July 19, 2018
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LePage’s DHHS chief fails to show up at watchdog’s session on child deaths

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff
Updated:

The Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee voted unanimously Thursday to subpoena Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Ricker Hamilton to its next meeting after Hamilton didn’t show up Thursday as promised to discuss the state’s response to the deaths of two young girls at the hands of their caregivers.

Members of the committee from both parties reacted angrily, including Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the co-chairman.

“A few weeks ago the governor was here. The governor looked me in the eye. The governor looked all of us in the eye and told us we would have the commissioner of health and human services here today,” Katz said. “How dumb are we to take him at his word? How dumb are we not to have issued a subpoena of the commissioner to be here?”

LePage said in a Thursday afternoon statement that he held Hamilton back because he was concerned open questioning could imperil confidentiality protocols and that “during an election year, we could not risk that Government Oversight Committee legislators would use the hearing to grandstand to score political points.”

Thursday’s meeting was called following an Office of Program and Government Accountability report recommending ways the state could improve its child protective services program following the deaths of two young girls in December and February, allegedly at the hands of their caregivers.

In May, LePage testified at length at a hearing about the report and said “the legislative branch, the executive branch, the judicial branch of this state government has to do better to make sure children are protected.” LePage, who has been highly critical of state and local entities’ responses to the cases, said he was working on proposals for a special session of the Legislature that he might call for later this year.

The committee voted Thursday on the path forward on the issue in terms of recommendations for the Legislature and directives regarding a deeper OPEGA probe. Committee members expected Hamilton to be present and recessed to call his office. They returned after learning Hamilton wouldn’t come and promptly voted 9-0 to subpoena him to its July meeting.

LePage’s staff did not respond to a question from the Bangor Daily News about whether Hamilton will honor the subpoena.

“I determined that placing the commissioner in a situation where legislators could ask any question would jeopardize the deliberate care taken to date by my office, DHHS, the AG’s office and OPEGA,” said LePage.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, and Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, joined in criticism of LePage.

“Without the commissioner being here, we’re going to walk away guessing a little more,” Diamond said. “It’s shocking to see what’s missing in this department’s approach to these kids.”

The committee voted to subpoena Hamilton for a possible meeting on July 10 and directed OPEGA to interview people working for the state’s child protection system and conduct an assessment of initiatives DHHS has recently put in place.

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