June 25, 2019
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Mills moves ahead with plans to reshape Maine’s approach to opiate addiction, tribal relations

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Lighted paper bags stand as memorials to those lost at a drug overdose victims' vigil in Portland's Monument Square in 2015.

Good morning from Augusta. Gov. Janet Mills has finished nominating commissioners and is moving on to hire advisers to fulfill key campaign promises — fighting the opioid epidemic that and improving relations with Maine’s Indian tribes.

The Democratic governor will introduce the person who will lead her administration’s response to opiate addiction on Thursday morning. In 2017, fentanyl and heroin drove Maine’s overdose death total to 417 and 952 babies out of the state’s 13,000 births — or about 7 percent — were born dependent on opiates or other drugs. Mills campaigned on a plan to fight the opioid crisis.

By her transition to office, this came to include naming a director of opioid response, who she said in her inaugural address will “marshal the collective power and resources of state government to stem the tide of this epidemic.”

Her description of the position hasn’t gone much beyond that, but she has so far shown a penchant for giving people in new positions — such as her soon-to-be-rebranded policy office — the authority to work across departments to provide uniform policy responses. Mills will introduce the new director and outline their job at Thursday morning news conference.

On Wednesday, Mills appointed a well-known former Penobscot tribal representative as her senior adviser on tribal affairs. Donna Loring, 70, of Bradley, a former Penobscot Nation police chief and tribal representative will be the liaison between Mills’ office and the state’s four federally recognized tribes — the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Maliseet and Micmac tribes. Her job will include advising the governor on tribal-related matters.

Tribal relations with the state have long been strained. The landmark Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act of 1980 — in which the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot people gave up claims to Maine land in exchange for $81.5 million — has increasingly been seen as unfair by tribes.

Those two tribes pulled their non-voting representatives from the Legislature in 2015, four months after then-Gov. Paul LePage rescinded an executive order promising to include tribes in discussion over decisions that affected them. Mills was criticized by tribes and progressives early in her primary campaign for her role as attorney general in a court fight over water rights.

In a statement, Loring said, “we have an opportunity to create a pathway forward with state government” and Mills said it is “time to heal the divisions of our past and bring the state and Maine’s tribal nations together to build a new future shaped by mutual trust and respect.”

Because of conflicts over sovereignty, casinos, fishing, land and water rights, among other things, the tribes’ relations with state government have been strained for decades, regardless of which party controlled the Blaine House, so that pathway will likely be a long one.


Today in A-town

The House and Senate convene again this morning. Click here for today’s House calendar and here for the Senate calendar. Most of the work involves referring bills to committees, although the House might take up a proposed rule change from Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, that would limit members from photographing or taking video of other members during floor sessions. It looks primed for passage in the Democratic-dominated chamber.

Republicans oppose it, with Assistant House Minority Leader Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, saying in a statement this week that his members “support transparency in the conduct of public business.” Fecteau said in a statement that the change would ensure “our use of technology during debate is respectful of the legislative process.”

Eight legislative committees will also meet today for orientations and public hearings on proposed bills. Next week, many committees will begin holding confirmation hearings on Mills’ Cabinet picks. Click here for a list of committee meetings.

The Legislative Council, composed of five leaders from each chamber, will meet this afternoon. Among the items on the agenda is allowing the Legislature to consider an after-deadline bill from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would aid federal workers going without pay because of the shutdown. Click here to listen to that meeting, which is supposed to start at 1:30 p.m.


Reading list

— Maine has made strides in monitoring the effectiveness of caseworkers’ response to child welfare complaints, but it’s still “a bit of a crisis.” In the more than 10 months since 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy was abused to death allegedly at the hands of her mother and stepfather, the number of assessments state-contracted caseworkers conducted into potentially at-risk families nearly doubled. Though this doesn’t mean more instances of abuse were discovered, it does represent a more exhaustive effort on the part of the Department of Health and Human Services after the deaths of Kennedy in March and 4-year-old Kendall Chick in December 2017, according to Child Welfare Ombudsman Christine Alberi, who said Maine’s child protective services system remains “in a bit of a crisis right now.” Bills to increase funding for Alberi’s program are among the options lawmakers are considering as they continue to try to address problems with Maine’s child welfare system.

— Ending the longest federal government shutdown in history appears to be a priority for Maine’s senior senator. During a Wednesday speech on the Senate floor, Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins called for her colleagues to come together to find a way to end the 34-day shutdown, which results from an impasse between President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats over U.S.-Mexico border wall funding. During that speech, Collins said she supports Trump’s latest offer. Later, her spokeswoman said she would also back a Democratic plan. Senate votes are expected today, but neither measure appears to have the 60 votes needed to pass even with Collins’ support.

— The president conceded in a high-stakes public game of “chicken” with the House speaker. On Wednesday night, Trump said he is postponing his State of the Union address, originally scheduled for Jan. 29, until the partial government shutdown ends, yielding after a weeklong showdown with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California. Trump also said he is not seeking an alternate location to deliver the speech after Pelosi served notice earlier in the day that he wouldn’t be allowed to deliver the address to a joint session of Congress next week.

— A renowned civil rights leader came to Maine with advice and a warning. During a Martin Luther King Jr. Day observance at the University of New England, Angela Davis told more than 1,500 people that living with fear is part of the fight for civil rights. She also called for a reinvigoration of anti-racism groups amid a regressive political climate. “The existing political leadership of the country has created an environment that has brought out all of the worst forms of racism,” she said. “We’re seeing forms of racism that are very much linked to the period after slavery, and people are erupting again.”


Toe or talon?

I am unabashedly rooting for the rare great black hawk that’s recovering from frostbite at a Maine bird rehab center that I won’t name because it’s asked for peace after being bombarded with requests for information about the rescued raptor.

That puts me at odd with at least one naturalist — whom I also won’t name to protect the heartless — who suggested that a Central American bird that flew so far off course as to end up in Maine should not be allowed to breed and probably deserves to die of natural causes such as frostbite.

Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be. Here’s to a speedy recovery for the bird, which has apparently been dubbed Hector by its schoolchildren fans in Portland.

Anyway, tracking Hector’s progress prompted a spirited conversation — in mid-edit — about whether birds have toes. I’ve frequently heard the things at the end of raptors’ feet called “talons,” but I’ve rarely heard them called “ toes.” Hawkish claws do not come to mind when the “This little piggy” toe-counting ditty pops into my head.

Professional journalist that she is, BDN writer Abigail Curtis pecked away at the question until she could provide a definitive answer: Birds do have toes, and talons grow from the toes of birds. If a bird loses the tip of a toe, the talon will be lost, too.

Next question: Can birds stand on their tippy toes? We’ll wait, Abby. In the meantime, here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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