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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine voters overwhelmingly voted for Research and Development bonds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Samantha Schmidt May 10 - article in the Washington Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Editorial By Representative Andrew McLean of Gorham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

     

  • Barry Hobbins nominated to become Maine's Public Advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Editorial by Sen. Angus King.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Senator King’s statement is as follows:

    +++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ##

    The Text of the Letter:

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

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

    Dear Senators Collins and King:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    -30-

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



    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

    LePage's Draconian measure will:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

  • Prescribers can play a bigger role in fighting addiction

     Editorial by Representative Colleen Madigan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    She’s not alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine's Franco-American veterans community program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Trump unfit to serve

    Admit it: Trump is unfit to serve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Scientists call on Collins

    The Penobscot is polluted with mercury - we need the EPA

    Editorial by Dianne Kopec and Aram Calhoun,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The sediment deposited after EPA was created is less contaminated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • DOOMSDAY CLOCK MOVES AHEAD: Because of Donald Trump


    It is now two and a half minutes to midnight

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Highlights of theACA  data include:

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

    Since the ACA this group has seen:

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

    Medicare enrollees have benefited from:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Maine recognized as a national leader in fighting for healthier oceans 

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

    Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership Supporters Join Congresswoman Giffords

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • CodeGratitude of Maine helps first responders take part!

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

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

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

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

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

  • Cumberland County Civic Center Employees Sue For Severance Pay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Participating artists are listed below alphabetically by town:

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

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

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

    Article by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

    Article and photos by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Heat Wave precautions for current USA weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sincerely,

    Barack Obama

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    There were no injuries reported. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Maine Forest Service definition of High Fire Danger:

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Watch out for ticks in Maine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • $7.34 million in federal Brownfield grants for Maine

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

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

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

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

    Details on projects in Pingree’s District below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    About Mainers for Responsible Gun Ownership

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

     

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

    VETO LETTER DATE

    LD #

    TITLE

    SPONSOR

    HOUSE

    SENATE

    OVERRIDEN/SUSTAINED

    4/27/2016

    690

    An Act To Ensure the Safety of Home Birth

    Volk

    127-17

    28-7

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1253

    An Act To Improve the Evaluation of Public Schools

    Bates

    112-31

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1472

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

    Alfond

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1481

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

    Davis

    4/27/2016

    1489

    An Act To Clarify Expenditures Regarding Androscoggin County

    Rotundo

    87-61

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1629

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

    Hickman (introducer)

    90-58

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1645

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

    Katz

    116-25

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/27/2016

    1649

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

    Dion (introducer)

    93-50

    Sustained

    4/27/2016

    1675

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

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    137-12

    30-4

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1689

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

    Maker

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    1552

    An Act To Reduce Morbidity and Mortality Related to Injected Drugs

    Vachon

    108-40

    25-9

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    365

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

    Verow

    148-0

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/26/2016

    419

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

    Pierce, T

    93-56

    Sustained

    4/26/2016

    1514

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

    Sirocki

    141-7

    20-14

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1279

    An Act To Authorize Advance Deposit Wagering for Horse Racing

    Picchiotti

    120-29

    23-11

    overridden

    4/25/2016

    1521

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

    Gattine

    139-10

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1579

    An Act Regarding the Maine Clean Election Fund

    Rotundo

    84-63

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    1465

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

    Lajoie

    139-10

    33-1

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1498

    An Act To Clarify Medicaid Managed Care Ombudsman Services

    Vachon

    118-28

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    1696

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

    HHS Committee Majority

    102-45

    28-6

    Overridden

    4/25/2016

    867

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

    Libby

    23-12

    Sustained

    4/25/2016

    655

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

    Lajoie

    93-55

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1692

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

    Gerzofsky

    85-62

    26-9

    Sustained

    4/22/2016

    1617

    An Act Regarding the Long-term Care Ombudsman Program

    Brakey

    34-1

    129-18

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1614

    Resolve, To Provide Funding for the County Jail Operations Fund

    Rosen

    148-0

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    1224

    An Act To Amend the Child Protective Services Laws

    Malaby

    147-1

    34-0

    Overridden

    4/22/2016

    654

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

    Nadeau

    96-53

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1394

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

    Kornfield (Introducer)

