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Maine lawmakers are heading for an anticlimactic deal on a two-year budget after solving the largest remaining issues on Monday night following a much more climactic vote that kept so-called “death with dignity” legislation alive.
The Legislature’s appropriations committee have agreements on education items that represented the final large hurdle to a budget deal. We told you on Monday that lawmakers were close to a deal on a two-year budget likely to be just under Democratic Gov. Janet Mills’ proposed spending level of $8 billion. They’re closer today after a late series of votes Monday night in the appropriations committee that address key remaining education issues.
Democrats and Republicans agreed to an $18 million increase in funding to state universities, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy — which was $6 million less than the increase that Mills wanted — and the Maine Department of Education will get 18 of the 38 additional positions that the governor asked for in her budget.
That was only minor shaving in the grand scheme of the budget, but it paves the way for a deal and felt pretty final on Monday night, when Mills entered the committee room after the panel adjourned to shake hands with Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
To wrap it up, the committee now has to discuss relatively minor transfers and the amount of money that they will reserve for bills that have been initially approved by the Legislature but remain unfunded. Republicans may use that process to try to kill a bill that would add abortion coverage to MaineCare and try to shape workers’ compensation reform.
Some members switched their votes relative to an earlier tally, keeping “death with dignity” legislation alive by a single House vote. The bill from Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, which would forestall a 2020 referendum on the issue of allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending medication to terminally ill patients after both oral and written requests and waiting period, stayed alive by the slimmest margin in the House on Monday in a 73-72 vote.
Only one Republican — Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, voted for it and two other Republicans who supported it in an earlier vote backed out. On the winning side, Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau of Biddeford, a Catholic who opposed the bill before Monday, was among a handful of Democrats who switched their votes to pass it.
It faces final action in the Senate, which initially approved it last week, on Tuesday. It’s unclear where Mills stands on it. If she vetoes it, it is virtually assured to die.
Today in A-town
Maine’s legislative chambers will hold another busy day of floor votes, the governor will release a bond package and a gun control activist will talk to lawmakers. The chambers are back in on Tuesday with several big votes scheduled in both chambers. Alongside the aforementioned “death with dignity” vote in the Senate, the House is expected to take final action on a bill that would study the emissions impact of Central Maine Power’s proposed hydropower corridor. Last month, it failed to get the two-thirds support in the House that it will need today to take effect immediately.
The Senate is scheduled to take an initial vote on a bill to make Maine the fourth state to ban single-use plastic shopping bags. It passed in party-line House vote last week. The House will vote on a so-called “Green New Deal” for Maine, though it was watered down by a committee to largely make solar, electric and natural gas systems more affordable for new schools.
There will be plenty going on outside the Legislature. Mills is expected to release a list of bond proposals that she wants on the 2019 ballot. Expect the $1.5 billion or so in bond proposals floated by legislators to be reduced by a fifth or more with transportation, conservation and broadband likely to be among the subjects included, though legislators have the final say.
Some lawmakers will meet on Tuesday with David Hogg, the 19-year-old survivor of the 2018 Parkland, Florida school shooting that killed 17 and co-founder of a student-led group organizing for gun control, will meet with legislators and hold a news conference in Augusta before going to Portland later in the day.
— Maine could become a Super Tuesday primary state. The Maine Senate on Monday endorsed a bill that would replace party-run caucuses with a government-run primary that would occur on March 3, 2020, along with primaries in 13 other states. Maine hasn’t held a presidential preference primary since 2000. Proponents say that a primary would significantly increase turnout, but opponents counter that it would shift financial responsibility for a partisan vote to the state and municipalities, which will have to manage polling places. Sen. Matt Pouliot, R-Augusta, joined all Senate Democrats in voting for the measure. The bill now moves to the House. The cost of the primary could be a hurdle for its implementation, because it could soon join a growing pile of bills that have been initially approved in the Legislature but remain unfunded. Republicans will look to kill many of them during the consensus process of drafting a two-year budget due on June 30. The House will vote on the bill today.
— Maine became one of the last states to take legal action against a major drug maker over its role in the opioid addiction epidemic. The lawsuit from Attorney General Aaron Frey comes after a year-long investigation into marketing practices used by Purdue Pharma of Connecticut after it signed a 2007 settlement with Maine and 25 other states agreeing not to engage in “false, misleading or deceptive” practices while marketing OxyContin, a painkiller that carries a high risk of addiction. Maine joined California, Hawaii and the District of Columbia on Monday to file suits in state court against Purdue, which said in a statement that it “vigorously denies the allegations contained in litigation against the company” and will defend itself against “misleading attacks.” About 2,000 cities, counties and tribes — including Portland, Lewiston and Bangor — have also sued Purdue as part of a lawsuit consolidated in an Ohio federal court.
— Meanwhile, the state’s corrections department will soon begin offering medication-assisted addiction treatment. The Department of Corrections will team up with Groups: Recover Together, a substance use treatment organization, for a pilot project that aims to provide medication-assisted treatment to 100 to 150 inmates who are struggling with addiction. The department estimates that about 60 percent to 85 percent of inmates in Maine prisons struggle with some kind of addiction, whether it be alcohol or opioid, and the new program aims to help inmates overcome their addiction and make for a smoother transition into the community upon release. The program is due to start on July 1, focusing on inmates who are within 90 days of their release date.
— A man who threatened Maine’s senior senator after she voted to confirm a controversial Supreme Court justice will spend 18 months behind bars. On Monday, a federal judge sentenced Ronald DeRisi, 75, of Smithtown, New York, to serve 18 months in prison and surrender two firearms. DeRisi had pleaded guilty in federal court earlier this year to sending numerous threatening voicemails to Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh.
I dodge your milkshake
The practice of tossing milkshakes at politicians has migrated across The Pond from England and appears ready to take root in the United States. A Republican congressman from Florida got drilled with a lathery lactose projectile Saturday while leaving the sublimely named Brew Ha Ha town hall in Pensacola.
Just in time for summer. What better way to greet the sun-drenched season than by being drenched with a frothy shower of quick-curdling bovine-based beverage?
The New York Times waded into the United Kingdom’s version of the milkshake tossing phenomenon, with one expert suggesting that the tossers aim to subvert the use of milk as a symbol of white supremacy.
“I think it latterly caught the imagination of anti-fascist protesters because, as there is an abundance of fast food outlets in U.K. cities, it is easily available and — at least at first — could be carried without raising suspicion,” said Benjamin Franks, a senior lecturer of social and political philosophy at the University of Glasgow. “It turns a symbol used by the alt right — milk — to symbolize ‘whiteness’ and to mock ethnic groups with a greater predisposition to lactose intolerance — into an image of dramatic opposition.”
All I know, after three years of refilling college cafeteria beverage dispensers with giant bags of milk that were prone to leaking, is that spilt milk stains your clothes and makes you smell like cheese that only a French person could love.
If this trend catches on in the U.S., the typical American versus British “separated by a common language” problems could arise. But at least it would finally explain why people in Rhode Island call ice cream mixed with milk an Awful Awful. In the meantime, don’t give any crap to someone holding a frappe or quibble with anyone armed with a Fribble. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd 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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