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  • NCEL lawmakers from 36 states to work on solutions to climate change issues

    Article and Photos by Ramona du Houx

    Rep. Lydia Blume of York, joined 128 state legislators from 36 states at the 2017 National Issues Forum organized by the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators last week. The event offered opportunities for attendees to collaborate on policy solutions to combat climate change, remove toxins from drinking water and consumer products, and conserve water, public lands, and endangered species.

    “Serious environmental issues, such as sea level rise, ocean acidification, environmental toxins and habitat restoration are not unique to Maine,” said Blume.  “Meetings like this are an excellent way to share ideas and tested solutions.”

    The forum agenda featured a keynote address from former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who spoke about the ability of states to innovate and create environmental models for the federal government to adopt. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also keynoted the event. He highlighted the fact that states had already passed legislation that proves it is possible to simultaneously protect the environment and support economic growth, and noted that such efforts are now more important than ever.

    Schwarzenegger underscored the need for bipartisanship cooperation and state and local action on climate and the environment.

    “I don’t see the environment as a political issue. There is no Republican air or Democratic air, we all breathe the same air. There is no Republican water or Democratic water, we all drink the same water, so let’s work together on this,” he said. “States, provinces, cities, and neighborhoods have tremendous power, and we should wield that power… This is why it’s so important that we fill the vacuum - where the federal government has fallen short, we are going to step in and we are going to do the work.”

    Schwarzenegger also introduced the Digital Environmental Legislative Handbook (envirolaws.org), a joint project between NCEL and the Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy at the University of Southern California. The online resource is a searchable database of impactful environmental legislation to support legislators on issues including climate change, air quality, human health, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

    The handbook is in its first phase and is designed to grow as legislators submit their suggestions and more issue topics are added. Some of the most impactful policies featured in the handbook are authored by former California State Senator Fran Pavley, who helped introduce the handbook at the forum and was recognized by Schwarzenegger and the NCEL Board of Directors for crafting a far-reaching array of environmental policies that had been replicated in other states.

    NCEL Executive Director Jeff Mauk believes that there is an appetite for state action on environmental issues unlike anything he has seen before, especially in the wake of President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. 

    “Regardless of what’s happening in Washington, America will continue its leadership on combatting climate change because of the great work of states and cities,” said Mauk. “State legislators from both parties know that reducing carbon pollution and eliminating toxins are good for the economy and for the health of their constituents. We are excited to partner with the Schwarzenegger Institute to provide more tools for state legislators working on environmental policies in their states.”

    “Finding out about what has worked and what hasn’t in other places, both in terms of specific legislation and overall strategies, saves a lot of time and effort,” Blume said.

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

  • Offshore Wind Development Potentially Finds Smoother Sailing

    In a breakthrough for offshore wind energy in the United States, construction of the Block Island Wind Farm, the first U.S. offshore wind farm, was completed in August 2016 about 30 miles off the coast of Rhode Island. The project began delivering power to the New England grid on May 5 of this year. While Block Island is a big step forward for the industry, broad public support for offshore wind farms in the U.S. has been lacking due in large part to concerns about aesthetics when the turbines are visible from land. As demonstrated by the collapse of the Cape Wind project in 2014 off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, failure to get public buy-in can be fatal to a project.

    This may be about to change due to floating turbine technology that allows wind farms to be located in deep water, far offshore and not visible from land. The technology also addresses other common concerns relating to offshore wind projects by eliminating seafloor-disturbing pile-driving, and allowing for easy disassembly and removal when the project ends. It also means that wind turbines are possible in many locations, like off the West Coast, where deeper waters have made wind farms technologically infeasible or impossible using traditional foundations. A number of developers have put their floating turbine designs to the test through pilot programs presently being conducted in the U.S., Europe and Japan, and several additional test projects are in the final stages of development.

    In the United States, the Department of Energy (DOE) has invested in a pilot program by the University of Maine to install a floating offshore wind farm in deep waters off the coast of Maine using turbines attached to concrete semi-submersible foundations. In Europe, several designs are being tested, including those based on decades-old oil and gas technology (spar buoy foundation, to the mooring lines, to the suction anchors).

