People gather in Portland to rally in support of citywide mandatory paid sick leave in 2017. Credit: Caroline Losneck | Maine Public

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There’s an air of inevitability surrounding legislative Democrats’ push to require paid sick leave, which could be a signature achievement from Maine progressives whose lawmaking hopes have mostly been bottled up for the last eight years.

Any deal will likely be the product of a large bargain. Diverse business interests — ranging from the Maine Hospital Association to farmers — have indicated opposition to the plan, though some influential groups are offering lawmakers a roadmap to gain their support.

It’s being motivated by a referendum push rolled out on Election Day 2018 by the progressive Maine People’s Alliance that would loom in 2020 if the Legislature doesn’t act. After past referendum fights, skeptics of this new paid sick leave push would rather negotiate in Augusta than campaign.

Maine’s new Democratic regime and past referendum fights on the minimum wage, a surtax and home care have created the environment for negotiations. Many of the groups interested in sick leave were involved with three referendums dating back to 2016 — the ones that raised the minimum wage, passed a surtax on high earners that was eliminated by the Legislature and the unsuccessful 2018 push for a universal home care system.

Those referendum pushes were presaged with legislative efforts. Before the 2016 minimum wage referendum, Republicans blocked smaller minimum wage increases than the one that passed. When it was clear that the referendum would probably pass, business groups lobbied the Legislature to advance a modest increase, but Democrats refused to play ball.

Family leave has also faced gridlock. Business groups including the Retail Association of Maine supported a 2018 bill that would have studied setting up such a program, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who called it a “foot in the door” for onerous legislation.

But Democrats including Gov. Janet Mills took control of Augusta in the 2018 election and sick leave is now a major focus for Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash. House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is pushing paid family leave legislation. Republicans generally oppose it, but Democrats are in the driver’s seat and a potential referendum aids the push.

There are still thorny issues to work out before the Legislature passes a sick leave bill. The bill proposed by Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, would create a right to earned paid sick leave for people whose employer has more than five employees. Millett is planning to convene a stakeholder group on the bill. The Mills administration has taken no position on the bill until that happens, though the governor has spoken favorably of similar policies before.

The business community wants several changes if it passes: Curtis Picard, the executive director of the Retail Association of Maine, said it should mirror Maine’s family leave act by applying to businesses with 15 or more employees and preempt local legislation. By making that change and others, he said his group could support such a law.

His group wants it to also exempt seasonal workers. Greg Dugal, the executive director of Hospitality Maine, which represents restaurants and hotels and opposes the bill, said Bintliff’s Ogunquit, a restaurant, calculated a $30,000 annual expense for the law as drafted.

Correction: LePage vetoed a bill in 2018 that would have studied family leave, not sick leave. It was a reporter’s error.

Golden, Pingree to split on background check bill

The U.S. House is slated to vote on its first gun-control bill in nearly a decade, but members from Maine disagree about its effectiveness. The proposal, HR 8, would expand federal background checks on all gun sales, including most private transfers — the portion that U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District takes issue with.

The freshman Democrat, whose spokesman said he would oppose the bill, said Tuesday on Maine Public’s “ Maine Calling” that its limit on personal transfers is a “cause of concern for me,” and is “going to cause a lot of problems” garnering support from Senate Republicans.

Like the marginally rejected Question 3 referendum in 2016 that sought to expand background checks on private gun sales in Maine, “which got into trouble on the issue of personal transfers,” Golden said he believes the latest federal bipartisan bill — a “near mirror image of Question 3” — is still too strict.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, said Tuesday that she’s “proud” to support HR 8, which “strikes a common sense compromise between protecting public safety while preserving the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

The rare split among members of the same party highlights the drastic differences in attitudes about gun rights between Pingree’s more progressive 1st District and Golden’s far more rural, conservative 2nd District.

Today in A-town

Most legislative committees will meet today with MaineCare funding, distribution of naloxone and regulating political action committees on the docket. Bills discussed today will include naming the black-capped chickadee as Maine’s official state bird, limiting lobbyist influence on political action committees, making Election Day a state holiday, and increasing the availability of naloxone for staff at residential drug treatment programs.

Find a full schedule of committee meetings here.

Reading list

— Maine’s top judge wants to see more money directed to fight the state’s opioid crisis. While she would also like to see more money flow to the judicial system for pay increases, security and administrative upgrades, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said in her annual address to lawmakers on Tuesday that “all of the funding necessary to respond to the addiction and mental health needs of the public should be focused on the wide range of necessary community-based services that are not within the judicial branch budget,”

— The Maine State Prison has a new warden. Matthew Magnusson assumed his new role as warden of the Maine State Prison in Warren last week after serving as the deputy warden of programming at the prison since 2017. Magnusson, 39, replaces the previous warden, Randall Liberty, who is now the commissioner of the Maine Department of Corrections. The son of former Corrections Commissioner Martin Magnusson, he was chosen from a national field because of his experience with probation and other re-entry programs.

— The president’s former attorney is expected to tell Congress that his former boss is a liar, a cheater and a racist. President Donald Trump’s former personal “fixer” Michael Cohen arrived on Capitol Hill on Tuesday to begin three days of congressional appearances, starting with a closed-door interview Tuesday with the Senate intelligence committee, upon which Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King serve. Cohen’s testimony today will be in public and broadcast here. Click here to read a draft of the testimony. Meanwhile, the House voted 245-182 Tuesday for a resolution that would block Trump’s ability to declare a national emergency to fund erection of a southern border wall. Maine’s entire congressional delegation supports the resolution.

Angry birds

The Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee will hold an important public hearing today on LD 572, an effort by Rep. Betty Austin, D-Skowhegan, to clarify which chickadee deserves the honor of being Maine’s state bird.

Current statute apparently creates some ambiguity as to whether the black-capped chickadee or the boreal chickadee deserves the honor. We don’t know if any chickadees will be allowed to testify, but if so, click here for what a black-capped chickadee would say. And here is what a boreal chickadee would chip in.

I am no ornithologist, but the bird pictured on my license plates looks to be black-capped. And a poll of the five cats who helped me sample those birdsong audios yielded 100 percent support for, “Tastes great.”

Here is your soundtrack. And here is a bonus soundtrack the cats asked me to include.— Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

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Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...