October 22, 2019
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Cracks in party unity add challenges for Democrats who lead Maine Legislature

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, gets a hug from Gov. Janet Mills in Augusta after she was sworn in earlier this year.

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Democrats saw the hard part of being in control of Maine government on Thursday, with four of their senators joining with Republicans to drive a hole through a priority vaccination bill and getting the first veto from Gov. Janet Mills.

Things are getting more difficult for Democrats after a three-month honeymoon period now that key bills are moving from committees to the chamber floors. Some want to finish work on the two-year budget by month’s end, but key divides with Republicans haven’t been worked out yet.

Democratic senators divided Thursday on the vaccination bill and two other environmental protection proposals. As usual, the Senate is proving to be the more moderate chamber under the leadership of Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, who has a reputation as a hard-charger but represents a moderate district alongside many other Democrats who were key to the party’s push to win the majority in 2018.

Three of them — Jim Dill of Old Town, Erin Herbig of Belfast and Louis Luchini of Ellsworth — were among the four Democratic defectors on a bill from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, that is aimed at addressing rising opt-out rates by repealing nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements. It is backed by the Mills administration and passed the House last week.

The Senate passed that version in an initial vote, but then overrode it by a 18-17 margin after Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, a vaccine skeptic, led the Republican-backed push to preserve a religious exemption that Democrats warned on the Senate floor could render the bill less effective, but won over the other three Democrats.

It wasn’t the only bill that Democrats split on. Bills that would ban coal tar sealant products used on driveways that contain a chemical linked to cancer and make balloon releases illegal also went down after some Democrats joined Republicans in opposition. While they’re not major bills of the session, they were backed by a Democratic-led committee and the House.

Democrats often hammered Republicans for flipping on bills to back the previous governor’s veto. Now they have a choice to make. A common phenomenon of the era of former Gov. Paul LePage was this: The Legislature would pass a bill easily, he would veto it and some of his fellow Republicans would essentially reverse their initial vote by voting to preserve his veto.

As Senate majority leader in 2014 after one of these instances, Jackson hit Republicans for a “flip flop on their votes” that made them “complicit in this obstruction.” Mills is an institutionalist who isn’t going to gum up the legislative works like LePage, who presided over a 2017 government shutdown and holds a veto record that will probably never be broken.

Still, she delivered her first veto on Thursday of a bill from Rep. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, aimed at limiting the amount of ethanol in gasoline by barring the sale of a higher-ethanol blend. That gas isn’t being sold here now and it isn’t a major bill of the legislative session, but it passed the Legislature without a roll-call vote. Democrats now have to decide to back her or not in votes that require two-thirds votes to override the governor.


Today in A-town

Friday legislative schedules tend to be lighter, and today is no different. The education, environmental and health services committees will meet. In education, committee members will hear bills to better fund career and technical education, and one from Rep. Jeff Hanley, R-Pittston, that would give students who don’t live in school districts the option to apply to attend or transfer to any district of their choosing, beyond a nearby district designated by the state. Listen here.

The Health and Human Services Committee will hold public hearings on a bill from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, to provide financial stability to child care providers, one from Jackson to beef up funding for Maine’s rural hospitals, and another from Rep. Jay McCreight, D-Harpswell, to create a limited-benefit MaineCare card for those who qualify for the Medicare Savings Program. The card could be used at pharmacies, and certain mental and physical health care providers. Listen here.

Three bills to protect beverage container redemption dealers and reduce the potential for fraud are scheduled for public hearings later this morning in the environmental committee. Listen here.


Reading list

— Lawyers for a woman accused of killing her 10-year-old daughter began their efforts to have statements she made to police excluded as evidence in a future trial. On Thursday, Sharon Carrillo’s defense built the case that she had been abused by her husband, Julio Carrillo, to such a degree that statements she made to investigators after the body of Marissa Kennedy was found in their home should not be used to incriminate her. They also argued that a cognitive disability made it impossible for her to understand her Miranda rights fully. Prosecutor portrayed her as a woman who calmly gave detectives a tour of her home, who admitted she was an active, equal participant in her daughter’s beatings and who knew what she was doing when she confessed to police. The hearing continues today.

— Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation found new reasons to criticize the U.S. attorney general for his handling of the Mueller report. The state’s members of Congress reacted to Attorney General William Barr’s congressional testimony earlier this week in largely the same manner that they responded to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, who criticized President Donald Trump and his administration after the reading report, said that Barr is “acting more like the president’s lawyer than the people’s lawyer.” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the more liberal 1st District, called for Barr to resign. U.S. Rep. Jared Golden from the more conservative 2nd District said the report underscores the danger of “politicizing investigations,” while Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said that the disagreement between Barr and Mueller demonstrates why it was important to make the report public.

— A state aid overpayment has exacerbated an already difficult budget cycle for a midcoast school district. As it grapples with a spike in special education costs and higher building debt payments, Regional School Unit 13 in the Rockland area also must repay more than $600,000 that the Maine Department of Education erroneously allocated amid confusion over pre-kindergarten enrollment. Property tax increases for the district’s five communities seem inevitable, and layoffs are possible.


Bugs in my tummy

A Maine company has big plans to capitalize on what appears to be a booming edible insect market. The BDN’s Lori Valigra reports that Entosense LLC hopes to top $1 million in sales of edible insects this year. The company is looking for as much as $2 million in new investment capital so it can expand its operation and start raising crickets and scorpions in the former mill site it occupies in Lewiston.

Would that be a scorpion farm or a scorpion ranch? And do we risk some kind of “Satan Bug” scourge if these critters escape and ramble across Maine’s landscape in a nightmare invasive species scenario?

I guess these edible insects offer a great source of healthy protein and are made more palatable by modern flavoring processes that cause them to taste like cotton candy or lasagna. They couldn’t come up with a “tastes like chicken” grasshopper?

Like every kid from the neighborhood where I grew up, I have a little experience with edible insects, although neither the insects or I intended for me to eat them. When I was 8 or 9, Kevin, the neighborhood bully — OK, he was just one of multiple neighborhood bullies, but he was one of the most imaginative ones — would lull me into a false sense of security by offering to play Wiffle Ball with me. I fell for it every time.

He’d throw a pitch. I would hit it and start running. Instead of shagging the ball, Kevin would tackle me as I concentrated on rounding the bases. He would then pinion my shoulder to the ground with his knees and try to force me to eat “potato bugs” that he had conveniently stored in his pocket. I would writhe on the ground with my jaws locked shut as he would punch me with increasing vigor in the gut. That’s the closest I ever had to a taut midriff.

Eventually, I would relent and end up with a bug in my mouth. It did not taste like cotton candy. It tasted like betrayal. 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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