Gov. Janet Mills celebrates the start of maple syrup season after tapping a maple tree on the Blaine House lawn with Lyle Merrifield, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, Tuesday, March 5, 2019 in Augusta, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

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Gov. Janet Mills will address business interests on Friday after privately meeting with Democrats on a controversial transmission line proposal as lawmakers advance bills on returning to a presidential primary, allowing sports betting and immigration.

The governor will speak at an energy summit put on by a key corridor backer after trying to sell Central Maine Power’s unpopular project to Democratic lawmakers. Mills will speak at an energy summit held by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce at Maple Hill Farm in Hallowell on Friday afternoon where the future of Maine’s energy market and electric vehicle use will be discussed. The elephant in the room will be the $1 billion transmission line proposal from Central Maine Power, which the governor supports alongside the chamber.

The corridor, which would deliver Quebec hydropower to the regional power grid, is deeply unpopular in the western Maine region it would pass through — including Farmington, where Mills lives — despite winning a key permit at the Maine Public Utilities Commission earlier this month.

Legislators have also proposed measures to blunt or stall it, including a carbon emissions study championed by Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, and endorsed already by a legislative committee. Mills has increasingly signaled her opposition to that bill as it has advanced.

Mills appeared at private meetings of the Democratic caucuses in the Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday and Thursday. Few details of the Senate meeting leaked out by Friday, but one attendee of the House meeting said Mills took questions from representatives and “changed some minds” on the corridor.

The corridor has looked somewhat unpopular in the Legislature. Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which opposes the corridor, said about 30 lawmakers attended a Thursday briefing on the project by his group and it was nearly evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

Bills that would return Maine to a presidential primary and open the state to sports betting will have hearings on Friday. The highlights of a slim legislative committee schedule today are a bill from Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the chairman of the voting and gambling committee, that would return Maine to a taxpayer-funded presidential primary after using party-run caucuses since 2004 and a raft of bills from Republicans and Democrats to legalize sports betting after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year allowed states to begin regulating it.

Luchini’s bill looks to be a good bet to be the vehicle that advances a presidential primary, something the Legislature has been working on since 2016, when Democrats had long lines at their presidential caucuses and many Republicans had to travel long distances to get to theirs. Other bills want to open primaries to independents and implement ranked-choice voting in the new presidential primaries, but Luchini’s bill would simply establish them in early March.

The sports betting bills look to have Maine join the seven states that have already legalized that betting, according to Legal Sports Report. Luchini’s committee will take testimony on five bills aimed at it on Friday after the primary hearing.

Noncitizens in the country legally might soon have access to benefits that were cut in 2011. A bill from Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, that earned committee support on Thursday would allow many income-eligible legal immigrants access to MaineCare coverage and state-funded food assistance programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash benefits. The bill, which would apply to any noncitizen pursuing legal status, including those seeking asylum and others granted citizenship under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, carries a fiscal note of $14.5 million through 2021 and would reinstate budget cuts made in 2011 under former Gov. Paul LePage.

King to brief media on Iraq trip

Maine’s junior senator is scheduled to brief the media tonight on his trip to Iraq as part of a bipartisan delegation. U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has been in Iraq this week with Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, and Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, for meetings with U.S. officials from the U.S. military, intelligence branches and Department of State and Iraqi officials.

King took another trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Qatar in 2014 and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, took 2006 and 2009 trips to Iraq. King will talk to media members at 6 p.m. on military and political affairs in Iraq Friday at the Portland Transportation Center after returning.

Correction: An earlier version of this item misstated the location of King’s media availability. It is the Portland Transportation Center.

Reading list

— Maine’s governor and chief justice backed a bill to replace masculine pronouns in state statutes with gender-neutral terms. Mills and Chief Justice Leigh Saufley gave committee testimony Thursday in support of the bill from House Majority Leader Matt Moonen, D-Portland. An early version of Moonen’s bill sought to change only language referring to the governor and the judicial branch, but upon finding “dozens and likely hundreds” of masculine references across Maine’s Revised Statutes, Moonen added two amendments. The amended version now proposes revising the statutes to replace masculine pronouns with gender-neutral titles. The Judiciary Committee unanimously endorsed the bill, which now moves on for House and Senate votes.

— Maine is on the verge of preventing minors from being charged with prostitution. The Senate gave final passage to a bill from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, that would align state law with what has been prosecutorial practice for years. Proponents of the measure say that people younger than 18 who are enlisted to work as prostitutes should be treated as sex trafficking victims, not criminals. Maine would become the 21st state to bar prosecution of minors for the crime of engaging in prostitution. All Senate Democrats present for the vote backed the bill alongside seven Republicans. Another seven Republicans — including the two party leaders — opposed it.

— Your Styrofoam lobster roll container could soon become a collector’s item. Maine Public reports that the Senate sent to Mills a bill that would ban most uses of polystyrene food containers by Jan. 1. 2021. The vote was 23-10, with some Republicans arguing that it would drive up costs for businesses in the state.

— A small Maine city is grappling with a new challenge in its budget planning. In addition to the standard budget stresses like health insurance cost increases and valuation changes, the death of a resident who regularly used Belfast’s ambulance to get to and from dialysis treatments had a significant impact on revenue. That individual was single-handedly responsible for $200,000 worth of ambulance receipts, and when the person died, the city saw a shortfall of roughly $265,000 in anticipated ambulance service revenue.

Angry birds

A “murder bird” in Florida has gotten a lot of media attention this week, and on Saturday, you can begin bidding to make it yours.

For those of you who have been focused on more important matters — such as the coming-of-age sagas of Arya Stark and N’Keal Harry — the “murder bird” is a cassowary that killed its owner on April 12 at the exotic wildlife compound he ran … until the exotic wildlife caused his exotic wild death.

Apparently, Marvin Hajos was checking on the bird’s big blue eggs when one or more flightless, 6-foot avian assassins attacked him. Cassowaries have quite an arsenal of deadly appendages, including knife-like talons and three-toed feet that each have a claw that can grow five inches long. The natives of Southeast Asia and Australia are essentially “Mad Max” emus or modern-day velociraptors. In fact, the claws do look alarmingly like a fossil claw that helped scientists determine that velociraptors were the Tasmanian devils of an earlier epoch.

Unless he aspired to be a Bond villain, why would Hajos keep these monsters around? I side with death investigator Bill Grotjahn, who determined that Hajos died from “bird-inflicted trauma.”

“I’ve been doing this for 18 years and I’ve never had a thing like this,” he told the New York Times. “I’ve had them killed by alligators and snakes but never by a bird like that. Cassowaries are an extremely, extremely dangerous bird. You don’t want to fool around with them. They have no sense of humor.”

Tomorrow, when the bidding starts, we’ll find out who thinks Big Bird With A Vengeance would make a good pet. Maybe they could become a bigger, badder version of “ guard geese” at Mar-a-Lago. Here is your soundtrack. — 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...