Daily Brief: Saufley to deliver ‘State of the Judiciary’ speech

Good morning from frigid Augusta, where cold means more than the relationships between political opponents. 

There’s a lot on the docket today with the House and Senate returning to session after a week’s vacation and many of the Legislature’s committees plowing through bills. On that latter front, the Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee is expected to make recommendations to the full Legislature on two interesting bills that would expand the production and use of industrial hemp in Maine. Hemp is a form of the marijuana plant but is generally not smokable and is valued for its strong fibers in products like rope and clothing. 

Hunters take notice: the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee is being introduced to a handful of bills that affect you. Rep. Roland Martin, D-Sinclair Township, is sponsoring a resolve to study the impact of winter ticks on the state’s moose population, and Sen. Andre Cushing, R-Hampden, seeks to allow the hunting of small game animals with slingshot. But perhaps the most interesting bill title in this committee today is this: An Act to Allow Hunters to Wear Hunter Pink Instead of Hunter Orange in October in Recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, sponsored by Rep. Ricky Long, R-Sherman. 

The Judiciary Committee has a trio of bills on its schedule that are designed to increase compensation for serving on juries and the Transportation Committee will be busy hearing bills regarding the Maine Turnpike Authority. 

As usual, most everyone will have one eye cast toward the Appropriations Committee and its ongoing work on Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget proposal. The committee is turning its attention to the vast Department of Health and Human Services.

In other events, the University of Maine, the state’s flagship public university, turns 150 years old this year, and a group of UMaine leaders, teachers and students is gathering at the State House today to mark the occasion. 

Lastly, Chief Justice Leigh Saufley is scheduled to deliver her annual “State of the Judiciary” speech to a joint session of the Legislature at 11 a.m. Veteran BDN courts reporter Judy Harrison has dropped by the Daily Brief for a visit (Hi Judy!!) and has written the following preview.

Don’t forget to sign up to receive the Daily Brief in your inbox every weekday morning. — Christopher Cousins/Mario Moretto

State’s top judge to address House, Senate lawmakers

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley is expected to outline plans for transitioning the court from a paper document system to one in which lawyers and people representing themselves could file from a computer. Saufley also will talk about the March 2 opening of the Capital Judicial Center, which combines District, Family and Superior courts in Kennebec County, and the expansion under construction at the Washington County Courthouse as examples of the judiciary’s commitment to the modernization of court facilities.

The governor’s proposed budget includes additional funding for entry screening at the new Augusta and Machias courthouses and other courthouses around the state. If approved, the new funds would allow Saufley to get close to meeting the goal of having full-time entry screening at every courthouse.

The chief justice also might touch on competing bills before the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday afternoon that propose raising the daily pay rate and mileage rate for jurors. Jurors currently are paid $10 per day and are reimbursed 15 cents per mile to travel from their homes to courthouses. — Judy Harrison.

Military group backs LePage budget

While lawmakers continue to chew on LePage’s $6.57 billion two-year budget proposal, a handful of groups have come out to support portions of the plan, if not the package in its entirety.

On Monday, William “Chick” Ciciotte, an 82-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran and legislative chairman for Maine’s American Legion, told legislative budget negotiators that the state would benefit from LePage’s plan to exempt military pensions from the income tax.

“There are over 2 million military retirees in the United States,” he said. “That’s a large pool to attract to settle in Maine.”

He added: “The state of Maine has an opportunity to attract young veterans to retire into Maine. … We spend our money in Maine. We came here, we bought cars, we bought groceries, we sent our kids to school and our grandkids and on and on and on.”

Ciciotte said most veterans in Maine are older than 65, but that the tax exemption could attract younger retirees to the state. — Mario Moretto

Dog days of winter are over

Talk in the State House of naming the Labrador retriever the official dog of Maine is probably near an end following a 9-2 committee vote against the idea Monday afternoon. The measure will go to the full House and Senate but its “ought not to pass” recommendation probably means it’s doomed.

Dog bills don’t have as many lives as cat bills. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

‘A truly great man’

Maybe you saw a headline yesterday about a guy named Wil Smith, who died Sunday of colon cancer at age 46. Do yourself a favor and read this inspirational story by the BDN’s Beth Brogan.

Smith, a single father from Florida, made his first connection to Maine when he was stationed at Brunswick Naval Air Station. Soon thereafter, a Bowdoin College basketball coach urged him to apply to Bowdoin and Smith became a respected and beloved figure on campus and in the Brunswick community. The way he raised his daughter while helping so many others in the community made Smith stand out as the kind of guy the word “inspirational” was made for, and Maine is at a loss in so many ways because of his passing.

Smith often said his greatest achievement was his daughter, Olivia, who was 1 year old when her father enrolled at Bowdoin. He toted the infant to basketball practice, to classes, to the stage to collect his Bowdoin diploma in 2000, and through life. This intimate StoryCorps recording will rip your heart out, in a good way.

“Were you ever embarrassed bringing me to class? Or just having me in general?” asks Olivia, now a young woman.

“I felt a little awkward, but never embarrassed,” says Wil. “There were times when the only way I could get through was to come in and look at you and see you sleeping — and then go back to my studies. … I draw my strength from you. I always have and I still do.”

RIP to the man who showed us again that there is no better way to make your mark in the world than by being a good parent. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.