QUOTE OF THE DAY: “With this one, the difference is the scope, obviously, is way bigger,” Bub Fournier, the director of the Belfast code and planning department, said of plans to demolish a condemned nursing home. “Once we start down this road, we don’t want to wish we had done things differently.”
What we’re watching today
Republican bills that would keep transgender kids out of girls sports are a sure bet to die again this year in Maine, but they are getting a hearing Thursday. The measures up for hearings in the Judiciary Committee at 9 a.m. would tie kids’ participation in girls sports to their assigned sex at birth. Since transgender people may not conform to their birth gender, the American Psychological Association has said measures like this are “the same as banning them from athletic competition entirely,” tying social and academic benefits to athletic competition.
Maine has relatively broad legal protections for LGBTQ people, with the nonprofit Human Rights Campaign ranking the state in the highest tier of its State Equality Index. It also became among the first states with a policy allowing transgender youth to participate in sports based on their gender identification in 2013, when the Maine Principals’ Association adopted a rule allowing any student with a gender different than the one they were assigned at birth to go before a committee is required to told a hearing within seven days and grant a request unless allowing the student to participate would pose an unfair advantage or risk injury.
Proponents of the bills, sponsored by Reps. Beth O’Connor, R-Berwick, and MaryAnne Kinney, R-Knox, have said they are worried about fairness in sports, but have not identified complaints about the MPA’s policy, which the Portland Press Herald said has resulted in just more than 30 hearings since 2013. Democrats are likely to shoot down the bills as they lead the Legislature. In testimony on the Maine bills, the Human Rights Campaign said the measures address “an invented problem.”
These types of bills have multiplied in Maine and across the U.S. in the past few years. Four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi — have passed laws this year barring trans girls from participating in girls sports. It is not clear whether the bills will pass legal muster. A similar law in Idaho was blocked by a judge last fall, though an appeals court is hearing a challenge this week.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Maine’s jails are moving unevenly toward vaccinating inmates against COVID-19,” Jessica Piper and Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “More than five months after Maine began administering the COVID-19 vaccine, the majority of correctional facilities have yet to vaccinate more than half of their incarcerated populations in a patchy system across the state. At the Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset, the site of a recent outbreak, incarcerated people have not been offered vaccines at all.”
Despite federal recommendations to vaccinate staff and incarcerated people at the same time, the Maine and national effort has been patchy at best. While the federal government urged states to put people in jail and prison settings near the front of the vaccine line, Maine and other states chose to put staff ahead of inmates. The effort here has now led to wildly divergent vaccine rates in jails ranging from 71 percent of inmates in Piscataquis County to none at Two Bridges. After having difficulty getting shots from the state, Aroostook County partnered with a Houlton hospital and was at 60 percent as of earlier this week.
— “Maine’s tourism industry sees signs of recovery after decline in 2020 visitors,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Maine had 12 million day and overnight visitors in 2020 who spent $4.8 billion in 2020, according to data released this week by the Maine Office of Tourism. It was 27 percent fewer visitors last year compared to 2019 and 27 percent less spent in one of the state’s largest industries, accounting for 1 in 7 Maine jobs. Pandemic-related restrictions and business contractions caused a 20 percent employment drop to 90,600 in 2020.”
— “Maine to develop accessible absentee ballots in deal with visually impaired voters,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “Both parties praised the settlement, with Secretary of State Shenna Bellows calling it a “historic step” for voter access. Kristin Aiello, the Disability Rights Maine lawyer who represented the voters, said she did not know if the change would have happened without the lawsuit.”
Maine will not fight a court decision rejecting the state’s a la carte cable law. Several cable companies sued the state in 2019 over a law that would have required them to give customers the option of purchasing channels individually, rather than as a bundle. A federal judge blocked the law from going into effect then, and an appeals court agreed, saying the law likely went against the companies’ First Amendment rights.
Today’s Daily Brief was written by 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.