Good morning from Augusta.
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What we’re watching today
Republicans including Maine’s senior senator worry they could get boxed out as Democrats aren’t backing down from an aggressive stimulus proposal. President Joe Biden’s administration is pushing a $1.9 trillion bill that includes another round of stimulus checks, money for vaccinations, aid for state and local governments, at $15 hourly minimum wage and an expanded child tax credit, among other provisions.
But Sen. Susan Collins and other Republicans have been skeptical of the large proposal, balking at both the large price tag and some specific parts, like the minimum wage. Collins led a bipartisan group of senators that negotiated the last relief bill, a group that many thought would be a model for governing under the Biden presidency. But the Democratic majority in the Senate has opened the avenue of doing the stimulus bill through the budget reconciliation process, which would not require any Republican votes.
Collins has expressed support for additional funding for vaccine distribution, but resisted many other provisions in Biden’s proposal, noting it has been only a month since the last stimulus bill passed. The Maine senator told Politico she thought it would be “helpful” if the Democratic president put the brakes on the reconciliation process, pointing to his calls for bipartisanship. In an interview with NBC Boston this week, she highlighted their friendship.
But the Biden administration, after initially appearing hesitant about using budget reconciliation, seems open to proceeding with it if that is what it takes to get a bill across the finish line in the next few weeks. The Senate is staring down a soft Feb. 8 deadline, as legislative activity will likely pause for former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.
Biden has indicated openness to changes to the $1.9 trillion proposal, including tighter income limits on the $1,400 stimulus checks, something Collins had called for. But Democrats do not want to drop provisions such as state and local aid, which they see as essential and Collins has supported but other Republicans have generally opposed.
In his first few weeks in office, Biden may have to choose between the plan he wants and a plan that will get some Republican support. He appears poised to do the former, leaving the role of Collins and other Republican negotiators uncertain.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Federal aid will fund up to a year of rent for thousands of Mainers,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “A new federal rent relief program could provide a significant boon to both struggling Maine renters and landlords, but stricter requirements could slow the distribution of $200 million to those in need as the coronavirus pandemic remains far from over.”
The massive tranche is a federal funding quirk that may begin to trickle out in February. The $200 million sum was the minimum amount awarded to states in the federal stimulus bill passed last month, favoring small states like Maine, which gets eight times more money for rent relief t han it did under an earlier stimulus. The increased red tape, however, could lead to slower distribution. It is expected to begin rolling out in February.
— “Maine universities won’t require COVID-19 vaccinations,” Eesha Pendharkar, BDN: “Maine’s public universities will encourage students and employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as vaccines start to become more widely available. But they won’t make it a requirement. The decision by the University of Maine System — with about 30,000 students and more than 5,000 employees — represents the approach of one large Maine entity toward COVID-19 vaccinations as employers across the country decide whether to require that their employees be vaccinated.”
— “BDN sues Maine State Police for records detailing officer misconduct,” Erin Rhoda, BDN: “Last spring, the BDN requested written disciplinary decisions against state troopers, which are public under Maine law. Seven months later, on Dec. 29, the BDN received 53 pages of records, but specific details about misconduct were obscured. The BDN is asserting that the redactions defy Maine’s public disclosure law.”
Maine has a bevy of exemptions to disclosure law that apply mostly to police. Suing the police for access to records has traditionally been difficult for media outlets. The biggest reason for that is the Intelligence and Investigative Record Information Act, which sets out a list of exceptions to laws governing documents that can be disclosed. Many of them are narrow and obvious, such as shielding the names of confidential informants.
But one shielding people from “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” has been liberally construed by the state and courts to keep documents private, including in 2014 when the Kennebec Journal sued for a state police report on a sexual assault investigation into Hallowell’s police chief at the time.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.
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