Retired Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justice Donald Alexander asks a question during a hearing in Portland on April 12, 2018. He is now chairing Maine's bipartisan redistricting commission. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The Daily Brief will take a break tomorrow and Monday and will return Tuesday of next week. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I grew up in an age when civic duty was an important part of your community,” said outgoing Old Town councilor Shirley Brissette, whose spot could be left vacant because no one filed to run to replace her. “That was just part of our schooling.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Maine’s redistricting commission could approve Maine House maps today but still has to reach consensus on Senate and congressional maps. The bipartisan group is meeting for the second time this week after releasing a unified proposal for Maine House maps late Tuesday, but has only a few days to achieve a similar agreement on remaining districts before the Sept. 27 deadline.

The commission is receiving public feedback on the House maps at a meeting this morning. Included in the written testimony submitted are several concerns about the way the proposed maps divide Hancock County. Multiple residents expressed frustration that the town of Penobscot is not in the same district as the rest of the Blue Hill peninsula. (Penobscot has been in a different district for the past decade as well, but several residents say swapping it with neighboring Castine would create a district with more cohesive cultural ties.)

It is not clear how responsive the commission will be to public feedback given how little time is left until its deadline. The meeting agenda indicates members are planning a vote on the House maps after hearing comments, although they could make revisions to the maps first.

The existence of the House proposal all but guarantees the Legislature will have at least one set of maps from the commission to vote on when lawmakers return to Augusta. But the possibility looms that Senate or congressional maps could end up getting decided by Maine high’s court, which would have 35 days to come up with districts if the Legislature does not approve maps within the first week of October.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Paul LePage renews push to eliminate Maine’s income tax at 2022 campaign kickoff,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “He focused on budget issues and school choice in his kickoff speech, while addressing the COVID-19 pandemic briefly and mostly in general terms. He hammered [Gov. Janet] Mills on many topics, including early pandemic restrictions on houses of worship and school closures, while calling for more “parents’ choice” in education.”

— “Maine towns with lowest vaccination rates have been most impacted by the delta variant,” David Marino Jr., BDN: “The rate of new cases over the past 4 1/2 months in communities where more than 90 percent of residents were partially or fully vaccinated was nearly 40 percent lower than in communities with inoculation rates below 70 percent. The data demonstrate the great leaps that many of Maine’s most vaccinated communities have made to contain the virus amid the delta variant, but also the danger that could loom in rural, less vaccinated sections as the flu season approaches.”

The state’s health care workers saw a small vaccination increase by the end of summer. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nursing home vaccinations increased by 5.1 percentage points to 77 percent from July to August, the biggest bump of all facility types the state is tracking. Hospitals, which have had the second-highest vaccination rates in the state, saw the next-largest increase of 4.4 percentage points to 84.6 percent.

— “State investigating deaths of 100,000 salmon at fish farm off MDI,” Bill Trotter, BDN: “The die-off at the fish farm, located off Black Island between MDI and Swan’s Island, was reported by Cooke Aquaculture to Maine Department of Environmental Protection on Aug. 27, DEP spokesperson David Madore said Wednesday. That was 11 days after the company, which operates roughly two dozen salmon farms along the Maine coast, first realized they might have a problem.”

Legislative Council to debate mask wearing ahead of redistricting vote

Masks have not been required in the State House since the final weeks of the special session. Yet Jenna Howard, a spokesperson for Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford,  said the measure is being considered for when lawmakers return to Augusta, likely next week, to vote on redistricting maps as new cases of the coronavirus remain high. The council, led by Democrats, was more cautious than Mills after she adopted federal public health guidelines saying vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks, making masks a requirement in all legislative spaces.

The policy was initially bucked by some conversative Maine House members, whom Fecteau then punished by stripping them of their committee assignments. Only one, Libertarian Rep. John Andrews of Paris, refused to wear a mask during a session day, leading to him being reprimanded by the House ethics committee and briefly leaving the State House. 

Since then, two high-profile Democrats — Maine Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and Senate Majority Leader Eloise Vitelli, D-Arrowsic — have tested positive for the virus, despite being vaccinated. The Legislative Council meets today at 2 p.m.

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 here.

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