force plans to provide a report of findings and recommendations to the Legislature in early 2020.

    “There is no higher priority than our children,” said Governor Janet Mills. “My administration is committed to protecting and supporting them from their early years through their transition to adulthood, and I see the Task Force’s work as a critical component to help inform and improve public policy across state agencies to better serve the needs of our children.”

    “We are at a pivotal moment in the history of juvenile justice in Maine. Before us is the opportunity to really transform our system and in ways that will allow our young people to thrive and make our communities safer,” said Brennan. “This collaboration will help us get there.”

    “Maine has had great success in reducing the number of youth detained and committed over the past decade and in increasing the number of young people diverted from the system entirely,” said DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty. “We are ready to take the next step, working with colleagues across agencies, to identify the resources and approaches to create and sustain a community-based continuum of care that improves the lives of kids and families throughout the state.” 

    “The best way to ensure public safety is by creating a healthy and hopeful young person,” said Ned Chester, chair of the Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group. “The Juvenile Justice Advisory Group is pleased to be able to support this historic effort to fundamentally transform our juvenile justice system by developing a true community-based continuum of care for our youth.”

    “To design the full range supports and services to support our young people, promote healing and justice, and ensure communities have the resources to sustain a continuum of care, elected officials and system leaders must work together in partnership with those most impacted,” said Jill Ward. “It is my hope that this task force will generate opportunities for dialogue and learning that will result stronger, safer, healthier communities where all young people can thrive.” 

    Task Force Membership

    •  Rep. Michael Brennan, D- Portland – Chair
    •  Commissioner Randall Liberty (or designee), Department of Corrections – Chair
    •  Jill Ward, Maine Center for Juvenile Policy & Law – Chair
    •  Chief Justice Leah Saufley (or designee)
    •  Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew (or designee), Department of Health and Human Services
    •  Commissioner Pender Makin (or designee), Department of Education
    •  Commissioner Michael Sauschuck (or designee), Department of Public Safety
    •  Commissioner Laura Fortman (or designee), Department of Labor
    •  Sen. Susan Deschambault, D- Biddeford
    •  Sen. Marianne Moore, R- Calais
    •  Rep. Charlotte Warren, D- Hallowell
    •  Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D- Portland
    •  Rep. Victoria Morales, D- South Portland
    •  Rep. Patrick Corey, R- Windham
    •  Rep. David Haggan, R- Hampden
    •  Christine Thibeault, Assistant District Attorney, Cumberland County
    •  Ned Chester, Defense Attorney, Chair, Maine Juvenile Justice Advisory Group
    •  Dr. Lindsey Tweed, Maine Coalition for the Advancement of Child & Adolescent Mental Health
    •  Jill Allen, Child & Family Provider Network
    •  Margot Fine, Maine Inside Out
    •  Alison Beyea, ACLU of Maine
    •  Atlee Reilly, Disability Rights Maine
    •  Mary Bonauto, GLAD
    •  Zack Gregoire (Biddeford), formerly system-involved youth
    •  Rodney Mondor (Portland), parent of system involved youth
    •  Margaret Micolichek, restorative justice consultant
    •  Malory Shaughnessy, Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services
    •  Greg Bowers, Day One
    •  Tessa Mosher, Victims Services, Department of Corrections
    •  Julia Sleeper, Tree Street
    •  Jeff McCabe, MSEA-SEIU

    The first meeting of the task force will take place on Friday, May 17, from noon to 2 p.m. at the Capitol Judicial Center, Tamberlin Room, 2ndFloor, 1 Court Street, Augusta.  The meeting is open to the public.

  • Maine joins 44 state collation in largest prescription cartel case in the history of the United States

    Lawsuit against Teva Pharmaceuticals, 19 other generic drug manufacturers, 15 individuals in conspiracy to fix prices and allocate markets for more than 100 different generic drugs

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine's Attorney General Aaron Frey joined a 44-state coalition led by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong in announcing a lawsuit against Teva Pharmaceuticals and 19 of the nation's largest generic drug manufacturers alleging a broad conspiracy to artificially inflate and manipulate prices, reduce competition and unreasonably restrain trade for more than 100 different generic drugs.

    The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, also names 15 individual senior executive defendants at the heart of the conspiracy who were responsible for sales, marketing, pricing and operations. The drugs at issue account for billions of dollars of sales in the United States, and the alleged schemes increased prices affecting the health insurance market, taxpayer-funded healthcare programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and individuals who must pay artificially-inflated prices for their prescription drugs.

    "Prescription drug costs create significant financial pressures on individuals and families, and there is compelling evidence that the prices for some of these drugs have been artificially inflated," said Maine A.G. Frey. By joining this multistate litigation, Maine is cooperating with other states to hold generic drug manufacturers accountable for the outrageous behavior outlined in the complaint.

    The complaint alleges that Teva, Sandoz, Mylan, Pfizer and 16 other generic drug manufacturers engaged in a broad, coordinated and systematic campaign to conspire with each other to fix prices, allocate markets and rig bids for more than 100 different generic drugs. The drugs span all types, including tablets, capsules, suspensions, creams, gels, ointments, and classes, including statins, ace inhibitors, beta blockers, antibiotics, anti-depressants, contraceptives, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and treat a range of diseases and conditions from basic infections to diabetes, cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, HIV, ADHD, and more. In some instances, the coordinated price increases were over 1,000 percent.

    The first week in May, 2019, 60 Minutes, correspondent Bill Whitaker reported on this lawsuit against dozens of generic drug manufacturers. According to the suit, the price of hundreds of generic prescription drugs jumped in a single year—and plaintiffs say the drug makers colluded to do it.

    It's not the first time 60 Minutes has reported on price fixing of prescription drugs. Last May, correspondent Lesley Stahl reported from Rockford, Illinois, an industrial town that paid the healthcare costs of its employees, rather than use an insurance company. Stahl reported, the mayor of Rockford realized his town was bleeding money because their pharmaceutical costs were skyrocketing. He said he couldn't hire police and firefighters because of prescription drug bills to the city.

    "Everybody's asking the question, 'Why is health care so expensive?' Because the fix is in," Rockford's mayor Larry Morrissey said. "That's the answer." Morrissey said Rockford's prescription spending largely came down to one brand-name drug: Acthar, a drug used to treat a rare condition called infantile spasms. In 2001, Acthar sold for about $40 a vial. By 2018, it sold for more than $40,000—an increase of 100,000 percent.

    The complaint Maine joined, lays out an interconnected web of industry executives where these competitors met with each other during industry dinners, "girls nights out", lunches, cocktail parties, golf outings and communicated via frequent telephone calls, emails and text messages that sowed the seeds for their illegal agreements.

    Throughout the complaint, defendants use terms like "fair share," "playing nice in the sandbox," and "responsible competitor" to describe how they unlawfully discouraged competition, raised prices and enforced an ingrained culture of collusion.

    The lawsuit seeks damages, civil penalties and actions by the court to restore competition to the generic drug market.

    The complaint is the second to be filed in an ongoing, expanding investigation that the Connecticut Office of the Attorney General has referred to as possibly the largest cartel case in the history of the United States.

    The first complaint, still pending in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, was filed in 2016 and now includes 18 corporate defendants, two individual defendants, and 15 generic drugs. Two former executives from Heritage Pharmaceuticals, Jeffery Glazer and Jason Malek, have entered into settlement agreements and are cooperating with the Attorneys General working group in that case.

    In addition to Maine and Connecticut, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Puerto Rico joined the suit.

    Corporate Defendants
    1. Teva Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
    2. Sandoz, Inc.
    3. Mylan Pharmaceuticals Inc.
    4. Actavis Holdco US, Inc.
    5. Actavis Pharma, Inc. 6. Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    7. Apotex Corp.
    8. Aurobindo Pharma U.S.A., Inc.
    9. Breckenridge Pharmaceutical, Inc.
    10. Dr. Reddy's Laboratories, Inc.
    11. Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Inc. USA
    12. Greenstone LLC
    13. Lannett Company, Inc.
    14. Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    15. Par Pharmaceutical Companies, Inc.
    16. Pfizer, Inc.
    17. Taro Pharmaceuticals USA, Inc.
    18. Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC
    19. Wockhardt USA, LLC
    20. Zydus Pharmaceuticals (USA), Inc.

    Individual defendants
    1. Ara Aprahamian, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Taro Pharmaceuticals U.S.A, Inc.
    2. David Berthold, Vice President of Sales at Lupin Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    3. James Brown, Vice President of Sales at Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    4. Maureen Cavanaugh, former Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, North America, for Teva
    5. Marc Falkin, former Vice President, Marketing, Pricing and Contracts at Actavis
    6. James Grauso, former Senior Vice President, Commercial Operations for Aurobindo from December 2011 through January 2014. Since February 2014, Grauso has been employed as the Executive Vice President, N.A. Commercial Operations at Glenmark
    7. Kevin Green, former Director of National Accounts at Teva from January 2006 through October 2013. Since November 2013, Green has worked at Zydus Pharmaceuticals (USA) Inc. as the Vice President of Sales
    8. Armando Kellum, former Vice President, Contracting and Business Analytics at Sandoz
    9. Jill Nailor, Senior Director of Sales and National Accounts at Greenstone
    10. James Nesta, Vice President of Sales at Mylan
    11. Kon Ostaficiuk, the President of Camber Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
    12. Nisha Patel, former Director of Strategic Customer Marketing and later, Director of National Accounts at Teva.
    13. David Rekenthaler, former Vice President, Sales US Generics at Teva
    14. Richard Rogerson, former Executive Director of Pricing and Business Analytics at Actavis
    15. Tracy Sullivan DiValerio, Director of National Accoun

  • Mills signs Executive Order creating ATV task force

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    For thousands of Mainers who love to take peaceful walks, hikes, bike or ride horses along paths the Excutive Order Governor Mills signed creating a Task Force to investage the growing number of incidents where ATV riders break laws is long overdue, but very welcome.

    ATV riders are creating dangerous climates and pose a threat to others who wish to enjoy the outdoors, as well as to themselves. Preventable deaths have increased because of careless and negligent riding.

    On May 1, 2019 Gov. Janet Mills signed an Executive Order to create the All-Terrain Vehicle Initiatives Task Force. Although there are many ATV users who are operating on public and private lands responsibly, the Task Force comes at a time when there are other ATV operators who are disobeying state laws and trespassing on and damaging private lands, causing private landowners to consider posting their land which would jeopardize Maine’s long-held tradition of open access and threaten the state’s recreational economy. Governor Mills’ Executive Order establishes the Task Force to evaluate and recommend policy changes that will protect private lands and help preserve outdoor recreation opportunities, like ATV use, and their economic benefits.

    “Maine’s many responsible ATV users should not have to pay the price for the actions of a few irresponsible actors. But that may be the case unless we act,” said Governor Mills. “Maine has a proud history of outdoor recreational activity, and I want to ensure it stays that way. This Task Force will help preserve our traditions and their substantial economic contributions while also protecting public and private lands.”

