April 03, 2020
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A big sticking point remains as tribal sovereignty effort hits Maine Legislature

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
A man walks under the dome inside the State House in Augusta on Wednesday.

Good morning from Augusta. Happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping that those of you who needed to get a restaurant reservation got one. We love our readers anyway. Here’s your soundtrack

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s very touching in this world of negativity to have decent people step forward and make an effort,” said Debra McKenna of Brunswick, whose late husband lost his class ring in 1973 in Portland. It turned up recently under 8 inches of soil in Finland. “There are good people in the world, and we need more of them.”

What we’re watching today

It could be a historic day for tribal relations in Maine as a key slate of recommendations move to the Legislature with a major sticking point remaining. The Judiciary Committee faces a marathon day on Friday, when a bill incorporating most of the 22 recommendations on from a task force aiming to expand tribal sovereignty goes through its first public hearing. Here’s our guide to those recommendations and how we all got here.

This will happen while the fate of one key recommendation — that the state adopt a bill applying provisions of the federal Violence Against Women Act to Maine tribes — remains unfinished. Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has so far refused to sign a bill passed last year that would allow non-native defendants to be prosecuted by tribes for domestic violence crimes on tribal land.

It has been held up as parties try to agree on what needs to be done to ensure non-native defendants’ constitutional rights are upheld. The original bill made reference to those rights, but a third proposed amendment went further by lifting language directly from the 2013 act itself.

But Attorney General Aaron Frey was still cautious during a Thursday committee work session. Though he felt constitutional rights were articulated correctly in the bill, he was not sure they would be applied as the federal government applies them. Committee members wondered if proposed language protected defendants against being charged for the same crime twice.

Those uncertainties clearly frustrated some members of the committee. “I’m going to have faith that they’ll carry them out,” Rep. Jeff Evangelos, I-Friendship, said, referring to constitutional rights. Rep. Chris Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, was more cautious, saying he “will not be pressured into voting for something I don’t know the consequences of.”

For tribal representatives in the room, the conversation seemed to miss the point of the bill. 

“All this worrying about the people doing the crimes, and I’m not hearing much about the victims,” Penobscot Nation ambassador Maulian Dana said, referring to the fact that more than half of native women experience physical or sexual violence.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Bloomberg has staff of 20 in Maine as Democrats ramp up for March presidential primary,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has hired 20 staffers to build up a likely unprecedented operation in Maine ahead of the Democratic presidential primary, while [Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts] have organized here for months.”

— “Lawmakers question if CMP is fit to run a utility company,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “[Rep.] Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, and co-chair of the energy committee, asked [Phil Bartlett, the chair of the Maine Public Utilities Commission, about the conditions under which the commission could ask [Central Maine Power’s] parent, Avangrid, to divest CMP. … Such a vote could be initiated if two commissioners support divestiture.”

This came at a crucial time for Maine utilities and the lawmakers who want to reform them. Berry is the main driver of an effort to establish a consumer-owned utility, which is being studied by the utilities commission under a bill signed last year by Mills. That study is due back on Saturday. It gained attention this week after the Bangor Daily News reported the firm hired to conduct the study had done work for Emera Maine in 2018, which should have disqualified the company from the award under commission rules.

— “Maine could become latest state to tax Netflix and other streaming services,” Piper: “The proposed tax would generate $3.7 million in revenue in 2021 and up to $6 million by 2023, according to Maine’s finance department. That revenue gain would be largely offset by adjustments to individual income taxes and a reduction in taxes collected from nonprofits.”

Republicans have hit Mills for the proposal. A streaming tax was first targeted by her predecessor as part of a reform package. Maine People Before Politics, former Gov. Paul LePage’s political group, hit Mills after the tax was unveiled by noting her past pledges not to raise taxes during this budget cycle. While this is an increase, there are also offsets. LePage, a Republican, proposed a streaming tax in a 2017 budget proposal, though it would have been part of a larger broadening of the sales tax alongside income tax cuts.

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, email clumm@bangordailynews.com (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.


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