Good morning from Augusta, where temperatures could hit 90 degrees this afternoon. It might drive us back to our windowless basement office in the Cross Building. Here’s your soundtrack.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I can’t use one that big,” said fisherman Sonny Rich, who cut his fishing net in half to comply with current Atlantic menhaden fishing regulations. “It’s not legal anymore.”
What we’re watching today
Several bills affecting policy areas from taxes to criminal justice are heading for floor votes amid disagreements between majority Democrats and the governor. A complicated discussion in the Legislature’s criminal justice committee ended Tuesday with lawmakers ultimately advancing a proposal that would make possession of scheduled drugs a civil penalty. It has advanced where other progressive criminal justice policies have failed, including efforts to defund the Maine Information and Analysis Center.
The bill divided Democrats on the committee, according to the Portland Press Herald, and puts them up against Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat and former attorney general. Advocates say reforming the drug laws will help people with substance use disorders access treatment and reduce the incarcerated population. But Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey called the measure a “step too far” while also saying he supports criminal justice reform. It has also caught the ire of the Department of Public Safety, with the head of that agency’s drug enforcement department, Director Roy McKinney, called decriminalization a “mixed message” that would normalize drug possession.
It is not the only place where Democrats are pushing more progressive policies. The Legislature’s taxation committee approved a 3 percent surcharge on earners with income over $200,000 after voting down a slew of other tax proposals. Another bill looking to end at-will employment in the state also advanced. Both measures put the Legislature up against Maine’s business lobby, which Mills looks to be aligned with on these issues and has worked closely with.
There are more measures marked by intraparty division as well: The Mills administration has opposed two bills from Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, that would require most goods and services purchased by the state to be from Maine companies and allow workers to bring a private enforcement action on behalf of the state when they believe employment laws are broken. The former has already advanced to the floor, while the latter could today.
Those issues will make for some fascinating end-of-session votes. There have been relatively few contentious floor fights so far beyond budget talks. That issue is sure to loom large with three separate proposals coming from Mills, one of which we have not seen the bill for yet. Lawmakers are scheduled to be at the State House beginning next week through June 16.
The Maine politics top 3
— “Quick drop in Maine COVID-19 cases bodes well for tourism season’s start,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “Infections have decreased steadily here for more than a month amid the continued national vaccine rollout, a positive sign for Maine’s economic recovery as the state’s tourism industry looks for a comeback after a difficult pandemic year. Early mobility data suggest Mainers are getting out more with summer coming even before Gov. Janet Mills fully lifted restrictions, in line with national trends as virus conditions have improved over the past few months.”
A Republican is fundraising on this week’s State House mask controversy. After House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, removed seven lawmakers from their committee assignments for failing to comply with the Legislature’s face covering policy, Rep. Laurel Libby, R-Auburn, launched a fundraising page calling for donors to help “defend Laurel’s seat,” hitting the Democratic leader for his move and alleging opponents may try to expel her. (No such effort has been mounted.) Libby, a first-term lawmaker, flipped her district by beating an incumbent Democrat in 2020 and already figured to be a top Democratic target in 2022.
— “Eliminating cash bail for small crimes would fix Maine’s ‘2-tiered level of justice,’ advocates say,” Nick Schroeder, BDN: “Many of those charged with Class E misdemeanors are an “automatic conviction,” [Kari] Morissette said. Without bail money or adequate resources to get it, they are more likely to plead guilty if it lets them out of jail more quickly. That’s especially true if an arrestee suffers from substance use disorder because overnight detention means going through withdrawal while in confinement.”
— “Man accused of fraudulently obtaining PPP loan pleads not guilty, lists loan money as debt in bankruptcy filing,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “[Nathan Reardon’s] filing lists nearly 200 creditors, many of whom are former employees owed back wages. He owes $36,000 in federal and state back taxes and more than $55,000 in back rent for business properties in Bangor and Brewer. He also owes thousands of dollars to plumbers, electricians, security firms, construction companies, utilities, cable firms, cell phone providers and individuals who gave him personal loans.”
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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