    “Maine is well known for its network of ATV trails and the tradition of landowners allowing recreational access for offroad vehicles,” said Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Commissioner Judy Camuso. “The ATV task force is designed to ensure that the concerns of private landowners are addressed, in order to continue Maine’s tradition of landowners and land users working together to enjoy Maine’s outdoor recreational opportunities.” 

    ATV Maine, Maine Woodland Owners, and the Maine Forest Products Council expressed support for the Task Force, “ATV Maine commends Governor Mills for her Executive Order creating the Task Force. ATVs are an economic boost for Maine’s rural economy and another avenue for folks to enjoy Maine’s great outdoors,” said Ed Pineau of ATV Maine. “We appreciate and look forward to working with Maine’s landowners, large and small who generously allow trails on their properties. We look forward to serving on and working with the Governor to promote our industry for the benefit of Maine’s Environment and her citizens.”

     “We support a complete review of the ATV trail system in Maine,” said Tom Doak, Executive Director of the Maine Woodland Owners. “That system relies largely on the willingness of private landowners to allow access.  The growth in ATV use, size and weight of machines, and expansion of the trail network requires a fresh look.”

    “The large landowner representatives of the Maine Forest Products Council appreciate Governor Mills' leadership in creating the ATV Task Force,”said Patrick Strauch, Executive Director of the Maine Forest Products Council.  “The expansion of trails and increased size of ATVs is leading to serious concerns about property damage, environmental harm and safety in Maine's working forests. We look forward to working with the Task Force on these challenging issues.” 

    The Task Force is charged with:

    • Discussing creating an ATV trail system with consideration to ATV size, weight, environmental impact and other relevant factors;
    • Discussing construction and maintenance standards for Maine’s ATV trail system;
    • Creating a plan to enforce compliance of trail construction and maintenance by the State, including discussion of third-party inspections;
    • Creating a communication and outreach plan for the Maine ATV trial system to include a focus on landowner considerations designed to educate the public on responsible ATV operation
    • Discuss ATV registration requirements based on size, width, weight and/or value; and
    • Discuss the adequacy of funding for the oversight, construction and maintenance of the ATV trail network.

     

    The fourteen-member Task Force will be appointed by the governor and will represent large forest landowners, a statewide forest products organization, a statewide small family woodlot organization, large farmland owner, statewide farming organization, utility corridor right-away owner, land trust organization, statewide ATV organization, combination ATV/snowmobile club, Maine ATV dealer, statewide snowmobile organization, the Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry ATV program, and the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (IFW) Landowner Relations Program. It will be chaired jointly by the Commissioner of IFW and a member representing a large-forest or farmland owner. The specific members of the Task Force have not yet been appointed.

    The Task Force will submit its recommendations to Governor Mills on or before January 1, 2020, after which the Task Force will dissolve.

  • Coast Guard ice breaker on Kennebec River, Maine

    The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay started its annual mission to break up the ice on Maine's waterways on March 21, 2019. They moved the ice-breaking operation up by about four days because of an early spring storm that will hit the region by March 22, Friday morning.

  • Misleading Flyer Regarding Vaccines Warns Maine CDC


    02/11/2019
     

    The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is warning Mainers of a flyer appearing to come from the federal Center for Disease Control. The flyer claims to outline a list of "known vaccine side effects" without providing references or citing any sources. Additionally, the website listed as CDC.org is not an active website, nor is it supported by the federal CDC. The flyers are known to have been circulating through big box stores in Southern Maine. Be advised that these flyers were not issued or endorsed by the Maine CDC or federal CDC.

    "Misleading flyers such as these are concerning &emdash; especially when that information pertains to something as important to public health as vaccines," said Maine CDC Director Dr. Bruce Bates. "I encourage anyone who comes across one of these flyers to disregard it."

    Example">https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/images/misleading-flyer.jpg">Example of the flyer.

    In the United States, vaccines are thoroughly tested and then continuously monitored to ensure ongoing safety. Immunizing yourself and your children will help protect you, them, and your community from contracting vaccine-preventable diseases.

    For information regarding vaccine side effects, please visit: www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/side-effects.htm

    For information regarding Maine's Immunization Program, please visit:www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/immunization/

  • Network upgrades will cause half-day closures of Maine BMV offices

    02/11/2019 

    The 13 branch offices of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles will be closed for half days on various dates throughout February and March, to allow for computer and phone system upgrades. 

    The upgrades are part of the State of Maine Office of Information Technology "Maine Network Modernization Project," which will improve wireless security and networking equipment, as well as upgrade all telephones to VOIP. The entire State of Maine Wide Area Network is in the process of being upgraded by OIT and encompasses more than 390 sites. The work will result in infrastructure improvements that will allow for easier upgrades in the future, improved ability to bypass outage points, and better security overall.

    BMV branch closures are scheduled for 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., allowing customers an opportunity to conduct business at the branch on the same day, from 1 p.m. until it closes at 4:30 p.m.

    **Link to table of BMV Branch Closures Schedule**https://www.maine.gov/sos/news/2019/bmvhalfdayclosures.html The Department of the Secretary of State will post updates and reminders about the closure dates on its social media accounts, @MESecofState on Twitter and "Maine Department of the Secretary of State" on Facebook. Customers can also call the main office to check on the closure dates and times, at 207-626-8400. For more information about the Maine Network Modernization Project, please contact David Heidrich, OIT director of communications, in the Office of the Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services via email
  • It is time for Maine to recover from the opioid epidemic and become whole again

    OpED by Governor Janet Mills

    When I took office, I gave my word to Mainers suffering from substance use disorder. I told them that they are not alone. I told them that, together, we will do everything in our power to bring them back, to make our communities, our families, and our state whole once again.

    Since I took office, the Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith and my cabinet have identified immediate steps we will take to address the opioid epidemic.

    This last week, I directed my Administration to implement specific actions to address the crisis. I signed my second Executive Order: AN ORDER TO IMPLEMENT IMMEDIATE RESPONSES TO MAINE’S OPIOID EPIDEMIC.

    This Executive Order, effective immediately, defines a number of separate but related actions that will be taken by my Administration, right now.

    These actions will save lives, they will help protect our children and young adults from the appeal of dangerous drugs, they will ensure that Mainers suffering from substance use disorder in our emergency rooms, our jails, and on our streets will find the resources they need to recover and rebuild their lives and become productive citizens of Maine again.

    These actions will supplement the vigorous efforts of law enforcement at all levels who are stemming the tide of drug trafficking into Maine that is fueling this epidemic.

    And, as noted explicitly in this Executive Order, the actions undertaken by the Administration will be done with a view towards reducing the stigma associated with substance use disorders.

    You know, in the past five years, more than one thousand six hundred thirty people in Maine have died from drug overdose – more than the population of Chesterville, or Eastport or North Berwick. 418 people in 2017 alone – more than one a day.

    And just last year, 908 babies were born in Maine affected by drugs.

    The time for action is now.

    We will put the full force of this Administration behind those families who have lost loved ones, businesses who have lost valued employees, and all communities diminished by this public health crisis.

    In addition to the Executive Order, I’m signing a financial order authorizing the purchase of 35,000 doses of Naloxone for distribution to locations determined by our Department of Health and Human Services.

    This life-saving drug will go to hospital emergency rooms, needle exchange programs, public health units, peer recovery centers, emergency responders and many other appropriate locations.

    Federal funds to pay for this purchase are already available in the office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services.

    Mainers with substance use disorder, their families and friends, should have access to the training to safely administer this life-saving drug while we work to address the opioid epidemic. 

    Now, it is not enough to prevent Mainers from dying of a drug overdose. We also have to help people turn their lives arounds after they’ve been saved.

    So across the country and in Maine, the use of recovery coaches has had a positive impact on addressing the opioid epidemic and helping in long-term recovery.

    I have directed the DHHS staff to recruit and train two hundred and fifty qualified recovery coaches.

    I’ve also directed them to fund a full-time recovery coach in up to ten emergency departments in the state.

    And these initiatives will be paid for with existing funds-federal funds- available through the Department.

    We will also reinforce programs for Medication Assisted Treatment in the jails. Commissioner Randy Liberty is committed to piloting a Medication Assisted Treatment project in the prisons.

    Mainers working to rebuild their lives after incarceration should not have to face the additional battle of combating addiction alone. 

    So this Executive Order I have signed is just the start of a series of actions that my Administration – in partnership with the Legislature, with public health community members, with law enforcement and many others – will take in the coming months.

    It is time for our state to recover and become whole once again.

  • Maine Alert to Corporations and Non-Profits Regarding Misleading Solicitations

    Maine corporations have recently received misleading solicitation mailings from a business operating under the name Workplace Compliance Services. These mailings include an offer to file annual reports for the corporation, for a $160 fee.

    Please be advised that the form provided by Workplace Compliance Services is not prescribed or recognized by the Maine Department of the Secretary of State and this mailing does not come from the department’s Division of Corporations.

    The “solicitation form” looks similar to the Division of Corporations’ annual report form, so although the solicitation correctly states that Workplace Compliance Services is not a government agency, some corporations have confused the form for the prescribed annual report. Maine corporations have received similar solicitations in recent years from entities operating under various names.

    Please be advised that the Division of Corporations does not mail out the annual report form. The legal deadline to file the 2019 annual reports with the Secretary of State’s office is June 1, 2019 and corporate entities can file those reports online beginning Jan. 1, 2019.

    Any corporation that has questions about the solicitation or form is encouraged to obtain advice from its lawyer or business advisor. In addition, those with questions can contact the Maine Division of Corporations at (207) 624-7752 for information about corporate annual report and other business entity filing requirements under Maine law.

  • Toxic algae in Florida offer valuable lessons for protecting Maine waters

    Consistent, sound science is needed to manage harmful algal blooms, and monitoring, prediction and education efforts are critical but sorely underfunded.

    Microscopic algae in our oceans do much of the hard work that makes life on Earth possible. These tiny plants feed our oceans, clean our atmosphere and provide half of the oxygen we breathe. We simply wouldn’t be here without them.

    Yet, hundreds of species of algae also produce toxins that are harmful to people and the environment. When large numbers of these species grow, or bloom, toxins can move up the food web and have costly effects on wildlife, human health, seafood industries and tourism. I spent a decade studying harmful algae in Florida and saw firsthand the devastation that blooms can cause to the environment, the economy and the psyche of a region.

    The water conditions and physics of the Gulf of Mexico make it naturally prone to harmful algal blooms. Human activities, however, have arguably made these blooms much worse over time. Nitrogen-rich runoff from the land can act as fertilizer in the ocean and cause toxic algae to multiply. When ocean currents concentrate these cells, the algae can start killing fish. This releases more of the normally scarce nitrogen into the ocean, further fertilizing the blooms and creating a self-perpetuating cycle.

    The current “red tide” in Florida illustrates the need for consistent, sound science to manage harmful algal blooms. Monitoring, prediction and education are critical, yet the funds for these activities are scarce. Only about half of the years in the past decade saw federal funding for new research into the ecology and oceanography of harmful algal blooms. This is not enough, especially considering the major changes and challenges affecting our oceans.