    95-52

    Sustained

    4/20/2016

    1398

    An Act To Reduce Electric Rates for Maine Businesses

    Mason

    110-38

    33-2

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1468

    An Act To Improve the Safety of Ferries in the State

    Miramant

    113-32

    35-0

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1540

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

    Cyrway

    140-6

    34-1

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1547

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

    Gideon

    132-14

    29-5

    Overridden

    4/20/2016

    1686

    An Act To Amend the Finance Authority of Maine Act

    Volk

    100-49

    29-5

    Overridden

     

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine House advances bill to fund county jails

    Bipartisan measure critical to preventing increases in property taxes 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine State Senate breathes new life into naloxone bill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine police chiefs want to expand MaineCare

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

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

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

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

    ADDRESSES THE GAP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    COURTS CAN’T DO IT ALL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Photos by Chris Cousins of the BDN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    “When is the governor going to get serious about having a genuine dialogue with Maine people? His latest antics are at best childish and possibly even reckless in our current political climate,” saidHouse Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan. “What’s next? ‘Wanted’ signs for the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, AARP, Maine Municipal Association, Maine Hospital Association and Maine State Chamber of Commerce because they have spoken out against the governor’s political short-sightedness?” 

    Bangor City Councilor, Joe Baldacci called for LePage's resignation over the Wanted posters.

    "Putting out of Wanted posters on some of your political opponents is just more political garbage- which it is. But it is also an invitation to not only make our politics coarser, meaner and less productive but to dehumanize your opponents," said Bangor City Councilor Baldacci. "Lepage is almost taunting his political opponents. He should resign."

    LePages' posters have no place in Maine politics being paid for by the Governor's Office. These are attacks on private citizens, putting them and their organizations they are affiliated with -- at risk.

    Attorney General Janet Mills should be asked to investigate the issue as it clearly is defamatory.

  • Index highlights LePage administration’s failure to provide for rural Mainers

    by 


    A recent study by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) reveals that 52,000 Mainers live in distressed communities and demonstrates the extent of the LePage administration’s failed economic policies in the wake of the Great Recession.

    For a project called The Distressed Communities IndexEIG identified the zip codes with the greatest levels of economic distress using a series of economic indicators. The indicators, which were measured in 2013, include: education levels, housing occupancy, labor force participation rate, poverty rate, ratio of median income to the statewide median, the change in employment since 2010, and the change in number of businesses since 2010. These indicators show long-term, structural economic problems.

    In one respect, Maine fares better than most states. Only 4 percent of its population lives in zip codes with more than 500 people identified as “distressed” by the study—that ranks Maine 40th out of 50 states and Washington, DC.

    Still, approximately 52,000 Maine people live in distressed communities. The disparity between Maine’s most and least distressed communities is striking and represent two different narratives of economic recovery since the Great Recession.

    Most Distressed: 04774 (St. Francis)

    Maine Average

    Least Distressed: 04021 (Cumberland)

    No High School Degree 23% 9% 2%
    Housing Vacancy Rate 10% 7% 0%
    Adults Not Working 65% 41% 31%
    Poverty Rate 21% 14% 2%
    Median Income vs. State Median 51% 100% 194%
    Change in Employment, 2010-13 -11.8% 1.3% 48.7%
    Change in Businesses, 2010-13 -3.6% -0.8% 15.1%
    Distress Score (out of 100) 95.6 0.0

    St. Francis, Maine’s most distressed community by zip code, has twice the proportion of its adult population not working compared to Cumberland. This is partly because the population of St. Francis is older (in 2013, it had a median age of 53.9, compared to 45.0 for Cumberland), which is itself a symptom of economic distress. But other indicators affirm the disparity between these two communities. The median income in St. Francis is almost one quarter what it is in Cumberland, and half the statewide average. St. Francis has lost jobs and businesses while Cumberland has seen significant increases in these indicators.

    The general disparity between Maine’s southern and coastal communities and the rural areas inland and Down East has been a growing concern for policymakers and has only gotten worse since the recession. While many in Southern Maine have seen jobs and incomes return to pre-recession levels, those in other areas are still hurting desperately.  Statewide economic statistics that show Maine (slowly) emerging from the worst of the downturn mask this divergence.

