Jackson’s thermal energy bill to look at renewable biomass for energy production becomes law

April 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, Community Maine, Creative Economy, Energy Issues, Maine's green energy potential

The Senate unanimously gave final approval to a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson to study the potential benefits of biomass for renewable energy.The measure directs the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to complete a comprehensive study on the potential benefits and barriers to making thermal energies eligible for the State of Maine’s renewable energy portfolio standard. This standard is a regulation that requires at least 30% of energy production in Maine to come from renewable energy sources.

“With more and more Mainers struggling to heat their homes, we need to explore alternative sources for energy,” said Senator Jackson of Allagash. “Biomass is one option for renewable energy, and this study will help us determine the role it could play in Maine’s energy future.”

As part of the study, the PUC will review the legislative actions of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maryland to add thermal energies to their portfolios. The PUC will report their findings to the Legislature in 2015. The measure, LD 1468 “Resolve, Directing the Public Utilities Commission To Study the Potential Benefits and Barriers Involved in Making Renewable Thermal Technologies Eligible for Qualification in Maine’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard”, will be sent to Governor LePage for his signature.

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Pre-kindergarten bill to expand early childhood education makes it through Maine House

April 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Creative Economy, Education

LD 1530, An Act To Establish a Process for the Implementation of Universal Voluntary Prekindergarten Education, was enacted unanimously “under the hammer” in the Maine House of Representatives’ Tuesday. Last week, it won initial approval with a veto-proof vote of 102-45.

“Smart investment in the earliest years of childhood is one of the best things we can do for young Mainers to boost their chances of success,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry, a bill co-sponsor who was an award-winning public school teacher. “Educators and leaders in business and law enforcement recognize these efforts as important to children and the state as a whole.”

The measure makes casino revenues available as start-up funding to school districts that choose to offer voluntary pre-K programs. The bill also establishes a stakeholder group to develop quality standards, best practices and common assessments.

There are 172 school districts in Maine with elementary schools, but only 60 percent of them offer some kind of pre-K. Under the measure, the implementation of pre-K programs would be voluntary for school districts and participation would be voluntary for families.

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Bill to ensure Maine meets dam relicensing deadlines is now law

April 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Community Maine, Environment

LD 1826, An Act to Protect the State’s Authority in Issues Concerning Federal Relicensing of Dams Located in the State, became law without the signature of Gov. Paul LePage.

“I’m so pleased that this bill is now law. The state has forfeited too much by missing deadlines in the past. These are mistakes that have serious implications for wildlife, traditional sports, property owners and our recreation and tourism economies,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, the sponsor of the bill. The bill had passed unanimously “under the hammer” in both chambers.

McCabe of Skowhegan introduced the bill in response to the public outcry over the missed deadlines, which resulted in the state losing its authority to weigh in on water quality issues in those bodies of water. During the LePage administration, DEP missed three relicensing deadlines for and nearly missed a fourth.

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New Maine law to increase accountability for jails

April 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights, Public Safety

In an unanimous vote, the Senate enacted a measure to reform Maine’s county jail system.

“With this bill, we will truly have a consolidated state and county jail system,” said Senator Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, the sponsor of the bill. “We have finally given the Board of Corrections the authority to better manage our jails, including mental health and community services.”

The bill authorizes major financial reforms, guides county jail operations, and clarifies the management authority of the Board of Corrections (BOC), which was formed with the creation of the consolidated jail system in 2008.

The bill is the result of two years of work with stakeholders including sheriffs, county commissioners, and municipal officials. It includes a more systematic and controlled budget process that is streamlined and better able to predict cost increases, benchmarks for the unified system and increased accountability for individual jails, and a clear lines of authority and duties for the BOC, county officials, and the sheriff.

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Maine House overrides LePage veto of solar energy bill

April 14th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Energy Issues, Environment, Maine's green energy potential

ReVison Energy installs solar car battery chargers like this one at their headquarters in Portland. Photo by Ramona du Houx

ReVison Energy installs solar car battery chargers like this one at their headquarters in Portland. Photo by Ramona du Houx

In a vote of 105 to 41, the Maine House overrode Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would provide rebates for solar panels as well as heat pump rebates for low-income Mainers.

