Gov. Janet Mills speaks at a press briefing in Augusta on June 30, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Legislature today will hold its second day of floor sessions in 2022.

What we’re watching today

The governor’s upcoming State of the State address can be read as the unofficial kickoff to her reelection campaign. Gov. Janet Mills will deliver her State of the State address to lawmakers in person on Feb. 10, setting off a set of busy days in which she will also release her plan for spending a large part of Maine’s $800 million budget surplus through mid-2023. 

It can be viewed as a sort of unofficial kickoff to her campaign with former Gov. Paul LePage. Mills, a Democrat, has hardly engaged with her Republican predecessor since he entered the race last year. She did not answer LePage’s September kickoff speech at the Augusta Civic Center, where he dusted off his old and lofty goal of eliminating Maine’s income tax

There is likely to be no official politicking in Mills’ official address, but it will all but certainly contain at least an implicit argument for a second term. A wave of federal relief has beat back doomsday budget projections from earlier in the pandemic, giving the governor a major election-year opportunity with the surplus.

She has not fully fleshed out plans for it yet, but Mills has indicated a desire to compromise with Republicans to give back some of the money to Mainers and send more money to nursing homes and other embattled health care providers. Mills will fund in-state testing for so-called forever chemicals found widely in agricultural land, wrote David Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, in a Kennebec Journal column on Wednesday.

There will still be things to fight about. LePage’s campaign dinged Mills on Tuesday for a declining unemployment rate that nonetheless remains higher than other states in the region without noting that was a normal theme during the LePage years as well. The minority party will also look to influence Mills’ spending proposal as they make their own 2022 case, seeking legislative gains. 

What we’re reading

Maine’s massive backlog in processing positive COVID-19 cases has shown the federal government is still reliant on the metric even as experts downplay its value given the rapid spread of the omicron variant and wide use of at-home tests. Key federal policy has been set in part by the measure, including state supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments that Mills had to lobby the federal government to increase.

— The state’s largest health care system is seeing more patients getting diagnosed with COVID-19 while in the hospital for other reasons. The total accounted for about one-third of virus patients in the MaineHealth system on Monday, but experts have said the burden on hospitals is roughly the same no matter when the virus is detected.

— A state panel says police need better plans for responding to mental health crises. The group’s report, which reviewed 10 deadly shootings between 2017 and 2020, noted that nine of the 10 men who were killed were having mental health crises while seven of them lived in rural and isolated areas.

News and notes

Sen. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, will be the new co-chair of the Legislature’s voting, gambling and liquor committee after the resignation of Sen. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, earlier this month. He is a different type of legislator than Luchini on key issues. For example, he opposed a sports betting expansion that Luchini long tried to broker. The move shifts Assistant Senate Majority Leader Mattie Daughtry, D-Brunswick, to co-chair of the labor panel.

— Maine is setting aside $12 million in federal stimulus funds for businesses to start or expand business apprenticeship programs. Applications are due in just under a month and can be downloaded here.

Follow along today

— 10 a.m. The Maine House and Senate will meet for floor sessions. Among the high-profile votes today will be one to override Mills’ veto of a bill that would allow farmworkers to organize in Maine. The progressive proposal is a sure bet to fail that test, as it only passed both chambers narrowly last session amid unified Republican opposition. House Republicans have already set a media availability to discuss the bill’s pending defeat.

— 12 p.m. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, will speak to reporters after a tour of Abbott Laboratories’ Westbrook COVID-19 test manufacturing plant in her first public appearance in the state since Democrats’ signature voting overhaul was blocked by Republicans and two Democrats. She will join Mills and transportation officials in reviewing planned safety improvements using federal money on Bangor Street in Augusta later on in the day.

The Daily Brief is written by Bangor Daily News politics editor Michael Shepherd and made possible by BDN subscribers. Enjoy unlimited access to all we have to offer by subscribing

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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...