Budget, engagement among the fireworks

Posted Jan. 08, 2010, at 9:21 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — State lawmakers returned to Augusta this week for the second session of the 124th Legislature. While the $438 million revenue shortfall will be the dominant issue, the budget certainly won’t be the only thing happening around the State House this session.

In this weekly column, I will feature a sampling of items (some newsworthy, others merely noteworthy) from the past week in Augusta and elsewhere in Maine politics. I will also glance ahead at a few of the issues on the Legislature’s agenda for the week to come.

A quiet reprimand

Over the summer, media outlets (including this one) gave extensive coverage to Old Town Rep. Richard Blanchard’s run-in with fire marshals and a game warden investigating illegal fireworks at his camp on July 4.

The House Committee on Ethics looked into the matter and, after several days of hearings, cleared Blanchard of allegations that he attempted to use his political position to influence the officers.

The committee did, however, find “sufficient evidence that Representative Blanchard engaged in disrespectful behavior unbecoming of a state representative.” The committee also urged all lawmakers to re-familiarize themselves with the Legislature’s Code of Ethics.

On Wednesday — the first day of the session — the Ethics Committee’s letter of findings was included in the House’s lengthy list of official business. But the letter was allowed to go “under the hammer,” which is legislative-speak for entering something into the record without actually reading the full text out loud.

There was no other public discussion of the letter, and Blanchard did not address the chamber.

Political engagement

Two BDN-area legislators are planning to tie the knot.

It was announced on the House floor this week that Rep. Richard Cleary, D-Houlton, and Rep. Elspeth “Elsie” Flemings, D-Bar Harbor, are engaged to be married.

The young couple received enthusiastic cheers from their legislative colleagues, although it wasn’t the first semipublic airing of the news. A posting on Facebook about their engagement caught the eye of one of Maine’s political bloggers back in November.

Flemings, who is in her first term in the Legislature, works as a coordinator for the Union River Watershed Coalition. Cleary, who is serving his second term, is a lawyer.

State of the State

Gov. John Baldacci’s office announced that the governor’s State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, in the House chamber.

Coming up next week

ä Public hearings continue on the governor’s proposed budget cuts in the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. Large crowds are expected as the committee takes up the proposed cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services from Monday through Wednesday. The Department of Education’s budget is on the agenda for Thursday. To find out the specific topics and programs discussed each day, click on the committee’s home page from www.maine.gov/legis/

• The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee will continue work at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday on proposals to make solvent a state program intended to protect Maine’s dairy industry from price swings.

• A bill, LD 20, that would require insurance companies to cover the costs of prosthetics will have a hearing in the Insurance and Financial Service Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

• An H1N1-related bill to require many employers to offer paid sick days will be heard in the Labor Committee at 1 p.m. Thursday. The bill, LD 1665, is sponsored by Senate President Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell, a Vassalboro Democrat, who also is running for governor.

• State government, including the Legislature, will be closed next Friday for a shutdown day and on Monday, Jan. 18 in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

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