June 16, 2019
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It’s crunch time for lawmakers trying to finalize Maine’s next two-year budget

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
In this Feb. 11, 2019 file photo, Gov. Janet Mills acknowledges applause from legislators prior to her State of the Budget address at the State House in Augusta.

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s budget-writing committee is getting toward the end of the easiest work that goes into crafting a two-year spending plan due next month, but Democrats and Republicans haven’t yet edged off their stances on the big issues so far.

The key panel has slogged through recommendations from other committees in the Democratic-led Legislature and received a projection that expects a small $21 million in higher-than-expected revenue over the next two years. Most of the work so far has been bipartisan — as usual — but the harder decisions are coming.

This week, the budget panel endorsed a status-quo jail funding plan and retiree health care costs. The work done to date in the Legislature’s appropriations committee has been rote, bipartisan and typical of these early negotiations. Lawmakers typically agree unanimously on just about all of the items in the budget while taking more time to negotiate compromises on sticking points to come up with a document that can get two-thirds approval in both chambers.

For example, the committee moved this week to accept Gov. Janet Mills’ recommendation for about $18 million in county jail funding as well as more money for medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and finalized health care costs for state employees.

Minority Republicans have tabled most new initiatives or spending proposals in the Democratic governor’s budget, which stands at a proposed mark of $8 billion over two years. In an exchange on Tuesday, Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, was scrutinizing a $250,000 budget item in the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in an example of early negotiations.

The two sides haven’t fleshed out their bigger disagreements yet. The Democrats who lead other legislative committees have proposed increases in education funding and aid to cities and towns, but Mills’ desire not to have a tax increase and Republicans’ push to shrink the budget could conspire against them in the consensus negotiations.

Mostly, there has been enough of the meat-and-potatoes work to do to keep those larger items simmering. The committee will meet again tomorrow and its schedule will become heavier over the next week as the Legislature clears out other bills in preparation for the scheduled end of the 2019 session in just more than a month.


Today in A-town

Today is the Legislature’s annual Welcome Back Day for all former state elected officials, which means lawmakers from years past will descend on the State House. Today’s festivities — which will brim with pomp and circumstance and the most frequent use of “the honorable” during any session — could delay some of the bigger votes in both chambers, including a House vote on a paid sick leave bill that won approval Tuesday in the Senate. A bill doing away with nonmedical exemptions for immunizations in Maine is still awaiting votes in the Senate, but that likely will not happen today. The Senate could vote on a bill opposed by Mills to study the environmental impacts of the $1 billion Central Maine Power corridor through western Maine.

The House is also scheduled to vote on a bill from Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, that was vetoed last year by Gov. Paul LePage, banning any type of conversion therapy by medical professionals on minors.

Here are some of the bills ready to be voted on by legislative committees:

— A bill from Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, that would automatically change one’s voter registration address whenever one’s address is changed on their license.

— Two from Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee to form two different commissions: One to study the state’s corrections practices, ways to reduce recidivism, alternative sentencing methods, and mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment. The other bill would re-establish a 2003 commission to improve prison sentencing, supervision and management, provide a list of findings and recommendations no later than December.— A bill from Rep. Chloe Maxmin, D-Nobleboro, to curb greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years by establishing Maine’s version of a Green New Deal.


Reading list

— Abortion rights advocates won a key victory in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. After lengthy debate, the House voted 79-63 in favor of a bill that would require the state’s Medicaid program to pay for abortion services and require private insurance carriers to include abortion services in their prenatal coverage plans. Proponents argued that it was a matter of income equity. Opponents said the move would force some taxpayers to pay for something they oppose on moral and religious grounds. Mills supports it.

— The push to make Maine’s school vaccination rules stricter will die if the House and Senate cannot break a stalemate on religious exemptions. The House voted again Tuesday for a version of a bill from Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, that does not include the religious exemption. That keeps the bill in conflict with a Senate version that includes the exemption. Unless one or more senators — including four Democrats — reverse their vote for the exemption, the bill will die in nonconcurrence.

— Fledgling Maine teachers could be in line for a raise. The House of Representatives on Tuesday gave initial approval to a bill that would increase the state’s minimum teacher salary to $40,000. The proposal from Sen. Rebecca Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, would raise certified K-12 teacher pay from $30,000 to $40,000 beginning in 2020. It would also provide a roadmap for how to apply a $10 million increase in public education funding that Mills earmarked for teacher raises in her biennial budget, which includes an overall $126 million spike in K-12 education funding.

— A compromise bill that would mandate paid leave for roughly 85 percent of Maine’s workforce is poised to become law. Sponsored by Millett and amended with input from Mills, business leaders and proponents of a paid sick leave referendum drive, the bill would allow workers at businesses with more than 10 employees for more than three months in a year to accrue up to 40 hours of general-purpose leave per year. It passed the Senate without opposition on Tuesday and requires routine procedural votes before heading to the governor.


To your health

Editing is a sedentary job, so weight gain is an occupational hazard. For that reason, I am always on the lookout for ways to make healthier lifestyle choices.

Boy, have I found one.

According to WKRC in Cincinnati, Del Hall gave up food and just drank beer for 46 days. He survived and claims to have lost 44 pounds in the process.

The idea was not just some crazy, modern fad. Hall said his beer fast was inspired by 16th century monks, who brewed extra hearty bock beer as a version of “liquid bread” to compensate for the food that they abstained from during Lent.

“I didn’t die. I’m actually healthier than when I started and it’s actually possible,” Hall said. “I mean, I really feel like I’m in my 20s again and I’m in my mid-40s, so I feel great.”

I’m in my 60s, so if I just ingest nothing but beer all summer, will I feel like I’m 21 by Labor Day? Set the Wayback Machine, Sherman. 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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