It will be a busy day of hearings in the Maine Legislature on Wednesday with some of the most high-profile bills of the 2019 session — on Central Maine Power’s proposed corridor and social issues — getting close to advancing.
All of those proposals have varying chances of passage in the Democratic-led Legislature, which will have to contend with Gov. Janet Mills on bills aimed at the 145-mile corridor that she supports and would deliver Quebec hydropower to Massachusetts and the regional electric grid.
Three bills aimed at the corridor proposal will be heard by the Legislature’s energy panel today and could elicit tough negotiations with the governor. On Wednesday afternoon, the energy committee will take testimony on three bills aimed at the transmission line proposal, which could be approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission on Thursday, but still faces permitting processes before two other state agencies.
The most notable is from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, the committee’s co-chair and a top legislative critic of Central Maine Power. His bipartisan bill would force every town along the corridor’s path to accept it via referendum before it can be built. That would effectively kill the project, since about a dozen towns including Farmington have withheld support.
Mills, a Democrat, came out in favor of the project after parties agreed on a $250 million, 40-year benefits package. The governor told the Bangor Daily News last week that she would work with legislators on “productive legislation” and “not things that are intended to delay or deny particular permits.”
The other corridor-related bills to be considered on Wednesday would weaken utilities’ access to eminent domain for certain projects. One, also from Berry, would make them get town approval before taking land by eminent domain.
Social conservatives will oppose bills aimed at banning ‘conversion therapy’ and allowing doctors to help terminally ill patients die. Up for hearings today are pushes from Assistant House Majority Leader Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, to ban the pseudoscientific practice of “conversion therapy” banned by 15 states and to join the six states that have what advocates call “death with dignity” legislation.
Both bills got close to passage under former Gov. Paul LePage in the last legislative session, but the Republican’s veto killed Fecteau’s attempt to outlaw pseudoscientific practice of attempting to change someone’s gender identity or sexual orientation. In his veto letter, LePage said the bill could “call into question a simple conversation,” but Mills has vowed to ban it.
The Legislature will also consider the bill that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients die under the threat of a 2020 referendum on the issue. Social conservatives opposed it, but it initially got through the Republican-led Senate by a single vote and failed in the Democratic-led House, so opposition won’t cut along party lines and it’s unclear whether it can pass now.
— Thousands honored a Maine State Police detective at a Portland memorial service on Tuesday. An estimated 3,000 people filled the Cross Insurance Arena to remember Benjamin Campbell, 32, of Millinocket, who died last week when a tire detached from a logging truck and hit him while he assisted a motorist on Interstate 95 in Hampden. Col. John Cote of the Maine State Police praised him for his “constant smile” and “genuine compassion for people” and Campbell’s wife, Hilary Campbell, promised their 6-month-old son “will know who you are.” It was the first line-of-duty death in the state police since 1997 and the investigation into the accident that killed Campbell is still active with no charges filed against the truck’s driver.
— Democrats on a legislative committee advanced a bill that would have the state’s Medicaid program pay for abortions. In a strict party-line vote on Tuesday, the Legislature’s insurance committee recommended passage of an amended version of the bill sponsored by Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell. Mills’ administration has endorsed the measure, which moves to the House for its next vote. All Republicans on the committee voted against it. The bill parallels a legal effort by Maine abortion providers to lift years-old prohibitions on using Medicaid, a government-funded health insurance program, to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if a woman’s life is threatened by pregnancy. If the House and Senate both pass the bill and the budget committee can cover the estimated $376,000 annual cost, it would take effect next year.
— The conflict over building a new jail in Penobscot County hasn’t budged in five months. Despite concerns about cost and suggested alternatives, the committee charged with devising options to ease overcrowding at the Penobscot County Jail made the same recommendation Tuesday that it made five months ago: Build a new, 300-bed facility at an estimated construction cost of $65 million to $70 million. The jail has been overcrowded for more than a decade, spurring county officials to pay to house inmates at other jails and convert rooms at the Bangor facility into sleeping areas.
— A Massachusetts teen admitted that he took part in a conspiracy to kill a friend’s mom in Maine. At court in Waterville on Tuesday, Thomas Severance, 14, of Ashland, Massachusetts, acknowledged his role in a conspiracy to kill Kimberly Mironovas, 47, last April at her Litchfield home. After pleading no contest, he was sentenced to serve time in Maine’s youth prison until he turns 21. Two other teens, including Mironovas’ son, were arrested in connection with her death. They could be tried as adults.
Monday’s abrupt closing of Friendly’s restaurant on Western Avenue in Augusta hits hard. It served my young family our first meal in Augusta, and we used a pay phone at the restaurant to call potential landlords as we prepared to move to the capital in late 1990.
True to its name, Friendly’s was a place for innocent first dates, low-key birthday meals and gentle celebrations after school plays, band concerts, “Ugly Bug Balls” and other happy events. The welcoming atmosphere was more important than the food, as the restaurant with its carafes of industrial-strength coffee for adults and fancy fluted ice cream dishes for kids offered a safe place for families to unwind or mark minor milestones.
Adding further to my lamentations, the Friendly’s in the town where I grew up also closed on Monday. It was perfectly situated between the high school I attended and the car dealership where I worked, so I often stopped there to pester friends who worked behind the counter by ordering things that did not appear on the menu.
“I’ll have a hard-boiled platypus egg with a side of mint jelly,” I would say too loudly to childhood pal Jim Durning, as he would try to ignore me by straightening the cap that came with his Friendly’s uniform or polishing one of the many stainless steel accoutrements that strangely made the place feel more friendly.
He never did get me that Jim Dandy with hot dogs instead of bananas. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd 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.
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