President issues executive order prohibiting retaliation against employees of federal contractors who discuss salary

April 8th, 2014 · No Comments · Economy, News from Washington

“When women succeed, America succeeds,” said President Obama at a executive order singing event for equal pay at the White House. Women compose nearly half of the American workforce – yet, according to the latest U.S. Census statistics, on average, full-time working women still earn 77 cents to every dollar earned by men.

On Equal Pay Day, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree welcomed the executive order by President Obama that bans retaliation against employees of federal contractors who discuss their salaries. Pingree and female colleagues in the House had written to Obama in January urging him to issue such an order.

One of the first bills that Pingree voted for in Congress—and the first that President Obama signed—was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law makes it easier for women to recover lost wages to discrimination. At the executive order bill singing Ledbetter said many women still don’t know that discrimination is happening. Ledbetter only found out about the discrepancy in her pay when co-worker sent her a note saying she was getting paid less. After that Ledbetter went to court and it was disclosed that a man in her same job had earned over 200,000 more than she did during the same time period. But the court also said she was too late filing the lawsuit against her employer. That provision is gone due to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

“Despite the strides we’ve made in recent years, women continue to earn 21 percent less than their male counterparts for doing the same work in Maine,” said Congressman Mike Michaud. “I was proud to pass legislation in Maine more than a decade ago instituting Equal Pay Day. We’re reminded today that more still needs to be done to ensure women are receiving equal pay as men. It’s unbelievable that women who do the same jobs as men stand to make substantially less money – just because of their gender. Both women and men serve as breadwinners for families, and both women and men face the same financial obligations and challenges. It’s time for us to take action that corrects this inequity once and for all.”

Michaud is running for Maine Governor against Gov. Paul LePage and Independent Elliot Cutlar.

“Wage discrimination is still a problem in the workplace but many women may not even know they are making less than their male counterparts. Nearly half of all workers in the country are either prohibited or strongly discouraged from discussing their pay,” said Pingree. “If you don’t know you are being discriminated against, it’s impossible to do something about it.”

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Maine US Sen. Candidate Bellows stands with local brewers & farmers against proposed FDA rules

March 31st, 2014 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, News from Washington

US Capitol. photo by Ramona du Houx

US Capitol. photo by Ramona du Houx

Shenna Bellows, Maine’s Democratic candidate for United States Senate, declared her solidarity with farmers and brewers alike in the face of the FDA’s new proposed rule pertaining to the regulation of spent grains. Spent grains, which are brewers’ byproduct of a brewing process called mashing, are commonly used as a valuable source of food for livestock at local farms.

“This is an example of government regulation at its worst – harming Maine’s emerging craft brewing industry and many small farmers to benefit a few large agricultural corporations,” said Bellows. “It is wasteful and counterproductive to mandate that spent grains be sent to a landfill rather than local farmers. To protect our local economies and the environment, I urge the FDA to exempt craft brewers from this onerous regulation.”

THe new rule would mostly affect small- and medium-sized farms and create conditions where only big companies would be able to survive. Craft brewers, farmers, and other opponents of the regulations would like to see spent grains granted an exemption from the FDA’s regulations, which would increase regulations surrounding livestock feed.

The regulations are pursuant to the controversial Food Safety Modernization Act voted for by Republican incumbent Senator Susan Collins.

Candidate Bellows submitted her comments to the FDA today expressing her opposition to the draft regulations.

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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 wastes more taxpayer dollars on no-bid Alexander contract

February 24th, 2014 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, Capitol news, Health Care

Governor Paul LePage has wasted nearly $200,000 additional funds to pay for the controversial no-bid Alexander Group contract.The Alexander Group, has produced a biased report in Pennsylvania. Their initial work in Maine exhibited the same level of unprofessionalism. Lawmakers have submitted a bill, An Act to Cancel the No-Bid Alexander Group Contract to Produce Savings in Fiscal Year 2014, in order to prevent further waste of taxpayer dollars.

“It amazes me that the state continues to pay the Alexander Group when there is no new product,” said bill sponsor Rep. Richard Farnsworth, the House Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. “It seems to me that standard business practice is that you pay when you receive either goods or services. At this point we have received only flawed goods and only a small portion of those goods at that.”

On Feb. 7, the administration made a payment of $193,360, bringing total taxpayer dollars spent on the failed contract to $378,000 total, according to payment records from the non-partisan Legislature’s Office of Fiscal and Program Review. The contract is expected to cost taxpayers $1 million, if it continues.

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Rep. Michaud discussed Health Care issues on telephone Town Hall

February 10th, 2014 · No Comments · Community Maine, Health Care, Healthy Lifestyles, News from Washington

On a telephone town hall forum last Thursday night, Congressman Mike Michaud joined more than 1,000 members and supporters of the Maine People’s Alliance to answer questions about federal and state health care issues and discuss how everyday Mainers can get involved in the effort to accept federal funding in order to expand health care coverage in Maine.