    The combined effects of climate change, wastewater treatment, fertilizer runoff and coastal development have compromised the resiliency of the Gulf of Mexico. While much of the Maine coast sharply contrasts the highly developed coast of Florida, climate change is causing the Gulf of Maine to rapidly warm and acidify. This has introduced a lot of uncertainty about what the future looks like and made it clear that the past is no longer a useful guide. While we don’t yet know what the long-term impact of climate change will be on Gulf of Maine algae, we do know it is already changing the species, frequency, timing and magnitude of harmful blooms.

    Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences helps the Maine Department of Marine Resources monitor shellfish for the toxins created by harmful algal species, informing decisions on how to manage fisheries. This careful monitoring ensures that the seafood you buy at the store or order at a restaurant is safe to eat, but temporary fishery closures can have significant economic impacts on shellfish farmers and harvesters.

    We must continue to protect people’s health and the environment while developing new methods that better protect our coastal economy and the livelihoods of the many Mainers who rely on it. There is great potential in expanding use of the data from Maine’s monitoring programs to forecast blooms. Genetic surveys of seawater could help reveal what is happening with these harmful algae, and there are effective autonomous monitoring solutions that could be deployed throughout the Gulf of Maine to provide an early warning system. Bigelow scientists are also helping develop easy-to-use genetic testing methods for harmful species and contributing to citizen science efforts for monitoring and public education.

    Moving these efforts forward at the pace required to keep up with the rate of environmental change will require federal agencies to increase funding, and voters to elect representatives who understand the importance of scientific research. We have an opportunity in Maine to mitigate the threat of increased harmful algal blooms before it grows to be the size of the problem facing Florida.

  • RiverWalk in Waterville, Maine open to the public, made possible with Land and Water Conservation Funds

    The Two Cents Bridge in Watervile, Maine got it's name from the toll charged to workers who had to cross the river to work in the factories. It's construction is unique in wire bridges and give thrills to those who cross over as the wind sways the structure. Photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramone du Houx

    Colorful paths at the RiverWalk at the Head of Falls have transformed the disused waterfront near the Two Cents Bridge in Waterville, Maine.

    The pathways circle around connecting Waterville back to it's historic past of life along the riverfront. There is even a conduit for electricity to an outdoor amphitheater, which will host performances of locals as well as invited entertainers and speakers. The theme of the RiverWalk is “Waterville’s Return to the River.”

    The RiverWalk was designed by Mitchell & Associates of Portland, was funded with many differnt donations and grants. The Waterville Rotary Club in 2015 gave the lead gift of $150,000 for the RiverWalk project as a way of celebrating its centennial. City councilors accepted $50,000 from the Waterville Development Corp., and that funding was part of $300,000 the city raised locally to match a $300,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Then other donations came in. 

    "Without the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) projects that are vital to communities around Maine might never be funded. The LWCF is often used to get matching funds. We, as veterans, owe it to our country to stand up and defend LWCF for future generations," said State Rep. Robert Alley who recently signed a letter with 80 lawmakers who are veterans to help reauthorize the LWCF. "Our lands are our cultural heritage. Maine's economy depends on our wonderful natural places, that have received funds from LWCF. I'm proud to stand with my fellow brothers and sisters to ensure the fund is reauthorized. Waterville's creative economy is growing, in part, because of LWCF funds."

    The city several years ago installed water, sewer, electricity and parking at Head of Falls, which is off Front Street. With the aide of community block grants, the Department of Economic and Community Development's help during the Baldacci administration, the city, and private donations in 2010 the city built a plaza west of the Two Cent Bridge that includes benches, an informational kiosk, a walkway and landscaping.

    Though the RiverWalk is open to the public, workers are still completing some work. A dedication ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. on October 6, 2018 featuring former U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell, who lived in Waterville when he was a young, as he principle speaker at the ceremony.

    Waterville owns 14 acres at Head of Falls, and officials believe that the RiverWalk will be the catalyst for more development on the riverfront, which connects with Kennebec Messalonskee Trails. Features will include interpretive signs along the boardwalk for people to read about the river, native Americans and the log drive which ended in the late 1970s along the Kennebec.

    Mountians in Maine near Waterville, photo by Ramona du Houx

  • Maine's Oxford Water District to receive a USDA Water and Waste Disposal Loan

    By Ramona du Houx

    Maine's Oxford Water District will receive a Water and Waste Disposal Loan in the amount of $500,000, adding a 15-horsepower well pump and an aeration system. The District also will modify the well pump and interior/exterior piping, make electrical upgrades, and add integration controls to reduce acidity levels. These upgrades will help reduce corrosiveness, decrease lead and copper levels, and provide for redundancy in the event of extended power outages. This funding will help the District to provide safe clean drinking water to its 398 users.

    USDA Rural Development State Director Timothy P. Hobbs said, “USDA Rural Development is a major partner in ensuring that Maine’s rural communities have access to clean drinking water and properly working wastewater infrastructure. I am pleased that we could assist Oxford Water District with key upgrades to its infrastructure, helping it to continue to provide reliable quality drinking water for the community.”

    Eligible rural communities and water districts can apply online for funding to maintain, modernize or build water and wastewater systems. They can visit the interactive RD Apply tool, or they can apply through one of USDA Rural Development’s state or field offices.

    USDA is providing the funding through the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program. It can be used to finance drinking water, stormwater drainage and waste disposal systems for rural communities with 10,000 or fewer residents.

    Meanwhile cities like Flint, MI are still suffering from lead posioning that could have been avoided. But Flint doesn't have funds for loans.

  • Maine DEP Issues Air Quality Alert for Tuesday, August 7, 2018

     

    Ground-level ozone concentrations will be climbing in Maine on Tuesday and are expected to reach unhealthy levels according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  On Monday afternoon ozone levels began building in the New York City/Long Island Sound area.  Winds are expected to bring these high levels of ozone to Maine and travel down the coast on Tuesday.  A front bringing clouds & showers will be building in from the northwest but is not expected to reach the coast until the evening hours.  Prior to that sunshine along the transport route will further contribute to ozone build up.  In addition, particle pollution levels are expected to be moderate statewide.  Furthermore, heat advisories have been issued by the National Weather Service.  This combination of heat, humidity and poor air quality will exacerbate the effects of each.

    At elevated ozone levels, children, healthy adults who exert themselves, and individuals suffering from a respiratory disease such as asthma, bronchitis or COPD can experience reduced lung function and irritation.  When this happens, individuals may notice a shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, and/or experience an uncomfortable sensation in their chest.

    Some actions you can take to protect your health during periods of unhealthy air quality include:

    • Adjusting your schedule to avoid strenuous outdoor activity during the afternoon.
    • Please consult the Maine CDC website for information on the health impacts of extreme heat and appropriate actions to take (http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/heat/).
    • The Maine CDC Asthma Prevention and Control Program has asthma information available at their web site:http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/population-health/mat/index.htm
    • For more information on asthma control visit EPA's Web sitewww.epa.gov/asthma  to find information about asthma triggers and lessons on asthma management. In addition to those in a sensitive group, sports coaches, elder care workers, nurses and others who are responsible for the welfare of people impacted by poor air quality are urged to use one of the listed tools to follow the Air Quality Forecast:

    For more information call DEP's toll free air quality hotline is 1-800-223-1196 or visitDEP’s air quality web site http://www.maine.gov/dep/air/ozone/.

  • Democrats in Maine stood up for electricity customers-Rep Seth Berry

    Op-ed by Rep. Seth Berry, House chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. Rep. 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.   

    When it comes to our electricity bills, Mainers deserve to be treated with fairness and honesty. It’s a matter of basic trust.  And when that trust was broken several months ago, the Legislature fought back on your behalf.

    I’m Representative Seth Berry of Bowdoinham, and I’m the co-chair of the Energy Committee, which oversees all the utilities in our state.

    Shortly after the big windstorm last October, Central Maine Power customers began to complain about unusually large bills. Many people’s bills doubled or tripled – even the bills of some people who were without power for over a week because of the storm.

    As my colleagues and I began to investigate, hold hearings and ask questions, it became clear that something had gone very wrong. State regulators backed up our conclusion when they opened a formal investigation, and now there is a class action lawsuit alleging that nearly 300,000 homes and businesses may have been overcharged.

    We also discovered something else strange and disturbing – the law on the books said that you, the electricity customer, had to pay for regulators to investigate the electric companies, even if that investigation found the company at fault.

    To understand how unfair that is, imagine someone robs your house, and then you get a bill in the mail from the police after they catch the suspect.   

    That’s why my committee got to work on changing the law. Democrats worked hard to convince our Republican colleagues that this was the right thing to do.

    And I’m proud to say that – after a long negotiation – we were successful. The new law – called “the Riley Amendment” after Representative Tina Riley of Jay – allows Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to start charging power company shareholders – and not customers – for investigations when the company is at fault.

    It also allows the PUC to establish independent audits, so that we can keep a close eye on the power companies’ meters and billing systems to make sure you’re not being overcharged. 

    When it comes to consumer protection, there’s still a long way to go. But I’m proud of the steps we took, and I’m looking forward to doing more. 

    Maine families and small businesses watch every penny, whether we’re trying to cool down our homes in the summer or keep the furnace going in the winter. Those efforts to save money should be respected – not wiped away by a computer glitch.

    As we look ahead to a new legislature and a new governor next year, we need to make sure our incoming leaders are people who will stand up for you when a large corporation treats you unfairly. Democrats will be there fighting to make sure all utilities put their customers first.

  • Maine Gov. LePage vetoes Gatttine’s bill to treat opioid addiction - legislature could over ride veto

    Bill sets up pilot treatment program for the homeless

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    On July 2, 2018 Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the Homeless Opioid Users Service Engagement Pilot (H.O.U.S.E.), a bill sponsored by Rep. Drew Gattine to help Maine's most vulnerable victims of the opioid epidemic.

    “In 2017, we lost 418 Mainers to the opioid epidemic. Things continue to get worse and it is hard to imagine why the governor would exercise his veto authority in such a heartless way. Opioid addiction has unique and particularly devastating impacts on Mainers who are already vulnerable and at risk, like the homeless,” said Rep. Gattine, D-Westbrook. “The pilot project in this bill is critical to finding the best way to help them.”

    H.O.U.S.E. is a pilot project that provides low-barrier treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery and create stability for 25 opioid users who are among the most vulnerable and unstable in Maine, including homeless, uninsured, underinsured and unemployed and are among the highest utilizers of inpatient hospital services and criminal justice system.

    Homeless individuals will have access to a “medication first” system of low-barrier Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and rapid housing with a creative menu of options to best meet the individual’s need and ensure paths to recovery. The bill had overwhelming support from the law enforcement, medical and treatment communityiesand received bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.

    “These are people who struggle every day to meet their most basic needs of food and shelter, and simply offering traditional treatment in traditional settings is an inadequate approach to helping them manage and maintain recovery,” said Rep. Gattine. “We need to meet them where they are to have a chance to really help them. To do anything less is a death sentence. I hope the Legislature is able to override this senseless veto.” 