    Offshore wind energy in the U.S. is a largely untapped alternative energy resource that holds the potential to produce a large percentage of the nation’s energy needs. Offshore turbines can offer many advantages over those on land, including that the winds offshore tend to blow harder and more consistently, and also the turbines themselves can be larger and therefore generate more energy. According to a 2016 assessment by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the technical resource potential for offshore wind development in the United States (taking into consideration technical, environmental and competing-use exclusions) is 2,058 GW of capacity, or 7,203 terawatt-hours per year of generation, which is nearly double the nation’s current annual electricity use.

    California’s Quest for Renewable Energy
    California’s Governor Brown signed a bill in 2015 mandating that the state obtain half of its energy from renewable resources by 2030. In 2016, Gov. Brown asked the Secretary of the Department of Interior for a joint task force to facilitate offshore renewable energy. Also in 2016, the DOE issued a joint national strategy with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for offshore wind development. With its governor’s outspoken support for renewable energy, and federal support through DOE and BOEM, California could soon be the site of the West Coast’s first offshore wind project.

    Using floating wind turbine technology originally developed and tested in Europe, Seattle-based Trident Winds has proposed an offshore wind farm approximately 33 miles off the central California coast, called the Morro Bay Offshore project. In August 2016, BOEM initiated a lease process with Trident Winds for the Morro Bay project. Trident Winds is optimistically projecting that construction will begin in 2023, and commercial operation will start in 2025. If completed, the energy produced by the project will go a long way toward fulfilling the mandate set by Gov. Brown for renewable resource-derived energy, and provide a template for future floating turbine commercial projects.

  • Top Maine City to Start a Business - Bangor

    A 2017 analysis by national finance website WalletHub compared the business climate of over 1,200 small cities, and Bangor came out as the top place in Maine to start a business.

    Using 16 key metrics including average growth in number of small businesses, real estate and labor costs, number of startups per capita, and access to capital, Bangor ranked ahead of other Maine cities with a total score of 40.6 and ranking of 434 out of 1261 cities.

    "Bangor has worked diligently to make ourselves an ideal small city for economic development and business activity," said Bangor Mayor Joseph M. Baldacci, a local small business owner himself. "Our City's efforts to focus on both the entrepreneurial ecosystem and quality of life assets have made Bangor a location of choice. We expect to see even more of this growth in the future, as more businesses prioritize location and quality of life as critical factors in their location decisions."

    Additional information about business resources can be found on the City's website: www.bangormaine.gov/ced.

  • Eagle Creek, buying Maine hydroelectric facilities

    Eagle Creek Renewable Energy, of New Jersey, has purchased the hydroelectric facilities that powered Madison Paper Industries and closed the sale July 31, 2017. The mill shut down last year, devestating the community.

    The company also  purchased a minority interest in the 4-megawatt Brassua hydropower facility in Rockwood, near Moosehead Lake, and a majority interest in the Kennebec Water Power Co., which regulates upstream releases from reservoirs on the river.

    Eagle Creek’s has a growing portfolio of hydropower facilities in Maine. It purchased generators that power Verso’s Androscoggin mill for $62 million in January 2016 and last Decemeber purchased the generators at the former Worumbo Mill in Lisbon Falls.

  • Rural Maine inside a Great Depression

    A New Great Depression in Rural Maine

    July 31, 2017 by , policy analyst of the Maine Center of Economic Policy

    New data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis provide more evidence of Maine’s lackluster economy, and the failure of policies pursued by Governor LePage and his allies. In the first quarter of 2017, Maine’s economy saw no real growth. Zero.  That was the lowest rate in New England, and the seventh-worst performance of any state. These new data are just the latest in a series of indicators that demonstrate just how much of a failure LePage’s economic legacy will be, especially for rural Maine. 

