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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

  • Senators King & Collins Oppose Drilling Off Maine’s Coast

    On Monday, January 8 2018, U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, sent the following letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing their opposition to a recent proposal from the Department of Interior that would allow offshore drilling in the vast majority of federal waters, including potentially off the coast of Maine. 
    Maine's Governor LePage is in favor of Zinke's ruling.

    Dear Secretary Zinke:

    We write to express our opposition to the five-year oil and gas leasing plan released by the Interior Department that proposes opening up vast portions of U.S. waters for possible oil exploration and development, including along the Atlantic seaboard and the coast of Maine. 

    We oppose any effort to open waters off the coast of Maine or any proximate area to offshore drilling, which could negatively affect the health of Maine’s fisheries and other coastal resources, threatening to harm not only the environment but the state’s economy as well.

    Maine’s economic stability—and countless Mainers’ livelihoods—has always depended on the health of the ocean. The Maine lobster industry, for example, has an estimated $1.7 billion impact to the state’s economy annually, not to mention the many other fishing, aquaculture, and coastal tourism industries in Maine that help to support the economy. These critical industries are dependent on Maine’s pristine waters, and even a minor spill could damage irreparably the ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine, including the lobster larvae and adult lobster populations therein. Further, offshore seismic testing exploration has been shown in some cases to disrupt migratory patterns of fish and sea mammals. In other words, we believe the potential harm posed by oil and gas exploration and development off Maine’s shores far outweighs any potential benefit. 

    We oppose the Department’s draft plan, and look forward to working with you to ensure that it is revised to pose no unnecessary threats to the economy and way of life in coastal Maine. 
  • January 20 at Penobscot Marine Museum —cooking with sea veggies

    Micah Woodcock of Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company will discuss the culinary possibilities of Maine’s native sea vegetables and prepare several dishes using local seaweed at Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport on Saturday, January 20, at 2 p.m. The program is free and open to the public. 

    During his Cooking with Sea Veggies program, Woodcock will explain how to distinguish different seaweeds and the uses of each, as well as how the seaweeds are harvested, and their culinary, ecological and economic importance. Atlantic Holdfast Seaweed Company is a small business working to sustainably hand-harvest sea vegetables in Penobscot Bay since 2010. Woodcock’s harvesting operation is based on an island seven miles off of Stonington.

    For more information or to reserve a space, call Penobscot Marine Museum at 548-2529.
  • Attorney General Mills joins collation in $45 million settlement with PHH Mortgage Corporation

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Editorial by Senator Shenna Bellows, from Manchester
     
    In reflecting upon my first year in the Maine Senate, I am proud of what we were able to accomplish amid significant challenges. But I know we still have a lot of work left to do.
     
    Last year, my top resolution to my constituents was property tax relief. For too many Mainers, rising property taxes pose a real threat to their way of life. I will never forget some of the seniors I’ve met who feared losing the homes they have lived in for a lifetime. And they are not alone.
     
    Fortunately, Senate Democrats are on their side. When the Governor, deaf to constituent concerns about rising property taxes, sought to eliminate the Homestead Property Tax Exemption for anyone under the age of 65, Senate Democrats fought back. When the Republicans sought to rollback recent raises to the exemption, Senate Democrats fought back. And we won. We successfully blocked the Governor from eliminating the Homestead Property Tax Exemption and implemented a 33 percent raise to the exemption to $20,000 for every Maine household.
     
    This is good work. But it is just a start. We ought to be problem solving in Augusta, not pitting groups against each other. We must work together in a bipartisan way to get things done.
     
    My top resolution for 2018 is to fight to expand healthcare for Mainers by implementing Medicaid expansion. Last November, voters sent a strong message to leaders in Augusta: Mainers want more access to health care not less. And I agree.
     
    Without health insurance, you cannot afford a doctor when you are sick and risk getting much worse. If you are sick, you cannot go to work, which is both bad for businesses and tough on your wallet. Or, you go to work and risk spreading illness and disease. It is a no-win situation.
     
    Maine lawmakers have passed Medicaid expansion five times only to meet the Governor’s veto pen on every occasion. Now, Maine people have spoken. The Legislature and the Governor have a responsibility to uphold the will of the voters. Senate Democrats resolve here and now that we will do everything in our power to implement Medicaid expansion so more than 70,000 Mainers can get the healthcare coverage they deserve.
     
    I have a few other resolutions for the upcoming legislative session as well. We must do more – in a bipartisan way – to confront the opioid crisis that is killing so many Mainers. I have a bill to regulate and expand access to recovery houses, which is one small part of the solution for families trying to help loved ones get treatment.  
     
    I’m also interested in how we expand access to the Internet to ensure that small businesses in our rural communities can start up and thrive. I have three bills that touch on Internet access and privacy including a bill to restore net neutrality that I will work to move forward this session.
     