LD 1252 reestablishes the solar rebate program under Efficiency Maine and would help more than 1,250 new solar panel and hot water projects at Maine homes and businesses.

“The strong bipartisan support for clean, renewable energy sources bodes well for the people of Maine,” said bill sponsor Rep. Terry Morrison. “We cannot afford to continue to subsidize big oil without looking at other options. We must explore all of our alternatives and not let ideology limit our ability to save our citizens money. Maine people are struggling to pay their bills. Solar panels and heat pumps are a part of an ‘all of the above’ energy strategy to put more in the pockets of the people we serve.”

The bill that was vetoed was crafted in a bipartisan manner with the addition of an amendment from Rep. Lance Harvell, that would provide Mainers who qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program with rebates for heat pumps. The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote.

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$1 million federal grant to protect Maine coastal lands

April 12th, 2014 · No Comments · Environment, News from Washington

Several conservation groups in Maine would receive a $1 million federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA) grant to protect valuable coastal lands across the state.

In York County, funds will provide matching dollars for Kittery Land Trust’s Brave Boat Harbor Headwaters project and efforts by the York Land Trust to protect land along the York River. The projects are part of the Mount Agamenticus to the Sea(MtA2C) conservation initiative, an effort to protect significant lands in the largest un-fragmented coastal forest between Acadia National Park and the New Jersey Pine Barrens. The MtA2C partnership includes several private groups, state agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge.

“The lands these groups in York County are working to protect represent some of the most diverse and critical wildlife habitat in the Northeast,” said Congresswoman Chellie Pingree. “Moreover, they are key to protecting water quality, fisheries, and the unique character in some of Maine’s fastest growing communities. My appreciation and congratulations go out to all the partners who are working so hard to conserve these key lands for future generations.”

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Solar energy bill caught in LePage veto spree

April 12th, 2014 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, Capitol news, Energy Issues

Installing solar panels in Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

Installing solar panels in Maine. photo by Ramona du Houx

A bill that would provide rebates for solar panels as well as heat pump rebates for low-income Mainers was vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage on Friday. The proposal would have brought back solar rebates put in place with the Baldacci Administration.

“We need to look at the big picture when it comes to energy. We simply can’t afford to ignore solar energy, which is renewable, clean and helps keep down electricity bills that are rising because of the expansion of transmission and distribution lines,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Terry Morrison. “This veto is even more baffling because a Republican amendment improved the bill by adding heat pump rebates for low-income Mainers. It’s a win-win measure that I hope lawmakers on both sides of the aisle will continue to support.”

Not only does LD 1252 reestablish the solar rebate program under Efficiency Maine it would also help more than 1,250 new solar panel and hot water projects at Maine homes and businesses. The bill that was vetoed was crafted in a bipartisan manner with the addition of an amendment from Rep. Lance Harvell, that would provide Mainers who qualify for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program with rebates for heat pumps.

“Solar power is a huge untapped resource in Maine and making it more affordable for Maine families is just common sense. We receive more sunshine than any other New England state, but we are last in the Northeast when it comes to using the sun’s energy to power our homes and businesses. This bill would create jobs, help us fight against global climate disruption, and save Mainers money. Unfortunately, since taking office Gov. LePage has put his own partisan ideology ahead of sound policy, good science and clean, renewable energy development in Maine,” said Congressman Mike Michaud. “By investing in Maine’s renewable energy advantage, we can attract billions of dollars in private-sector investments, create jobs and drive down energy costs for Maine businesses and families.”

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Mike Michaud tours Togas, VA Hospital to help veterans needs progress

April 11th, 2014 · No Comments · Health Care, News from Washington

Congressman Mike Michaud on a tour of Togus, VA hospital. courtesy photo

Congressman Mike Michaud on a tour of Togus, VA hospital. courtesy photo

Congressman Mike Michaud met with veterans today at Togus VA Medical Center in Augusta. Rep. Michaud was joined by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the House. Michaud serves as the Ranking Member on Veterans’ Affairs.

While visiting Togus, Michaud and Miller had breakfast with veterans, received a tour of the administrative and medical facilities, and got an overview of Togus’ operations. Michaud and Miller also participated in a roundtable discussion with veterans to hear about the challenges they face, and got their insight on how Congress can help.