    Governor LePage’s ideology and policy decisions have prolonged an economic recession into a new great depression for rural Maine - James Myall

    Economic growth is not like the weather. Lawmakers are not powerless to affect change – to encourage growth, and ensure that its gains are shared fairly. Governor LePage and his legislative allies have held Maine’s economy back by favoring wealthy Mainers over hardworking families, and opposing investments in our infrastructure, and our education system. The mantra of small government has not only hurt working Mainers, but also stymied the state’s job growth. The governor and his administration have even turned away nearly $2 billion in outside funding that would have stimulated our economy. The results of those disastrous policies are becoming increasingly clear. 

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    Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis. New England data include data for Maine.  

    Maine’s economy is still smaller, in real terms, than it was in 2006. The state has seen more than a decade of lost economic growth, even as the nation and our New England neighbors have recovered from the Recession and continued to grow their economies. Maine’s real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is still 1 percent below its pre-Recession high in the second quarter of 2006.  In contrast, New England’s total real GDP is 8 percent higher, and national GDP is 13 percent higher. When the economy is stagnant this long, there’s little room for wage growth, or job creation, and state revenues struggle to keep pace with need. 

    To make matters worse, any economic growth Maine has seen has been concentrated in the southeastern portion of the state. In the Portland-South Portland Metropolitan Area (which the BEA defines as all of York, Cumberland and Sagadahoc Counties), GDP has bounced along somewhat unsteadily, but is at least 2 percent above the 2006 high-water mark. In contrast, the economy in the rest of Maine entered a tailspin in 2006 from which it is just beginning to pull up. Real Gross Domestic Product in this area is a full 5 percent below 2006 levels. 

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    Source: US Bureau of Economic Analysis. The BEA defines the Portland-South Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area as Cumberland, Sagadahoc, and York Counties.

     The economy’s nosedive in rural Maine is so steep and deep that it represents an economic depression for the region. Economists typically define a recession as two consecutive quarters of real GDP decline, and a depression as four consecutive quarters of decline. The BEA does not produce quarterly GDP estimates below the state level, but the annual estimates imply that outside the Portland-South Portland Metro area, Maine has seen a very prolonged recession, resulting in seven years of declining economic growth. By way of contrast, the Great Depression of 1929 resulted in just four years of consecutive GDP losses. 

    The majority of the state’s population still lives outside the Portland-South Portland area, but people in these areas have been excluded from almost all the economic growth in recent years.

    These bleak GDP data show that Maine still has a long way to go to recover from the recession, and that rural Maine is being left behind. The majority of the state’s population still lives outside the Portland-South Portland area, but people in these areas have been excluded from almost all the economic growth in recent years. Workers need good-paying jobs to replace the many losses in the pulp and paper industries, opportunities to retrain with new skills, and families need to experience real wage growth for the first time in a decade.   

    The recipe for economic growth is clear. All Maine children need to benefit from a world-class education system. Mainers need to be able to go to college debt-free. The state must attract and retain young talent in any way it can, including helping with the burden of student debt. Mainers need affordable health care to be at their most productive, and the security of being able to take family leave to care for their loved ones.  

    Governor LePage’s ideology and policy decisions have prolonged an economic recession into a new great depression for rural Maine. It will be up to the next governor and legislature, and the voters who elect them, to set an agenda which will repair the damage and breathe new life into this part of the state.  

  • The Launch of the Michi Zeebee

    First thing’s first: we are not the first. We are following a long historical line of adventurers, workers, escapees, romantics, knuckleheads, and fortune-seekers, everyone from farmers in the early days of Westward expansion, to heroes of alternative living, the Hubbards, a couple who lived on the river in a shanty boat for more than a decade. The artist SWOON and her flotilla of river rats put in (we found out to our glee) at the very same yacht club where we put in, the St. Paul Yacht Club in Minnesota. So did a Russian man who made his vessel out of a bunch of soda bottles and chain link fence.

    According to one of the people who run the yacht club this soda bottle pioneer was stopped by the coast guard, and despite the fact that his craft was registered, he was indefinitely dry-docked because his boat was bleeding soda bottles up and down the river. He apparently tried to argue that it was okay because he had a ready supply of extra bottles to replace each one that drifted away in his wake.

    Anyway. We hope we’re a little more equipped than that. A close look at our vessel, for those who have done the trip or built similar shanty-style vessels usually yields supportive responses, encouragement, even admiration. We’ve even heard from one or two people that we’ve inspired them to take a trip of their own.