    The vote on the bill was unanimous in the House and 16-15 in the Senate.

    The Legislature is expected to vote on overriding the veto when it convenes on Monday, July 9.  It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto.

    Gattine represents part of Westbrook and is in his third term in the Legislature. He serves as the House chair of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee.

  • Maine DEP Issues Air Quality Alert for Tuesday, July 3, 2018

    Ground-level ozone concentrations will be climbing in Maine on Tuesday July 3, 2018 and are expected to reach unhealthy levels according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). 

    The major heat wave hitting the Northeast combined with prime ozone formation conditions have spared Maine for several days. However, Tuesday ozone levels are predicted to be into the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range for the coast from Kittery through Acadia NP. Moderate levels of ozone are expected for the interior regions and the Downeast Coastal region.  Particle pollution levels will be Moderate statewide.

    Ozone levels reached unhealthy levels in the Great Lakes region several days ago.  As the High Pressure settled over New England those levels were transported eastward into the Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England states and ozone levels have been unhealthy for the last two days.  Convective systems have been directing cleaner air to Maine and holding off these high levels of ozone but that will change on Tuesday.

    At elevated ozone levels, children, healthy adults who exert themselves, and individuals suffering from a respiratory disease such as asthma, bronchitis or COPD can experience reduced lung function and irritation.  When this happens, individuals may notice a shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, and/or experience an uncomfortable sensation in their chest.

    Some actions you can take to protect your health during periods of unhealthy air quality include:

    • Adjusting your schedule to avoid strenuous outdoor activity during the afternoon.
    • Please consult the Maine CDC website for information on the health impacts of extreme heat and appropriate actions to take (http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/environmental-health/heat/).
    • The Maine CDC Asthma Prevention and Control Program has asthma information available at their web site:http://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/population-health/mat/index.htm
    • For more information on asthma control visit EPA's Web sitewww.epa.gov/asthma  to find information about asthma triggers and lessons on asthma management. In addition to those in a sensitive group, sports coaches, elder care workers, nurses and others who are responsible for the welfare of people impacted by poor air quality are urged to use one of the listed tools to follow the Air Quality Forecast:
    • DEP's toll free air quality hotline is 1-800-223-1196

    For more information call the contacts listed above or go to DEP’s air quality web sitehttp://www.maine.gov/dep/air/ozone/ .

  • Rep. Alley’s bill for longtime Maine Downeast employees approved by Appropriations Committee

    By Ramona du Houx

      Rep. Robert Alley’s bill to protect longtime employees of the Downeast Correctional Facility earned unanimous approval on June 11, 2018 from the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, Appropriations.

    The bill LD 177, will allow employees with over 25 years of service but who have not yet reached retirement age to retire without a penalty.

    “There are a number of employees who have worked there for more than 25 years, yet have not attained the state minimum age of retirement,” said Alley, D-Beals. “They have set down strong roots in their communities and have few options. This bill would allow them to retire without having to pay the substantial penalty for early retirement.”

    Alley’s bill is now part of the compromise spending package included in LD 925, which earned unanimous support from the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. 

    The bill will be considered by the full Legislature during the special session on June 19,2018.

    “I hope when the Legislature meets we will  finally pass this bill,” Alley said. “We are only talking about a few people, and we owe these loyal, long-term employees who have given the best years of their working lives in service to the state at least this much.”

    Alley is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents Addison, Beals, Cherryfield, Columbia, Columbia Falls, Harrington, Jonesboro, Jonesport, Marshfield, Milbridge and Whitneyville. He serves on the Marine Resources Committee and the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.

     

  • Secretary Dunlap adds animation, final rules to ranked-choice website, begins outreach tour

    The final rules governing the tabulation of ranked-choice voting ballots are now available on the Maine Department of the Secretary of State website, along with an animated video that shows how the tabulation will work. On June 12, 2018, this method of voting will be used for the first time ever in a statewide election as voters cast their ballots in the Primary Election.

    “These are the final components of our ranked-choice voting resources webpage, which we are providing so that voters can educate themselves about this new process before going to the polls or marking their absentee ballots,” said Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. “I also look forward to meeting with voters to discuss this information with them during my visits this month.”

    The RCV Resources page offers several informational resources for voters who are seeking to educate themselves about ranked-choice voting:

    • The final version of the rules that will govern tabulation of the votes
    • An animation explaining how the ranked-choice ballot can be marked and the tabulation
    • Sample ballots for the four ranked-choice voting races
    • Sample marked ballots with explanations of how such markings will be tabulated
    • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
    • A printable PDF “RCV Fact Sheet” for voters to review and share with others
    • An implementation plan showing the department’s progress and preparation
    • A timeline showing how the State of Maine came to use this voting method

    In addition to these resources online, Secretary Dunlap will be offering an educational presentation and QnA session in five public outreach events this month:

    • Biddeford: Monday, May 14, 4-6 p.m., McArthur Public Library, 270 Main Street
    • Bangor: Tuesday, May 15, 4-6 p.m., Bangor Public Library, 145 Harlow Street
    • Presque Isle: Monday, May 21, 4-6 p.m., Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Public Library, 39 2nd Street
    • Lewiston: Tuesday, May 29, 4-6 p.m. Lewiston Public Library, 200 Lisbon St.
    • Online via Facebook LIVE on Thursday, May 24 at 6 p.m., on the Maine Department of the Secretary of State Facebook page.
  • Belfast, Maine looking for citizens to assist broadband planning efforts through survey

    The Belfast Broadband Committee is asking people who live and/or work in Belfast to fill out a brief survey regarding internet service, which will help the City of Belfast in its current broadband internet planning efforts.

    In 2017, the City of Belfast was selected by the ConnectME Authority to receive a $15,000 Community Broadband Planning Grant, and the City hired Axiom Technologies as a consultant to assist with the implementation of that planning grant.  Part of those grant funds, along with additional funds from the City of Belfast, are being used to implement, promote, and analyze a survey, one which will help the City of Belfast understand concerns regarding internet service, the costs of current internet service, where service gaps may be present, and what needs exist regarding future connectivity.

    According to Belfast Economic Development Director Thomas Kittredge, “The Mayor and the City Council have previously recognized that the accessibility (or lack thereof) of broadband internet is a significant factor for both community development and for business development.  These surveys are a crucial step in gathering the critical information that the City of Belfast needs to be able to make informed plans that will address accessibility to broadband internet throughout the community.”

    There are two different types of surveys, both of which are available online at www.cityofbelfast.org/broadband - 1) a Belfast Community Internet Survey (for those who live in Belfast or who have a home-based business in Belfast); and 2) a Belfast Business Internet and Workforce Needs Survey (for those who work at a location in Belfast that is used exclusively for business).  (For those whom both of those situations apply, the City of Belfast Broadband Committee is encouraging those people to complete and return one of each type of survey.)

    For those who are unable to access or to fill out a survey online, they can also pick up and return a print version of the survey, at either the Office of the City Manager at Belfast City Hall (131 Church Street, Belfast), or at the Belfast Free Library (106 High Street, Belfast), during each facility's normal business hours.  The City of Belfast is asking that surveys (whether online or print version) be completed and returned by Monday, June 4th, 2018.  Any questions or concerns regarding the survey should be directed to the City of Belfast Broadband Committee via e-mail at broadband@cityofbelfast.org or via phone at (207) 338-3370, extension 116.

    The ConnectME Authority (www.maine.gov/connectme) is a public instrumentality of Maine state government whose mission is to facilitate the universal availability of broadband to all Maine households and businesses and help them understand the valuable role it can play in enriching their lives and helping their communities thrive.  The Authority’s duties include establishing criteria defining unserved and underserved areas, promoting the use of broadband service, supporting broadband investment, facilitating state support of deployment of broadband infrastructure, collecting and disseminating information, and administering funds.

     

    Axiom Technologies (www.connectwithaxiom.com) is an internet service provider based in Machias, Maine.  Axiom’s mission is to deliver strategic and customized rural broadband deployment solutions to remote communities everywhere.

  • Mainers Call for Removal of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator

    By Ramona du Houx

    On May 3, 2018 health experts, elected officials, businesspeople, affected citizens, conservation leaders, and others called for the removal of Scott Pruitt as Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

    Senator Angus King has said, “My fundamental problem with him is that he just doesn’t believe in the mission of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

    The group released a letter signed by more than 1,000 people to President Trump saying that Administrator Pruitt is “unfit to lead this important agency that protects our public health and the air, water, lands, and climate that are vital for our nation’s economy and the quality of life of all American citizens.” Copies of the letter were delivered to Maine’s Congressional delegation. Maine Congresswoman Chellie Pingress has called on Pruitt to step down.

    Climate change is wreaking havoc on our Gulf of Maine fisheries. Sea levels are rising faster than predicted. Tick-borne diseases, exacerbated by warming, are on the rise. Extreme weather is battering Maine more frequently and ferociously. Pruitt deneys climate change is happening.

    "This is serious, the Gulf of Maine is warming and lobsters are moving north. This effects Maine's economy. We need someone to protect our assests not destroy them," said Rep. Robert S. Duchesne. "We've fought hard to protect Maine. The fight continues - Pruitt needs to be removed."

    EPA chief Pruitt currently is the subject of 11 federal investigations for violating ethics rules, abusing taxpayer funds, and breaking federal laws. Some examples include the purchase of a $43,000 secure phone booth, a sweet-heart deal condominium rental agreement with an energy lobbyist, extravagant travel costs, and accusations that he demoted, reassigned, or fired EPA employees who questioned his actions. 

    “Administrator Pruitt is flagrantly abusing his position, wasting taxpayer money, breaking federal law, and committing serious ethics violations,” said NRCM Federal Project Director Emmie Theberge. “But his war on ‘Environmental Protection,’ the mission of the EPA, is the primary reason why Scott Pruitt should be removed. Maine needs an EPA Administrator who will work to protect the clean air and clean water that are so vital to our economy, health, and quality of life. Mr. Pruitt is hostile toward EPA’s mission and is determined to weaken the nation’s most important environmental protections.”  

    Mainers breathe polluted air carried here on prevailing winds and air pollution generated here, too. As a result, Maine people suffer with among the highest rates of asthma in the nation. Pruitt is fighting to block standards that would reduce air pollution from cars and from power plants. 

    “While EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been plagued by ethics scandals, he has also tried to dismantle protections for our air, water, and climate that harm the health of all Mainers,” said Dr. Noah Nesin, MD, a family doctor. “We rely on the EPA to protect Maine people and communities from toxic chemicals, air pollution, and water pollution.For the health of my paitents, my children and all Mainers Scott needs to be replaced with someone who can and will.”

    Speakers at a news conference focused on six areas in which Administrator Pruitt is violating the public trust and undermining the role of the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the group:

    •  Pruitt favors polluters over people
    •  Pruitt is dismantling environmental protections
    •  Pruitt cuts deals with industry cronies
    •  Pruitt wastes taxpayer money
    •  Pruitt operates in secrecy
    •  Pruitt has declared war on science

    Based on these concerns, the group believes that Scott Pruitt cannot be trusted to protect our air, water, and health from polluters and that he should be removed from the EPA.