    Against this backdrop, it is instructive to evaluate LePage administration policies. Time and again, the administration has undercut programs and investments that could buffer rural Mainers from the continued impacts of the recession and leave them better positioned to seize emergent opportunities. Refusal to accept federal funds to provide health care access to tens of thousands of Mainers has a disproportionate impact on rural Mainers and undercuts jobs. The administration’s refusal to apply for a federal waiver last year to make nutrition assistance more widely available also hits rural residents hardest.

    In fact, the most distressed communities based on EIG’s analysis are the same communities that stand to gain the most from Medicaid expansion and supplemental nutrition assistance. Beyond these programs, policies that cut income and estate taxes reduce state funding for schools and local services and are a step in the wrong direction. They ultimately trigger property tax increases for residents in communities with little capacity to absorb such cost shifts and are a recipe for increasing inequality.

  • 272 People died of a drug overdose in Maine in 2015 – 31 percent jump

    Maine has recorded another grim record due to drug overdose deaths.  272 people died in Maine in 2015 due to drug overdose, a 31% increase over 2014, which saw a record 208 overdose deaths.  The final analysis of drug overdose deaths exceeded initial estimates largely due to an increase in deaths caused by heroin and/or fentanyl in the second half of the year. 

    “These figures are shocking,” said Attorney General Janet T. Mills.  “Maine averaged more than five drug deaths per week.  That is five families every week losing a loved one to drugs.  These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, our neighbors, our friends.  I applaud the families who have come forward to share their stories about the struggles they have endured in watching a loved one succumb to addiction and the pain it has caused."

    In 2015, 157 deaths were caused by heroin and/or non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and 111 were caused by pharmaceutical opioids.  Overdose deaths in 2015 caused by illicit drugs exceeded overdose deaths due to pharmaceutical opioids for the first time, even though the number of deaths caused by pharmaceutical opioids increased slightly as well.  Nearly all deaths were in combination with other intoxicants.

    "Behind every one of these deaths is a story that must be told as a warning to anyone who thinks opiates are a harmless party drug with no consequences. No one is immune from addiction.  No one is immune from overdose. No one is immune from death.  We must use every effort to intervene in these people’s lives before it is too late,” said Attorney General Mills. 

    Two-thirds of the decedents in 2015 from a drug overdose were men.  The ages of decedents ranged from 18 to 89, though most deaths were of those under the age of 60.  The average age of a decedent was 42 (the average age of a Maine resident is 43).

    While all counties recorded at least one overdose death, approximately 78% of the overdose deaths occurred in Maine’s five most populous counties, which account for 65% of Maine’s population.  Cumberland County recorded 32% (86) of the statewide total.  The City of Portland recorded 46 deaths, followed by Lewiston with 15 deaths and Bangor with 13 deaths.

    Comparing the 2014 and 2015 death rate per 100,000 of population for the five largest counties, Cumberland County's rate increased from 15.3 to 30.5, an increase of 100%, Kennebec County increased 65%, Penobscot County increased 30%, Androscoggin County increased 4%, and York County increased 3%. 

    In 2015 there were 107 deaths attributable to heroin; 94 of which included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  Of the 87 deaths attributable to fentanyl or acetyl fentanyl, 68 included at least one other drug or alcohol mentioned on the death certificate.  There were 34 deaths in which cocaine was involved in 2015, up from 24 in 2014.

    “These death statistics are just one measure of Maine’s drug crisis,” said Attorney General Mills.  “More must be done to preserve lives and protect our communities from the negative effects that drug abuse has on us. Prevention, intervention, treatment and law enforcement all must play larger roles in stemming this deadly tide.”

     

    The drug overdose death analysis was conducted for the Attorney General, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner by Marcella Sorg, PhD, D-ABFA of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. 

  • We should be concerned over Poland Spring's contract with Fryeburg Water Co.

    First appeared in the BDN
    The recent Maine Supreme Judicial Court oral arguments regarding the contract between the Fryeburg Water Co., a small water company, and Poland Spring, as part of the Nestle corporation, has spurred information in the media that we believe is alarmist and inaccurate.

    As water utility providers in Maine, we are not concerned or alarmed by the contract between the water system in Fryeburg and a large customer. Here’s why:

    — There are Maine laws and regulations already in place that protect Maine’s natural water resources, including the use of groundwater, that ensure the long-term viability and sustainability of Maine’s water.