    Even so, people regularly—daily, actually—come up to us as if we were the first ones with this crazy idea (we’re not), or even the first ones to go down the river on a shanty boat (we’re not), or even the first ones to go down the river on this particular design of shanty boat (we’re not even that).

    So we are used to the ensuing advice, which usually starts in the form one of a dozen or so questions that we now have stock responses for, questions that include, almost always: where will you poop (in a toilet), do you have a radio (yes, VHF, yes, handheld), are you going to kill one another (no, we agreed to donate limbs to a collective meat stew if we run out of food on that lower Mississippi stretch), do you have a generator (yes, 1,000 watt something-something we bought on Amazon), what kind of motor is this (Tohatsu 25 horsepower), you steer from up there (yes! and the steering wheel is a solid bronze stick that Morgan pounded flat), do you have mosquito netting (yes, and soon we’ll get mosquito net masks, and we have UPF rated hats, and Esmeralda-meets-ninja-style face masks), do you know that there are bad people in the world (…), do you have flares (yes, and they can double as weapons—refer back to question regarding bad people), have you heard of wing dams (we have! they are often submerged, man-made structures that control the flow of the river, and you can get stuck on them, which is bad), do you read charts (we have a physical copy of the Army Corps maps, plus Navionics, plus a Quimby’s guide and a barge-tracking app), have you thought about barges, did you know that barges can kill you, did you know that barges suck forty-foot logs under them as if they’re no bigger than toothpicks, did you know you that barges flipped a buddy of mine right over when he was anchored at night, did you know that barges are the kraken of the river, the devils of middle America, the scourge of the United States’ central waterway, the great, mile-long, boat-swallowing, monsters of the locks—and, again, where will you poop?

    We know that the advice-in-the-form-of-a-question almost always comes from a place of concern, and that there are a lot of things both positive and negative that play into that—we seem young, we seem naive—maybe we are a little of both—we’re not particularly tough-looking; I wear a big candy-striped red and white hat; we look more like we belong with the Saturday afternoon yoga paddle board crowd than the country-traversing explorer crowd. And there’s our boat. One guy said he’d seen a lot of “P.O.S-es” (Piece Of Shit-ers, for those out of the P. C. acronym loop) but ours was his favorite. A manager for the St. Paul Yacht Club, who had to endure our anti-yacht in the club lot for over a week, said it was the “Kon Tiki,” a description that I took as a compliment, but then followed it with “that motor is the smartest thing on this boat.” He has since shared our project with his friends and his community with supportive commentaries, and the yacht club as a whole embraced the project.

    Anyway, the nice thing about all this advice-giving is that it usually generates conversation. We once found ourselves in a parking lot surrounded by ten cars that spontaneously pulled up in a circle around us as we were working on the deck. People were shouting out windows to strike up conversations. We’ve seen people from all over the country gather at rest stops on the freeway as we trailered the boat west. All types and backgrounds give advice and question, everyone from fiddlers to state senators, kids to octogenarians.

    Advice-questioning is an entrance, a starting point. We got advice from day one, advice on building, advice on packing, advice on leaving, and occasionally it felt territorial, sometimes patronizing, once-in-a-while brilliant, often heartfelt, even touching, and when it felt useful, we used it. We raised our combing. We put in drop-down windows. We added snap buttons to our canvas. We got extra gasoline tubs. We got a generator. And maybe the best result of a piece of advice: we monitor channel 13 to talk to the river kraken.

    At this point I am a little weary of advice. I’m ready to move beyond it. I hope that conversations open up beyond advice. I wrote the original part of this entry sitting in a dock not more than ten feet from where Michi Zeebee’s bottom paint first touched the Mississippi’s muddy waters; Morgan was sitting on the fore deck; the canvas walls were rolled up up, the daylight was splitting the dusking evening with artificial light from the Twin Cities. We were waiting for a storm to pass so we could begin the journey south.