    “Maine’s clean environment is the top attraction for the visitors who support Maine’s tourism industry. Our environment fuels tourism jobs like mine and thousands of others,” said Jim Glavine, a Tour Guide for Oli’s Trolleys in Acadia National Park. “Scott Pruitt’s actions undermine our clean air, clean water, and healthy wildlife and people, too. It is time for him to step down and for Maine’s elected leaders to ensure he does so.”

    The letter was signed by many Maine scientists and includes their concern about Administrator Pruitt’s disregard for climate science and apparent belief that climate change may be good.

    As stated in the letter:

    “We are particularly alarmed by Mr. Pruitt’s recent suggestion that climate change may be good for humanity. No reading of the scientific literature can possibly lead one to this conclusion. The consensus view presented in the National Climate Assessment, prepared by our nation’s top climate scientists, paints ominous trends for humans and our planet…. We fundamentally dispute Mr. Pruitt’s notion that such impacts could be good.”

    In recent weeks, 170 members of Congress have called on EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to be removed from office. Senator Susan Collins also has said, “On policy grounds alone I think Scott Pruitt is the wrong person to head the EPA.”

    “Scott Pruitt has failed to protect our environment and the health of the American people, which is his number one job,” said Theberge. “Instead, he has continued his long history of letting polluters off the hook and has packed the EPA with industry lobbyists to push his damaging agenda. Pruitt has failed to live up to the EPA’s mission to protect our health and environment, and instead has put us all in danger. It’s time for Scott Pruitt to go.”

  • Maine's Reps. Berry and Riley issue statements on successfully overriding veto of bill to help with electric bill debt

     by Ramon  du Houx

    Rep. Seth Berry, House chair of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, and Rep. Tiny Riley were sucessful with their bill to extend a program that helps those behind on their electric bills. The House and Senate over rode LePage's veto. The bill became law on May 2, 2018.

     “For some Central Mane Power or Emera Maine customers struggling to pay skyrocketing and questionable electric bills, this bipartisan law will make a world of difference,” said Rep. Berry. “I’m grateful for the work of my entire committee and in particular the work of Reps Riley and Beth O’Connor, as well as Maine Public Advocate, Barry Hobbins.”

    “The final version of this law pulls together resources that will help low-income Mainers get control of their electric bills, which ultimately helps keep rates lower for all electricity customers,” said Riley, a member of the Energy Committee who played a major role drafting the final version of the bill. “That’s a win for all of us.”   

    Lawmakers in the House overrode the veto of LD 1848, An Act To Extend Arrearage Management Programs, by a vote of 147-0. The Senate then overrode the veto 34-0.

    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.   

    Riley is serving her first term in the Maine House. She represents Jay, Livermore Falls and part of Livermore.

  • Maine Joins Coalition of 17 States to Defend National Clean Car Rules

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx
    During the first week in April, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills joined a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to preserve the greenhouse gas emission standards currently in place for model year 2022-2025 vehicles. 
    This 17 state coalition represents approximately 44 percent of the U.S. population and 43 percent of the new car sales market nationally.
    The standards save drivers money at the pump, reduce oil consumption, and curb greenhouse gases.
    "We will not stand quietly by and watch the Trump Administration unwind important federal environmental protections, and these greenhouse gas emission standards for vehicles are critical to curbing the impacts of climate change. Our suit today will ensure EPA does not get away with scrapping these rules when it has no factual or legal basis to do so," said Mills.

    Beginning in 2010, the EPA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and California Air Resources Board established a single national program of greenhouse gas emissions standards for model year 2012-2025 vehicles. This program allows automakers to design and manufacture to a single target. The federal standards the states are suing to protect, for model year 2022-2025 vehicles, are estimated to reduce carbon pollution equivalent to 134 coal power plants burning for a year and to save drivers $1,650 per vehicle.
    At present, the car industry is on track to meet or exceed these standards. Last year, the EPA affirmed these standards were appropriate based on an extensive record of data. On April 13, 2018, however, the EPA, without evidence to support the decision, arbitrarily reversed course and claimed that the greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2022-2025 vehicles should be scrapped.
    The Administration offered no evidence to support this decision and deferred any analysis to a forthcoming rulemaking designed to try to weaken the existing 2022-2025 standards. 
    Today's lawsuit was filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The lawsuit is based on the fact that the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously, failed to follow its own Clean Car regulations, and violated the Clean Air Act.
    Joining Maine in today's lawsuit filing were the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania (also filed by and through its Department of Environmental Protection), Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Minnesota filed by and through its Pollution Control Agency and Department of Transportation.
  • Maine DEP Issues Air Quality Alert for Wednesday, May 2, 2018

     

    AUGUSTA, May 01, 2018 

    Ground-level ozone concentrations will be climbing in Maine on Wednesday and are expected to reach unhealthy levels according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Much of the state is expected to reach higher ozone levels due to a combination of transport, extremely warm temperatures along with little vegetation growth to absorb ozone.  Ozone levels were climbing in Pennsylvania, New York & New Jersey on Tuesday.  This regional load of ozone and its precursors is headed to Maine for Wednesday.  Two regions are expected to only reach the Moderate range: Northern Maine is expecting clouds & showers and winds are less conducive for the Downeast Coastal region.  Particle pollution levels are expected to be in the GOOD range statewide.  High levels of ozone could continue into Thursdayespecially in southern regions of Maine.  That forecast will be finalized by 3 PM on Wednesday.

    At elevated ozone levels, children, healthy adults who exert themselves, and individuals suffering from a respiratory disease such as asthma, bronchitis or COPD can experience reduced lung function and irritation.  When this happens, individuals may notice a shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, and/or experience an uncomfortable sensation in their chest.

    Some actions you can take to protect your health during periods of unhealthy air quality include:

     

    For more information contact Maine DEP or visit the agency's air quality web site:http://www.maine.gov/dep/air/ozone/ .

  • Linn not to be on Maine ballot decides Secretary of State Dunlap

     

     

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, upon reviewing new evidence regarding the candidate petitions of U.S. Senate candidate Max Patrick Linn, has found that Linn has not met the threshold to be eligible for the June 12, 2018 Primary Election ballot.

    Earlier today, Secretary Dunlap re-opened the hearing on a challenge to Linn’s candidate petitions, per order of the Kennebec County Superior Court, to consider new evidence presented by the challenger, David Boyer and the Eric Brakey for Senate campaign, as well as any relevant evidence presented by the candidate.

    After hearing all the evidence presented at the first hearing on Thursday, March 29, as well as the second hearing on Tuesday, April 24, Secretary Dunlap has invalidated 258 of Linn’s original total of 2,248 petition signatures that were initially counted as valid, leaving the candidate with a total of 1,990 valid signatures, which is 10 fewer than the minimum required to qualify for the primary election ballot.

    Due to the ballot printing schedule, the deadline for a candidate to have his or her name removed from the ballot was April 3. Thus, Linn’s name will appear on the ballot, but voters will be provided with notice at the polls informing them that he is no longer a candidate.

    This decision modifies Secretary Dunlap’s previous decision of April 5, when Dunlap found the challenger had presented sufficient evidence to invalidate the signatures of 230 voters but concluded that the petition and consent form still met the legal requirements to allow Linn to appear on the ballot. The Brakey campaign appealed that decision to the Kennebec County Superior Court and subsequently filed a motion to take additional evidence relevant to the challenge. On Friday, April 20, Justice William R. Stokes granted the challenger’s motion and ordered Secretary Dunlap to reopen the challenge hearing to consider new evidence. 

    Justice Stokes is expected to hear oral argument on Wednesday, April 25 at 11 a.m. regarding Secretary Dunlap’s decision.

  • Maine Secretary Dunlap schedules hearing to consider new evidence in Linn petition challenge

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap will revisit the challenge to U.S. Senate candidate Max Patrick Linn’s candidate petitions, per order of the Kennebec County Superior Court, re-opening the hearing to consider new evidence presented by the challenger as well as any relevant evidence presented by the candidate.

    The challenge hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, April 24 in Room 300 of the Cross State Office Building, Augusta.

    The original challenge to Linn’s petitions was filed on behalf of David Boyer and the Eric Brakey for Senate campaign Thursday, March 22, alleging that Linn should be disqualified from appearing on the June 12, 2018 Primary Election ballot.

    Secretary Dunlap presided over the challenge hearing on Thursday, March 29, 2018 in Augusta. In his decision of April 5, Dunlap found the challenger had presented sufficient evidence to invalidate the signatures of 230 voters, but concluded that the petition and consent form still met the legal requirements to allow Linn to appear on the ballot.

    The Brakey campaign appealed the decision to the Kennebec County Superior Court and subsequently filed a motion to take additional evidence relevant to the challenge. On Friday, April 20, Justice William R. Stokes granted the challenger’s motion and ordered Secretary Dunlap to reopen the challenge hearing to consider new evidence. 

    Secretary Dunlap will issue an updated decision, which will be reported to the Court by Wednesday, April 25, along with any additions to the agency record. Justice Stokes is expected to hear oral argument on Wednesday at 11 a.m. and thereafter to issue a decision on the appeal.  

  • Maine’s Growing Hunger - Farm Bill needs to add to SNAP not take away

     

    By Ramona du Houx

    The federal Farm Bill (H.R. 2) that would increase hunger and hardship in Maine and throughout the nation by cutting the effective anti-hunger Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program.

    Maine’s failed experience with similar policies increased hunger in the state, hurting children. Maine now has the 7th highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, dropping from previous year’s ranking even as other states are making progress in alleviating hunger.  

    The Farm Bill is expected to be marked up on Wednesday, April 16, 2018.

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners (MEJP) .

    US Rep. Bruce Poliquin has pushed for including some of the harshest provisions in this bill, such as unrealistic work requirements modeled after Maine’s own failed policies.  

    In a statement last week, Poliquin mischaracterized the real experience of Maine following the institution in 2015 of similar policies under the LePage administration.  Data reveal a starkly different picture of how harmful and ineffective these proposals actually are. 

     MEJP urges Poliquin to take an honest look at Maine’s real experience with these SNAP benefit restrictions. 

    “Maine is absolutely a cautionary tale for the nation because we have already seen that people in our state lost food assistance by the thousands and most didn’t find work,” said Chris Hastedt, policy director for Maine Equal Justice. “Instead, they were left with empty dinner plates and no wages. The promise of how these policies will work and story of what really happened to Maine people are vastly different.”

    MEJP recently published a report, which shows that in the one year period following implementation of this policy, only 4 percent more of the 6,866 people who lost their SNAP benefits for failing to meet the work requirements found jobs (30 percent compared with 34 percent). Even this small gain was likely due to the improving economy. At the end of the year, 66 percent of these individuals remained unemployed, but were also without needed food assistance.

