In this Feb. 9, 2021, file photo, the first pole of the New England Clean Energy Connect project was put up in The Forks. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. After days last week that felt almost like spring, temperatures are in the single digits on this morning of Maine’s 201st birthday. Here’s your soundtrack.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s cut our business in half, basically,” Northern Lanes Bowling alley manager Dale Nickerson said of the experience his Presque Isle business — and many others — had during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in Maine. “A lot of people were upset they had to wear masks when they came in, but everyone has to do their part.”

What we’re watching today

Bills preventing foreign entities from spending money in Maine elections and referendums are another front in the battle over the corridor. A trio of bills up for a public hearing on Monday in Augusta are squarely aimed at Hydro-Quebec, Central Maine Power’s partner in its controversial powerline project that will run through Maine. The company is owned by the province of Quebec.

It has been a major financier of opposition to referendums aimed at defeating the corridor project, spending $6.7 million alone on the first question. But that is only the direct campaign spending that has to be reported to the Maine Ethics Commission through the end of last year. Beyond that, Hydro-Quebec has resumed running ads in favor of the project this year after a lull in the fall, with bookings so far stretching into six figures.

It comes as another referendum campaign looking to block the corridor is set for the November election. This latest effort would require the Legislature to pass laws retroactively preventing projects of CMP’s size from being built in certain areas of the state. It is likely this push will also undergo several court battles and high-profile spending before it goes to voters. There are ongoing lawsuits over necessary permits for the project, which is under construction.

Each bill has similar language barring foreign involvement in elections to varying degrees. One targets only government entities, while others target all foreign nationals. The proposal from Rep. Kyle Bailey, D-Gorham, takes a further step in that it would explicitly bar media companies from airing the advertisements it seeks to prevent. Social media platforms would be required to remove those ads if they appear on platforms.

This issue is so far untested in the Maine Legislature, where CMP relied on Gov. Janet Mills and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers to kill anti-corridor bills in 2019. But the Legislature had to adjourn because of the coronavirus in 2020, kiboshing a bill aimed at this foreign money.

You can follow joint testimony on all three bills before the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs committee at 10 a.m. today.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine has weathered the virus better than virtually everywhere else in America,” Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The state’s rural geography — it was one of the last states to report a first case — and low population density helped limit transmission in the early going, experts said. A relatively high rate of mask wearing, plus travel restrictions and testing, have likely kept cases low. But even those measures were not enough to prevent the virus from infiltrating long-term care facilities or ward off wide winter spread that Maine has yet to fully recover from with cases flat.”

All Mainers will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine in Maine after an update to the state’s vaccination plan. Gov. Janet Mills said Friday that eligibility will be extended to all Mainers under the age of 50 on May 1, rather than just those in their 40s, following a directive from President Joe Biden that all states make all people eligible for the vaccine by May. Currently, Mainers aged 60 and older are eligible for the vaccine, while more than 500,000 total doses have been administered.

— “A guide to the $6B coming to Maine in the massive stimulus bill,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Some of the more immediate benefits to Mainers are the extension of the $300 weekly unemployment benefit set to expire March 14, direct payments to Americans starting at $1,400 and major tax changes benefiting low-income people. Maine will see money for hard-hit industries. Among the winners are restaurants, which can apply for direct grants. Maine also stands to get large sums for broadband expansion and infrastructure.”

— “Top Democratic lawmakers blast Maine Medical Center for opposing nurses union,” Christopher Burns, BDN: “Senate President Troy Jackson, Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, House Speaker Ryan Fecteau and House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy wrote in a Friday letter that they are concerned that Maine Medical Center is ‘mistreating nurses’ backing the unionizing effort.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. 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 by emailing clumm@bangordailynews.com.

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.