August 21, 2019
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Lawmakers want hearings on the closure of Down East prison

Bill Trotter | BDN
Bill Trotter | BDN
A worker walks toward the main office at Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport in February. The state prison will be closed in June, the state announced last week.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Some members of the Legislature’s budget committee on Monday called for public hearings over the impending closure of the Downeast Correctional Facility in Machiasport — but they’ll need the approval of Gov. Paul LePage to question state employees.

Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook, who co-chairs the committee, said Monday during committee deliberations that lawmakers need to know how the closure plan will affect inmates, employees and the community.

“It would just give us some additional facts so we don’t just have to read about it in the newspaper,” Gattine said. “We could do this hopefully within the next couple of days.”

Two Republicans on the committee said the hearings aren’t necessary.

“The administration is working within its authority,” said Rep. Tom Winsor, R-Norway. “I don’t know what we can and can’t do about it. I object to holding a public hearing about it when we have other work to do.”

Rep. Jeff Timberlake, R-Turner agreed.

“The department was in and gave their reasons why they wanted to do that and gave their plan,” he said. “This is too late in the ballgame. … so I’m against that.”

Sen. Catherine Breen, D-Falmouth, and Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, supported Gattine’s request.

“I feel that in order to bring a budget to a close I’d like some information that would inform my decision about these budget items,” said Breen.

For the past several years, LePage has often bristled at sending executive branch officials to legislative committees and has a standing order that lawmakers request such meetings through his office. As co-chairmen of the Appropriations Committee, Gattine and Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, agreed to draft a letter together.

Katz asked that the letter include a question about the status of a Washington County pre-release center that was included in a $149 million bond approved in the Legislature last year.

The Department of Corrections and LePage’s office did not respond to questions from the Bangor Daily News on Monday afternoon.

The Appropriations Committee is at the end of months of consideration of the $6.8 billion state budget bill, which needs to be in place on July 1 to avoid a government shutdown. The committee hopes to have its recommendations on that bill done by the end of this week so the full Legislature and LePage will have time to act on the bill.



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