    “Beyond the data, the stories we’ve heard from Mainers who have run up against this complex system tell us that more restrictions in SNAP just add more layers of red tape and bureaucracy. We should be helping to make these programs work better for all of us – not adding hoops to jump through for people who have fallen on hard times," said Robyn Merrill, MEJP’s executive director. 

    The Farm Bill is historically a bipartisan piece of legislation, which addresses hunger and supports farms and rural communities, but the radical changes to SNAP in H.R. 2 threaten to derail bipartisan cooperation and prospects for passage.   

    “Partisan changes to the SNAP program along the lines of Maine’s failed model won’t alleviate hunger or help people find work. They’ll only make it harder for parents, people with disabilities, older workers, low-wage workers and people temporarily in between jobs to get enough to eat. We look forward to working with members of our Congressional delegation to advance proven work-supporting policies and reducing the number of Mainers who are hungry.”

  • Legislation to amend Pharmacy Board Rules concerning Narcan Distribution goes to Maine Governor to sign

     By Ramona du Houx

     An Act To Clarify the Prescribing and Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists is headed to Governor LePage’s desk after it passed unanimously in the Senate. Earlier in the week it passed the House with a strong, bipartisan vote of 132-7.

    The bill will allow for people under the age of 21 to have access to the life-saving drug Narcan. The governor has 10 days in which to take action, by either signing, vetoing or letting go into law without his signature.

    “Overdoses can strike anyone at any time and in every opportunity, we should be trying to save every life possible. My colleagues in the legislature are well aware of this,” said Speaker Gideon. “While the hold-up of narcan dispensation has been beyond frustrating, I want to thank them for advancing this piece of legislation. We can no longer ignore the impact of this epidemic, disregard the underlying causes or the lack of access to needed treatment and clearly, we can no longer delay access to life-saving medicine. I urge the governor to take immediate action.”

    In March of 2018, after an unexplained six-month delay, the Board of Pharmacy finally took action on proposed rules related to the original legislation, LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists. However, due to a last-minute request by Governor LePage, the Board amended the proposed rules to raise the age the anti-overdose drug could be dispensed to 21, from 18 as originally written. Gideon immediately began working on legislation to override this action. 

    The Board of Pharmacy’s public comment period on the rule change closes April 15, 2018. A public hearing on the change was held April 5, with many speaking against the over-21 restriction including the Health Equity Alliance, the Maine Medical Association and number of certified drug and rehabilitation experts. In addition, members of the Legislatures Health and Human Services Committee, the Opioid Task Force and Preble Street Resource Center all submitted written comment in favor of lowering the age of dispensation. 

    “This legislation seeks to redress the previous actions, which had no basis in medical research or expert opinion and directly contradicted legislative intent,” said Gideon. “To truly start combatting this epidemic, we need cooperation and leadership from all branches of government, including the Executive Branch. Every aspect of Maine’s economy, community safety and family stability will continue to suffer if we do not make progress on this crisis.”

    BACKGROUND ON PHARMACY DISTRIBUTION OF NALOXONE

    Lawmakers initially approved making naloxone available without a prescription in April 2016 (LD 1547, An Act To Facilitate Access to Naloxone Hydrochloride). At the request of the Board of Pharmacy, the Legislature clarified the language with an amended bill with the intent that dispensation would begin soon after rulemaking. LD 1594, An Act Regarding the Dispensing of Naloxone Hydrochloride by Pharmacists, was passed by the Legislature in May of 2017.

    The Maine Board of Pharmacy voted unanimously August 3, 2017 to approve rules related to LD 1594. For six months, the rules were stuck in uncertainty due a lack of action from the Executive Branch. Speaker Gideon issued a joint letter with Senator Troy Jackson urging the Board to take action on January 27, 2018. In February 2018, the rules were finally published and a period of public comment began that will close April 15, 2018.

  • Maine Legislation would discourage misuse of personal information on internet

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine House, photo above, voted April 13, 2018 to strengthen internet privacy and review the state’s legal authority to restore net neutrality to Maine. The bipartisan vote was 82-63.

    LD 1610, co-sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows, and Rep. Seth Berry ensures that the state will not do business with internet service providers who misuse users’ personal data and asks the Maine Attorney General’s office to review the state’s authority to address net neutrality under the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

    It prohibits an internet service provider that does business with or receives funding from the state from using, disclosing, selling or permitting access to customer personal information unless they expressly agree to those actions.

     “Maine shouldn’t be doing business with companies who misuse our personal information or who reserve the right to choke off free and open access to the internet,” said Rep. Seth Berry, House chair of the committee and a sponsor of the bill. “This bill is an important way for Maine to stand up to the big telecommunications companies and demand that they act in the public interest.”

    In December of 2017, the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission repealed internet or net neutrality rules that were adopted in 2015. That repeal is scheduled to take effect April 23.

    Net neutrality is the notion that all data should be treated equally, regardless of what the data contains, where it originates or what its destination is.

    “Think of your relationship to your phone company. The phone company lets you call anyone anywhere in the world, but we have laws in place that prohibit it from recording what you say and selling that information to the highest bidder,” said Rep. Heather Sanborn, D-Portland, a member of the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee. “We should have the same rules for your internet service provider, ensuring that the personal information that you have to transmit over the internet cannot be skimmed off and sold without your knowledge. Maine should not be spending any tax dollars on companies who break those rules.”

    The vote on the proposed law, which the Legislature first took up in 2017, comes on the heels of the latest in a string of internet privacy breaches. Last month, news outlets reported that a whistleblower at the embattled data firm Cambridge Analytica alleged that the company misused data it acquired through Facebook to influence election results in the U.S. 

    Rep. Berry represents House District 55. He previously served from 2006-2014, the final two years as House Majority Leader.   Sen. Shenna Bellows is serving her first term in teh Maine State Senate, she previously ran for US Senate.

  • H.O.U.S.E. opioid legislation receives initial support in Maine House

    by ramona du Houx

    Rep. Drew Gattine’s emergency legislation responding to the opioid crisis, LD 1711, Resolve, To Save Lives by Establishing a Homeless Opioid Users Service Engagement Pilot Project (H.O.U.S.E.) received initial support in the Maine House of Representatives on April 9, 2018.

    The vote was 94 - 52.

    The legislation will provide treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery for opioid users who are among the most vulnerable in Maine.

    “We have received absolutely appalling and horrific news - in 2017 we lost 418 Mainers to the opioid epidemic,” said Rep. Gattine. “This crisis is only intensifying and it clear that our response is woefully inadequate. While I appreciate the initial support of this legislation from my colleagues and I will be doing everything I can to see it passed, I hope it is only the beginning of serious action.”

    H.O.U.S.E. is a pilot project that provides low-barrier treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery and create stability for 50 opioid users who are among the most vulnerable and unstable in Maine (homeless, uninsured, underinsured, unemployed polysubstance users) and are among the highest utilizers of inpatient hospital services and criminal justice system.

    Homeless individuals will have access to a “medication first” system of low-barrier Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) and rapid housing with a creative menu of options to best meet the individual’s need and ensure paths to recovery. 

    “The stress this epidemic is putting on treatment resources, and on law enforcement and on every aspect of our social fabric is crippling,” said Gattine. “We need to increase access to treatment. We need to meet people where they are. To do anything less is a death sentence.”

    The legislation was one of the specific unanimous recommendations of the Opioid Task Force.

    Recommendations put forward by the Task Force include improved youth prevention programs, better prevention of prescription drug diversion, access and awareness of affordable treatment options, expanded specialty courts and pre-diversion programs among more than a dozen other areas of focus.

    The measure, LD 1711, faces further votes in Senate. Gattine, chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee, is serving his third term in the Maine House.

  • Maine State Rep. Golden’s bill to help prevent youth suicide becomes law

     

     By Ramona du Houx

    A bill sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, to require public schools to adopt protocols to prevent youth suicide became law on April 3, 2018. It had earlier passed both the Maine House and the Senate unanimously.

    The idea for the bill was brought to Rep. Golden by Matt Graham, who lost a daughter, Anie, to suicide in May 2017. 

    “I am grateful that the Legislature saw the importance of this bill,” Graham said. “I am hopeful that this will help schools deal with at-risk kids and lower the incidence of teen suicide.”

    The bill, LD 1694, requires the state Department of Education to develop rules mandating that school districts adopt suicide prevention protocols based on the most up-to-date best practices. Current rules recommend that schools have these protocols, but only about 25 percent of school districts have done so. The law will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

    “I am proud to work with the Graham family on this important legislation as we continue to try to prevent youth suicide,” said Golden D-Lewiston. “We need to continue to update our practices and policies to make sure we are doing all we can to reduce these tragedies.”

    Rep. Golden is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He is also running for Congress in the 2nd District and faces a primary this June.

  • Alert to Corporations and Non-Profits Regarding Misleading Solicitations in Maine

    From the Secretary of State Matt Dunlap's office:

    Maine corporations have received misleading solicitation mailings again this year from a business operating under the name Maine Council for Corporations. These mailings include an "Annual Records Solicitation Form" and an offer to compile "corporate consent records in lieu of meeting minutes" for a fee of $150.

    Please be advised that the form provided by the Maine Council for Corporations is not prescribed or recognized by the Maine Department of the Secretary of State and this mailing does not come from the department's Division of Corporations. Additionally, the department does not require corporations to file the records that the form describes.

    The "solicitation form" looks similar to the Division of Corporations' annual report form, so although the solicitation correctly states that Maine Council for Corporations is not a government agency, some corporations have confused the form for the prescribed annual report. Maine corporations have received similar solicitations in recent years from Corporate Records Service.

    Please be advised that the Division of Corporations does not mail out the annual report form. The legal deadline to file annual reports with the Secretary of State's office is June 1, and corporate entities can file those reports online at https://icrs.informe.org/nei-sos-icrs/ICRS .

    Any corporation that has questions about the solicitation or form is encouraged to obtain advice from its lawyer or business advisor. In addition, those with questions can contact the Maine Division of Corporations at (207) 624-7752 for information about corporate annual report and other business entity filing requirements under Maine law.

     

  • Rep. Fay’s K-9 emergency treatment bill signed by Maine's governor

    Rep. Jessica Fay’s bill to ensure working and service dogs have more access to emergency care was signed into law by the governor last week.

    The bill clarifies existing Maine law governing treatment of animals by extending Good Samaritan liability protection to cover trained emergency personnel who treat working and service animals in emergency situations.

    “I’d like to thank Governor LePage for signing this common sense piece of legislation,” said Fay, D- Raymond. “These dogs and the people who work with them are absolutely dedicated to each other, and this law will give these specially trained dogs a better chance to survive a serious injury in the field.”

    The bill, LD 1716, “An Act to Protect Persons Who Provide Assistance to Law Enforcement Dogs, Search and Rescue Dogs and Service Dogs” was proposed by law enforcement personnel, and it enjoyed wide bipartisan support.  It will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns.

