Good morning from Augusta. The special election to fill a Maine Senate seat in southern Kennebec County takes place Tuesday.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “This is a friendly competition,” World Ice Carousel Association Chair Janne Kapylehto said of a Maine group’s efforts to carve a record-setting ice disc this year. “We share tips on how to build an ice carousel.”
What we’re watching today
New stimulus funding is on the way for Maine and other states after the Senate approved a revised $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package this weekend. The relief package, which passed along bipartisan lines in the U.S. Senate after attention-grabbing — but in the end relatively minor — amendments, now heads back to the House, where it is expected to pass without issue this week before heading to the White House for President Joe Biden’s signature.
The bill has split Maine’s congressional delegation down the middle in voting so far, with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, and U.S. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voting in favor of it, while U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat from the 2nd District, and U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, voted against it.
The passage in the Senate on Saturday followed a lengthy series of votes on amendments. Collins and King opposed an amendment to raise the hourly minimum wage to $15, though the vote was mostly symbolic as the Senate parliamentarian ruled the minimum wage could not be included in the relief bill. King upset progressives with his vote, explaining it by saying he supports the $15 hourly wage in the bill but not the tipped wage increase in it.
Collins drew attention for offering a $650 billion alternative to the Democratic proposal and for her support of an amendment from U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Alabama, that would have docked federal funding to states that let transgender kids play sports. Maine was one of the first states to adopt such a policy. It failed largely on party lines, and a Collins spokesperson said it is “a complex issue that needs further study.” The Republican has typically backed LGBTQ-rights pushes, including one measure to protect transgender service members.
Once it is passed, the provisions of the stimulus will be felt almost immediately in Maine. The bill extends federal unemployment benefits set to expire in mid-March — including a weekly $300 supplement — through early September, a relief for the roughly 50,000 Mainers receiving unemployment benefits as of last week. It includes another round of $1,400 stimulus checks.
It will also provide $1.6 billion in aid for state and local governments in Maine. That comes as a boon to localities that have been forced to cut expenditures due to pandemic-related shortfalls, and could have a significant effect in Augusta, where lawmakers deadlocked over Gov. Janet Mills’ budget proposal last week.
Federal funding could fill in the gaps between Mills’ budget and what Republicans have called for, but bigger issues may also be at play as the party, which is in the minority in the House and Senate, has called for a greater say in how Maine allocates pandemic assistance.
The Maine politics top 3
— “This small Maine island community rallied together to keep the coronavirus at bay,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Low population is one factor that has helped some island communities skirt the worst of the virus so far. But Cliff Island’s success also reflects the strength of residents’ collective decisions to prioritize public health and community efforts that enabled more vulnerable islanders to avoid their typically common trips to the mainland while vital services continued.”
— “Maine GOP lawmakers push ‘unconstitutional’ media bill linked to man who tried to marry laptop,” Michael Shepherd, BDN: “The bill, sponsored here by Rep. Heidi Sampson, R-Alfred, and co-sponsored by five other Republicans, would allow defendants in criminal or civil cases who had allegations covered by media outlets to petition those outlets to also cover the resolution of their case in a similar fashion if they were acquitted or otherwise not punished to the highest level sought by prosecutors or plaintiffs.”
The bill is similar to others introduced in three states with a link to a man who champions frivolous legislation. Those bills in Tennessee, Rhode Island and Mississippi have been linked to Chris Sevier, a Tennessee activist with his own spotty legal history who filed federal lawsuits trying to marry his laptop in a protest against same-sex marriage and championed bills in legislatures across the country that would require filters to block pornography and human trafficking websites that a user could lift for a $20 fee. It’s unclear how involved Sevier was in the Maine push, but the bill is nearly identical to the other versions linked to him.
— “Mainers using Elon Musk’s satellite internet say it’s no silver bullet for rural access,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “SpaceX’s satellite service is bringing warp-speed internet to rural parts of Maine, but early users say its high price and dropped connections may limit its contribution to widely expanding Maine’s lagging high-speed internet.”
Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Caitlin Andrews and Jessica Piper. 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. Our sign-up portal is down at the moment, but to subscribe to the newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the size of U.S. Sen. Susan Collins’ counteroffer to the Democratic coronavirus stimulus bill.