A report about the possible environmental perks of state employees working remotely shows how it shielded many — but not all — from the coronavirus. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a stopgap bill today to fund the government until Dec. 18 to avert a Friday shutdown. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We want you to know that we have acted in the best interest of the community and have the public health and safety needs as our top priority at the town,” said Annette Padilla, Millinocket town manager, on the firing of police Chief Craig Worster, who was accused of creating a hostile work environment and sexually harassing his deputy chief. Read the Bangor Daily News’ series on police accountability in Maine here.

What we’re watching today

A report about the possible environmental perks of state employees working remotely shows how it shielded many — but not all — from the coronavirus. The data, collected as part of a study of telework’s potential costs and benefits for the state, showed that workers reduced travel by 1 million vehicle miles a week since the pandemic started. By spring, an estimated 85 percent of state workers were working from home.

Dean Staffieri, the president of the Maine Service Employees Association, the largest state employees’ union, estimated in a message to workers that 45 out of the union’s roughly 12,000 members have contracted the virus. In the early days of the pandemic, those employees were mostly workers in the health care fields. And while cases of the virus still periodically close public health agency offices, the more recent surge has seen employees in the prisons affected.

SEIU spokesperson Jeff McCabe says the data is a good sign, as the union has pushed for as many people to work from home as possible. But it also highlights who the state relies on for its hands-on virus response. Workers such as first responders, custodians and transportation workers are still in the field. McCabe said the union is also concerned about employees returning to the office as cases climb, something he said was difficult to measure.

It could lead to larger conversations about hazard pay. The state has granted hazard pay to certain employees in its corrections, agricultural, service, public health and psychiatric departments, but McCabe said the union is looking to expand it to all employees who interface with the public. Any request will face a hard road with a massive shortfall looming.

The Maine politics top 3

— “A secret settlement hid an officer’s misconduct. Outside Maine, it would have been different,” Erin Rhoda, Bangor Daily News: “In Maine, however, there is no requirement that law enforcement agencies check the past personnel files of those they’re looking to hire. While sheriffs in Maine said they conduct background investigations into potential hires and frequently ask job candidates to sign releases to allow them to see officers’ past personnel files, it’s not done 100 percent of the time. Complicating matters, records are not always complete.”

— “Susan Collins, Jared Golden skeptical of Biden’s pick of retired general to lead Pentagon,” The Associated Press: “Members of Maine’s delegation were noncommittal on [Lloyd] Austin’s nomination on Tuesday, though [U.S. Sen. Susan] Collins and Rep. Jared Golden of the 2nd District, a Democrat and Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars elected in 2018, looked to be most dubious of the idea of another waiver.”

Maine will finalize its presidential pick. The job of the state’s four electoral votes will be mostly business as usual next Monday. But there will be fewer people in the chamber of the Maine House of Representatives to observe, with masking and distancing protocols in place.

— “Despite curfew, Maine virus restrictions in line with other New England states,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Like Mills, other New England governors have been reluctant to impose business closures as the virus has worsened. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker tightened capacity limits at a range of establishments on Tuesday, but only called for the closure of indoor performance venues. He also announced that restaurant patrons would be required to wear face coverings at all times when not eating, something Maine already requires.”

Twists and turns in relief talks

There was a lot of news about a potential coronavirus-related stimulus bill out of Washington Tuesday, but little consensus. Lawmakers appear poised to pass a one-week spending bill to keep the government open while continuing negotiations. Stimulus checks, aid for state and local governments, unemployment assistance and liability protections appear to be among the remaining sticking points for a broader relief bill.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, floated dropping both state and local aid — a priority of Democrats — and liability protections, which had been a priority of his, from the bill. But that proposal was overshadowed after the White House rolled out its own plan which favored dropping federal unemployment benefits in favor of a one-time $600 stimulus check.

Democratic leaders immediately came out against that proposal. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District, and 57 other House members signed a letter Tuesday encouraging the inclusion of stimulus checks, but said they should still be paired with additional federal unemployment insurance.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Watch more:

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after time at the Kennebec Journal. He lives in Augusta, graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and has a master's degree from the University...