    The storm passed, we headed out at 7.30 am the next morning, and now we’re tied up to a public dock outside of Hastings, day one on the river successfully completed. We passed three river monsters. They were all exceedingly nice and stayed as far away from us as possible. Polite monsters. We passed through a lock, talking to the lock masters as we held onto ropes and were lowered down the water elevator, craning our necks more and more upward as the boat moved downward and we attempted to keep talking about wooden boats and mini houses. The conversation physically stretched.

    Later we met a group of people on the water where the LaCroix empties into the Mississippi. They told us to follow them so they could help tie us up. As we stepped off our decks we were initially asked us the same set of questions that we’re overly prepared to answer, but then the conversation stretched as well, it moved into other territories. To make a sweeping statement based on just the first day of travel and the interactions that come with that, it seems that just being on the water–not preparing to get on the water–has caused our conversations about the project and the boat to move beyond beginning questions and advice. It moves, stretches as we physically move forward.

  • New Maine laws to help working families, small businesses, students, and veterans

    Maine House wraps up work for 2017 on August 2nd

    Measures to invest in education, support small business, increase consumer protections and strengthen environmental stewardship marked the first regular session of the 128th Legislature that wrapped up for the year on August 2. Lawmakers also dealt with a number of issues as a result of the referenda passed in the 2016 election.

    Democratic and Republican lawmakers worked collaboratively to accomplish many of these key goals despite obstruction by Gov. Paul LePage and his allies in the House.

    “We made great strides to help improve the lives of Maine families,” said Speaker of the House Sara Gideon.  “Lawmakers came together to do right by our citizens, even in a time of divided government.  We made smart, targeted investments to grow our economy and increase prosperity for Maine families.  And most importantly, we capitalized on our most important resource - Maine people, investing in lifting children out of poverty and ensuring that they have access to the excellent education, from early childhood through higher ed, that will position them and all of us for a successful future.” 

    Lawmakers considered approximately 1,650 bills this session, with 350 bills becoming law. Democrats, Republicans and unenrolled members came together to override 55 of 128 Gov. LePage vetoes.

    Democrats rejected measures to roll back women’s rights, worker’s rights, and voting rights, while fighting to harness clean, renewable energy and safeguard our environment.

    “While politics as usual in Washington D.C .might mean gridlock, this session we proved that Maine knows how to get things done, “ said Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden. “From strengthening health care services for first responders and veterans to investing in our kids and communities through better education funding statewide, we worked hard this session and achieved real progress for all Mainers."

    The Legislature will reconvene for the Second Regular Session of the 128th Legislature in January 2018. 

    Key New Laws from the First Regular Session of the 128th Legislature

    Measures sponsored by House Democratic members and unenrolled members who caucus with Democrats: 

    Public Safety

    An Act To Allow Hunters Whose Religion Prohibits Wearing Hunter Orange Clothing To Instead Wear Red

    An Act To Require State Compliance with Federal REAL ID Guidelines

    An Act To Delay the Implementation of Certain Portions of the Marijuana Legalization Act

    An Act to Combat Human Trafficking by Requiring Prevention Training for Commercial Drivers

     

    Education

    An Act To Improve Safety and Traffic Efficiency near School Grounds

    An Act To Revise Certification Statutes for Educational Personnel

    An Act To Protect Students from Identity Theft

    An Act To Provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Secondary School Health Educators

    Resolve, To Establish the Task Force To Identify Special Education Cost Drivers and Innovative Approaches to Services

     

    Economy and Small Business

    An Act To Extend the Legal Hours for Harvesting LobsterAn Act To Support Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Maine's Economic Future

    An Act Regarding Transfers of Liquor between Licensed Manufacturers' Facilities

    An Act To Provide Support for Sustainable Economic Development in Rural Maine

    An Act To Ensure Continued Availability of High-speed Broadband Internet at Maine's Schools and Libraries

    An Act To Improve Vocational Rehabilitation under the Maine Workers' Compensation Act of 1992

     

    Energy / Environment

    An Act To Protect Maine's Clean Water and Taxpayers from Mining Pollution

    An Act To Include 50 Milliliter and Smaller Liquor Bottles in the Laws Governing Returnable Containers

