Daily Brief: Lawmakers try to force DEP do-over of done-over mining rules

Good morning, folks. Another busy day is on tap in Augusta with a long list of bills being introduced today and some poised to be sent on to the full Legislature. 

Have you ever written a bad check? If you did, I hope it was an oversight. At any rate, Rep. John Joseph Picchiotti, R-Fairfied, is sponsoring a bill that would increase financial penalties for writing bad checks, which will be heard today in the Legislature’s Criminal Justice Committee. 

The Education Committee will start deliberations on a number of bills related to the school funding formula, including three bills that would put a limit on how much municipalities contribute to the cost of local schools. The Marine Resources Committee will hold work sessions on two bills sponsored by Democratic Sen. Stan Gerzofsky of Brunswick, which are designed to add protections to shellfish and shellfish harvesting

The Taxation Committee will hold hearings on a number of bills related to your taxes, including An Act to Reduce Property Taxes by committee Chairman Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, which would explore ways to provide tax relief through property tax relief programs. The Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee will tackle a lengthy list of public hearings for bills related to campaign financing, specifically adding new limits to the activities of political action committees. 

The bill to watch today, however, could be LD 750, An Act to Allow Regulated Metal Mining in Maine, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Chapman, D-Brooksville, The bills calls on the Department of Environmental Protection to develop a set of large-scale metallic mineral mining rules that abide by a list of 10 specific requirements in Chapman’s bill, including that “all mining areas be left in or returned to a geologically stable condition following remediation and closure.” 

The DEP has already been through a lengthy and exhaustive rule making process following the enactment of a law in 2012 allowing mining in Maine. However, the Legislature rejected those rules with some lawmakers objecting to their leniency, particularly when it comes to the treatment of mining byproducts and how long those materials can be treated. 

The DEP this year re-submitted the exact set of rules that were rejected last year and the Legislature has been deliberating them for weeks. Chapman’s bill calls for a do-over of the process and calls on the DEP to re-draft new, stricter rules by January of 2017. Mining has been a hot topic throughout the session and today will likely be no different. The Environment and Natural Resources Committee has arranged an overflow room, which is an indication that this public hearing’s length will be measured in hours. — Christopher Cousins 

Lawmakers job tour in western Maine

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, is taking his jobs bill road show to western Maine, which as a native of that area I can tell you is a tough place to make a living but a beautiful place to live.

Eves, who is proposing to spend $5 million over five years to create at least 10 public-private partnerships that support job training in high-demand fields, goes to Mexico, Rumford and Bethel today to illustrate the kind of partnership he is trying to create more of. He and other lawmakers will visit the Career and Technical education School of Applied Technology and Nicols Brothers Logging. Eves said in a prepared statement that the purpose of his visit it to highlight new logging technologies that will transform the future of the industry and call for a flood of new forestry graduates with new skills.

The road show kicks off at 9:30 a.m. at the tech school in Mexico, followed by an afternoon with loggers from Nicols Brothers, including at a logging site in Bethel, this afternoon.

Eves, who is putting the full weight of his leadership position behind the bill, faces doubts about it from Gov. Paul LePage. The bill is expected to be unveiled for consideration by lawmakers later in the session. — Christopher Cousins

Women’s lobby, ACLU at State House for reproductive rights rally

The Maine Alliance for Reproductive Freedom, formerly the Maine Choice Coalition, holds its annual lobbying day today in Augusta. As part of that effort, they’re hosting a mid-morning press conference in the Hall of Flags at the State House to announce the reasoning behind the group’s new name and a new expanded focus around the issue of reproductive rights.

Key members of the new alliance are the Maine Women’s Lobby and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Peter Mills, even more famous

peter millsWho can identify the guy on the left in the bottom photo? That’s Peter Mills, former Republican state senator, gubernatorial candidate and current director of the Maine Turnpike Authority. I assure you, he comes to work every day more prepared than he was for this running race, in which he is clearly wearing jeans. This photo, which has been made into an Internet meme, has been circulating for the past few days, including by Mills’ sister, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, who is a former DHHS official and current vice president of clinical affairs at the University of New England.

Anyway, this photo reminds me of my favorite Peter Mills story and for that matter, one of my favorite experiences covering the Legislature.

I think it was in 2008 or 2009 when I saw Mills win a midnight pushup contest (handily) on the state Senate floor against the much younger Sen. Justin Alfond and black belt-holder Sen. Bill Diamond. Then Peter did some headstand yoga poses, right in the middle of the state seal on the Senate rug.

True story. — 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.