In this March 3, 2021, file photo, senior citizens leave a COVID-19 vaccination site operated by Maine Health in the site of a former department store in Sanford. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature’s budget committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. as top lawmakers look close to inking a budget deal with an income tax break. Listen here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “If you can’t keep things confidential, you shouldn’t be there,” Rose Smith, who has spent 34 years as an executive assistant to Maine Senate presidents and governors of both parties and none, told News Center Maine. “And if you can’t respect everybody, whether a lobbyist, a journalist, legislator or member of the public, you have to treat them all the same.” Here’s your soundtrack.

What we’re watching today

Maine is reporting its lowest COVID-19 case rates since last fall, but differences have emerged across the state with correlation to vaccination levels. Just 13 new virus cases were reported on Wednesday, bringing the seven-day average of new cases down to just over 30, the lowest since mid-October. The positivity rate for coronavirus tests dropped below 1 percent earlier this week, a sign that the falling cases are not just linked to declining testing as more Mainers return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle.

The decline comes as Maine maintains among the highest vaccination rates of any U.S. state, with more than three-quarters of adults having received at least one dose. Health officials and epidemiologists have pointed to a strong link between increasing vaccinations and decreasing spread of the virus. The drop is particularly noticeable in Maine’s most-vaccinated counties, but counties with fewer vaccinated people continue to see higher rates.

Knox and Lincoln counties, both of which exhibit among the higher vaccination rates in the state with more than 70 percent of eligible people having received a final dose, have not seen any new coronavirus cases in the past week.

On the other hand, Piscataquis County, where just over half of eligible people have received a final vaccine dose, has seen the highest population-adjusted case rate in the state in the past week, with about six daily cases per 100,000 people. York, Somerset and Washington counties have the next highest rates, all with more than three daily cases per 100,000 people.

The overall rate is still good news and caseloads even in these rural areas are still lower than those seen a few months ago. But the unevenness reflects the ability of the disease to spread more in areas where fewer people are vaccinated.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine towns are vulnerable to worsening attacks by cybercriminals, experts say,” Josh Keefe, Bangor Daily News: “Small-town governments are attractive targets for cybercriminals looking to make many minor scores, experts said. But with limited resources, municipalities are often not doing enough to guard against increasingly sophisticated hackers who demand payment for the return of stolen data.”

— “Maine senators split as GOP filibuster halts Democrats’ signature voting bill,” Associated Press: “U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted against moving forward with the bill Tuesday while Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted for it. It failed on a 50-50 vote after Republicans denied Democrats the 60 votes needed to begin debate.”

Democrats’ next steps on voting rights and election reform remain unclear. King called the vote a “blow to our democratic system” in a Tuesday statement but said he would continue conversations with “any colleague who will engage in good faith” to find a way forward. But Republicans have shown little interest in engaging with Democrats on the issue, with Collins characterizing the bill as “partisan” and saying the federal government should not overstep with respect to state election laws without a compelling reason.

— “What shoppers need to know about Maine’s plastic bag ban,” Sam Schipani, BDN: “After more than a year of delay, Maine’s statewide single-use plastic bag ban will go into effect on July 1.  The Maine Legislature passed a ban on plastic bags in 2019 and it was initially scheduled to go into effect in April 2020. However due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was twice delayed — first, due to sanitation concerns, and then again due to pandemic-related supply chain disruptions on packing supplies.”

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews 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...