    An Act To Create a Penalty for the Discharge of Septic Waste from Watercraft into the Inland WatersAn Act To Establish Energy Policy in Maine

    An Act To Revise Certification Statutes for Educational Personnel

     

    Health Care and Public Health

    An Act To Require Insurance Coverage for Contraceptive Supplies

    An Act To Incorporate Protections for Living Donors into Maine Law

    An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Forensic Examination Kits

    An Act To Increase Access to Hearing Aids

    An Act To Prohibit Certain Gifts to Health Care Practitioners

    An Act To Provide Youth Mental Health First Aid Training to Secondary School Health Educators

     

    Consumer Protection

    An Act To Promote Fiscal Responsibility in the Purchasing of Debt

    An Act To Protect Maine Consumers from Unexpected Medical Bills

    An Act To Protect Students from Identity Theft

    An Act To Increase Reporting on Wage and Hour Violations

     

    Transportation

    An Act To Authorize the Construction of a Maine Turnpike Connector to Gorham

    An Act To Improve Safety and Traffic Efficiency near School Grounds

     

    Veterans

    An Act Regarding Mental Health Care for Maine Veterans

     

    Opioid

    An Act To Allow Corrections Officers To Administer Naloxone

  • Maine State Rep. Golden’s veteran mental health access bill becomes law

    A bill sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, to help veterans get access to mental health care became law on August 2, 2017.

    “This law will cover the cost of inpatient and outpatient mental health care for veterans, help cut dangerous wait times for veterans in crisis and gather data about the number of veterans who need care,” Golden said. “One of the goals of this new law is to use this data to help the state demonstrate to Washington the need for Department of Veterans Affairs inpatient beds here in Maine.”

    Of the roughly 30,000 veterans in Maine who don’t use Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, health care services, it is estimated that more than 10,000 are in need of mental health services.

    Photo: Rep. Golden, second from left, touring the Portland Jet Port with Transportation Committiee.

    The bill, LD 1231, will gather data on mental health admissions to determine if the person seeking help is a veteran and whether they qualify for veteran’s services. It also sets up a pilot program to provide case management for veterans requiring mental health care. Golden’s floor speech on the measure is available here.

    There are currently no inpatient mental health care beds in Maine specifically for veterans. Those requiring care through the VA are sent out of state.

    "It's unacceptable that we don't have long-term inpatient mental health care options for veterans in Maine," said Golden. "We need to push the VA to fix this so that our veterans don't have to go out of state for the care they need."

    The bill will go into effect immediately as an emergency measure that received the support of more than two-thirds of the Legislature.

    Golden is a Marine Corps veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq where he served as an Infantry Assaultman. He is serving his second term in the Maine House and represents part of the city of Lewiston. He is the Assistant House Majority Leader. 

  • Maine State Sen. Carson's Public Health Nursing Bill holds back LePage's attack on healthcare

    The Maine Legislature on August 2, 2017 successfully rebuked Gov. Paul LePage’s last-ditch effort to block a new law to restore the strength of Maine’s public health nursing program, which protects the state’s people from disease outbreaks and works with communities to provide preventative health services.

    The Senate overrode the governor’s veto with a 29-5 vote, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for the bill to become law over LePage’s objection. The override vote also won two-thirds in the House of Representatives, 101-34.

    The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Brownie Carson, said the veto override would reverse Gov. LePage’s year long effort to dismantle Maine’ public health infrastructure.

    “There is no greater obligation for elected officials than ensuring the health and wellbeing of the residents in this great state, and public health nurses are the vanguard of our public health system,” said Sen. Carson, a Harpswell Democrat. “These dedicated health professionals protect us from disease outbreaks, they work with our families to ensure the health of our children, and they address a dire need for preventative health services at the community level. They work with anyone, regardless of their income or their insurance status. For six years, this administration has attacked our public health infrastructure. This bill is a critical step to reversing the damage.”

    Unlike other health care providers who treat individuals, public health nurses promote and protect the health of entire populations, with a goal of preventing disease and disability.  In Maine, PHNs conduct home visits with young families and pregnant women, providing education and assessment to help new moms and dads raise healthy children. They also assist families with substance-affected babies, and help frail or isolated Mainers in rural parts of the state stay in their homes by providing in-home care.

