July 21, 2019
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As Maine Democrats pile up legislative victories, Republicans look for points of influence

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A man walks toward the State House in Augusta in February 2019.

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It could be a stalemate day in the Maine Legislature on Tuesday, when lawmakers are scheduled to vote on bills including an equal-rights amendment, as well as proposals to expand and reduce the use of ranked-choice voting.

Democrats in control of both chambers have dictated the 2019 legislative session, which is set to end in just more than a month. Minority Republicans are beginning to carve out certain points of leverage that could help them have bigger roles in key conversations down the homestretch and in the approach to a consensus two-year budget due next month.

Things could stay the same on two of the key issues up for votes in the House of Representatives on Tuesday. Up for a vote in the House on Tuesday is a bill from Rep. Lois Reckitt, D-South Portland, to amend the Maine Constitution to prohibit sex-based discrimination. It is among the types of discrimination banned by the Maine Human Rights Act, but advocates of the law want Maine to join more than 20 other states that have enshrined it in the Constitution to offer a higher level of legal protection.

However, it will require a two-thirds vote in both chambers to go before Maine voters in November and Republicans blocked that in 2017, arguing that women were already protected under the U.S. Constitution and Maine law. The four Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted against it this time, making it difficult to see how it gets supermajorities in both chambers.

The same goes for proposals aimed at ranked-choice voting. Democrats are leading a constitutional amendment aimed at expanding it to gubernatorial and legislative general elections, while Republicans want to repeal the voter-approved method with a constitutional amendment.

Both are unlikely to get the necessary votes in the House on Tuesday and legislative Democrats can turn back other Republican attempts to neuter ranked-choice voting, including a proposed moratorium. It’s likely to apply to primaries and congressional races for the foreseeable future.

Democrats are going to win most of the time, but Republicans will have a large role in budget negotiations and will look for leverage elsewhere. After hours of debate and procedural moves from Republicans last week, Democrats inevitably endorsed a measure to ban conversion therapy largely along party lines. A Democratic-led compromise on mandated paid leave is sailing through the Legislature. Most House Democrats flipped to endorse Gov. Janet Mills’ first veto of a bill looking to ban high-ethanol gasoline blends.

But Republicans are going to have a large say in the Legislature’s two-year budget, which must be passed with two-thirds majorities in both chambers. They will also look to grab leverage in other places.

One possible example was on Wednesday, when Republicans came out in opposition to a constitutional amendment to allow people with disabilities be allowed to sign petitions to put referendums on the ballot in alternative ways. It was supported unanimously by a committee.

In an anatomical debate, Rep. Craig Hickman, D-Winthrop, said people with “no hands that work” were effectively disenfranchised under current law. Rep. Dennis Keschl, R-Belgrade, said while he is “sympathetic to the issue of people without hands not being able to sign petitions,” the amendment was overly broad.

Democrats tabled the measure. So it often goes in the Legislature, where seemingly unrelated issues can be linked together at one point and resolved promptly once lawmakers decide to do that.


Today in A-town

Legislative leaders continue to push committees to clean up backlogs of unfinished business. Noteworthy bills before legislative committees today including regulating automated vehicles, creating a statewide consumer-owned utility system, and forgiving student debt for graduates who work in Maine for five years.

The transportation committee will hold a public hearing on a bill from Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, to establish an Automated Driving Safety Act for any driverless vehicles. It would require the owner and operator of the vehicle to register with the secretary of state’s office and specify whether it will be used for testing or on a public road. Liability falls to the vehicle’s operators, and in the case of an accident, the law would prohibit the vehicle from being moved until its driving system information was given to police. Listen here.

A public hearing on a bill from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, to give consumers control of the state’s power system will be held in the energy and utilities committee this afternoon. The bill would establish the Maine Power Delivery Authority and create a publicly owned utility for all power transmission and distribution systems in Maine that are currently owned and operated by Central Maine Power and Emera Maine. Listen here.

The innovation and economic development committee could vote on a bill Senate Majority Leader Nate Libby, D-Lewiston, to set up the Maine Student Loan Debt Relief Program and Fund with a general fund bond of $250,000 to pay for student loan debt for any student who stays and works in Maine for five years after graduation. The bill would, in turn, reimburse those employers making student debt payments for the duration of the student’s employment. Listen here.


Reading list

— A Maine mayor whose garnered a lot of attention participated in a Twitter event aimed at increasing compensation for elected officials. Belfast Mayor Samantha Paradis, whose annual stipend is $2,500, said that higher compensation for elected officials would allow more people to run for office. “Elected officials should not have to choose between poverty and serving in office,” she wrote last week in an email. “Compensation for the hours that are worked in an elected capacity should reflect the time it takes to get the work done.” However, given Belfast’s challenging budget situation this year, she is not pushing for higher compensation in the city’s next budget.

— An advocacy group says restraint and seclusion are being used more often in Maine schools. Disability Rights Maine released a report that claims that seclusion and restraint has been on the rise since 2014, with the practices being used in Maine schools more than 20,000 times during the 2017-2018 academic year. More than half of the total incidents reportedly happen at special education schools.

— An early frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination made his first campaign visit to New Hampshire. Former vice president Joe Biden drew a crowd of more than 300 for a stump speech Monday in Hampton. New Hampshire voters strongly considering choosing Biden in a field of more than 20 Democrats said they were not bothered by recent accusations he has inappropriately touched women while in office. Earl said she, as a woman, was not bothered enough by the accusations to sway her from strongly supporting Biden.


Day to remember

Doris Day died Monday at age 97. It seems fitting that she left us on a sunny day in May, as those of us who grew up while she was asked to be one of America’s “girls next door” will always associate her with sunshine, birds chirping and buds bursting. But her real life was far more dramatic than most of the roles she played on screen. The Los Angeles Times describes her early adult life this way:

“Married four times, Day was beaten by her first husband, trombonist Al Jorden, while she was pregnant . She was divorced by 21; he later died by suicide. Her second husband, saxophonist George Weidler, abandoned her within months and said he did not want to be known as Mr. Doris Day.”

Her third husband “secretly contrived” to lose $20 million that she had earned during her film career, leaving her $500,000 in debt. He also committed her to a television show without telling her.

No wonder she devoted most of the last 40 years of her life to down-on-their-luck dogs.

While she was omnipresent in popular culture during my childhood, I didn’t really pay attention until she bravely stood beside her frequent co-star, Rock Hudson, as he was dying of AIDS. The snappy banter that they exchanged in romantic comedies like Pillow Talk was replaced by something far more poignant.

The flacks and image managers who spent decades trying to make us love her as a smart but wholesome model of 20th century American womanhood missed the mark with me. So too do the modern pundits who try to recast her as a “proto-feminist.”

Kindness in the face of adversity is what made me love Doris Day. 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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