    — Maine is water rich, and with 24 trillion gallons of water falling on the state each and every year, our water resources are recharged at least annually, including the groundwater and aquifers. The amount of groundwater used by water utilities and water bottlers each year is less than 1 percent of the entire annual recharge of the groundwater.

    — Many Maine water utilities have contracts in place with large water users, including breweries, carbonated drink manufacturers, ice manufacturers and distributors and water bottlers, which provide an important source of revenue that lower and stabilize water rates for all customers.

    — Maine has many wonderful, renewable natural resources that are exported each year, and each promotes the beauty and pristine nature of our state. Our long and successful history of exporting trees, blueberries, lobsters, potatoes and water are a source of pride, as well as an economic benefit.

    As Maine water utility professionals, we are stewards of Maine’s water resources, and we have a mission of providing safe and adequate drinking water to our customers each and every day. We know our service is essential to life, and we are fortunate to have an abundant source of water. We believe strongly that the contract between Fryeburg Water and Poland Spring is consistent with this mission with no detrimental impact on the environment and our water resources.

    Finally, we are proud that what we do each day in providing clean drinking water to our customers is complemented and promoted with the export of this same pristine natural resource outside the state. The water bottlers in Maine, including Poland Spring, endorse the value of drinking just good ol’ water and in doing so endorse Maine.

  • Citizens’ initiative to regulate and tax marijuana does not qualify for ballot

    by Ramona du Houx

    The citizens’ initiative petition effort to legalize and tax marijuana does not have enough valid signatures of Maine voters to qualify for the 2016 ballot, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap confirmed on March 2, 2016.

    Over 47 thousand petitions submitted were not valid. That's right, 47,000.

    The petitions for “An Act To Legalize Marijuana,” which was combined with a similar citizens’ initiative effort to legalize marijuana, had been in circulation since April 28, 2015. On Feb. 1, 2016, the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions received 20,671 petitions with 99,229 total signatures of those who support the initiative.

    Staff members at the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions have completed the process of certifying all of the petitions and have found a maximum of 51,543 valid signatures (subject to checking for duplicates), while 47,686 proved to be not valid. A minimum of 61,123 valid signatures from registered Maine voters is required in the citizens’ initiative process and the effort has failed to meet that threshold.

    According to the proposed bill summary, this legislation proposed to legalize the possession, purchase, growth and sale of marijuana to those who are at least 21 years of age, and tax its sale, among other provisions. Visithttp://maine.gov/sos/cec/elec/citizens/index.html to view the proposed legislation in its entirety. 

  • Bill to Increase Access to Affordable Drug Addiction Treatment Advances


    Committee Vote Unanimous For Higher Reimbursement Rates

      Today, members of the Legislature’s Health and Human Services committee voted unanimously in support of a bill to increase reimbursement rates for substance abuse treatment providers.


    “Methadone treatment is heavily researched and evidence based.  It gets people back on their feet, back to their families, and back to work,” said Speaker Eves (D-North Berwick).  “Providing more sufficient reimbursement to methadone providers will enable more Mainers to access life-saving treatment and regain their lives.” 

    LD 1473 “Resolve to Increase Access to Opiate Addiction Treatment in Maine” sponsored by Senator Woodsome (R-York) passed as amended.

    The report of the HHS Committee partially restores the MaineCare reimbursement rate paid to outpatient opioid treatment providers from $60 to $72 a week. The rate increase will sunset on June 30, 2017 pending a rate study to further analyze its effectiveness. The committee will then hear a report back by the end of December in that year.

    This proposal will lower the burden on treatment providers who will then be able to increase patient access and provide crucial individual and group counseling in addition to critical medication, including methadone.

    “This session alone, we have heard dozens of hours of testimony urging us to increase availability of drug treatment and support services,” said HHS House Chair Rep. Drew Gattine (D-Westbrook).  “Increased access to proven Methadone treatment will provide a vital tool to addressing the opioid crisis that has gripped our state.”

    LD 1473 now faces action in both the House and Senate.   

