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  • New Maine law will give schools more control over graduation standards

     

    A measure to give communities more control over high school graduation requirements is now law.

    “As any teacher knows, students come to class with different abilities and disabilities,” said Rep. Tori Kornfield, D-Bangor, House chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee and the bill’s sponsor. “A teacher’s job is to meet them where they are and help them to grow as much as possible. Having one standard for everyone is not educationally sound.  Some students would meet the standard in seventh grade and some students, who come every day and work their hardest, would never meet the standard and therefore not receive a diploma.”

    The law change allows school districts to choose whether or not to require proficiency-based standards for graduation as previously mandated by a 2012 law. Those requirements had been set to apply to the class of 2021, which has now completed its freshman year, even though many school districts were not prepared to use them.

    Kornfield, a lifelong educator who taught for 30 years at Bangor High School, said the new law does not end proficiency-based education.

    “The new law allows school boards to decide on their own graduation requirements,” said Kornfield. “That means they can move forward with implementation of proficiency-based diplomas if they choose but can also postpone implementation or use alternative graduation standards if that’s what is best for their students.”

    In its final form, LD 1666 was the result of bipartisan efforts by the Education and Cultural Affairs Committee to prevent negative impacts due to a one-size-fits-all transition to proficiency-based standards.

    The bill was signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage. It will take effect 90 days after adjournment of the current legislative session.

    Kornfield is serving her third term in the Maine House. She represents part of Bangor.

  • Gov. LePagee vetoes Rep. Handy’s bill to expand access to hearing aids

     A bill by Rep. Jim Handy to help hearing-impaired Mainers purchase hearing aids was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage on July 3, 2018.

    “Hearing loss can have a profoundly negative impact on so many aspects of a person’s life, but most people who suffer from it don’t have the resources to pay for hearing aids out-of-pocket,” said Handy, D-Lewiston. “Improving access to hearing aids would improve the social, family and work life of thousands of Mainers. It should be a covered medical expense.”

    The measure requires insurance plans to cover a minimum of $3,000 per hearing aid for individuals with documented hearing loss beginning in January 2020. Current law only requires coverage for minors and at a lower minimum amount.

    “It’s a matter of just cents per policy. That’s a small price to pay to hear a grandchild’s voice for the first time. It’s a small price to pay to help someone in their fight against Alzheimer’s disease or to help more individuals participate in the workforce. There are so many positives,” said Handy.

    The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that approximately 65,000 Mainers suffer from some degree of hearing loss. Because most plans don’t include hearing aid coverage for adults, people with hearing loss are often left to cover the cost out-of-pocket.

    Studies show links between hearing loss, cognitive decline and dementia. Research suggests that measures as simple as increasing access to hearing aids could have a huge influence on healthy brain function and overall well-being.

    Hearing loss affects roughly 20 percent of American adults. According to data compiled by Gallaudet University through the American Community Survey, West Virginia has the largest percentage of adults with hearing loss, followed by Alaska and then Maine, tied with four other states.

    LD 192 passed “under the hammer,” or by unanimous consent, in the House. The vote was 25-7 in the Senate.

    The Legislature is expected to take up the veto when it meets Monday, July 9. It requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate to override the governor’s veto.

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

    Bill sets up pilot treatment program for the homeless

     

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • LePage veto puts 70,000 at risk - healthcare advocates encourage sign up despite LePage actions

      By Ramona du Houx

    Maine Equal Justice Partners today encouraged Mainers who believe that they are eligible for health care coverage under the state’s Medicaid expansion law to file an application with the Department of Health and Human Services.

    “Medicaid expansion – and coverage for more than 70,000 Mainers – is the law,” said Kathy Kilrain del Rio, policy analyst for MEJP. “People who believe that they might be eligible for health care coverage should file an application, which will help to protect their rights to coverage.”

    Under the Medicaid expansion law, newly eligible Mainers can begin to apply for coverage beginning July 2, 2018. 

    Despite court orders to the contrary and funding from the Legislature, Gov. Paul LePage and his administration have not taken steps necessary to implement Medicaid expansion. 

    LePage’s willingness to ignore the law means that it is unlikely that newly eligible applicants will receive health care coverage immediately, but by filing an application they may become eligible for retroactive coverage.

    Maine Equal Justice Partners has developed an online tool available at www.mejp.org to help people determine if they are eligible for coverage through expansion.

    Mainers who believe they might be eligible can also call Maine Equal Justice’s hotline at 1-866-626-7059 for help with applying and to understand their rights.

    “Today, by law, more than 70,000 Mainers should have new access to health insurance and to the promise of a longer and healthier life that goes with it. My job, with each patient, is to help them achieve health. Health insurance saves lives,”Dr. Renee Fay-LeBlanc, chief medical officer at Greater Portland Health said.

    Here’s where the process stands.

    In November, voters overwhelmingly approved Medicaid expansion, but LePage refused to implement it. In April, a group of advocates and impacted individuals sued to force the LePage administration to implement the law.

    On June 4, the Maine Superior Court agreed with the people and ordered the LePage administration to begin the process of implementation by filing a State Plan Amendment, which allows the state to draw down federal funding, 90 percent of the total cost, to support expansion.

    On June 20, The Maine Supreme Judicial Court put that order on hold until July 18, when it will hear oral arguments on the administration’s request to hold off on submitting the state plan until the appeal is decided. That order does not impact the July 2 date in the Medicaid expansion law. 

    Also on June 20, the Legislature passed legislation to fund the full cost of expansion based on the cost estimated by the governor, taking away his last excuse for blocking access to health care. 

    Despite LePage’s promised veto of the funding bill, the funds are available to provide health coverage to people who are eligible until at least May 2019. The law the voters passed is still binding.

    Importantly, the Legislature will have an opportunity to override LePage’s veto.

    For more information about the Maine Equal Justice Partners, visit: www.mejp.org.

  • Maine's Gov. LePage vetoes Rep. Blume’s coastal hazards commission bill

    Gov. LePage vetoed Rep. Lydia Blume’s bill to create a commission to examine the threats posed by weather and climate-based hazards to Maine’s coastal communities on July 2, 2018.

    “I am very disappointed by the governor’s action,” said Blume, D-York. “From his veto letter, it is clear that he does not understand that while a number of agencies may be working on the issue, they are usually working independently. This bill would bring them together.”

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

    “The powerful storms of this past year have highlighted the need for this commission,” said Blume. “I hope that my colleagues in the Legislature recognize the timeliness and importance of this bill to our crucial coastline and vote with me to override the veto.”

    The bill, LD 1095, would create a broad-based working group with representatives from municipalities, state agencies, regional planners, legislators and other coastal stakeholders. It calls for a report back to the Legislature with findings detailing the hazards faced by coastal communities and the plans and resources needed to deal with them. The bill had passed the House with a vote of 86-58 and 24-9 in the Senate

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

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

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

  • Maine's Gov. LePage vetoes Rep. Denno bill to improve oversight for DHHS handling of abuse cases

    On July 2, 2018 Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill sponsored by Rep. Dale Denno, D-Cumberland, to improve oversight surrounding Maine Department of Health and Human Services procedures in addressing abuse cases. The bill was unanimously approved in the Senate and passed with a vote of 79-63 in the House. 

    “The governor never misses an opportunity to talk about Maine’s ‘most vulnerable’,” said Rep. Denno. “This bill would help protect people with developmental disabilities in the care of the state who are suffering serious injuries and death without any investigation.  This veto is a very hypocritical action.”

    Denno submitted the bill in response to a U. S. DHHS Inspector General’s report that found that Maine was not adequately investigating deaths and abuse cases involving people with developmental disabilities. The bill, LD 1676, would require an examination of all deaths and serious injuries of persons with intellectual disabilities or autism receiving adult developmental services from the Department of Health and Human Services. 

    “This issue has been on my mind since the Inspector General’s report came out last year,” said Rep. Denno, who serves on the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee. “I hope we are able to override this veto.” 

    The Legislature will on overriding the veto when they convene on Monday, July 9.  It takes a two-thirds majority in both chambers to override a veto. 

    Denno is serving his first term in the Maine Legislature and represents Cumberland and part of Gray. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Maine House Republicans Vote Against Fix to Correct Clean Elections Funding

    Measure would correct drafting error that has put voter-approved system in jeopardy

     By Ramona du Houx

    House Republicans again voted against a needed fix to a drafting error that has put Maine’s voter-approved clean elections system in jeopardy.

    The vote was 68-47, largely along party lines, fell short of the two-thirds necessary for enactment.

    “It’s sad that House Republicans believe the only way they can win the election is by playing dirty, DC-style politics and blocking Maine citizens’ Clean Elections contributions from being released,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, who is also running for Congress in the US House of Representatives in the 2nd District. “It’s clear they believe gutting the Clean Elections system will give them a fundraising advantage so they can be free to raise money from corporations and the special interests that fund their campaigns. Fortunately for the people of Maine, as has been proven time and time again, money isn’t everything in politics.”

    The fix was offered as an amendment to LD 1912 by Rep. Louie Luchini, D-Ellsworth, House chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. As amended, the bill would fix the drafting error, as well as prohibit campaign fundraising, including collecting Clean Elections Fund contributions, at polling places. 

    Last year’s budget agreement, LD 390, included funding for the Maine Clean Election Fund and received near-unanimous support on enactment. Despite the appropriation, a drafting error in the measure inadvertently prevents the Maine Ethics Commission from dispersing clean elections funds to qualifying candidates after July 1.

    Candidates who run under the Clean Elections Act must demonstrate community support by collecting five-dollar donations to the Maine Clean Elections Fund. After candidates begin to receive clean elections funding, they cannot accept private contributions. More than 45,000 individuals have made qualifying contributions to Clean Elections candidates this election cycle with the expectation that the law would be followed as the Legislature intended.

    Regardless of the outcome of efforts to fix the drafting error, the state has an obligation and a duty to not only political candidates, but to citizens, to ensure this program is administered effectively.

    The Maine Clean Election Act was created by a citizen-led effort in 1996 to curb the influence of special interests in state government. The law was strengthened by a second citizen initiative in 2015.

     

    Lawmakers will return to the State House in the coming days to address clean elections funding as well as pending proposals on transportation bond funding, tax conformity and other outstanding issues.

  • N.C. Wyeth: Poems of American Patriotism at Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine

    Photos and Article by Ramona du Houx

    The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland presented an opening lecture the museum’s Curator Michael Komanecky by for the exhibition “N.C. Wyeth: Poems of American Patriotism.”

     Wyeth’s illustrations in two anthologies were inspired by Americans’ long-standing familiarity with and appreciation for poetry, and in particular its love of works by the so-called “Schoolroom Poets” — Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Walt Whitman, and John Greenleaf Whittier, among others.

    Komanecky’s presentation focused on the context in which the two anthologies of poems were created, including Wyeth’s role as illustrator.

    The exhibition “N.C. Wyeth: Poems of American Patriotism” opened to the public on June 16, 2018. At the members’ preview the evening before local children dressed up in the traditional Revolutionary War Blue Coat uniforms.

  • Maine’s University and Community College Systems need a big investment to compete

    Editorial by Representative Erik Jorgensen.

     If we want to give young people the best chance earn a good living right here in Maine, then we need to make a meaningful investment in our state’s University and Community College systems right away.

    Here in the Maine Legislature, we are pushing hard to make that happen.

    I’m proud to sponsor LD 836, a bond proposal that could upgrade all Maine public higher education campuses and will benefit every town. The bond will pay for improvements to bring both the University and Community College systems into the 21st century, where they can provide an even bigger benefit to Maine’s economy.

    Last year we provided critical support for science facilities at the University of Maine. This new bond extends that work, providing carefully targeted investments at the other university campuses and in our community colleges.

    The UMaine system has emerged from a period of hard choices, staff reductions, and belt tightening, and is now seeing higher enrollments due to increased out-of-state recruitment.  This is very good news for our state.

    The story of our community colleges is equally impressive. They are serving more students across the state while keeping costs in check.

    Both systems ensure Maine provides a quality education at a very good price. But keeping tuition flat, while critical for students, has made it harder to pay for major improvements.

    The bond would be matched at least 1 to 1 with other funds – both private and federal – multiplying our buying power and ensuring our campuses teach the skills that Maine businesses say they need most in the workforce.

    For the University part of the bond, highlights include doubling engineering teaching capacity at USM, as well as cybersecurity and computer science labs. U Maine Farmington will get a new child development and education center in Farmington. There will be a four-year nursing education program in Central and Southern Aroostook County through a UMaine Fort Kent and UMaine Presque Isle partnership. There will be educational support centers for new and nontraditional students at UMaine Augusta’s Augusta and Bangor campuses. It will purchase desperately needed marine science classrooms in Machias. University of Southern Maine will get a new student and career services center, which will transform the Portland campus.

    To keep our kids in Maine and attract those from out of state, our college and university facilities must be competitive. Maine’s public higher education system draws nearly six-thousand young people from elsewhere to Maine each year - those are future workers and taxpayers. But while out-of-state recruitment adds considerably to the bottom line of these campuses, in-state students also have expectations for facilities that are up to date.

    This bond is an investment that will cost less than a single new high school, but it’s one that will surely bring more students, jobs, investment and opportunities to our public university and community college campuses.  Economic development requires a well-trained workforce, and these campuses are our primary tool for creating that workforce. By passing this bond, we would be investing in Maine's future economic success.