    But their work goes beyond the household, and PHNs provide crisis response services, such as in 2009 when they established 238 clinics in Maine to provide H1N1 vaccines. In 2011, 59 public health nurses worked throughout the state from offices ranging from Sanford to Calais to Fort Kent. But since 2011, positions in the public health nursing program have been left vacant or eliminated. Today, the program is a shadow of its former self, with just one-third the staff on hand to respond to emergencies and promote wellbeing in Maine. Cuts and understaffing in the state’s corps of public health nurses has jeopardized Maine’s ability to respond to health crises such as disease outbreaks and the drug epidemic.

    This year, the biennial budget includes 48 positions within the Public Health Nursing program. Sen. Carson’s bill, LD 1108, requires the Department of Health and Human Services to promptly fill those positions, removing Gov. LePage’s ability to gut public health services by refusing to hire. The bill will ensure professional public health nurses will stand at the ready to safeguard Maine’s wellbeing against health emergencies, chronic disease and epidemic.

    Today’s shortage leaves the state unprepared to meet the public health needs of Mainers in the best of times, let alone in an emergency. In the meantime, Maine has bucked national trends to become the only state where infant mortality rates are rising, and a drug epidemic is ravaging communities throughout the state.

    Last year, 1,000 drug-affected babies were born in Maine. At the same time, referrals for homes visits by public health nurses are going unfulfilled because of a lack of staffing in the program.

    The bill earned bipartisan support, and the backing of the Maine Public Health Association, Maine Medical Association, AARP Maine and the Primary Care Association. Health care professionals including doctors, nurses and public health experts from Eastern Maine Health, Central Maine Health and several rural, critical-access hospitals also testified in favor of the bill.

    TESTIMONY FROM EXPERTS IN SUPPORT OF LD 1108:

    “We have a public health system for the same reason we have police, and firemen, and the military. These groups all serve to protect us from threats,” said Dr. Dervilla McCann, chief of population health at Central Maine Medical Center. McCann described the 1918 flu pandemic that rocked Maine and killed more people globally in 24 years than AIDS killed in 24 years. “At a time when the state is struggling with an opioid epidemic impacting newborns, it seems extraordinarily ill timed to dismantle the single best tool we have to safeguard at risk children. Similarly, it is foolhardy to leave the citizens of our state in the same state of unreadiness that lead to such tragic loss of life 100 years ago.”

    Peter Michaud, J.D., R.N. from the Maine Medical Association, pushed back against the idea that other health care providers can perform the tasks of public health nurses: “Primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, and the nurses who work with them have their hands full with what they do now, and with the opioid crisis they are being asked to do even more. It makes no sense to add the entire menu of public health nursing to their plates. They don’t have the capacity to handle the additional duties, and they certainly don’t have the capacity to respond to a new outbreak of infectious disease.”

  • Maine public comment period now open on proposed wording of referendum questions

    Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is now accepting comments on the proposed wording of the two citizens’ initiative questions that will appear on the Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017 Referendum Election ballot. Below is the title of each initiative, as it is drafted to appear on the ballot:

    •  An Act To Allow Slot Machines or a Casino in York County. “Do you want to allow a certain out-of-state company to operate table games and/or slot machines in York County, subject to state and local approval, with part of the profits going to specific programs?”
    •  An Act To Enhance Access to Affordable Health Care. “Do you want Maine to provide health insurance through Medicaid for qualified adults under age 65 with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line (which is now about $16,000 for a single person and $22,000 for a family of two)?”

    The full text of each initiative is available for viewing on the Bureau of Corporations, Elections and Commissions’ Upcoming Elections webpage.