“I had the opportunity to talk with a number of veterans at Togus VA Medical Center this morning about their personal experiences,” said Michaud. “It was a first-hand reminder of the obligation we have to ensure our veterans are receiving the highest-quality care possible. They have sacrificed so much for our nation, and we owe them the best in return. I’d like to thank Rep. Miller for joining me on today’s visit – our Committee shares the common goal of working in a bipartisan fashion to ensure our veterans are treated with the dignity and respect they so deserve.”

It’s not the first visit to Togas the Congressman has made. A few years back Congressman Michaud invited the Sec. of Veteran’s Affairs, Ed Shinseki to the facility twice. And while the Sec. was here Michaud got changes made that will help Veterans. In one endeavor Michaud was able to get land allocated to Togas put aside to build homeless “Cabins in the Woods.” Read more here.

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Defeat of LePages election year “Business Zones” bill

April 11th, 2014 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, Capitol news

Maine State Capitol, photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine State Capitol, photo by Ramona du Houx

The Maine Senate voted today 22-13 to defeat LD 1835, Governor LePage’s proposal for business incentive zones that included language that would have weakened workers’ rights inside the zones. The bill would have diminished the value of the already established Pine Tree Zone tax incentive program put in place by the Baldacci Administration. In exchange for tax breaks companies certified as PTDZ’s have to add jobs with healthcare and be beneficial to their communities. Le Page wanted to make PTDZ’s for big corporations while limiting union participation.

“The anti-worker provisions of the bill are illegal. They are an ideologically motivated effort to lower worker’s wages and eliminate unions as an important check and balance on corporate power in our economy. Workers in so called right to work state earn $1500 less per year. That’s the wrong direction for Maine,” said Don Berry, President of the Maine AFL-CIO. “LD 1835 was not a real economic development strategy or plan. This is “lottery ticket” economic development from the LePage Administration – wishing and hoping that if we give away enough tax dollars some big company will magically come. It doesn’t work.”

Gov. John E. Baldacci with workers at a lumber company celebrating the company's Pine Tree Development status. photo by Ramona du Houx

Gov. John E. Baldacci with workers at a lumber company celebrating the company’s Pine Tree Development status. photo by Ramona du Houx

“Maine businesses have not come to us once to ask for this kind of proposal,” Rep. Anne Marie Mastraccio, who serves on the state’s Labor and Workforce Development committees. “It’s not good for Maine people and it’s not good for Maine businesses or workers. It’s the wrong approach to boosting our economy.”

Multiple studies have documented that 95 percent of all new jobs in Maine are created by existing businesses expanding and new businesses starting up. A review of the top 50 employers in Maine, shows that all of them are homegrown companies, with the exception of the national retailers or chains, which are in every state.

“The LePage Administration has left thousands of jobs on the table by vetoing Medicaid extension and a minimum wage increase and holding bonds hostage. This bill is nothing more than an effort to whitewash the failed economic development record of the LePage Administration,” added Berry.

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LePage’s veto of ACA funds keeps healthcare from 70,000 Mainers

April 11th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Health Care

In a 22-13 vote, Senate Republicans sustained Governor Paul LePage’s veto of a Republican-sponsored compromise measure to accept federal funds to provide healthcare to 70,000 Mainers, including 3,000 veterans. Overriding vetoes requires two-thirds, or 24 Senate votes.

According to an evaluation by Harvard and the City University of New York, Maine could save around 157 lives per year by accepting federal funds.

“Today, some Republicans engaged in a partisan stand-off,” said Senator John Cleveland. “This was a reasonable compromise where we found common ground. But today, too many Republicans chose party line politics.”

The veto was sustained even after the Appropriations Committee unanimously recommended a bipartisan budget proposal that funds DHHS waitlist services for people with disabilities, addressing a key argument Governor LePage and his allies have used to oppose health care expansion.

“It’s a sad day for the State of Maine when 70,000 people are denied health care. This is a sensible bill that addressed many of the barriers preventing our colleagues from accepting expansion, including managed care, a sunset provision, and increased fraud investigators,” said Democratic Senator Margaret Craven. “Despite these changes, most of our Republican colleagues still would not support this compromise bill. ”

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