A business advertises WiFi access in downtown Bangor on July 23, 2018. Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. Today is Earth Day. Here’s your soundtrack. Gov. Janet Mills will hold a 12 p.m. news conference in Montville to unveil “a new innovation challenge” aimed at spurring clean energy start-up businesses.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “There’s confidence in the market in all commodities right now,” said Mitchell Feigenbaum, an elver dealer. “There’s a crazy boom in real estate, a crazy boom in the stock market, a crazy boom in the eel market.”

What we’re watching today

The pandemic has led to a heightened focus on broadband expansion in Maine, from the congressional delegation to state and local governments. Maine’s lagging broadband speeds — particularly in rural areas — have long been a point of emphasis for business leaders and lawmakers. But the issue has played second fiddle in discussions over borrowing for key infrastructure here, losing out to items such as transportation funding as recently as 2019, when Republicans blocked most of Mills’ bond proposals.

But things have shifted quickly since then. The last federal stimulus package will send $120 million alone in broadband money to Maine, which has pegged the cost of delivering high-speed internet to 95 percent of the state at $600 million. President Joe Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure bill that could bring more and Republicans skeptical of that sprawling proposal plan to include broadband money in their smaller counteroffer.

At the state level, Mills, a Democrat, is expected to unveil an updated borrowing package that accounts for the new federal money. Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, is sponsoring a $100 million bond on the issue. One of the state’s largest providers, Consolidated Communications, is planning a big upgrade over the next six years using federal money and its own investment, while cities and towns that have led piecemeal efforts are accelerating them.

“The COVID thing was a form of telling us, ‘Hey folks, you’d better do something,’” said George Kerper, chair of the broadband committee in Searsport — which is creating its own system — on how the pandemic drove home the importance of the internet as many worked from home.

The federal money alone may get Maine a good portion of the way toward its goal. The questions will be around overseeing the upgrades so they are not quickly dated, increasing uptake rates in many areas and whether the improvements will drive population changes. 

The Maine politics top 3

— “Councilors’ support for nurses has Bangor wondering whether they violated ban on partisanship,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “The city’s code of ethics requires that councilors be ‘fair, impartial and responsive’ and that they not use their offices for personal gain. It states that councilors should act in a nonpartisan way and explicitly states they should not participate in election campaigns except when identifying their actions as separate from their role on the council.”

Legislative leaders will be unveiling details on a bill meant to limit corporate campaign contributions. The proposal from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, and Assistant House Majority Leader Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland would create a designation for political action committees specifically funded by corporations or membership organizations with the goal of influencing campaigns. 

It would prevent businesses aside from labor organizations from contributing to leadership PACs and prevent PACs from contributing to candidates. Leadership PACs would be limited in how much money they could receive, depending on the type of candidate. It is similar to a bill from U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine’s 2nd District, who introduced a bill to prevent companies from operating political action committees, but still allow nonprofits and trade organizations to do so. The Maine bill will be discussed at a 10:30 a.m. news conference today.

— “Maine’s unemployment system needs modernization, senators say,” The Associated Press: “Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King said Wednesday the federal government is giving the Maine Department of Labor more than $380,000 toward that effort. They said the money will promote and improve the labor department’s short time compensation program, which is designed to allow workers to receive partial unemployment benefits if their employer reduces their hours to avoid layoffs.”

— “Donor agrees to take back statue of controversial Maine jurist who upheld segregation,” Leela Stockley, BDN: “Bernard Fishman, the director of the Maine State Museum, said that housing the statue at the museum is cost prohibitive. The museum is under renovation, meaning state officials would have to find storage space among the museum’s collections to store the statue.”

Study: Relatively few incarcerated people vote in Maine

Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow people convicted of felony charges who are currently imprisoned to vote. But a study by two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that less than 10 percent of eligible imprisoned voters in the two states cast ballots during the 2018 election — a far cry from Maine’s strong overall turnout rate of 65 percent that year.

The U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment earlier this month to allow incarcerated people to vote in every state, though Reps. Chellie Pingree and Golden voted in favor. The MIT researchers conclude that enfranchising incarcerated people in other states would be unlikely to swing election results, saying the debate on whether to allow them to vote should focus less on electoral outcomes and more on ethical issues.

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.

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.

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...