Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is leading a bipartisan group of lawmakers to float a new proposal for a consumer-owned utility that would be independent and have a voter-elected board. Credit: Caitlin Andrews / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislative Council will be discussing its COVID-19 prevention policy as it looks toward a June return to the State House at 2:30 p.m. today. Follow along here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t know what’s going to happen to Portland,” Natalie DiBenedetto, owner of Figgy’s Takeout and Catering in Portland, said of the national chicken shortage that is jeopardizing restaurants or forcing them to jack up prices. “It’s just another blow to us after COVID.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

A proposal to create a consumer-owned public power company will get its second public vetting today. Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, saw his bill to create a company that would replace Maine’s biggest electricity providers weakened into a study bill last year as the coronavirus pandemic shut down the legislative season early. He is back, this time with the support of fellow Central Maine Power opponent Sen. Rick Bennett, R-Oxford, with a proposal that would put the decision to create the company in the hands of voters. It faces a public hearing in the energy committee at 10 a.m. Listen here.

There is evidence of mounting opposition to big energy companies in the State House. Much of the conversation has been centered around Central Maine Power and its controversial powerline project and its purported benefits and drawbacks for the state. Unlike this proposal, a vote on that project’s fate is already on its way to voters, although another protracted court debate on the legality of that vote seems likely. 

The governor looms as a potential obstacle for supporters. Central Maine Power and Versant Power are naturally leading the opposition to the project, which would buy out their infrastructure. The Maine State Chamber of Commerce has created a standalone group to oppose the bill called the Maine Affordable Energy Coalition, which is run by Willy Ritch, the former spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from the 1st District, as first reported by Maine Public.

Gov. Janet Mills has not said exactly where she stands on the issue. She signed a bill to study the proposal but has yet to weigh in on this bill itself. Her office did not return a request for comment on the issue by Thursday morning.

It seems unlikely that the governor would support a proposal aimed directly at CMP, whose corridor project she has championed. While outgoing Public Advocate Barry Hobbins has praised the structure of this bill relative to a past one, he cited technical concerns in testimony prepared for today’s hearing, as has the state’s utility regulator.

If the bill makes it through the Legislature and Mills vetoes it, it will take two-thirds of lawmakers in each chamber must back it to get it past her, which seems unlikely. Proponents have then promised that they will begin gathering signatures for a referendum that could come next year, so it’s going to continue to be a main subject of Maine politics for a while.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Susan Collins wants Jan. 6 commission plan changed with GOP turning on it,” The Associated Press: “Collins said that she supports the idea of a commission but that the House bill would need adjustments. She echoed [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell’s concerns that the chair of the commission, who will be appointed by Democrats, would have more power to hire staff. The bill directs the chair to hire employees “in consultation with” the vice chair, who would be appointed by Republicans.”

A Maine man charged with participating in the riot pleaded not guilty on Wednesday. Minot native Glen Mitchell “Mitch” Simon was charged with knowingly entering a restricted building and with violent entry and disorderly conduct after FBI agents identified him on security footage from the Jan. 6 insurrection. He is due back in court next month.

— “Maine House overwhelmingly backs ‘right to food’ measure that may go before voters,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “The bipartisan bill from Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, R-Winter Harbor, would protect Mainers’ rights to collect food as long as they do not trespass or steal from another or abuse public lands or natural resources. The exact effect of the bill is unclear. Maine’s agriculture department was neutral on the bill but noted it would be likely subject to court interpretation.”

Lawmakers took up a variety of subjects as they work to get through hundreds of bills before summer. Wednesday’s legislative session at the Augusta Civic Center was largely a paper-moving day as presiding officers are only allowing around 10 percent of 2021 bills to be carried over into next year. Other measures that were approved in initial votes included one from Rep. Ben Collings, D-Portland, to set a $16 minimum hourly wage for school support staff and another from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would fine trucking companies for violations of federal cabotage laws. A Democratic proposal to enshrine an early voting system in the Maine Constitution is on track to die amid Republican opposition.

— “Maine to start phasing out COVID-19 business mandates before Monday reopening,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “[Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne] Lambrew said that lodging establishments may be able to ask that a guest be vaccinated to stay at their hotel, but said it is a complicated situation and businesses should check first with lawyers. She said the cruise ship industry and some higher education organizations are requiring full vaccinations.”

Roughly 594,000 Mainers will meet the state’s definition of fully vaccinated next Monday, meaning it has been at least two weeks since their final COVID-19 vaccine dose. But more than half people here are still supposed to wear face coverings indoors after Mills lifts her executive order requiring them. The state is continuing to work on improving vaccine eligibility, announcing a new initiative Wednesday to send health care providers to any community group with 10 or more people willing to be vaccinated.

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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...