    Fay is serving her first term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Casco, part of Poland and part of Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

  • Maine judge grants temporary injunction against LePage's shut down of Downeast prison

     By Ramona du Houx

    “I am very relieved that Judge Murphy saw that the governor overstepped his authority when he shut down the facility without legislative approval,” said Rep. Anne Perry, D-Calais. “Downeast was a model for how to reintegrate prisoners into society. They were getting confidence and hope to prepare for life outside of prison. There is a lot of damage to undo from the governor’s action.”

    Perry was talking about the temporary injunction that was granted by Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy against Governor LePage’s attempt to close the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport, Washington County, Maine. When the facility shut its doors by order of LePage the community was shocked. The action was done in the night without any consultation with local authorities.

    “The governor was wrong to close the facility, especially in the underhanded way he did it, and I am glad the judge recognized that,” said Rep. Robert Alley, D-Beals. “Lots of local businesses counted on Downeast employees, but more than that, local businesses and other organizations counted on the prisoners and the work they did in the community.”

    Justice Murphy’s ruling in part noted that: “Given the statutory language requiring the establishment of DCF in Washington County, the Legislature's decision not to continue to delegate the authority to close facilities to the DOC, and the Legislature's language in the biennial budget, the Court finds that the Legislature's intent was to retain the authority to decide which facilities should remain operational and which facilities should close. While it is within the Commissioner's discretion to determine how to operate the DCF program, only the Legislature has the authority to decide not to fund DCF and rescind the requirements set out in 34-A M.R.S. § 3901.”

    Legislation to fund Downeast Correctional Facility for an additional year is still pending in the House of Representatives after an initial vote of approval.

    LD 1704 "An Act To Fund the Downeast Correctional Facility" sponsored by Representative William Tuell, R-East Machias, was passed in the House by a vote of87 to 59 and in the Senate by a vote of 31 to 3.

    The bill awaits final enactment in both chambers and action by Governor LePage. 

  • Maine's Rep. Blume’s coastal hazards commission bill due to climate change progresses

    Flooding in Maine at the seacoast town of Lincolnville across RT 1 after the March 2nd storm.

    Maine Rep. Lydia Blume’s bill to create a commission to examine the threats posed by weather and climate-based hazards to Maine’s coastal communities was approved by the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee last Friday and will come before the House for an initial vote this week.

    The bill adapts a model successfully used by New Hampshire to set up a commission consisting of a wide array of stakeholders and experts to assess the coastal risks and hazards brought about by the changing climate. The New Hampshire efforts resulted in a detailed recommendation report to help coastal communities prepare for, and deal with, future conditions.

    “The recent storms along the coast, and particularly the storm this last weekend, have highlighted to me the need for this commission,” said Rep. Blume, D-York. “I hope that my colleagues in the Legislature recognize the timeliness and importance of this bill to our crucial coastline.  This is a matter of public safety and protecting our coastal economy.  The more we are able to do now, the more we can save money and lives in the future.”

    The bill, LD 1095, creates a broad-based working group with representatives from municipalities, state agencies, regional planners, legislators and other coastal stakeholders. It will report back to the Legislature with findings detailing the hazards faced by coastal communities and the plans and resources needed to deal with them.

    “The commission is going to be critical to help us be proactive concerning the kinds of changes that are now so evident,” Blume said. “Its work can provide us with the necessary guidance, coordination, direction and best practices to help all our coastal communities prepare for the hazards they face.”

    Blume is serving her second term in the Maine Legislature and represents the coastal part of York.  She serves on the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee.

  • Maine's Rep. Madigan’s bill to allow mental health treatment for teens approved by Legislative Council

    Maine State Capitol photo by Ramona du Houx

     

    A bill sponsored by Rep. Colleen Madigan, D-Waterville, to keep critical mental health care available to Maine teens was approved on February 27, 2018 by the Legislative Council.  The vote was 9-1 that the bill should be heard. 

    The bill will increase funding for treatment of teens with at-risk behaviors such as aggression and other anti-social behaviors. These services are both intensive and community-based, and are coordinated with families, law enforcement, corrections officials and schools. These treatments are evidence-based practices that have been shown to work across the country.

    “There are agencies that provide these critical services for teens that are leaving the state because they cannot afford to keep working here,” said Rep. Madigan. “I am glad the Legislative Council recognized the need for this.  I am concerned that teenagers get the care they need before a crisis occurs.”

    At this point in the session, any new bills must be determined to address emergencies and other pressing situations. The Legislative Council, which is made up of each party’s leaders in the Maine House and Senate, decides which bills fit the criteria.

     

    Madigan’s bill will be heard by the Legislature in the coming weeks.

     

    Madigan is serving her first term in the Maine House and represents part of Oakland and part of Waterville.  She previously served a term in the Maine Senate. She serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

     

  • Democrats Stand Firm against Republican Efforts to Cut new Maine Minimum Wage

     

     By Ramona du Houx

    Democratic lawmakers on the Legislature’s Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee soundly rejected a rollback of Maine’s minimum wage increase on February 8, 2018. The Republican attempt at a roll back came after a people's referendum increased the minimum wage last month and will continue to do so until it reaches $11 a hour.

    “These efforts to undermine the minimum wage increase will continue to fail because Mainers recognize that people deserve a wage they can live on, and while the cost of living has gone up year after year, for a lot of Maine people, paychecks have not.

    "I refuse to choose winners and losers. We can commit ourselves to ensuring small businesses can succeed without taking money from the paychecks of hardworking families,” said Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development House chair Representative Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford.

    LD 1757 “An Act to Protect Maine’s Economy by Slowing the Rate and Which the State’s Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage” sponsored by Representative Joel Stetkis, R-Canaan, was voted Ought Not to Pass on a party line vote.

    “I don’t know how many more times we have to say this: Democrats will not allow a rollback in Maine’s minimum wage increase, period,” said Rep. Fecteau. “Despite the doomsday predictions Republicans still pedal, 59,000 hard-working Mainers got an overdue raise just last month that went directly into their pockets and the cash registers of our local businesses, strengthening Maine’s economy and our communities.”

    Graphic by Ramona du houx

    LD 1757 as originally drafted would cut the current minimum wage of $10 per hour to $9.50 per hour beginning in June of this year, and reduce the annual increases in Maine’s minimum wage from $1 a year to 50 cents per year and cap the increase at $11 per hour instead of the current expected rate of $12 an hour by 2021. The bill also establishes a lower “training wage” for employees under the age of 18.

    Republicans on the committee voted LD 1757 Ought to Pass as Amended. The amended bill would increase the minimum wage to $10.50 starting January 1, 2020 and increase the minimum wage by 50 cent increments until 2023 to $12 an hour. Starting January 1, 2024, minimum wage would increase with inflation instead of the Consumer Price Index as in current law. The bill would also stipulate that employees under the age of 18 would be paid 80 percent of the minimum wage for the first 200 hours of their work. 

    LD 1757 will be considered by the full House and Senate in the coming weeks.

  • Rep. Hymanson’s bill to streamline response to drug crisis endorsed by committee

    A bill from Rep. Patricia Hymanson, D-York, to set up a working group within the governor’s cabinet to combat the opiate crisis received a unanimous “ought to pass” vote Wednesday from the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee.

    “I am thrilled that the committee supported this bill,” said Hymanson. “The people who work directly on the opiate crisis will have a forum to easily coordinate their efforts.  This will make it easier to develop creative and workable solutions.” 

    The bill, LD 105, “An Act To Create a Centralized Authority To Combat Opiate Addiction in Maine,” will create the Substance Use Disorders Cabinet, which will consist of: 

    •  the Commissioner of Corrections;
    •  the Commissioner of Education;
    •  the Commissioner of Health and Human Services;
    •  the Commissioner of Public Safety;
    •  the Commissioner of Labor; and
    •  the Chief Justice

    This group will work together to share resources and ideas and make sure that they are all working from a coherent plan. 

    “Everyone is doing the best they can, but by sharing time, energy and resources they can operate much more efficiently and effectively,” Hymanson said. “Working together will break down the silos and allow for more cooperation.”

     

    The bill will go before the full Legislature for a vote in the coming weeks.

     

    Hymanson, a retired physician, is serving her second term in the Maine House.  She is the House chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and represents Ogunquit, part of Sanford, part of Wells and part of York.

  • Longstaff’s measure to prevent financial exploitation of elderly endorsed by panel


    Bill aims to ensure final wishes of older adults and other Mainers are carried out

    By Ramona du Houx

    A bill to help prevent financial exploitation of older Mainers by clarifying their intent when opening a joint financial account earned unanimous support Thursday from a panel of lawmakers.

    “Elders very often add a child’s name, or even the name of a caregiver, to their bank accounts for the sole purpose of allowing that person to help with managing finances,” said Rep. Thomas Longstaff, D-Waterville, the bill’s sponsor. “Although the elder may not intend for the surviving party to inherit the entire account balance upon his or her death, that is what current law directs. This legislation simply ensures elders understand the options available to them so that conflicts among family members can be avoided.”

    The measure would require each owner of a joint financial account to answer in writing whether they intend to leave the account to the surviving party in the event of his or her death. Under the bill, financial institutions would have to include the question in simple, straightforward language on the forms required to open a joint account.

    Under current law, any funds in a joint account pass to the surviving account holder instead of becoming part of the deceased individual’s estate. Absent other evidence, the surviving account holder becomes the owner of the property despite what the deceased party stated in his or her last will and testament.

    Canaan resident Wilma Sherman told the Insurance and Financial Services Committee at the bill’s public hearing that her family experienced this firsthand when her daughter lost her battle with cancer and her savings account became the property of the joint owner – contrary, Sherman believes, to her daughter’s intent as stated in her will. Sherman said Longstaff’s measure could prevent other families from the additional pain her family suffered.

    “Losing one you love is never easy,” said Sherman. “Having to stand by and see the wishes of that individual not carried out, to see your family splintered, to lose trust in a person you considered to be part of your family, makes the death even more difficult.”

    According to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial abuse or exploitation is a widespread form of elder abuse that can be perpetrated by family members, caregivers, contractors, scam artists and others. 

    “Every year, Adult Protective Services receives 33,000 reports of elder abuse. Approximately one-third relate to financial elder abuse. LD 968 will help prevent some of that,” John Nale, a Waterville attorney specializing in elder law and former president of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said at the public hearing.

    Nale urged the bill’s passage Thursday, telling the committee that the question should be presented in simple, clearly understandable language at the time a joint account is opened.

    The measure, LD 968, faces further votes in the House and Senate.

    Longstaff, a former Marine, is serving his fourth term in the Maine House. He is a member of both the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee and the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. He represents part of Waterville.

  • Maine's Rep. Golden’s bill to help prevent youth suicide approved by committee

    By Ramona du Houx

    A bill sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden that would require public schools to adopt protocols to prevent youth suicide was approved January 17, 2018 by the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee on a vote of 11-1.

    “I am extremely encouraged by the committee’s support for this bill.  This is an appropriate improvement on the rules already in place,” said Matt Graham, who lost a daughter to suicide and brought the idea for the bill to Golden. “Schools need to be informed that help is available.  It is hit or miss right now.”