    I look forward to collaborating with my colleagues in 2018 to finish what we started and make Maine work for more Maine families, seniors and small businesses. I resolve – we will fight hard for you.
     
  • Be Careful with Dangerously Low Temperatures in Maine

    12/29/2017 01:17 PM EST

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

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

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

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

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

    Winter Driving Tips and Holiday Travel:

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

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

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

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

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

    For additional preparedness, shelter and safety information, please visit MainePrepares.com, or visit MEMA on Facebook or Twitter. Shelter information is also available by calling 2-1-1 or contacting your local town office, fire or police department.
  • Mainers to pay more under Republican D.C. tax bill

    December 19, 2017

    By Sarah Austin of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, MCEP

    House and Senate Republicans expect to vote on their tax bill early this week after an agreement on its provisions was struck Friday. The deal lowers the top individual rate to 37 percent, lower than either House or Senate versions of the bill, and pegs a new flat corporate tax rate of 21 percent.  

    The deal, if passed by Congress and signed by President Trump, will ultimately increase taxes on the bottom 80 percent of Mainers, while delivering huge tax cuts to profitable corporations, wealthy foreign investors and the richest Americans.  

    The bill makes significant changes to individual, corporate and estate tax rules tilted in favor of those already prospering. The tax bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the national deficit, increase taxes on many low and middle-income Mainers and trigger deep cuts to education, affordable health care and emergency food assistance.  

    The bill features a misleading bait-and-switch, whereby temporary tax cuts for working families evaporate over time, while tax cuts for big corporations remain in place permanently. The bill also delivers a tax break to wealthy foreign investors that’s nearly double the benefit that the middle 20 percent of American families receive. 

    In 2019, the plan is already heavily tilted toward the richest Maine households. The top 1 percent of Mainers are slated to receive a tax break of $31,900, while middle-income households making between $42,000 and $65,000 will receive only $670 on average. 


     

    By 2027, the tax plan skews even more heavily in favor of the rich: The 80 percent of Mainers earning less than $147,000 a year can expect to see their taxes increase on average, while the wealthiest Mainers would still receive significant tax breaks. In total, Maine families will pay $88 million more in federal taxes in 2027 if the current agreement becomes law. 

     

    The tax bill has a cost of more than $1.4 trillion. The ensuing revenue shortfall will leave Congress scrambling to balance the budget, with top Republican lawmakers already promising spending cuts targeted at families and seniors. GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan recently said that once the tax bill is passed, he will turn to cutting successful programs that help families afford food, housing, health care and other basic needs 

    Ultimately, Mainers will pay more in total federal taxes under this plan. Taken in tandem, the tax package and promised cuts to anti-poverty programs will unravel the services and protections that build and strengthen the middle class in order to enrich already wealthy corporations and individuals.  

    The true costs of this tax plan remain to be seen as the costs of weakened protections and services for families at the federal level are likely to show up in the form of higher costs at the state and local level as local governments attempt to fill the gaps created by federal cuts. Maine families could see even greater tax increases at the state and local level if the Republican tax plan passes. 

    To learn more about the tax plans  state and national impacts, visit the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy’s report here. 

  • Attorney General Janet Mills to FCC: Delay rulemaking for Net Neutrality

    Attorney General Janet Mills and 17 other Attorneys General wrote to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking the Commission to delay its rulemaking deadline because of falsified comments made to the FCC.

    "A careful review of the publicly available information revealed a pattern of fake submissions using the names of real people. In fact, there may be over one million fake submissions from across the country. This is akin to identity theft on a massive scale - and theft of someone's voice in a democracy is particularly concerning," wrote the Attorneys General.

    Attorney General Mills announced her opposition to the FCC's stated intention to reverse Net Neutrality rules when the pending vote was announced in November, and is reviewing the proposal and discussing options with other attorneys general to protect consumers' rights. Since then the Attorney General's office has received complaints from Maine residents who have found comments submitted in their name to the FCC in support of the proposed rule change that they did not submit.

    Attorney General Mills, along with 12 other attorneys general, also submitted comments to the FCC in opposition to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking when it was originally announced in July.

    "This is an assault on the public commons. Individuals and businesses use the Internet every day to do our banking, to pay our bills, to do our schoolwork, and to do our jobs," said Attorney General Mills. "This proposal will allow service providers to limit and slow down access to information based on their values and economic interests. The idea that we should all be able to access the same parts of the web and use applications freely, without interference from a provider, is critical to the free exchange of ideas fundamental to our democracy." The Attorneys General ended the letter by writing, "It is essential that the Commission gets a full and accurate picture of how changes to net neutrality will affect the everyday lives of Americans before they can act on such sweeping policy changes"

  • Democrats in Maine Recommit to Implementing Medicaid Expansion despite Gov. LePage

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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