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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Supreme Court McCutcheon Decision reflects latest assault on campaign finance laws

April 3rd, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, News from Washington

U.S. Suprime Court, Washington D.C. Photo du Houx

U.S. Suprime Court, Washington D.C. Photo du Houx

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning released a decision that continues to erode campaign finance laws meant to protect the nation’s democratic process.

“The re­sult, as I said at the outset, is a decision that substitutes judges’ understandings of how the political process works for the understanding of Congress; that fails to recognize the difference between influence resting upon public opinion and influence bought by money alone; that overturns key precedent; that creates huge loopholes in the law; and that undermines, perhaps devastates, what remains of campaign finance reform,” said Justice Breyer’s in his written and verbal dissent.

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Maine’s Gov. LePage’s bills that harm families in crisis and nix key job training program rejected

March 27th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Healthy Lifestyles

Democrats on the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday advanced three measures that would prevent fraud or abuse in Maine’s anti-poverty programs.They also rejected harmful proposals by Governor Paul LePage to eliminate successful job training programs and shift the state’s share of General Assistance costs to cities and towns.

“If there is fraud, no matter how small, it should be investigated and prosecuted, not politicized,” said Rep. Dick Farnsworth, the House Chair of the committee. “We are directing the Governor to investigate that fraud and prosecute it, if it is real. He should stop using it to pull the rug out from struggling families, especially at a time when Maine has one of the worst job growth records in the nation.”

In a largely party line vote, the committee passed three bills:

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Maine’s public forests at risk from increased potentially illegal logging from LePage deal

March 18th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Environment

Maine Public lands at risk because of a back door deal with the LePage Administration. Photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine Public lands at risk because of a back door deal with the LePage Administration. photo by Ramona du Houx

According to a new investigative report issued today by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the LePage Administration over the past two years privately developed a plan to dramatically increase logging on Maine’s public lands without disclosing the plan to Maine lawmakers or the public and without providing a science-based justification or opportunity for public comment. Internal documents secured by NRCM reveal that the state foresters and land managers responsible for timber management in Maine’s public forests initially were excluded from discussions of the plan, which departs radically from a decades-long state policy to grow bigger, older trees in Maine’s public forests.

The new report, Maine’s Big Old Trees at Risk from Administration’s Plan to Increase Logging on Public Lands, draws from dozens of internal documents secured by NRCM through information requests to the Maine Forest Service and Bureau of Parks and Lands. NRCM also filed a Freedom of Access Act request last November with the Governor’s Office, but has yet to receive any of the requested documents more than four months later.

“The State is planning to cut our forests faster than they are growing back, and cut the best trees owned by the people of Maine,” said Cathy Johnson, attorney and North Woods Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine’s previous policy was to grow bigger, older trees on public lands, because there are so few places left in northern Maine with anything close to a mature forest with older trees. But the Administration’s plan would be is a complete reversal.”

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Maine’s Health Care “alternative” would leave 36,000 behind

March 8th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Health Care, Healthy Lifestyles

The Affordable Care Act federal funds are expected to generate $1 million per day in economic activity and 4,000 jobs at a time when Maine ranks 50th in the nation for private sector job growth. For the first three years under the Affordable Care Act the state would not pay a penny for the program. After that the state would only have to pay 10 percent or less. All the state has to do is tell Washington, D.C. we want to participate in the ACA. But Governor Paul LePage vetoed any chance last year of that happening. Now the Democrats have put it back on the table and Republicans have put forward their own proposal. Both measures would have to have a two-thirds vote to override a LePage veto. Lawmakers are hoping to merge the two proposals.

Opponents of the bipartisan effort to provide health care to 70,000 Mainers are proposing a false “alternative,” which would leave 36,000 Mainers without care. Some are even encouraging Mainers to falsify their income in order to qualify for the health subsidies on the federal exchange. Federal law makes clear that individuals earning income under 100 percent of the federal poverty level are not eligible for financial assistance to purchase private insurance on the health exchange.

In a column printed in the Morning Sentinel, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Michael Thibodeau suggests those earning under 100 percent of the federal poverty level should knowingly overestimate their income in order to qualify.

“Maine should not turn its back on tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens, including veterans, low wage workers and those recovering from serious illness. We certainly shouldn’t be suggesting they falsify their income levels to qualify for subsidies on the insurance exchange,” said Speaker Mark Eves. “Lawmakers should seize the opportunity to come together around a good-faith compromise to ensure Maine families can have access to a family doctor.”

