May 26, 2019
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A few Senate Democrats might be the last hope for Mainers who oppose vaccination mandates

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, seen here in 2016, is being lobbied by supporters of an immunization bill up for a vote on Thursday.

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Supporters of a bill that would put Maine among the states with the most stringent immunization laws have been lobbying a group of state senators ahead of a vote that is expected on Thursday.

The proposal cleared the House of Representatives last week, but the Senate vote could be tight, with one Democrat taking vaccine-skeptical positions already and minority Republicans largely making personal freedom arguments against the bill. It could boil down to the most pressure-packed vote of the session so far in the Democratic-led Legislature.

Three Democrats didn’t answer Wednesday questions about how they will vote on the bill under lobbying from supporters. The bill from Rep. Ryan Tipping, D-Orono, which would repeal all nonmedical exemptions to school vaccine requirements and make Maine the fourth state to have no religious exemption, won a mostly party-line vote in the House. Only eight Democrats opposed it and three Republicans supported it.

A later, unsuccessful bid to preserve the religious exemption won the support of 11 Democrats and all Republicans, so there is room for defection in the Senate, where Democrats hold a 21-14 edge over Republicans. Sen. David Woodsome of North Waterboro is the bill’s only Senate Republican sponsor.

On Wednesday, the progressive Maine People’s Alliance emailed supporters urging them to contact Sen. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, and urge him to vote for the bill. His name was also on a list of targeted senators from another group advocating for the bill earlier this week.

He and two other Democrats on that list — Erin Herbig of Belfast and Justin Chenette of Saco — didn’t respond to Wednesday requests for comment on how they would vote. Chipman was seen talking Wednesday to Sen. David Miramant, D-Camden, a vaccine skeptic who testified against the bill and met with constituents upset with him over it last month, in the State House.

The bill is aimed at rising opt-out rates, but opponents have had many different reasons to oppose it that run the gamut from a debunked link between one vaccine and autism to personal freedom. Tipping’s bill is largely a response to rising vaccination opt-out rates in Maine. In the past school year, only six states had a higher opt-out rate than Maine and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention saying a rising share of students citing nonmedical exemptions risks the state’s “herd immunity,” a share of vaccinated people making it hard for contagious diseases to spread.

The administration of Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, supports the bill alongside members of the medical community. It faced wide opposition at a public hearing in March, with hundreds of opponents of the bill speaking against it citing a host of varying reasons.

Some of them — including Miramant — cited a link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and autism that have largely been based on a retracted study and debunked by other studies. Others cited personal freedom arguments and the possible difficulty in getting a medical exemption from a doctor that were largely echoed by Republicans in their opposition to the bill. There are lots of potential reasons to oppose the bill that we could hear more about on Thursday.


Today in A-town

The House and Senate today close out their last week of twice-a-week floor sessions. With a mid-June statutory adjournment on the horizon, both chambers begin meeting Tuesday through Thursday next week. Listen here at 10 a.m. as the Senate could take a key vote on the vaccination bill.

Legislative committees are laden with public hearings today, with a handful of exceptions for bills ready for votes. The innovation and economic development committee around 2 p.m. could vote on a bill from Rep. Anne-Marie Mastraccio, D-Sanford, that would forgive up to 20 percent of certain health care professionals’ student loans if those students choose to stay and work in Maine for a minimum of five years after graduation. Listen here.

Two similar bills from Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, and Sen. Ned Claxton, D-Auburn, would ban the use of cellphones and other handheld electronic devices for anyone operating a motor vehicle. The transportation committee could decide on those around 1:30 p.m. Listen here.

The criminal justice committee could vote on two bills from Rep. Charlotte Warren, D-Hallowell, that require law enforcement to record interviews with potential witnesses and suspects involved in a crime. A bill from Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, would establish an Unjustly Incarcerated Persons Compensation Fund. It would require the state to give anyone who is wrongly incarcerated $25,000 for each year spent in jail, and $10,000 annually if that person was unjustly required to register as a sex offender. Listen here.

