Good morning from Augusta. The 2020 elections are — finally — over today with runoff elections in Georgia that will determine party control of the Senate. The Bangor Daily News will have analysis and the call from our partners at Decision Desk HQ when it comes.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I’m exhausted. Most of us are. It seems like we’re here until eight o’clock at night and back at 5:30 in the morning,” said Tiffany Lister, a Bangor bus driver who has picked up more shifts to cover shortages that have led to reduced service. “We might as well set up a cot in the bus.” Here’s your soundtrack.
What we’re watching today
An unusual legislative session is expected to pick up by the end of the month as staff work through the process of making thousands of bills presentable. The first few weeks of January are usually marked by introductory committee meetings and the full body meeting to assign bills to begin their journey through the State House. That is happening without the full bodies working in person as the pandemic-changed 2021 session begins in earnest.
The process of bill assignment has mostly been turned over to the Maine Secretary of the Senate Darek Grant and Clerk of the House Robert Hunt. These two positions — who played a big part in orchestrating the securing of the Augusta Civic Center for when the whole Legislature needs to meet — are allowed to refer bills when the Legislature is in recess for more than four days.
With Democratic presiding officers looking to limit large gatherings, they are largely taking the assigning role over. A handful of Republicans who say they are restless to get back to work will be at their desks in the State House this morning.
Meetings are already starting and are expected to pick up in the next few weeks. The powerful budget committee is holding an orientation meeting ahead of the expected Friday release of Gov. Janet Mills’ two-year budget proposal and a more immediate spending plan, while others are still scheduling introductions. Some are reaching out to organizations who frequently appear at meetings — as lobbying will be largely confined to the virtual arena this year — to give them a chance to get familiar with new committee members.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Big-name Maine Republicans stay quiet on Trump’s effort to undermine election,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “A group of prominent Maine Republicans including former Gov. Paul LePage is quiet as the party faces an internal battle over how closely members should tie themselves to President Donald Trump amid his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”
— “Maine needs tens of thousands more coronavirus vaccines to meet February goal,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The state is gradually making its way through a first eligible group, which has included hospital health care workers and long-term care facility residents since December and expanded to outpatient clinics and independent practitioners this week. Those efforts have been hampered as the state has received less vaccines than it expects each week.”
— “GOP lawmaker looking to bar noncitizens from voting sues Maine over petition laws,” Andrews and Michael Shepherd, BDN: “A Republican legislator leading an effort to bar noncitizens from being able to vote in local elections is leading a lawsuit against the state of Maine targeting a requirement that people who gather signatures to get referendums on the ballot live in the state.”
It’s a rare example of a Republican trying to loosen laws around getting questions on the ballot. Over the past decade, Maine’s referendum process has been a main weapon of progressives to pass relatively sweeping changes that had no chance of getting past LePage’s trusty veto pen or a divided Legislature, including Medicaid expansion, a minimum wage increase, ranked-choice voting and the legalization of recreational marijuana. At the same time, Republicans have generally supported laws that would rein in the referendum process.
That isn’t so here, as Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, tries to qualify his referendum for the ballot. The lawsuit earned him a rebuke from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine — which counts Faulkingham as a member and has fought off referendums that would have expanded gun background checks and effectively abolished bear hunting in Maine.
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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