Third-grader Chloe Blonquist waits for her dad to arrive at the end of the school day on Cliff Island on March 4, 2021. Credit: Natalie Williams / BDN

Good morning from Augusta. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “There’s more recognition now that you can’t just expect people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps when they don’t have bootstraps to begin with,” said Urban Institute fellow Susan Popkin about programs like Families Forward, which is helping mainly Bangor-area families improve their economic situations.

What we’re watching today

Maine school districts face key decisions on masks and coronavirus testing with children set to return to the classroom in a few weeks. The resumption of in-person learning across the state this fall comes as virus cases in Maine have risen steadily for the past few weeks with the arrival of the delta variant.

Unlike schools in many parts of the country, most Maine schools offered in-person instruction at least a few days a week for most students last year. With universal masking and desks spaced at least three feet apart, outbreaks were minimal. Districts have a different set of tools this fall, including vaccinations for teachers and older students and pooled testing paid for by the state. Masks are still recommended in schools, in accordance with federal guidance, but the state has indicated it will leave that decision up to local school boards.

Policies could vary widely between school districts. Many have yet to decide on mask-wearing. So far, 166 schools have signed up for pooled testing, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said last week, with up to 54,000 students and staff covered. That is significant, but it still reflects less than one-third of public school students.

Health officials are also re-upping efforts to get teachers and eligible students vaccinated. The state will begin releasing data later this month on the percentage of students vaccinated by school districts, with the same data on teachers set for release in September. Expect to see wide variation in that data — county-level vaccination rates among teens already vary widely from a low of 32 percent in Somerset County to nearly 70 percent in Cumberland County. Children under age 12 remain ineligible for the COVID-19 vaccines, with federal approval not expected until this winter.

The Maine politics top 3

— “How an effort to remove 4 controversial Kennebec River dams fell apart,” Caitlin Andrews, Bangor Daily News: “At the heart of the issue is the Atlantic salmon, an iconic fish that once dominated rivers across the country but whose wild population is now limited to Maine. The Nature Conservancy and other environmentalists have long seen dam removals as key to getting salmon to their spawning ground up the river. The conservancy has been successful in similar efforts before, notably partnering with groups to remove the Veazie Dam on the Penobscot River in 2012.” Here’s your soundtrack.

— “Widespread supply disruptions stress Maine businesses trying to rebound,” Lori Valigra, BDN: “Some 87 percent of small business owners across the nation polled by the National Federation of Independent Businesses reported they are affected by supply chain disruptions on products including computer chips, meat, lumber and plastic containers. More than half said the disruptions are worse now than three months ago and they expect shortages to continue for at least five more months. About 60 percent reported ongoing staffing shortages.”

— “Ethics watchdog to probe possibly illegal $150K donation to Maine Democrats,” Jessica Piper, BDN: “Businesses are allowed to donate unlimited sums to political parties in Maine. But Alpine Initiatives has no clear web presence or sources of revenue, staff from the Maine Ethics Commission found. If the company was created solely to make a political contribution, then it could be required to register as a political action committee. Commission members voted unanimously Friday to investigate the matter further.”

The commission also concluded investigations into several leadership PACs stemming from a broad review last fall due to general concerns about financial irregularities. The commission also voted Friday to fine two leadership PACs for small violations related to reporting errors over the last few years.

A PAC affiliated with Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, was fined $400 for failing to keep sufficient receipts and report certain transactions, while a PAC affiliated with former state Rep. Gregg Swallow, R-Houlton, was fined a total of $1,100 misreported transactions and a noncompliant initial report. In both cases, commission staff concluded the lawmakers had not intended to deceive the public.

The commission also concluded leadership PACs affiliated with House Minority Leader Kathleen Dillingham, R-Oxford, and Sen. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, had small reporting errors but opted not to impose a penalty in either case because the violations were minor.

Susan Collins hits Pelosi for rejecting GOP picks for Jan. 6 panel

The senator said the House speaker should have followed the regular process to accept Republican picks for the panel investigating the riots. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, should not have overridden Republicans to reject appointees to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Collins, who laid blame on Trump for the riots the day they happened, was one of seven Republican senators to vote to convict Trump during his February impeachment trial over the riots. She also helped lead a push for an independent commission to investigate them, but it was defeated by fellow Senate Republicans. 

Pelosi and House Democrats then established a committee to investigate the riots, rejecting two Republican picks who amplified Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. That decision led Republicans to pull back three other picks. Pelosi has put two Trump-critical Republicans on the panel — Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

“I respect both of them, but I do not think it was right for the speaker to decide which Republicans should be on the committee,” Collins said.

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 candrews@bangordailynews.com, jpiper@bangordailynews.com or mshepherd@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...