Good morning from Augusta. It is Patriot’s Day in Maine. (Yes, it is singular here but not in Massachusetts and Wisconsin, the only other two states where this holiday is celebrated.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is a great opportunity. This is a dream come true,” said University of Maine basketball star Blanca Millan, who signed a free agent contract with the WNBA’s Washington Mystics on Sunday. “I can’t wait to meet everyone and start working.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
The Legislature will consider a second consumer-owned utility push under threat of referendum. Lawmakers including top Central Maine Power critics Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, will hold a news conference on Monday to unveil a second bill to establish a consumer-owned utility that would be formed after the new entity acquired the infrastructure now owned by Central Maine Power and Versant Power, the investor-owned utilities that provide the vast majority of electricity in Maine.
It comes after a long public-relations battle between CMP and its critics. The utility has ranked last in the nation among counterparts in other states in a national survey and there were more than two years of regulatory proceedings after billing and customer service issues that escalated after an October 2017 windstorm and led to a record $10 million earnings penalty.
A study conducted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission said Mainers would pay higher rates at first under such a plan, but that they would go down over time. Berry and others pushing the measure criticized some of the findings of that study, which was done by a firm that should have been ineligible under the state’s conflict rules. They point to other consumer-owned utilities that offer relatively low rates, while CMP and Versant have said lawmakers are underestimating the time, cost and expertise needed to run an efficient system.
The text of the bill has not been released yet, but Berry and others pushing it say it is different than a previous bid that officially died in 2020. What is already different is that Berry has a group called “Our Power” running an external effort to push the measure. On its website, it says if the Legislature does not pass a consumer-owned utility, the group will take it to a referendum.
The ballot box would likely be less friendly to CMP than the Legislature, but efforts to hamper the utility are gaining steam in the State House. After CMP and its allies persuaded Maine’s high court to strike a referendum challenging its $1 billion corridor project from the 2020 ballot, opponents of the project are back with a second one scheduled for November. Legal challenges to that and any consumer-owned utility law are likely if they pass.
Gov. Janet Mills has helped that project survive legislative challenges so far, but this iteration of the Legislature is more anti-corridor than the last. On Friday, a legislative panel approved a bill preventing companies partially owned by a foreign government from spending to influence ballot measures aimed at Hydro-Quebec, CMP’s partner in the corridor project.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Inside the Maine State Police, officer misdeeds are kept secret,” Callie Ferguson, Erin Rhoda, Bangor Daily News, and Matt Byrne, Portland Press Herald: “In addition to keeping records with minimal information, they are incomplete. Under a union contract, some public records of discipline are destroyed. Troopers have been arrested but lack a public discipline history. And the state agency that oversees Maine law enforcement has revoked the licenses of troopers who resigned from the state police with no public record documenting why, according to a joint investigation by the state’s two largest newspapers, the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald.”
A review of misconduct shows what public records the agency keeps are often missing crucial details. One Maine State Police trooper mishandled a fatal car crash investigation when he told a dead man’s widow he had her husband’s cellphone when he did not. Another kept quiet about another officer’s assault against a handcuffed man — but those details are either missing in the agency’s reports or written vaguely. A cross-review of other police records and interviews conducted by the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald raised questions about whether officials are holding officers to an acceptable level of accountability.
Lawmakers and police appear to be willing to strengthen oversight of law enforcement officers. A bill from Rep. David McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield, looking to give the Maine Criminal Justice Academy the ability to discipline officers for harmful behavior that is not a crime saw no objections when it went before the Legislature’s criminal justice and public safety for a public hearing on Friday.
— “Vaccine hesitancy remains low in Maine, bucking rural-state trends,” Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Maine ranks 11th-lowest in vaccine hesitancy among U.S. states, according to survey data analyzed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with 12.3 percent of the adult population considered hesitant and 7.8 percent strongly hesitant. Other New England states rank better, with Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut occupying the top three spots, all with less than 10 percent of their populations hesitant and less than 4 percent strongly hesitant.”
— “Complaints about Maine businesses flouting pandemic rules expected to rise during tourist season,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Officials said it will be easier to see people not wearing masks or clustering too closely when they are outside, and more summer visitors means more crowded areas. On May 24, [Mills] will raise indoor and outdoor occupancy limits at restaurants and other businesses. Maine is keeping social distancing and mask mandates as neighboring New Hampshire loosens them, starting with a lift of the state mask mandate on April 16.”
Angus King to meet with Joe Biden about infrastructure
Maine’s junior senator is among the lawmakers at a White House meeting about infrastructure today. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and nine other members of Congress — including several other former governors from both parties — will meet with President Joe Biden to discuss the Democratic president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, which was announced earlier this month. It could include priorities for Maine such as funding for broadband.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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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