    As amended by the committee, the bill, LD 1694, requires the state Department of Education to develop rules mandating that school districts adopt suicide prevention protocols based on the most up-to-date best practices. Current rules recommend that schools have these protocols, but only about 25 percent of school districts have done so.

    “We're learning more about this problem and how to deal with it all the time. If schools are to play an effective role in preventing suicide, they must continually examine and discuss how changing times require new practices,” said Golden. “That is the goal of this bill – to make the most up-to-date information on suicide prevention available in all Maine schools.”

    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. 

  • Attorney General Janet Mills Joins Suit to Stop Rollback of Net Neutrality


    Coalition of 22 Attorneys General Files Petition for Review, Formally Commencing Lawsuit

    ON January 16, 2018 Attorney General Janet Mills joined a coalition of 22 Attorneys General in filing a multistate lawsuit to block the Federal Communications Commission's rollback of net neutrality. The coalition filed a petition for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, formally commencing the lawsuit against the FCC and the federal government. 

    The FCC's vote to rollback net neutrality allows Internet Services Providers to slow or block access to certain sites or mobile applications, doing away with "net neutrality" that has allowed ideas and commerce to flourish across the web. Additionally, the vote followed a public comment process that was flawed and tainted by "fake" comments submitted during the FCC's comment process in which nearly two million comments stole the identities of Americans from across the United States. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reported that over 400,000 "fake" comments from New York, Florida, Texas and California were discovered.

    "The rollback of the net neutrality rule is bad news for consumers, individuals and businesses who use the Internet daily to do banking, pay bills, do schoolwork, and do their jobs," said Attorney General Mills. "Additionally, if we as Americans cannot trust our government to conduct a truthful and legitimate process for one of the most significant regulatory rollbacks in this country's history, how can we trust that this is the right decision? The FCC's decision to vote on this matter during an ongoing investigation sends a bad message about their agenda. I am pleased to join Attorneys General from across the country in this important lawsuit to preserve and promote the public commons," added Mills.

    The multistate lawsuit was filed today in Federal Court and can be found here: 

    https://ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/petition_-_filed.pdf
  • Maine licenses acceptable for federal ID purposes through Oct. 10, 2018

    By Ramona du Houx

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap reminds all Maine residents that Maine driver’s licenses and ID cards are currently valid for federal purposes such as air travel.

    In October 2017, the Department of Homeland Security issued a one-year waiver for the State of Maine’s REAL ID Act compliance, which will allow federal agencies to continue to accept driver's licenses and identification cards from Maine through Oct. 10, 2018. During this period, Maine driver’s licenses and IDs will be accepted as valid identification for federal purposes, such as entrance to federal facilities and boarding commercial aircraft.

    “Many people are seeing outdated or inaccurate information online, particularly via social media sites, so we want to remind everyone that this waiver is in place through Oct. 10, 2018,” said Secretary Dunlap.

    The DHS is implementing the final phase of the REAL ID Act, a federal law passed in 2005 that seeks to improve the security standards for state-issued identification credentials. During the waiver period, the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles will work toward implementing the systems and procedures that will enable BMV to issue Real ID-compliant licenses and IDs.

    The waiver can be renewed annually upon request through 2020, as long as the State can demonstrate efforts towards compliance. The State of Maine must begin to offer REAL ID-compliant licenses by July 1, 2019, per the new Maine law.

    At that time, any person who desires a Real ID-compliant license or ID will be able to obtain one at their local BMV office. In addition to the standard license requirements, Real ID applicants must provide proof of legal presence, such as a birth certificate (a copy of which will remain on file with the BMV) and submit to a photograph using facial recognition technology.

    Once REAL ID-compliant credentials are available in Maine, those who have a valid license or ID will not be required to renew it prior to its expiration date, unless they choose to do so because they desire/need a REAL ID-compliant credential. Upon renewal, the BMV will issue REAL ID-compliant credentials unless a person states that s/he would prefer to opt out.

    Those who opt out will be choosing a “non-compliant” license. Beginning in 2020, those who choose to have “non-compliant” licenses will need to produce a passport or another acceptable identity document for federal purposes that require identification, such as boarding commercial aircraft and accessing federal facilities.

    The Maine Department of the Secretary of State homepage includes the most up-to-date information about the State’s REAL ID status. For additional information, visit the Department of Homeland Security website.

     

  • Attorney General Mills joins collation in $45 million settlement with PHH Mortgage Corporation

    By Ramona du Houx

    Attorney General Janet Mills, 48 other state attorneys general, the District of Columbia and over 45 state mortgage regulators have reached a $45 million settlement with New Jersey-based mortgage lender and servicer PHH Mortgage Corporation. 

    The settlement resolves allegations that PHH, the nation's ninth largest non-bank residential mortgage servicer, improperly serviced mortgage loans from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012. The agreement requires PHH to adhere to comprehensive mortgage servicing standards, conduct audits, and provide audit results to a committee of states. The settlement does not release PHH from liability for conduct that occurred beginning in 2013.

    The harm sustained by some PPH customers includes payment of improper fees and charges, misapplication of payments, dual tracking activity, and loss of homes due to improper, unlawful, or undocumented foreclosures.

    "This settlement holds PHH accountable for threatening to foreclose and foreclosing on Maine homeowners," said Attorney General Mills. "This agreement provides monetary relief to 293 Maine homeowners and requires the company to live up to new standards mortgage servicing."

    The settlement includes $30.4 million in payments to borrowers and a separate payment to state mortgage regulators. 

    Borrowers who were foreclosed on by PHH during the eligible period will qualify for a minimum $840 payment, and borrowers who were threatened with foreclosures that PHH initiated during the eligible period, but who did not lose their home, will receive a minimum $285 payment. A settlement administrator will contact eligible recipients at a later date. 
  • Be Careful with Dangerously Low Temperatures in Maine

    12/29/2017 01:17 PM EST

    As sub-zero temperatures continue across the State, MEMA urges Mainers to use extreme caution to avoid hypothermia or even death. 

    The National Weather Service reports that very cold air will continue across the region this weekend and through at least the middle of next week with most locations unlikely to get above the freezing mark for the foreseeable future. 

    MEMA offers the following tips to help Mainers stay safe during the dangerously cold weather:

    • To Prevent Hypothermia, dress in layers, wear a warm hat - 30 percent of heat loss is through the head, wear a scarf and gloves.
    • Infants should be in a room in which the temperature is 61-68 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Drink plenty of fluids and warm/hot drinks.
    • Eat regular balanced meals to give you energy - good nutrition is important.
    • Keep active when it's cold, but not to the point where you're sweating. Keep dry and change out of wet clothes as soon as possible.
    • Cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, since all three cause heat loss.
    • Try to keep one room in the house warm.
    • Ask your doctor if you are on any medications that affect your ability to maintain a steady body temperature (such as neuroleptic medications and sedative hypnotics).

    Symptoms of hypothermia include decreased consciousness, sleepiness, confusion, and/or disorientation; shivering, pale or blue skin, numbness, poor coordination, slurred speech; In severe hypothermia, shivering decreases or goes away, and the person becomes unconscious and has very shallow breaths.

    Winter Driving Tips and Holiday Travel:

    If you plan to travel over the holiday weekend, be sure to watch the weather reports and plan accordingly. 

    Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area such as a garage to avoid Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. Make sure tires are properly inflated and in good condition. Check windshield wiper fluid, ensure the vehicle is clear of all ice and snow and never mix radial tires with other types of tires. Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid the gas line freezing up or running out of gas and becoming stranded. Bring a fully-charged cell phone and program roadside assistance numbers. 

    If you become stranded in your vehicle, stay with the vehicle and tie a brightly-colored cloth to the antenna or use other distress signal. Run the engine and heater just long enough to remove chill to conserve gas.

    Update the emergency kits in your vehicles with the items below and be sure to let someone know when and where you will be traveling and when you expect to arrive at your destination.

    • A shovel 
    • Windshield scraper and small broom 
    • Flashlight 
    • Battery powered radio 
    • Extra batteries 
    • Water 
    • Snack food 
    • Matches 
    • Extra hats, socks and mittens 
    • First aid kit with pocket knife Necessary medications 
    • Blanket(s) 
    • Tow chain or rope 
    • Road salt and sand 
    • Booster cables 
    • Emergency flares 
    • Fluorescent distress flag 

    For additional preparedness, shelter and safety information, please visit MainePrepares.com, or visit MEMA on Facebook or Twitter. Shelter information is also available by calling 2-1-1 or contacting your local town office, fire or police department.
  • Democrats in Maine Recommit to Implementing Medicaid Expansion despite Gov. LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee (AFA) met on December 13, 2017 to begin its review of the cost of implementing Medicaid expansion passed by the voters in November. Maine is the first state in the nation to expand access to healthcare under the Affordable Care Act via ballot initiative. The committee also reviewed the latest revenue projection forecast for the state.  

    But Governor LePage issued a statement declaring how the implementation would take place, which is not the normal procedure and could endanger equal opportunity to healthcare.

    The LePage Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services are required by law to begin the process of expanding Medicaid eligibility to Mainers earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit — roughly $17,000 annually.

    The law includes strict deadlines for DHHS to act. However, despite an invitation from AFA committee co-chairs Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook) and Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) to the Department, LePage declined to send representatives from his administration the meeting.

    “Thousands of Mainers cannot afford to wait any longer for the health care they need to be and stay well,” said Rep. Gattine. “And what we did today was to start the critical work necessary to make this law a reality. While I’m disappointed that Governor LePage chose not to send a representative, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Medicaid expansion is now the law of the land and our committee will continue to gather the facts, do our work and appropriate funds when they are necessary.”

    The AFA committee is tasked with determining the state share of the cost of expansion and appropriating funding. Projections by the Legislature’s nonpartisan Office of Fiscal and Program Review (OFPR) indicate expansion will inject more than $525 million of federal funding into the state economy every year. OFPR estimated the state’s share of expansion costs at $54.5 million once the federal share drops from 93.5 percent in the first year to 90 percent in 2021. There is no accurate cost projection for the current biennium due to a number of unanswered questions from the DHHS.  

    However, it was made clear to the committee that the state would not need an additional appropriation to fund the state share until May of 2019. In order to determine whether the state will need to make any expansion-related appropriations during the current budget cycle, the committee asked further questions of OFPR and DHHS about the timeline for covering newly eligible Mainers, the additional staffing needs at DHHS to process applications, and projected savings.

    “Today, we began the work necessary to fulfill the voters’ mandate and expand healthcare coverage to 80,000 Mainers,” said Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth, the lead Senate Democrat on the AFA Committee. “The law states that by July 2018, the state is required to begin offering Medicaid coverage to those newly eligible Mainers, so there’s a lot to be done. I look forward to the work, but am disappointed that no one from Gov. LePage’s administration accepted our invitation to participate in the work today. Implementation of this law is his responsibility and obligation as the chief executive of our state, and we expect him to fulfill it.”

  • 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.