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Maine State Senate President Edmonds discusses her homeland security initiative at a press conference in Brunswick. Photo by Ramona du Houx

August/September 2006

By Ramona du Houx

On a quiet, hot summer’s day residents of Freeport frequent the local library where they find personnel eager to serve their needs. Some don’t realize that they may have been served by Maine’s leading woman Democrat in the Legislature, the President of the Senate, Beth Edmonds.

“I love working at the library,” said Edmonds. “I always have. It’s a special place.”

Edmonds’ dedication to serving people has made her a leader and a role model. Conducting the business of the Senate requires integrity and an unwavering dedication to the people of Maine.

Presiding over all political parties sometimes results in votes along party lines, as in the case of the bill proposed by the governor to increase the minimum wage, where Democrats made it happen. At other times, because of the dialogue and discussions, a strong majority agrees to a new law—as was in the case of the governor’s bill to repeal an antiquated business tax on equipment (BETR).

Edmonds is modest about her role as Senate president. “It’s a balancing act,” she said. “You have to listen to everyone equally, while reaming true to your core values.”

Those values are what guide Edmonds with the various bills that she has submitted. From strongly supporting measures to help the creative economy, to helping homeland security, and protecting the people with health-care initiatives, Edmonds is looking out for all the people of the state. She fought to keep Brunswick Naval Air Station open, and she continues to fight for the community to ensure that the transition from the base closure is smooth, and that wise economic decisions are made.

A new law sponsored by Senator Edmonds begins the data collection of businesses that are adversely taking advantage of Maine’s health-care system.

Josh Smith told a legislative committee, during hearings on Edmonds’ bill, that he received no benefits during his four months as a part-time worker at Wal-Mart. Smith, a college graduate, said most people that worked with him were not enrolled in Wal-Mart’s insurance program. “Many were ineligible like myself, but others simply could not afford the coverage,” said Smith. “Those who did receive coverage were well aware of the problems with the insurance, but did not have any other option.”

When workers can’t afford medical insurance they end up in hospital emergency wards for conditions that could have been prevented, or forced to seek care from the state, which adds more people to MaineCare rolls.

The bill requires the state to compile annual statistics on Maine workers who are on MaineCare. It also mandates that every employer with 1,000 or more employees has to report to the State Department of Labor how much their company is spending on health-care coverage for its workers as a percentage of total payroll.

“I am pleased this resolve has passed and has appropriate funding to begin a process toward fair solutions for health care in Maine. We need to understand how the employer health-care plan model might not be extending benefits as it has in the past,” said Edmonds. “Good public policy requires good information, and we can begin to get some of that information with this bill.”

In June Governor Baldacci ceremonially signed two bills sponsored by Edmonds, designed to attract and retain dedicated personal care workers.

“As our population ages, these workers play an ever-important role in our health-care system,” said Governor Baldacci. “It’s important that we provide the right long-term care support so that more people can live in their homes in Maine.”

Maine has the nation’s oldest population, and 16 percent of all U.S. veterans live in the state. The need for personal care assistants is growing, but their current pay, at $7.71 an hour without benefits, is “unforgivable,” as Senator Edmonds has said.

One of the laws requires Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services to study the cost of increasing wages and providing health coverage for direct care workers in MaineCare-funded long-term care programs. The study will look at what it would cost to establish a $10 per hour starting pay for entry-level direct care workers.

The other law proposes that the state increase hourly pay to $10 for personal care assistants in the state’s consumer-directed program for disabled people and those who would otherwise be in nursing homes.

The proposed wage increase will give personal care assistants the respect they deserve and give future care workers an incentive to go into an ever-increasing and demanding field.

“I want to thank Senate President Edmonds for her leadership in sponsoring these two bills, which address wage issues critical to keeping highly motivated and qualified personal care assistants and direct care workers,” said Governor Baldacci.

Wherever Edmonds is at work she puts people first.