  • Legislation would protect social workers from violent retaliation in Maine

    Maine State Rep. Adam Goode’s bill to ensure the safety of Maine social workers by prohibiting the publication of their home addresses earned support at a public hearing before the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

    “The goal of this legislation is to minimize the likelihood of social workers being exposed to harassment from disgruntled former clients,” said Goode, D-Bangor. “Having home addresses of social workers accessible on the licensing board’s website makes them more vulnerable to harassment, intimidation, loss of privacy and assault from an individual who may be emotionally unstable.”

    Goode submitted the legislation after a Vermont social worker was shot and killed by a woman who was upset about losing the custody of her child.

    A similar incident occurred in Maine in 1988 when a disgruntled administrator of a home for people with mental illness obtained the names and addresses of state licensing officials. After he was fired, the individual shot and critically injured then-Department of Health and Human Services licensing administrator Louis Dorogi in the kitchen of his Topsham home.

    Goode’s bill, LD 1499, seeks to improve the safety and privacy of social workers who hold a license from the Department of Professional and Financial Regulation. The change would ensure that the home address of a social worker is confidential and not open to the public.

    April Tuner, a senior at the University of Maine studying social work, testified in favor of the legislation. 

    “For safety and privacy reasons, it is important that the home address of social workers not be made public,” said Turner. “As a mother, I am concerned that my family could be placed in danger because a client that I work with could obtain my home address. As a foster parent that concern grows even greater since I am expected to provide a safe home for a child that has already experienced trauma.”

    The National Association of Social Workers and the National Alliance on Mental Illness also testified in support of the bill.

    “It is unfortunate, but true, that social workers practice in settings that are increasingly unpredictable or unsafe,” Goode said. “This had led to some social workers becoming permanently injured or losing their lives.”

    The committee will hold a work session on the bill in the coming weeks.

    Goode is House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee and a social worker. He is serving his fourth term in the Maine House and represents part of Bangor

  • Prison is no place for innocent, sick Mainers

    Editorial by Senator Anne Haskell from Portland

    The state-run psychiatric hospital in Augusta has many, many problems, and Governor Paul LePage’s plan to fix it is to put sick, innocent Mainers in prison. That’s just wrong.

    This week, Governor LePage proposed a bill to move patients out of the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta, and into the Maine State Prison in Warren. The idea, he said, was to take unruly patients and put them in the prison’s mental health unit. He said the move was necessary for security reasons.

    But there’s one big problem with the governor’s plans: These patients, no matter how unruly, have not been convicted of any crime. They aren’t criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated as such. So why would we ever put them in prison? This flies in the face of the very foundation of our justice system.

    Our state has been down this road before. Like most states, we have an embarrassing history of treating our mentally ill neighbors like a problem — and one best hidden from the rest of society. We’ve even traveled the dark path of mixing sick Mainers with criminals before.

    But we decided decades ago that it was wrong to treat sick people like the guilty. We recognized that no matter how severe a mental illness may be, sick Mainers need treatment and care, not to be locked away.

     Hospitals, like Riverview, are designed first and foremost for treatment, with recovery as an outcome. In a correctional setting, the goal is stabilization, so they can be moved back into the general prison population.

     The Intensive Mental Health Unit at the Maine State Prison is a good facility, and the staff there do good work. But it is not designed to meet the needs of non-criminal patients.

     We know that Riverview has been badly mismanaged by this administration. That mismanagement has led to chronic understaffing, numerous security incidents, and the loss of federal accreditation. Things have gotten so bad that a Court Master has been charged with oversight of the hospital.

     We need solutions to fix Riverview and make it a success, but the governor’s answer is to swap one problem for an entirely different one.

     Simply put, criminalizing mental illness is not a solution for the problems at Riverview. The hospital needs more staff, better resources, and a sound turnaround plan.

    A real solution may even include the creation of a new, independent unit designed specifically for patients with behavioral issues or violent behavior. But that facility must be a hospital setting, not a correctional one.       

    As the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee, I will oppose the governor’s bill with all my might. And I’ll urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to do the same.

  • Bipartisan drug prevention, enforcement and treatment bill signed into law by Maine governor

    Legislature unanimously enacts law to fight drug addiction

    By Ramona du Houx

    On january 18, 2016, a bipartisan bill to combat the drug crisis in Maine passed both bodies of the Legislature. LD 1537 “An Act to Combat Drug Addiction Through Enforcement, Prevention, Treatment and Recovery”, passed both the Senate and House unanimously as amended.  

