Jessica Gleason, center, urges for systemic change within the Maine Department of Health and Human Services on July 1, 2021 at a gathering outside of the agency's Rockland office following the death of 3-year-old Maddox Williams, who was killed in June of that year. His mother, Jessica, was charged with his murder. Credit: Lauren Abbate

Good morning from Augusta.

What we’re watching today

Maine’s child welfare system has no apparent flaws in oversight structure. It gives the Legislature a hard set of problems. It is going to be another big year in the Legislature for reforms to the state’s child welfare system, which has had several stints in the policy spotlight over the last few years. The latest comes after a spate of high-profile child deaths in June.

The Legislature’s watchdog agency released its first review since then on Friday. It was mostly an informational report that goes over the agencies and boards that oversee the system in slightly different ways and was most notable for finding several overlaps in responsibilities and saying information seems to be shared between the myriad groups relatively well.

That cuts against a lot of what you have been reading about child welfare in Maine after a tumultuous year that has included disputes between the administration of Gov. Janet Mills and system ombudsman Christine Alberi. Their relationship has eased a bit since then, but an ombudsman report this month flagged continued issues assessing harm early on in cases.

This is only the first review from the legislative watchdog, which will also release a report in March on Alberi’s more pointed criticisms and a more general one by the fall. Lawmakers have submitted several reform packages. Mills is expected to put forward some ideas as well, although her top lieutenants have touted steady progress on training and other issues.

But the report is yet another sign that Maine has the physical infrastructure to oversee the system. Any problems will not be simply solved with more boards or regulatory regimes, which are often lawmakers’ first instinct. That is why this may be the hardest problem facing the Maine Legislature right now.

What we’re reading

— The story of 43-year-old Michelle Berry of Saco, whose case of COVID-19 put her in a coma for seven weeks and has left her with health problems, highlights “long COVID,” which could affect as many as 30 percent of people who contract the virus. That could be a staggering amount of Mainers and the condition is leading to big changes already in the insurance market.

— Waldo County is blaming a 70-year-old mapping error for a string of islands on the Islesboro archipelago being wrongly considered to be part of neighboring Knox County. It may be one of Maine’s first border disputes between counties and a legislative panel has urged the counties to come to an agreement on the matter.

— Democrats on a legislative committee spiked a bill to bar COVID-19 vaccine mandate last week. The Republican-led bill was a response to Mills’ requirement for health care workers but always figured to go nowhere in the Democratic-led chamber. It will still move forward for floor votes, but it has no path to passage.

News and notes

— Mills appeared Saturday at a “virtual fireside chat” on abortion rights hosted by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. It comes as the U.S. Supreme Court mulls a landmark decision that could roll back Roe v. Wade and legislative Republicans here support rolling back at least some of the Democratic governor’s abortion-rights expansions if they take power in 2022.

— Maine Senate Republicans will hold a campaign kickoff event on Wednesday at the Senator Inn and Spa in Augusta. Among the speakers at the event will be Senate Minority Leader Jeff Timberlake of Turner and Rep. Sue Bernard of Caribou, the party’s candidate against Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash.

Follow along today

9 a.m. Two bills aiming to fight PFAS, the so-called forever chemical being found in agricultural land around the state, will have public hearings before the Legislature’s environmental committee. The most sweeping one is backed by the state, while another one targeted at the Juniper Ridge Landfill in Old Town is not. Watch here.

11 a.m. The same committee will work on a bill from House Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy, D-Old Town, that would implement time-sensitive recommendations from the Maine Climate Council. Watch here.

The Daily Brief is written by Bangor Daily News politics editor Michael Shepherd and made possible by BDN subscribers. Enjoy unlimited access to all we have to offer by subscribing

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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...