Central Maine Power’s lobbying strength could be put to the test on Tuesday, when the Maine House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a bill that would make the state study the emissions impact of the utility’s $1 billion corridor proposal.
It will be the first vote in the chamber so far on a bill aimed at the controversial project that would bring Quebec hydropower to the regional grid and is backed by Gov. Janet Mills over the opposition of more than a dozen western Maine towns that it would pass through.
The bill sailed through the Democratic-led Senate earlier this month, but the House is looking like a different environment. The Tuesday vote could also foreshadow how the Legislature may react to legislation coming up for votes soon that has a better chance at killing the project.
There have been signs that the heavily lobbied corridor has more support from House Democrats who could form an alliance with Republicans. The transmission line, which the Democratic governor backed after several interested parties inked a $260 million benefits package, was approved by the Maine Public Utilities Commission in April and it is in other permitting processes before two other state agencies now that could finish in the fall.
The threat to the project now is in the Legislature: The two key bills on the issue are the proposed emissions study from Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, that has already passed the Senate and another one from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, that cleared a legislative committee last week and would require that two-thirds of affected towns approve the corridor via referendum or town official vote. Both are opposed by Mills.
Central Maine Power has paid at least $50,000 for lobbying services in 2019, according to filings at the Maine Ethics Commission that don’t reflect the most recent activity. Approximately $40,000 of that has gone to Jim Mitchell, a Democratic heavyweight who was the state’s highest-paid lobbyist between 2008 and 2018.
Corridor opponents have also been stepping up spending. Stop the Corridor, a coalition that hasn’t disclosed its funders, has released two new ads over the last two weeks. One features a man saying, “Listen up, politicians: Mainers don’t want it. Our voices should be heard.” The group has also targeted lawmakers on Facebook.
Mills appeared at private meetings with the Democratic legislative caucuses in late April and the scuttlebutt out of them was that she found more support among House Democrats than in the Senate on the corridor.
That also seemed to be the case when Berry’s bill left the energy committee last week with seven Democrats voting for it and two against it. Three Republicans also voted against it, showing a possible path toward an alliance that could help CMP survive these challenges. Mills could also veto the bills, but that could entail messy showdowns with her party.
Berry’s bill is up for review in a legislative committee today. The energy committee will review the final language of Berry’s bill on Tuesday. That bill is a bigger direct threat to the project and Carson’s bill fares could preview the chances of that one’s passage.
Today in A-town
Almost exactly two years after rejecting a similar proposal, the House is scheduled to take an initial vote on a bill that would allow doctors to help terminally ill patients die. The House is set to vote on a bill from Rep. Patty Hymanson, D-York, that would preempt a planned 2020 referendum to allow terminally ill patients to request life-ending medication from doctors, making Maine the seventh state to pass what advocates call a “death with dignity” law that is opposed by conservative groups including the Christian Civic League of Maine.
It comes two years after the Democratic-led House voted a similar bill down after it snuck through by one vote in what was then a Republican-led Senate, with 23 Democrats joining all but seven Republicans to vote it down. While Democrats now have a wider advantage, 15 of those holdout Democrats are still in the House and the vote could be tight.
The chambers could also vote on several other bills, including two bills dealing with abortion backed by Mills. One would allow certain nurses or physician assistants to perform abortions and is up for an initial House vote on Tuesday. The other would provide state funding for abortions as part of the Medicaid program. It faces a final Senate vote today.
Several committees will be at work trying to send bills to the chamber floors during the last part of the legislative session, including the Judiciary Committee, which will consider bills on the child welfare system. See the full schedule here.
— The murder trial of a man accused of killing a Bar Harbor teen begins today. Jalique Keene, 22, is charged with murder in the death of Mikaela Conley, 19, whose body was found June 2, 2018, in the woods between Conners Emerson School and West Street Extension in downtown Bar Harbor. A jury of nine women and six men, including three alternates, will begin hearing testimony this morning. According to Maine State Police, on May 31, 2018 — the day before she was killed — Conley traveled to Logan Airport in Boston to pick up Keene, who was returning after having played football for an amateur team in Serbia. Keene and Conley had attended Mount Desert Island High School together. Conley died early the next morning of blunt force trauma to her head and by strangulation. A police affidavit states that a security camera at the school recorded Keene carrying Conley’s apparently lifeless body across part of the school grounds.
— Tuition at University of Maine system campuses will increase for the second straight year. Tuition will rise by almost 3 percent for in- and out-of-state undergraduate students at campuses across the system next academic year under a budget approved Monday. For Maine residents, the sharpest tuition increases — of 4.2 percent — will be for those attending the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine at Presque Isle. The highest tuition increase for out-of-state students will be a 4.9 percent hike for students attending the University of Maine at Farmington. A full-time student from Maine attending the University of Maine in Orono will pay $22,104 for tuition, fees, room and board this fall, up from $21,588 this past academic year. At the University of Southern Maine, the full-time cost for in-state students will rise to $18,305 from $17,590. In Farmington, it will rise from $19,392 to $19,809. Out-of-state students headed to Orono in the fall can expect to pay $42,414, up from $41,388 this past academic year.
— The owner of an Aroostook County restaurant where an employee with hepatitis A handled food is scrambling to respond to public concerns. After the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert about the situation on Friday, “people were panicked and scared,” said Spenser Ouellette, owner of Burger Boy in Caribou. “I just want to reach out to my loyal Burger Boy fans and let you know from the bottom of my heart that I had no way of knowing this individual was carrying the virus, nor did this individual know as well. Within a short time frame of arriving to work their shift, this person felt ill and the need to leave and seek treatment.” He said the weekend consisted of answering numerous calls, being threatened with lawsuits and responding to demands that he expose the name of the infected employee to the public. The CDC recommends that anyone who ate at the restaurant between May 3 and May 13 receive a hepatitis A vaccine by May 27.
— A Chinese company that bought two Maine mills last year is investing heavily to reopen one and add workers at the other. ND Paper, which bought mills in Rumford and Old Town, plans to invest more than $150 million to upgrade the facilities this year. About $111 million is being directed toward upgrading the Rumford mill and another $40 million for Old Town, with plans to reopen the latter this summer.
As is the case with most companies, when an employee of the BDN departs, his or her emails are forwarded to that person’s most recent supervisor. Here, it’s not just the new emails that come our way — it’s everything that wasn’t trashed during that person’s entire tenure with the company.
Old pal Chris Cousins once popped out of his chair with his hands raised in triumph to proclaim, “I just hit 10,000 unopened emails!” I got all of them after he died last August.
Most were Google Alerts, list service queries and story pitches from faraway PR firms. A few were exchanges between Chris and me, which I now cherish in his absence. And quite a few were just goofy notes from me, which when cycled back to me now exist as an email version of the voices in my head talking to each other.
Our dear colleague Alex Acquisto left last week for greener pastures in her home state of Kentucky. [Or would they be “bluer pastures” in the Bluegrass State?] Her emails have started scrabbling my way, so if you have spent the past few months complaining about me via email to Alex, I am about to read all about it.
However, if the past is any indication, I am also about to be inundated with tens of thousands of emails — journalists save emails — so I’ll probably be too busy to care. 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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