    State law requires Secretary Dunlap to present the question “concisely and intelligibly.” He will be accepting public comments regarding the questions’ form and content for a 30-day period, beginning today, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017 until 5 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2017. Comments should be related specifically to the wording of the question, rather than the merits of the proposed law. Those who wish to comment on the wording may do so via email, mail or in person:

    •  Email sos.office@maine.gov and please use “public comment” and the name of the ballot question in the subject line
    •  Mail comments to the Secretary of State, Attn: Public Comment, 148 State House Station, Augusta, ME 04333-0148
    •  Drop off written comments to the office of the secretary of state at the Nash School Building, 103 Sewall St., 2nd floor, Augusta, Maine.
  • Legislature Fails to Override LePage Solar Bill Veto; Big Loss for Maine Economy

    by Ramona du Houx

    On August 2, 2017, the Maine House of Representatives voted to keep Governor LePage’s veto of the solar bill, despite the fact that the bill passed the House and Senate initially by more than a two-thirds super majority.

    Seven Republican legislators changed their position from their prior support and today voted to sustain LePage’s veto of the measure. The Senate voted 28-6 to override and the House voted 88-48, falling three votes short of two-thirds.

    The vote leaves intact the Maine Public Utilities Commission (P.U.C.) changes to the state’s net metering policy, gradually drawing down incentives and leaving a bigger fight over the net metering to the future.

    Net metering allows customers with solar panels to get credits for the times they generate more power than they consume, using those credits for up to a year to reduce their power bills. Those customers get credits worth the full electricity charges and the transmission and distribution charges. Come January of 2018 that ends.

    “Gross metering will take effect in January, adding costs and taxing behind-the-meter generation. This expensive, invasive PUC rule helps no one except the corporate monopolies whose profits depend on overbuilding the grid, and has not been tried anywhere in the world,” said Rep. Seth Berry, the House Representative Chair of the Energy Committee. “Today's vote will have serious economic and electoral consequences, but the struggle to support solar in Maine will go on. In the short run, the vote will be very negative for solar jobs in Maine and for all Maine ratepayers.”

    Small-scale distributed solar also helps to lower peak power demand, particularly on the hottest summer days, and that allows utilities to defer big transmission and distribution upgrades for which all electricity customers pay.

    “The broad coalition of farmers, businesses, solar advocates and others whom we have worked with are committed to making Maine a leader in clean, distributed generation. They are not going away, and neither is the bipartisan majority who voted yes today and will do so under the next Governor as well,” added Rep. Berry.

    “Today, too many lawmakers turned their back on jobs of the future for Maine and bowed to pressure from the Governor's office, Central Maine Power (CMP), Emera, and other utility and fossil fuel industry groups from across the nation. They failed to support the small businesses that are struggling to create and sustain jobs from Kittery to Fort Kent, and they ignored the need and desire to transition to cleaner, renewable energy sources," said Dylan Voorhees, Climate and Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “At the strong urging of the governor, lawmakers today voted to raise electric bills, deny Mainers good jobs, generate more pollution, stall Maine’s transition to clean energy, and make it harder for Maine people and businesses to generate their own solar power."

    While Maine leads in new wind farm energy production in New England, since 2009, the state remains the bottom of the list for solar power production. This bi-partisian legislation could have been an answer to that problem but the fear of LePage taking Sen. Collins seat in D.C., if she runs for governor, has many Republicans playing it safe.

    “This vote allows the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to begin its extreme, nationally unprecedented new tax on self-consumption of power. That’s a bitter pill for a state whose forest products industry has long depended on the right to consume the power they produce without penalty, and bad news for a state trying to catch up on a revolutionary technology that allows every home and business to affordably produce their own power, too," said Sierra Club Maine Director Glen Brand.

    NRCM and allies including the Conservation Law Foundation, ReVision Energy, the Industrial Energy Consumers Group, and Insource Renewables, have previously filed a lawsuit in the Maine Supreme Court challenging the PUC’s rule. That case should be decided by the end of the year.

    The following legislators voted FOR LD 1504 when it passed, but voted AGAINST it after the governor vetoed the bill: 

    Rep. Cebra of Naples

    Rep. Kinney of Limington

    Rep. McElwee of Caribou

    Rep. Wadsworth of Hiram

    Rep. Seavey of Kennebunkport

    Rep. Skolfield of Weld

    Rep. Bradstreet of Vassalboro

    The full roll-call of votes can be found here: