Chief Kirk Francis of the Penobscot Nation speaks at the Bangor Daily News office on Jan. 30, 2020. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature is back at it again today at 3 p.m. as it takes up more vetoes and finishes up some bills.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I don’t know most of you, but I feel like I do,” said Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Nirav Shah, as he closed out the last regularly scheduled COVID-19 briefing the state expects for now as the civil state of emergency ends. “The most meaningful piece of this to me is the fact that someone new to Maine, a guy from another state who has only been here for two years, could come to be viewed as someone to tune into.”

What we’re watching today

Maine’s relationship with the tribes may deteriorate after the governor vetoed a tribal gaming bill. Chiefs representing the Passamaquoddy Tribes, the Penobscot Nation, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians and the Aroostook Band of Micmacs slammed Gov. Janet Mills’ Wednesday decision to nix the latest effort to allow the tribes to conduct gaming operations.

The 30-page bill aimed to do so by modifying a 1980 settlement governing state-tribal relations and allowing gaming under federal law. It required the tribes to negotiate with the state on what a gaming establishment would look like. That was not enough for Mills, who argued the tribes would have little incentive to work with the state and that the law would not stand up in court. 

Frustrated chiefs released a joint press release touching on the economic benefits of tribal gaming and their sovereign right to conduct gaming alongside other federally recognized tribes. They also accused Mills of barely engaging with them on the subject of sovereignty, meeting with the tribes twice in the last two years to discuss that issue specifically.

The situation is tense and bodes poorly for future negotiations. A veto override is possible today with both chambers passing the bill with close to the needed two-thirds thresholds, but gaming is one of the key issues involved in the efforts to put the tribes in Maine on more even footing with other indigenous communities in the country. 

Wider efforts will come up again next year, but two chiefs questioned Mills’ willingness to work with them after the veto. Chief Maggie Dana of the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point said she would still like to work with Mills, but needed to see more effort from the governor. Others were more pessimistic. 

“At this point, we have to ask ourselves is it going to be worth our time and effort and resources to keep pursuing this,” said Penobscot Nation Chief Kirk Francis.

Tribal disengagement from the sovereignty effort would likely be disastrous for supporters, who already face a tough climb to changing state law. Relations hit their lowest point when all but one of the tribes pulled their representatives from the Legislature in 2015, citing a lack of respect from former Gov. Paul LePage’s administration. Mills came into office promising to fix Maine’s rocky relationship with its tribes, but it is hard to see that happening for now.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Former Gov. Paul LePage looks to prepare Monday launch for run against Janet Mills,” Michael Shepherd, Bangor Daily News: “A campaign website that launched by Wednesday evening seems to indicate the timing of LePage’s announcement, though he will have to file with the Maine Ethics Commission to make a run official. His political strategist, Brent Littlefield, declined comment on Thursday morning, but the site indicates that it was designed by veteran Maine Republican operative Joe Turcotte. The site’s directory contains several family images and a campaign logo.”

— “Maine Legislature sends $8.5B Maine budget upping school, local aid to Janet Mills,” Caitlin Andrews, BDN: “The bill garnered a 119-25 vote in the Maine House for Representatives and a 32-3 vote in the Senate in initial votes and was enacted along similar margins later in the day. The votes mean the budget has the necessary two-third votes to pass into law immediately after Mills signs it, something the governor said she would do in the coming days. The bill was unanimously supported by Democrats and saw opposition from two independents and some Republicans in earlier rounds of voting.”

Anti-tobacco groups have decried the omission of their priorities from the budget. The final deal did not include a provision backed by Mills to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, a ban advocates hoped would help reduce nicotine consumption among children. Lawmakers pointed to lost tax revenue from sales and said people could still go to New Hampshire to buy the flavored products if they were banned here.

— “Democratic criminal justice bills die after Maine lawmakers uphold Janet Mills’ vetoes,” Shepherd, BDN: “Advocates have led a years-long push to close Long Creek Youth Development Center for years, arguing that the 164-bed prison is too big and expensive for roughly 30 children. Most of the children held at Long Creek are there because police determined that they cannot go home, a state task force found last year. The bill would have wound down the center by 2023.”

Vaccine sweepstakes comes to an end

One lucky vaccinated Mainer will win nearly $900,000 on July 4. As of earlier this week, just over 300,000 Mainers had registered for the state’s vaccine lottery, which came to an end yesterday, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounts to only about 34 percent of the roughly 888,000 Mainers who have gotten at least one dose, according to federal data.

Asked Wednesday whether the reward program had been successful in terms of encouraging Mainers to get the vaccine — as the number of newly vaccinated people has slowed significantly — Mills said that she didn’t know what share of those recently vaccinated were incentivized by the lottery, but every new vaccination was a success. 

“We think it’s fun, too,” the governor said. “It’s federal money, and somebody’s going to be rich.” Here’s your soundtrack.

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