    The new measure is in responce to Maine's drug crisis. Five Mainers are dying every week from drug overdose.

    The bill was sponsored by Senate President Mike Thibodeau (R-Winterport) and co-sponsored by Speaker Mark Eves (D-North Berwick).The law includes efforts to reinforce Maine’s law enforcement capacity to fight drug dealers on the streets and to strengthen the state’s treatment efforts to help more struggling Mainers break free from addiction. Governor Paul LePage initially only wanted to help fund an increase in law enforcement.

    “While many others have advocated for law enforcement funding alone, Speaker Eves and President Thibodeau have helped change the conversation by fighting for a more complete approach. By championing prevention, treatment, and expanded resources for law enforcement, they’re standing with families like mine and yours,” said Karen Walsh, Portland parent of a young person in recovery.

    “We did what many skeptics said we could not: we came together to pass a bipartisan, targeted, meaningful plan to address the drug crisis in Maine,” said Speaker Eves. “Today, our law enforcement, medical professionals, families, and young people trying to build a better life for themselves heard our commitment to provide the help they desperately need.”

    The final $3.7m package includes vital funding for prevention, treatment, recovery and law enforcement.

     Funding for the MDEA agents comes from the Gambling Control Board while the prevention and treatment portions will be funded through the Maine Medical Marijuana Fund and grants to law enforcement for treatment initiatives will be administered by the Department of Public Safety. 

    The new law will provide $2.4 million for additional addiction treatment programs, including a new 10-bed detoxification facility to be located somewhere in the underserved Northern or Eastern Maine regions. It will also support increased access to treatment services for uninsured Mainers, and bolster peer support recovery centers, which help those in recovery avoid relapse.

    “With a divided Legislature, there’s plenty of room for disagreement. But we knew that to address the drug addiction crisis, we needed to put politics aside,” said Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, the lead Senate Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee. “This plan addresses both the supply and demand side of our drug problem, and will result in more treatment options for Mainers struggling to escape the grip of substance use disorder.”

    The bill also supports continued funding for 10 new MDEA agents. Those agents, once hired, will lead additional investigations that will continue MDEA’s work to bust trafficking operations and keep drugs off the streets. Additionally, it provides start-up grants for local law enforcement agencies to establish projects similar to Scarborough’s Operation HOPE, to connect addicts with treatment, recovery and support services.

    The bill was signed into law, by Governor Paul LePage who said,"I had expressed concerns about funding sources and the grant-making authority, but I thank legislative leadership for their willingness to broker changes that both the administration and the legislature could support."

  • Rep. Gideon’s measure would increase access to overdose reversal drug

    Bill would help put the life-saving overdose antidote naloxone in the hands of first responders

     A measure by Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon would put the life-saving overdose reversal drug naloxone in the hands of more first responders.

    “We are experiencing a public health crisis in our state, which is taking lives at a tragic, alarming and growing rate,” said Gideon, D-Freeport. “Naloxone saves lives. It’s a crucial tool to prevent overdose deaths. This bill is a crucial part of a comprehensive approach to addressing our addiction epidemic.”

    The measure, LD 1547, enables the Maine Attorney General’s Office to facilitate the bulk purchase of naloxone, a medication that can reverse opioid overdoses, in order to make the drug more accessible to municipalities. That will make it easier and more affordable for cities and towns to put naloxone in the hands of first responders who can use it to save lives.

    According to the Attorney General’s office, more than 200 Mainers died of a drug overdose in 2014. In the first nine months of 2015, there were 174 overdose deaths, putting the state on track to reach between 230 and 250 overdose deaths last year.

    Gideon sponsored emergency legislation passed in 2014 that allowed first responders with training to administer naloxone in order to prevent overdose deaths. Maine lawmakers approved an additional measure to expand access to the antidote sponsored by Rep. Henry Beck, D-Waterville, last year. Since 2001, 16 other states have also passed laws making it easier to prescribe, dispense and administer naloxone.

    Also known by its trade name, Narcan, naloxone is not addictive and does not produce euphoria. It has no effect if there are no narcotics in a person’s system.

    The bill was referred to the Health and Human Services Committee, which will schedule a public hearing in the coming weeks.

    Gideon is serving her second term in the Maine House.  She represents Freeport and part of Pownal.