Steven Michaud, president of the Maine Hospital Association, speaks at a news conference with doctors opposed to Question 1, a referendum to repeal a new state law eliminating the religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccinations, at the State House in Augusta in this Feb. 4, 2020, file photo. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Body-positive, fat-positive, sex-positive, kink-positive, polyamory-allied, sex worker-allied — that’s what therapy for the people is,” said Dani Fazio, one of the founders of the LGBTQ-focused therapy practice Therapy for the People, on the inclusiveness of the practice. “Come as you are.”

What we’re watching today

Pharmaceutical giants and an anti-vaccine group are putting money into Maine’s vaccine referendum ahead of the March 3 vote. Pre-election campaign finance reports filed on Friday show that a committee run by Maine Street Solutions opposing the referendum to reject a new vaccine law received $500,000 from Merck and Pfizer, two vaccine manufacturers, as part of $604,000 in total fundraising since the start of the year. That confirms earlier reporting that pharmaceutical companies funded the group’s ongoing TV ad push.

Meanwhile, Yes on 1, the primary group supporting the referendum, raised just over $200,000 since Jan. 1. Nearly a quarter of that came from a $50,000 contribution from the Organic Consumer Association, a Minnesota-based anti-vaccine group that has pushed a debunked link between vaccines and autism, while the remainder largely came from individual donations.

Maine Families for Vaccines, a second group working with Maine Street Solutions to oppose the referendum, also brought in most of its fundraising from individual contributions, including a $20,000 donation from author Stephen King. The group also received $25,000 from the Maine Hospital Association.

The March 3 referendum concerns a law passed last year that would eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions for mandatory school vaccinations. A “yes” vote repeals the law, allowing parents to continue to exempt their children from vaccines for nonmedical reasons, while a “no” vote upholds it, meaning only medical exemptions would be permitted.

The Maine politics top 3

— “2 years after Marissa Kennedy’s murder, caseworkers say they are still ‘drowning,’ ” Erin Rhoda, Bangor Daily News: “Two years after the high-profile deaths of two Maine girls, the state’s child welfare system still appears to be overwhelmed. While those on the ground see some encouraging signs, three caseworkers and one manager said they continue to experience a key problem that has plagued the system in recent years: too much work for the number of staff.

— “Beating Trump top of Democrats’ minds at Maine doors ahead of presidential primary,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Volunteers knocking doors for Democratic presidential hopefuls in Maine say climate change and health care are the most pressing issues ahead of the March 3 primary. But there’s another priority — finding the person most likely to beat President Donald Trump.”

The front-runner in the race overall — and in Maine — is clear after the Nevada caucuses. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has gotten the highest vote totals during the first three Democratic nominating contests and romped to an easy victory in Nevada on Saturday. South Carolina will vote on Saturday, then Maine and more than a dozen other states will vote on Super Tuesday. Sanders had a comfortable lead in a poll of the Maine race released last week by Colby College, though former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg were within striking range of winning delegates.

— “Bernie Sanders dominates Democratic fundraising in Maine ahead of presidential primary,” Piper: “Sanders has raised $847,000 from Mainers since his campaign launched in early 2019, with the majority coming from donors who gave less than $200. Among Democratic candidates, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and [Buttigieg, respectively, raised] $461,000 and $370,000 from Maine residents.”

The cost of criminal justice gets a public hearing

Proponents of reforming Maine’s criminal justice system have said reform is the only way to reduce costs. That’s sure to be on the minds of lawmakers today as a task force focused on the justice system presents their recommendations on sentencing reform to a legislative panel today. On juvenile justice, they include measures like better data collection and using community intervention and diversion tactics to reduce crimes. Today will focus more on sentencing reform efforts. There are several independent bills on the issue already, including those that would change bail code and drug sentencing laws.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

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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...