June 26, 2019
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Janet Mills and legislators could be on track for a showdown over CMP corridor

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, is pictured Aug. 30, 2018.

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Opponents of the proposed Central Maine Power corridor through western Maine won key votes in the House of Representatives on Thursday, setting up a likely lobbying race to flip legislators and a potential showdown with Gov. Janet Mills afterward.

Those votes, which cut across party lines, underlined the complex politics of the unpopular transmission line and threaten to drag the Democratic governor further into a debate she entered in February when she declared support for the corridor after parties inked a $260 million benefits package.

The House approved bills that would force local approval of the corridor and make it harder to take property by eminent domain for similar projects. The House has beaten back one bill threatening the project that would deliver Quebec hydropower to the regional grid — a time-sensitive carbon emissions study from Sen. Brownie Carson, D-Harpswell, that failed to get the two-thirds of votes needed to take effect immediately.

The two bills approved by the House on Thursday don’t need that to get to the governor’s desk. The corridor project has been approved by utilities regulators but awaits further permitting before state agencies that is expected to end in the fall.

The biggest bill is from Rep. Seth Berry, D-Bowdoinham, a CMP critic and the co-chair of the Legislature’s energy committee, that would require two-thirds of towns impacted by the corridor and others like it to approve it by referendum or a vote of elected officials before permitting.

On the House floor, Berry said lawmakers “need to listen to the Maine people.” Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery, said the proposal seems like a “NIMBY complaint” and that it would be “changing the boundaries” of the process in the middle of an active project.

The debate fell all across party lines, with the proposal winning initial approval in a 74-63 vote with 53 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting for it and 24 Democrats and 39 Republicans voting against it. Another bill from Rep. Chad Grignon, R-Athens, that would make it more difficult to use eminent domain for similar projects passed easier.

The close votes could drag Mills more directly into the process. The Senate has already been more favorable to CMP foes, passing Carson’s study bill easily. All of the problems for them are in the House, where they don’t have the two-thirds support to pass emergency bills or override a Mills veto.

However, a veto threatens to drag Mills even more into the corridor debate. She’d likely prefer that these bills never reach her desk. The chances of them doing so now seem decent unless supporters can start flipping House members ahead of future votes.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in, a key committee may meet to hammer out a deal on the two-year budget and Maine will get a state ballad. The House and Senate are continuing to work through long calendars after an evening session from the lower chamber on Thursday. Leaders of the chambers haven’t announced what they are expected to take votes on Friday and it’s a fool’s errand to predict it, so consult the calendars in the links above.

We’re still awaiting the return of the Legislature’s budget committee, which has all but struck a deal on Maine’s two-year budget. It is expected to come in just below $8 billion while providing $75 million more in property tax relief thanMills’ proposal and $15 million in aid to schools. They now have to discuss fund transfers and the level of funding for initially approved bills.

Speaking of Mills, she will hold a ceremony at 11 a.m. in the State House to sign a bill from Rep. Scott Cuddy, D-Winterport, establishing the “Ballad of the 20th Maine” by The Ghost of Paul Revere as the state ballad with a performance from the Maine band. Here’s your soundtrack.

Reading list

— A high court justice who heard the case of a 13-year-old held at Maine’s juvenile detention center urged the Legislature to examine “gaps” in the system. It was the latest development in the case of “A.I.,” a 13-year-old boy deemed not competent to stand trial on charges that are unclear because of confidentiality laws but remains held at the Long Creek Youth Development Center while the state says it is arranging treatment. The Portland Press Herald reported that Todd Landry, the head of Maine’s Office of Child and Family Services, conceded under questioning that the boy is not getting “the recommended treatment-level service” at Long Creek. Justice Ellen Gorman of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, who is considering a request to rule on whether the detention is legal, said she recognized “gaps that currently exist in the juvenile statute” and urged the legislature to examine them.

— A Maine jail sees a re-entry program for inmates with addiction as a recognition that “people can change” and a way to solve financial issues. Two Bridges Regional Jail, which serves Sagadahoc and Lincoln counties, is losing a contract to hold inmates for Waldo County in July, which could lead to the closure of a 48-bed unit. Administrators are considering using that space for a medication-assisted opioid addiction treatment program that is being implemented in other areas with federal money given to Maine, the Lincoln County News reported. While it would be funded by the state, the jail could be reimbursed by counties who send inmates to complete the program. “We believe people can change, and we have an obligation to assist them in that process,” said Col. James Bailey, who runs the Wiscasset jail.

— Rite Aids are turning into Walgreens as the pharmacy industry consolidates in Maine and elsewhere. The last Rite Aid in Bangor will close later this month and the location in Hampden will be converted into a Walgreens in August as a byproduct of the $4.38 billion, 2,000-store acquisition of the former brand by the latter one. It follows other closures and conversions since the 2018 deal, though there is still competition from supermarkets and in the Bangor area from Northern Light Pharmacy, which until recently was called Miller Drug.

To protect and serve

The algorithms that track and register every component of our lives have recently latched onto an interesting aspect of mine. Based on personalized social media ads and email solicitations, the algorithms seem to think I badly need a new protective cup.

I hope it’s because I’m a baseball umpire, not because the legislative budget fight is about to get nasty.

The two preferred brands being pitched my way are Nutty Buddy and Shock Doctor. One can only hope that each company put as much effort into testing and technology as it did in coming up with catchy names.

I guess if I had to choose, I would go with the former. I would rather have a buddy down there than a doctor, given that the latter seems to assume pain is already present. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Michael Shepherd 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 or rlong@bangordailynews.com.



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