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  • 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.

  • Maine lawmakers enact Riley Amendment, holding utility shareholders – not customers – responsible for investigation costs

    Measure comes in response to record billing complaints from CMP customers in recent months

    The Maine Legislature enacted a bill on June 21, 2018 that allows Maine’s Public Utilities Commission to hold a utility’s shareholders responsible for the costs of investigating problems. The measure, known as “the Riley Amendment,” cleared the House and the Senate unanimously and now awaits the governor’s signature.  

    “If a for-profit electric company like CMP erroneously overcharges its customers, Maine people shouldn’t have to pay for the investigation,” said Rep. Tina Riley, D-Jay, who authored the amendment. “The cost should be on the utility’s shareholders, so that they will pressure management to make sure it never happens again.”

    Under current law, if Maine’s Public Utilities Commission audits a public utility, customers are automatically responsible for the costs – even if the audit concludes the utility is at fault for any problems.

    Riley’s amendment – the product of extensive discussions in the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee – would also allow the PUC to establish random independent audits of an electric utility’s entire billing system, including meters. At present, the utility checks the accuracy of its own meters. This is a sharp contrast to gas pumps, which are independently regulated by the state’s Bureau of Weights and Measures.

    When the committee first considered the Riley Amendment in April, all six Republicans on the committee voted to kill the bill. After that vote, members of the public, including a citizen ratepayer advocacy group, CMP Ratepayers Unite, contacted members of the committee urging them to reconsider.

    Throughout the year, the committee had held extensive public hearings, work sessions and discussions on the electric utilities’ response to the October 2017 windstorm. Members also discussed a recent rash of Central Maine Power customer complaints outlining problems with their electric bills, including major discrepancies between the amount of electricity used and the amount they were billed.

    The legislation is a rewrite of LD 1729, An Act To Restore Confidence In Utility Billing Systems, which originally dealt with other electricity transmission and distribution regulations.

    Riley, a member of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee, is serving her first term in the Maine House. She represents Jay, Livermore Falls and part of Livermore.

  • Maine lawmakers enact Gatttine’s bill to treat opioid addiction for homeless

    Bill sets up pilot treatment program for the homeless

    By Ramona du Houx

    The Maine State Legislature enacted Rep. Drew Gattine’s proposal June 21, 2018 to help homeless gain access to addiction therapy. The vote was unanimous in the House and 16-15 in the Senate.

    This is a civil rights issue.

    “Opioid addiction has unique and particularly devastating impacts on Mainers who are already vulnerable and at risk, like the homeless,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook. “In spite of the important things we’ve tried over the past few years, things are getting worse for homeless Mainers.”

     This bill, LD 1711, directs the Department of Health and Human Services to create programs to provide a bundle of services specifically designed to meet the challenges faced by people who are of extremely low income and homeless. It recognizes that people in this vulnerable situation need more than just medical treatment but also social supports, including housing assistance and intensive case management.  As a pilot program, enrollment will be limited to 25 individuals.

    “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,” Gattine said. “We need to meet them where they are to have a chance to really help them.” 

    The bill now goes to the governor, who has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

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

     

  • Maine lawmakers give final approval to “fair chance” hiring measure

     

    The Maine Senate gave final approval June 21, 2018 to a measure that would change the way state government employers ask job applicants about their criminal records. The vote was 30-2.

    “Allowing for a real conversation around an applicant’s qualifications as well as his or her past not only benefits those with an arrest or conviction record but also their kids and families, our economy and our state as a whole,” said Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross,  the bill’s sponsor. “An arrest or conviction record has devastating consequences for employment. This is a step toward making the process fairer for qualified job seekers who want to work.”

    The measure will delay questions about a job applicant’s criminal record until later in the hiring process. State government employers will still be allowed to ask about past convictions, but applicants will have the chance to first present their qualifications as well as the opportunity to give additional contextual information about any conviction.

    Thirty states already have statewide laws or policies to “ban the box,” and 10 of these forbid the inclusion of conviction history questions on job applications for private as well as public employers. More than 150 cities and counties nationwide have adopted similar policies.

     At a public hearing on the bill, Kenney Miller, executive director of the Health Equity Alliance, testified that changing the hiring process will help individuals recovering from addiction.

    “Employment is key to giving people the sense of purpose, a reason to struggle on. It gives them a livelihood that can sustain their recovery, and support their independence,” Miller told lawmakers. “However, many people in recovery struggle with the dual stigma of the label of drug user or addict and that of felon. This permanent label is incredibly disruptive. It prevents them from being able to truly leave their past behind, from rebuilding their lives in the wake of drugs.”

    LD 1566 now heads to the governor’s desk. He has 10 days to sign, veto or allow the measure to become law without his signature.

    Talbot Ross is serving her first term in the Maine House. A member of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, she represents part of Portland, including the neighborhoods of Parkside, Bayside, East Bayside, Oakdale and the University of Southern Maine campus.

     

  • Full Plates Full Potential awards summer grants to feed hungry Maine children

    Twenty-one programs and over $53,000 invested

    By Ramona du Houx

    During the school year too many children from low income families rely on school meals being their one meal of the day. Federal and state cuts to programs have made states like Maine food insecure. What do these kids do during the summer months for food?

    In 2014, Full Plates Full Potential got underway. It is Maine’s only statewide child hunger organization. FPFP does it’s work by partnering with other hunger relief organizations, granting funds to schools and nonprofits  providing technical support to grantees and working with chefs, businesses and others to end child hunger. 

    Full Plates Full Potential (FPFP) has just awarded twenty-one statewide summer food service program grants totaling over $53,000. Summer sites will run from the end of June until the end of August and serve free meals to anyone 18 years old and younger. Summer grants range from $500 to over $6,300 and fund critical investments to feed more kids such as: equipment for sites, transportation, enrichment activities, outreach, staffing and food costs.    

    This summer an unprecedented amount of applications and funding requests were received. Thirty one applications were reviewed, requesting over $100,000. There are over 400 summer food service program across the state that served just over 750,000 meals last year.  

    “Summer time is a frightening period for a hungry child,” said Anna Korsen, Program Director for Full Plates Full Potential “these summer sites will potentially serve 43,893 additional meals to children whose bodies and minds need nutritious meals. Additionally, many of our summer sites will pilot best practices that could help many more children in 2019.”

    FPFP collaborated for the third year in a row with Good Shepherd Food Bank to run the summer grant program. Additionally, FPFP partnered with the Horizon Foundation and many FPFP Feed Kids Vendors like Bissell Brothers, IDEXX Laboratories, Big Tree Hospitality, and the Brew Bus to raise critical additional funding.

    “Full Plates Full Potential is so grateful to our partners. Their generosity means we can reach so many more kids and families this summer” said Justin Alfond, a director at Full Plates Full Potential. “Summer sites are playing bigger and bigger roles in our communities. They serve great nutritious meals, and offer fun programing for children allowing kids to have fun.”

    "The grant funding will allow us to take the next step in our summer program, said Wendy Collins, School Nutrition Director at Kittery School Department.. “We purchased a hot oven with the grant -- the oven will allow our program to offer a larger variety of food, kids will be happier and it will increase our participation. I can’t thank Full Plates Full Potential enough for supporting communities address food insecurity."

    Website: www.fullplates.org;