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  • Maine Animal Welfare Accepting Donations for Rescue Effort

    The 96 dogs, 6 cats, 3 chickens and 2 horses seized by Maine Animal Welfare last week are receiving needed medical care and behavioral evaluations. At present, all of the animals are considered evidence in the complaint and the legal process is expected to take several weeks. The urgent and immediate need is for public">https://www1.maine.gov/cgi-bin/online/dog_license/donation.pl?step=begin">public contributions to help finance the rescue effort.

    More than 70 adult collies and Dobermans are being cared for in an emergency shelter.

    "Everyone is doing a great job caring for the dogs and our next hurdle is to move to an emergency shelter that is larger and better equipped," said Liam Hayes, Maine Animal Welfare Director. We are trying to give the dogs the individual care they need, but this temporary shelter site is too small. We are working to move to a new location so we can focus on rehabilitation."

    Secure donations are being accepted on https://www.maine.gov/dacf/animals

    The emergency shelter location is and will remain undisclosed to provide security for the animals and the staff coordinating this effort.

    Anyone wanting to help should check with their local shelter. Shelters across Maine are sending supplies and trained staff to care for the animals.

  • Maine DEP Issues Air Quality Alert for Tuesday, July 30, 2019

    Alert is for the Southwest Coastal Region and High Elevations of Acadia National Park

    Ground-level ozone concentrations will be climbing in Maine on Tuesday and are expected to reach unhealthy levels according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The Southwest Coastal region and the High Elevations of Acadia National Park are the regions forecast to reach the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range on the Air Quality Index. 

    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.
    • 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 site epa.gov/asthma to find information about asthma triggers and lessons on asthma management.

    In addition to those in a sensitive group, sports coaches, elder care workers, nurses and others who are responsible for the welfare of people impacted by poor air quality are urged to use one of the listed tools to follow the Air Quality Forecast:

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

  • Maine's beaches 93 percent safe according to DEP

    Rockland beach, photo by Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Legionella bacteria detected in Orono-Veazie Water District in Maine

     As part of its continuing investigation of a cluster of Legionella cases in the greater Bangor area, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sampled water in the Orono-Veazie Water District in July, 2019.

    Maine CDC found detectable levels of Legionella bacteria at two locations in this water district. Maine CDC worked closely with the water district to address this by increasing chlorine levels in the system. Follow-up testing is also being performed.

    Customers of the Orono-Veazie Water District may smell chlorine in their water. This increased level of chlorine is not harmful and the water remains safe to drink and use. Residents in the area do not need to take any action in response to the test results or higher chlorine levels.

    At this time, Maine CDC has not determined whether the detectable levels of Legionella may be related to any of the previously reported cases of Legionnaires' disease in the area. Maine CDC continues to actively investigate to try to identify a common exposure among the cases or determine whether they are coincidental. No additional cases have been identified since the July 12 announcement of this investigation.

    Legionella is a type of bacteria found naturally in freshwater environments, like lakes and streams. It can become a health concern when it grows and spreads in human-made building water systems like sinks, cooling towers, hot tubs, fountains, and large plumbing systems. Legionnaires' disease, a type of pneumonia, may result when people breathe in small droplets of water that contain the bacteria. Symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches, and headaches.

    Particularly in light of high temperatures, Maine CDC urges residents not to avoid drinking water from this water district, as Legionella bacteria are not transmitted through the act of drinking water.

    Most healthy people exposed to Legionella do not get sick. Those at increased risk of getting sick are people 50 years and older; current or former smokers; people with a chronic lung disease, weak immune systems, or cancer; and people with other underlying illnesses such as diabetes, kidney failure, or liver failure.

    There were almost 7,500 cases of Legionnaires' disease in the United States in 2017. Last year, there were 33 cases of Legionnaires' disease in Maine. Because it is underdiagnosed, these numbers may underestimate the true incidence.

    Maine CDC will continue to provide updates on this investigation as more information becomes available.

    For more information on Legionella visit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Infrastructure grants will bring universal service to the towns of Alna, Alton, Bowdoinham, and Cambridge

     By Ramona du Houx

    ConnectME Authority announced today that its board has approved $731,775 in grants to eight communities across Maine for broadband infrastructure and planning. ConnectME is providing infrastructure grants to the communities of Alna, Alton, Bowdoinham, and Cambridge, bringing fiber optic service to 867 locations in those four communities. The grants are matched by $1,473,130 from the communities being served and the ISP building out the broadband service.

    ConnectME is also providing $89,275 in grants to Argyle, Swans Island, Franklin County and the Western Lakes region of Kennebec County for community planning. These grants are designed to help engage communities, identifying needs and engage potential broadband service providers to expand the availability of broadband to their area. These grants are matched by $120,000 from the communities seeking funding.

    “Broadband is critical to spur innovation, create opportunity, and build a strong, diverse economy – especially in rural Maine,” said Governor Janet Mills. “One of the highest priorities of my Administration is to expand our state’s broadband infrastructure and these grants from ConnectME are a positive step in that direction by leveraging local and private investment to bring high-speed connectivity to these communities.”

    “High speed Internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” said Rep. Berry, Bowdionham, House Chair of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee added.  “ While my own constituents are now served, many Mainers still lack access to opportunities for business, healthcare, and education that require fast, reliable upload and download speeds.  This is the critical importance of the state’s Connect ME Authority to improve our prosperity and quality of life.” 