The agriculture committee will also consider bills to allow dairy processors to donate excess milk to food banks, whether seaplanes should land on Katahdin Lake, and whether the state should tighten its timber harvesting laws on public lands, state parks, and in the Allagash Wilderness Waterway. Listen here.


Reading list

— Maine budget writers gained a little breathing room, but not enough to meet ambitious progressive spending priorities. The state’s Revenue Forecasting Committee on Wednesday revised tax collection projections upward by about $87 million for the current fiscal year and the two to follow. While that “cushion” may give lawmakers some money to pay for bills passed this year that require funding, it may not greatly affect negotiations around the $8 billion budget proposed by Mills, who issued a statement saying the projections affirmed her proposal while Republicans urged her to put money into road projects. She has vowed not to raise taxes in her first budget, which takes effect July 1, making it unlikely that state aid to cities and towns will hit the desired 5 percent or that state public education funding will reach 55 percent of the overall cost for essential programs and services.

— The governor’s ongoing efforts to expand access to abortion provided another opportunity for debate at the State House. Mills’ bill, which was introduced during Wednesday’s public hearing before the Health Coverage, Insurance and Financial Affairs Committee by House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, would amend state laws dating back to the late 1970s and 1980s and allow medical professionals other than physicians to provide abortions. Under the new bill, a physician assistant, an advanced licensed practice nurse, or licensed allopathic and osteopathic physicians could also perform those procedures. Currently, anyone other than a licensed physician who performs an abortion in Maine can be charged with a felony. After taking testimony from dozens of proponents and opponents, the committee will now hold a work session on the bill to vote on whether to recommend passage to the full Legislature.

— Lawyers could soon be representing ‘the interests of justice’ for abused animals in Maine. A bill, LD 1442, based on a Connecticut law, would allow judges to appoint volunteer lawyers and students at the University of Maine School of Law “to represent the interests of justice,” but not the animals themselves. The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee held a public hearing Wednesday on the bill, which would be called “Franky’s Law” after a Boston terrier-pug mix stolen from his Winter Harbor home and killed last year. The proposal drew support from animal rights groups and animal welfare officials, but the American Kennel Club and the Federation of Maine Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners opposed it.

— The president’s Florida resort billed the government after his staff took over a bar there. ProPublica reports that, in April 2017, several of President Donald Trump’s staffers asked the bartender at Mar-a-Lago’s Library Bar to leave the room. They then allegedly made themselves drinks, for which Mar-a-Lago six days later billed the government more than $1,000, according to public records. The State Department refused to pay the tab, but the White House covered it. ProPublica has been tracking what campaign and government groups have spent at Trump properties since 2015. It’s more than $16 million.


Tea and two-strokes

Civility has taken a beating in many areas of politics and society lately, despite the best efforts of Maine motorcyclists. Since the 1980s, the United Bikers of Maine has marked the beginning of motorcycle season by hosting a Blaine House tea with the governor.

The tea gatherings started when Democrat Joe Brennan was in office and have continued under Democratic, Republican and independent governors. Mills will join that tradition when she and the United Bikers sip tea together this morning at the governor’s mansion. The event is designed to highlight motorcycle safety and help remind drivers to share the road responsibly with people on motorized two-wheelers.

For some governors, sharing tea with bikers has been a more natural fit than it has been for others. Independent Angus King slipped on his leathers and rode his Harley to the 2000 gathering. However, three years later, Democrat John Baldacci’s participation in the event spurred longtime State House reporter A.J. Higgins to open his Bangor Daily News report with “Perforated wingtips went toe-to-toe with biker boots …”

As a tea lover, I’m more interested in what Mills will serve than how she’ll dress. A nice smoky lapsang souchong might go well on a dark, drizzly morning like today. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd, Alex Acquisto and Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to receive Maine’s leading newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings. Click here to subscribe to the BDN.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, aacquisto@bangordailynews.com, and rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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