“Mainers are already seeing the advantage of the Affordable Care Act and hopefully this legislature will be able to move forward with the expansion of the MaineCare program which is not only the morally right thing to do, as it will cover approximately 70,000 people but it’s the fiscally responsible thing to do as well,” said Michaud during the event. “Maine will save approximately $600 million over a ten year timeframe because of that expansion and hospitals will receive an addition $438 million over that timeframe. It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Michaud worked in Congress to make sure Maine was able to access an enhanced reimbursement rate for Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act and has been outspoken in favor of the state accepting federal funding. More recently, has been meeting with and hearing the stories of some of the 70,000 Mainers who would be helped by expanding coverage.

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Portland Maine declared one of 7 “Happy Cities” by Green Living Magazine

February 10th, 2014 · 1 Comment · Creative Economy

portlandcityhall Green Living, an eco-conscious lifestyle magazine, has declared Portland Maine as one of 7 Happy Cities in America.Green Living magazine, published in Scottsdale Arizona, declared Portland as the only one “Happy City” in the East.

“This designation by Green Living confirms what Portland residents already know – that life is good here,” said Mayor Michael Brennan.

Simone Butler of Green Living magazine indicates that Portland is one community that “reigns superior” as a result of national polls and surveys.

Portland’s organic foodie atmosphere was emphasized, as well as having the best lobster in the county.Other benefits the magazine listed were that the city has “impressive air and water quality”, waterways for boating and the scenic White Mountains for hiking and other outdoor adventures. They also identified the lower than average obesity rate and twice as many physicians per capita than other cities.

The others that made the list were San Diego, CA., Honolulu, HI., Boulder, CO., Bend, OR., Lincoln, NE., and Minneapolis, MIN.

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The second stage of America’s floating offshore wind turbine energy project gets utilities commission green light

January 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, Economy, Energy Issues, Environment, Maine's green energy potential

The VolturnUS floating offshore wind turbine 1/8th pilot at it's launch. VolturnUS is the only offshore wind turbine in the Americas. photo by Ramona du Houx

The VolturnUS floating offshore wind turbine 1/8th pilot at it’s launch. VolturnUS is the only offshore wind turbine in the Americas. photo by Ramona du Houx

The Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved in a 2-1 vote for Maine Aqua Ventus’ pilot floating offshore wind energy project, VolturnUS. The opposing PUC commissioner said the project would cost ratepayers too much. In reality the impact of the pilot project on ratepayers is about 75 cents per month per home for the life of the 20-year project. Overall the long-term project could attract $20 billion in private investment and create thousands of jobs.

“There’s 150 gigawatts of offshore wind off of our coast, enough to power the state of Maine 70 times over. It’s our largest resource and we’re making an investment today to figure out how to harvest this resource for future generations,” said Habib Dagher, of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine and project director. “It’s an important day for the state of Maine and an important day for the country.”

Dagher said the vote also represents “an important step” to advance the second Maine Aqua Ventus pilot project, which would consist of two six-megawatt turbines off Monhegan Island. A one-eighth scale floating wind turbine, VolturnUS, was launched off Castine last spring for testing and observation. The “floating lab,” as Dagher calls it, was the first offshore wind turbine in the Americas to produce energy to the electric grid and continues to do so. VolturnUS will be taken out of the water this May.

“The PUC’s decision is the next step in securing the grant for which Aqua Ventus was shortlisted last year, which is critical for the success of this important project for our state,” said Maine Aqua Ventus 1’s Jake Ward.

The Department of Energy grant is worth $46 million and will help create a wind farms, far out at sea, that can produce power at competitive rates.

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Clear-cutting is coming back to Maine

January 8th, 2014 · No Comments · Economy, Environment, Issue 39

J.D. Irving Ltd., Maine’s largest landowner with 1.25 million acres of forestland, has been exempted from some clear-cutting regulations and harvesting standards of the Forest Practices Act after signing a five-year agreement with State forestry officials.

The agreement was made on May 2012, but only became public this month after Maine Forest Service submitted a report to state lawmakers on Outcome Based Forestry, an experimental tree harvesting program.

J.D. Irving’s deal allows the company to clear-cut 250 individual acres without state approval.

With major landowners agreements being mostly confidential and regulations been overseen by a panel appointed by Gov. Paul LePage, environmental groups say 10 million acres of certified forestland could be endangered.

State officials counter that the panel of experts will review the scientific rationale for each harvest and the aesthetic impact of each cut beforehand.

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Maine AFL-CIO releases 2013 Working Families Legislative Scorecard

November 7th, 2013 · No Comments · Business & Innovation, Capitol news, Civil Rights

The Maine AFL-CIO published its 2013 Working Families Legislative Scorecard this week and has mailed it to 40,000 active and retired workers across the state.

For the first time this year, the Working Families Legislative Scorecard also ranked the Governor’s actions on important workers’ rights bills. Of the eleven scored bills, six reached his desk. The Governor vetoed five and refused to sign the sixth, earning him a zero score for 2013.

“This past session we saw numerous bills passed by the Legislature that would have helped working families, like a bill to raise the minimum wage, Buy American legislation that would have created jobs, and health care expansion that would have ensured more Mainers can go see their family doctor. Sadly, these bills to improve the lives of Maine workers were vetoed by Governor LePage. The Governor stood in the way of helping working families and was often supported by legislators in doing so. Working people need leaders who will support them and work for an economy that works for everyone,” said Don Berry, President of the Maine AFL-CIO.

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