    Governor Mills’ budget, as proposed and passed, increases funding for ConnectME by $1.9 million, beginning in January of 2020. The Governor’s bond package, which still awaits Legislative approval, also includes $30 million dedicated to the expansion of broadband.

    The ConnectME Authority was created by the Governor Baldacci administration, with the legislature in 2006 to make a secure, reliable, competitive and forward-looking broadband infrastructure be broadband service universally available.  It is funding by a small assessment on land lines and broadband services to customers in Maine, with an annual budget of just over $1,000,000.

     

  • Lights for Liberty: A Vigil To End Human Detention Camps in Maine

    Mainers will gather outside the Maine State House in Augusta at 8:30 pm on Friday, July 12, for a candlelight vigil to raise awareness about the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, refugees, and other immigrants seeking entry to the U.S. at the southern border. The event is one of 11 planned around the state for Lights for Liberty, a national protest taking place in every state in the U.S. 

    “Mainers have a tradition of supporting immigrants and speaking out for justice and human rights, so it’s only natural that so many here would want to join in this nationwide effort,” said Kelli Whitlock Burton, an event organizer and co-leader of Suit Up Maine, which is sponsoring the Augusta vigil along with Capital Area Indivisible, Capital Area New Mainers Project, Central Mainers for Change, the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, Maine Women’s Lobby and Central Mainers to End Family Separation and Child Detention. 

    “These vigils are intended to show the current administration and our members of Congress that we stand with the families and individuals who fled violence in their home countries to come to the U.S. for safety and a better life.”

    A July 2 report from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security titled “Management Alert – DHS Needs to Address Dangerous Overcrowding and Prolonged Detention of Children and Adults in the Rio Grande Valley” detailed concerns about the conditions at facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to that report and others, the centers are badly overcrowded and children and adults are being underfed and denied medical care. In defiance of court orders and federal law, families continue to be separated and children are held for longer than the law allows. 

    “It’s unacceptable to hold children in detention without access to basic necessities like soap or toothbrushes and to force women to drink from toilets,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the HHRC. “As Americans, we need to hold our government to a higher standard to guarantee the human rights of all people including asylum seekers, immigrants and refugees.”

    More than a dozen organizations are sponsoring other vigils around the state. A full list can be found at https://www.suitupmaine.org/close-the-camps-protests/. For more information about the national protest and a list of vigils nationwide, visit https://www.lightsforliberty.org/

    What: Lights for Liberty: A Vigil To End Human Detention Camps 

    Where: Maine State House

    When: Friday, July 12 at 8:30 pm

  • New Maine laws will help hungry children in Maine

    By Ramona du Houx

    Nutritious food helps develop babies’ brains and bodies, gives kids the energy to excel and reduces the risk of chronic diseases in adulthood. But 15.8 percent of Maine households, about 200,000 individuals, are food insecure. It’s estimated that about 1 in 5 children in Maine don’t know when or where they will get their next meal. Many rely on school meals. But when school lets out for summer they have to fend for themselves.

    That's why foundaitons like Full Plates/Full Potential of Portland, Maine are so important. Started in 2015 their mission is to end childhood hunger in Maine. Their advocacy helped hearld new legislation in Augusta to sucess.

    “Access to adequate nutrition is critical for children's academic and social emotional development,” said Heather Zimmerman, Advocacy Director of Preble Street. “However, right now nearly half of all Maine students qualify for free and reduced price meals. The child nutrition bills passed by the Maine legislature this year will increase access to school meals, helping to reduce hunger in Maine and ensure all students have access to the nutrition they need to thrive.”

    LD 701: includes two major child hunger policies: 

    • The state will now create an online application for federal child nutrition food programs. Today 81,838 students are enrolled in federal food programs for free and reduced-price meals. There are many more children, however, who qualify for these programs but don’t enroll because their families never turn in their paper applications. Because of this law, the state will provide an online application system, in addition to the paper form, that local school districts can use to make it easier for parents to apply.

    • For breakfast, schools will change their models to the national best practice known as Breakfast After the Bell. Serving breakfast after the first bell in the classroom or on a cart just outside of the classroom will increase participation and reduce the stigma for eligible children. The new law also includes funds to pay for infrastructure like food carts and point of sale systems to ease the burden on local school districts.

    LD 549: For lunch, students who qualify for reduced price lunch will now eat for free. For these 11,000 students, often the reduced cost of lunch can be too much for families to afford, causing children to accumulate lunch debt. Eliminating the reduced-price category ensures that these students caught in the middle can access nutritious school lunches while reducing the administrative burden on school nutrition directors. 

    LD 577: After-school programs, from sports to school clubs, are a hallmark of many students' educational experiences. Most students arrive at after-school programs hours after they’ve eaten lunch. This new law will give children the opportunity to eat nutritious meals with their peers so that they can learn, focus and complete after-school activities. Currently, only 28 of the 271 schools eligible actually participate in this federal food program.

    “These four childhood hunger bills will allow more Maine kids to grow up healthy, learn and  reach their full potential,” said Anna Korsen, Full Plates Full Potential’s Program Director. “The legislature passed a better service model for breakfast, supported an underutilized after-school meals program, created an online application system so that families can sign up for nutritious meals and eliminated a financial barrier for lunch.”   

  • Maine is now the 19th state to adopt an Automatic Voter Registration system

     

    By Ramona du Houx

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

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

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

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

     

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