Good morning from Augusta.
What we’re watching today
An upcoming bill from the governor may escalate tensions with Maine’s biggest utility and put daylight between her and her 2022 opponent. As her next State of the State address approaches, Gov. Janet Mills is moving forward in a big way on one of the more out-of-the-blue items in her speech two years ago: reconsidering how Maine regulates electric utilities at the end of a first term in which she has typically been aligned with them on big issues.
The governor is preparing an utility accountability bill first reported by the Portland Press Herald on Tuesday that would have the Maine Public Utilities Commission develop standards for customer service, storm restoration and other areas and allow stiff penalties for those that do not meet them. It sets up a new process governing regulators’ existing power to force utilities to sell assets, something that could happen if they consistently flunk standards.
Perhaps most notably, Mills attempts to take a middle path on a proposal she vetoed to replace CMP and Versant Power, the state’s other dominant electric utility, with a consumer-owned utility. If the commission finds a utility should be forced to sell, it must compare a proposal to operate the grid from a politically appointed board with any others from the private sector.
Much of the strife about utility regulation revolves around CMP’s customer service woes and anger over the $1 billion corridor project that Maine voters rejected in November. Mills has been aligned with the utilities on big issues including the consumer-owned utility and the corridor, but she has talked tough on CMP as well, saying she was “no fan” of it in October.
The Maine utilities have consistently said Maine already has the tools needed to regulate them. Top utility critics are likely to embrace the bill, which could play in an interesting fashion in the Legislature because lawmakers of both parties have been split on big utility proposals so far. Republicans have generally defended utilities more.
However that plays out, it is a much tougher tack for Mills that is already putting daylight between her and former Gov. Paul LePage, a fellow corridor supporter running against the incumbent in 2022. His strategist, Brent Littlefield, hit the plan for “more bureaucracy.” Those differences could put utility regulation, an issue that initially figured to be back-burnered in their campaign, back toward the top of debate.
What we’re reading
— Last year was the worst on record for deaths logged by Maine’s child welfare system. Twenty-five children died in cases that involved police or whose family had prior involvement with the child welfare system, according to state data updated last week. That number is also an undercount because it does not include deaths subject to active criminal proceedings, including four deaths in June that refocused attention on the embattled system.
— Maine’s senators are at the center of negotiations around shoring up the Electoral College count after supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol during the certification on Jan. 6, 2021. Sen. Angus King and two top Democrats released a proposal that would raise the bar for challenging electors, a process exploited by Trump as he sowed doubt in the 2020 outcome. Sen. Susan Collins is leading talks on the issue for Republicans.
— Mills joined other governors to call for more “normalcy” with the COVID-19 pandemic dragging on. At the weekend National Governors Association conference in Washington, D.C., governors of both parties found some agreement with President Joe Biden on keeping schools open and a focus on managing — and not necessarily eradicating — the virus.
Follow along today
— 10 a.m. The health committee will work on bills including one opposed by the Mills administration that would give workers at state psychiatric hospitals a $3 hourly raise in an effort to boost retention. Watch here.
— 1 p.m. The judiciary committee will be briefed on a recent report from a state panel that reviews use of deadly force by police and found law enforcement needs better plans to respond to mental health crises. Watch here.
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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