QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Every project is unique in its own way,” said Scott Brown, director of the Maine Department of Education’s school construction program, on the new $54 million school in Caribou, which finally opened last month. “A lot of them bring their own challenges, and this one definitely had challenges all along the process, from the very beginning to planning, design and then to the bidding and construction.”
What we’re watching today
A new list of committee assignments in the Maine Legislature shows us the key players and some direction toward policy ends in 2021. There were a few highlights in the list of assignments released by the Democratic presiding officers on Friday, starting with the budget committee, where Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, was elevated to co-chair alongside returning Sen. Cathy Breen, D-Falmouth. They will be tasked with leading the discussions on how to solve Maine’s complex revenue shortfall.
On the Judiciary Committee, tribal leaders looking to revive sovereignty talks will have the aid of state Rep. Thom Harnett, D-Gardiner, the new co-chair. Several supportive lawmakers are returning to that committee as well, but so are some skeptics, including Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, and state Rep. Chris Babbidge, D-Kennebunk. Tribes were dealt a setback when Sens. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, the panel’s previous co-chair, lost in 2020.
Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, will also return to co-chair the criminal justice committee. The placement is not surprising, but it seems unlikely now that she will run for the Senate seat vacated by Bellows, a race she was openly considering. Whoever the Kennebec County Democrats select will likely go up against former Sen. Earle McCormick, R-West Gardiner.
Two Oxford County Republicans are also upset about their assignments, with one linking it back to the fight over the Central Maine Power corridor. It is not unusual for lawmakers to be unhappy about their assignments, an insular process that was firmed up last week. But two of the Republicans in the minority in both chambers — Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, and Rep. John Andrews, R-Paris — are taking vocal stands against their placements.
Over the weekend, Bennett criticized party leaders after saying he was eyed a spot on the Legislative’s energy committee — co-chaired by another opponent of the CMP corridor, Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham — that was granted to Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle. It is unclear if Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, will consider that request.
Andrews will not be returning to the legislative committee that oversees veterans, liquor and gambling issues, an issue that was at the heart of his weekend announcement that he would unenroll from the Republican Party.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine hospitals are deciding which frontline workers will get coronavirus vaccine first,” Caitlin Andrews and Charles Eichacker, Bangor Daily News: “But the limited supply means hospitals must be judicious in how they vaccinate at first. Even the hospitals that get the vaccine first may not get enough initial vaccines to cover their entire frontline workforce, a relatively broad group that hospitals could prioritize differently as they look to preserve continuity of care with cases and hospitalizations due to the virus hitting highs.
Maine’s top health officials anticipate vaccines going beyond the big hospitals by Christmas if a second candidate is greenlit this week. Half of the 50,000 vaccines are expected to come from a Moderna vaccine, which will get its public hearing for emergency authorization use on Thursday. The first Pfizer vaccines, which was approved late Friday evening, are being shipped out today and should be in Maine by the first half of the week.
— “Maine businesses that survived the early pandemic with federal aid on the brink again,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “The forgivable loans were intended to cover eight weeks of expenditures, but the pandemic has dragged on months longer. Many are facing dire straits similar to March, when states closed many businesses at the start of the pandemic. Nearly all Maine businesses have used up funds. Many laid off workers after exhausting loans. Some have shut down.”
Congressional leaders seemed to tentatively agree over the weekend to split a proposed relief package into two, separating the most controversial parts. The latest proposal, stemming off an earlier bipartisan agreement from a group includings Sen. Susan Collins and Angus King of Maine, puts forward a $748 billion bill that includes extended unemployment benefits, small business loans and money for vaccine distribution.
A separate bill now includes $160 million for state and local governments as well as liability protections for businesses — the two issues that had been major sticking points in earlier negotiations. Neither bill text has been released yet. Lawmakers must also reach an agreement on a funding bill this week, after passing a one-week stopgap last week, to avert another government shutdown.
— “Janet Mills orders all Maine businesses to enforce mask wearing in public indoor spaces,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “On Friday, she warned that more severe restrictions, including reduced gathering limits or business closures, might be necessary to gain better control of the spread of the virus, saying Maine is ‘running out of available public health tools to reduce the spread.’”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Caitlin Andrews, Jessica Piper and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.
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