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LePage continues to waist $1 million for Alexander Group report and lawmakers move to stop it

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Community Maine

In a party line vote, the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday advanced a measure to cancel the controversial $1 million contract with the Alexander Group following a public hearing on the proposal.

The Alexander Group’s no-bid contract to study Medicaid expansion contained serious flaws, including a $575 million math error and was delivered a month late. The group produced a similar report for Pennsylvania which proved to be riddled with false information. The Alexander Group is expected to produce additional reports but none have been released or made public despite continued payments to the firm.

“No expense approaching a million dollars can be allowed to continue under these glaring missteps. These are funds that are way too precious to be spent on an agency that fails to perform,” said Rep. Richard Farnsworth of Portland, the House Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “If the Governor is unwilling to cancel the contract, it is our responsibility to maintain the integrity and credibility of our financial management with citizens of the State of Maine as they are footing the bill for the cost of this initiative.”

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Michaud urges President to take immediate action with effort to prohibit discrimination in federal workplace

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, News from Washington

Today, Congressman Mike Michaud announced that he will help lead an effort to urge President Obama to take action to prohibit workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans. Michaud and several of his colleagues have begun circulating a letter for signature by members of Congress urging the President to issue an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

“In the absence of Congressional action, the President should follow the example of strong anti-discrimination laws in Maine and other states to ensure that no one in the federal workplace is discriminated against because of who they are or who they love.” said Michaud. “Executive action by the President would be a significant first step, but the House still needs to act to ensure workplace protections are available to all Americans. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues to push for a vote on the bipartisan Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”

Maine already has strong protections for LGBT citizens. In 2005, Maine voters upheld a law passed by the legislature prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression with regard to employment, housing, credit, and public accommodations.

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Bellows urges Collins and committee to help release torture report

March 6th, 2014 · No Comments · Civil Rights, News from Washington

Shenna Bellows, Maine’s Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, called on Republican Susan Collins and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to release a 6,000-page torture report by the Senate Committee on Intelligence. The long-awaited report, which took nearly 4 years to complete, shines a light on the CIA’s controversial torture practices.

“Americans deserve to know the full extent of our country’s use of torture under the Bush administration,” said Bellows. “We need to properly address these mistakes of the past, so that history may never repeat itself. It’s time to end the secrecy and restore the rule of law.”

As the former Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, Bellows strongly advocated against the use of torture by both American intelligence agencies and the military. She has written many pieces on the subject of torture, and she led a successful campaign against solitary confinement, a form of torture, in Maine prisons. Bellows has also been a long-time advocate of the freedom of information, serving on Maine’s Freedom of Information Coalition and the Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee for several years.

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Federal investigation shows Gov. Lepage “Endangered the fair hearing process”

February 27th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news, Civil Rights

Maine's capitol at night, photo by Ramona du Houx

Maine’s capitol at night, photo by Ramona du Houx

Federal officials have determined that Governor LePage and members of his administration interfered with unemployment hearing officers and unfairly endangered the quasi-judicial process.

“The federal government has confirmed what we knew to be true, that the Governor was wrong to interfere in the unemployment insurance process by asking hearing officers to rule more often in favor of employers,” said Don Berry, President of the Maine AFL-CIO.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor found that behavior by Governor Paul LePage and his political appointees “endangered the fair hearings process” for Unemployment Compensation appeals. The review specifically cited LePage’s March 21, 2013 Blaine House meeting with hearing officers.

“For three years we have heard story after story about the Governor’s intimidation and bullying tactics. Today, the cat’s out of the bag. Governor LePage and his political appointees will stoop to any level of intimidation to get what they want,” said Sen. Troy Jackson, the Senate Majority Leader.

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Maine Lawmakers measure to nullify Alexander Group’s No-bid Contract moves to committee

February 27th, 2014 · No Comments · Capitol news

The Maine House on Thursday sent a measure to cancel a failed contract with the controversial consultant Gary Alexander to the State’s Health and Human Services Committee for review.

Governor Paul LePage gave Alexander a $1 million no-bid contract to study the state’s safety net programs and Medicaid expansion. The first report from Alexander’s consulting firm, was a month late and contained serious flaws, including a $575 million math error. No new reports from Alexander have been released or made public.

“The Alexander Group Contract should be canceled because it is a waste of taxpayer dollars when Maine doesn’t a have penny to spare,” Rep. Richard Farnsworth, the House Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “Governor LePage claims to be a savvy turn-around specialist from the business world, but what CEO would keep a $1million contract with a company that’s work is so poor?”

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