Good morning from Augusta. The Maine Legislature will adjourn indefinitely today due to the coronavirus outbreak, but the BDN politics team will still be bringing you stories every day. You can send us a tip using this form. Have you been tested for the virus? Talk to us here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “What we’re really trying to do is help the local community, trying to give them a time that felt safe for them to come in,” Jerry Favreau, manager of the Food City grocery store in Lisbon Falls, said of setting aside an hour when only people vulnerable to the coronavirus are allowed to shop. It’s one of several ways communities are trying to help each other. “If it goes well and is well received, we’ll keep doing it, as long as there’s a need for it.”
What we’re watching today
After an all-day effort to secure priorities in the revised supplemental budget, lawmakers will take their final votes today before the Legislature adjourns indefinitely. The revised $75 million budget passed the budget committee in an after-hours vote yesterday, and is expected to get through both the House and Senate today so lawmakers can go home. Lawmakers characterized the package as being aimed at combating the coronavirus, known as COVID-19, and it included $1 million to expand the state’s testing capability.
How quickly the package came together — lawmakers worked all weekend to seal the deal — shows how worried the Legislature is as more positive cases are announced. It spurred leaders to work together in a way that another month of election-year legislating may have not.
The proposal secures some items lawmakers have been championing all session, but lawmakers will step back from high-profile causes today. More money for direct care workers in areas like nursing homes, underlying conditions and intellectual disabilities have been big drivers of the health care conversation in the State House, and the bond package — if it passes — ensures more money will be headed to the state’s roads and bridges and broadband infrastructure.
But a large amount of additional money for transportation, an effort to create a public-owned utility and a push for self-governance for Maine’s tribes will all have to wait until lawmakers return. Coming back later this year is the plan, but no date has so far been set.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine state employees’ union wants Mills to send many workers home due to virus outbreak,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Maine Service Employees Association President Dean Staffieri said in a Monday statement that the union asked Gov. Janet Mills to immediately release nonessential employees, saying that the move was necessary to protect state workers and reduce the likelihood of transmission among first responders and public health workers.”
— “How the coronavirus has caused ‘substantial economic injury’ to 14 Maine small businesses,” Josh Keefe, BDN: “On Monday afternoon, the U.S. Small Business Administration responded to the letter by declaring Maine eligible for its economic injury disaster loans. Maine small businesses and nonprofits will have access to up to $2 million in financing at between 2.75 and 3.75 percent interest with terms up to 30 years.”
— “Maine courts vacate warrants for unpaid fines and fees,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “The court system made the move to keep people from being arrested and brought to county jail on those types of warrants as a way to slow the spread of coronavirus. The 12,420 vacated warrants apply to unpaid fines, unpaid restitution, unpaid court-appointed counsel fees, failure to appear for unpaid fine hearings, and any other failure to appear and pay other fees.”
Updates on the U.S. Senate race
One U.S. Senate candidate is in isolation after “indirect exposure” to a coronavirus patient. Former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse, a Democrat, said he will be self-isolating in his Biddeford home for a week after potentially being exposed to the virus. LaJeunesse is one of four Democrats competing in a June primary to face Republican Sen. Susan Collins in November.
In other Senate race news, we mentioned last week a few major TV ad buys from super PACs. Now the full numbers are in, and they are massive: more than $1 million by the 1820 PAC, which is backing Collins, and $600,000 from the Senate Majority PAC, which opposes the Republican incumbent, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Those ad buys are on top of significant spending by dark money groups that have also spent millions to campaign for or against Collins over the last year.
In addition to spending by outside groups, Collins and one of her Democratic opponents, House Speaker Sara Gideon, have also each spent millions on ads already. TV ads might turn out to be one of the major ways candidates push their message if the coronavirus keeps us at home.
It took a virus to kick lobbyists out of the State House
Maine legislative leaders said only lawmakers, staff and members of the press will be allowed in the State House today and through March 30. That edict came down in a Monday email from the Legislative Council, saying its starting at midnight and until March 30, only lawmakers, staff and media members will be allowed in the State House. Lobbyists are not included. Other measures include not using honorary pages and encourages vulnerable members to stay home.
A joint statement from Gideon and Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, noted, “In order to pass legislation to put in place effective, evidence-based measures to ensure the safety of Maine families, communities and our economy, legislators and essential staff and members of the media need to be in the State House tomorrow.” Everyone else is encouraged to watch electronically. Here’s your soundtrack.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (we’re setting up a new subscriber page soon) to subscribe to it via email.