Term limits group compares Maine politicians to dirty diapers

Good morning from Augusta, where veto votes are flying between the chambers and the end seems to be in sight as committees slowly but surely report out their recommendations on remaining bills.

Two high-profile bills are on their way to the House after approval yesterday in the Senate, though we won’t know whether they’ll be taken up until after caucus meetings this morning.

The first is a bill prohibiting the disturbance of shellfish beds with an increase in the maximum fine from $500 to $2,000. The bill is meant to address a conflict between worm harvesters and clammers, though the worm harvesters won’t be happy if it passes.

The second was “Taylor’s Law,” a bill named for a Bucksport teen who died in a car accident, which would establish a uniform windshield decal to identify drivers with provisional licenses that prevent them from driving with certain passengers. Supporters say the decals will help police identify intermediate drivers and help teens resist the peer pressure to give rides when they aren’t supposed to.

Committees continue to have packed schedules as the summer recess draws near. Of particular note are the controversial changes to state mining rules in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee; the bill to create a statewide virtual academy in the Education Committee; and a handful of bills regarding the besieged revenue sharing program, in the Taxation Committee. All are scheduled at 1 p.m.

As always, click here for a full list of committee activity. Also as always, go ahead and tell all your friends to subscribe to the Daily Brief. It’ll help them pass our news quizzes, I promise. — Mario Moretto.

Pingree fights continued Cuba travel ban

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, opposed on Wednesday a GOP-led effort to block scheduled airline service and cruise ship visits to Cuba.

Tourism to Cuba has been essentially prohibited for most Americans for decades. President Barack Obama’s recent decisions to move toward normalization with the Caribbean nation didn’t completely lift the travel ban, but expanded the number of categories under which Americans could gain permission to travel to Cuba.

As a result, American air and cruise lines are scheduling more trips to Cuba, to accommodate the increase in travelers. That riled some Republicans, who bristle at the idea of normalized relations with Cuba while the country is still under Castro rule.

House Republicans attached a ban on scheduled airline service and cruise ship port calls in Cuba to its $55.3 billion transportation and housing spending bill, which was before the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

Pingree, a member of the committee, spoke against the provision, and said increased American travel in Cuba was crucial.

“We are moving in the right direction and the policies of the last 50 years haven’t worked,” Pingree said.  “I truly believe that if we can make (Cuba) that much more accessible, more Americans will want to visit and dramatic change will continue to happen.”

The committee approved the spending bill, with its Cuban travel provision, 30-21. (Given the recent Amtrak accident in Pennsylvania, the bill was more heavily scrutinized Wednesday for slashing funding for passenger rail.) — Mario Moretto

Veto update

  • The House voted 119-27 on Wednesday to overturn Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of LD 516, which banned the state’s Lottery Commission from establishing keno as one of its lottery offerings. LePage, whose administration had sought to expand the lottery to include keno, had called the legislation unnecessary because he dropped the effort. Majority Democrats in the House yesterday said they considered the bill an appropriate assertion of legislative oversight. The bill goes to the Senate.
  • The House also voted 147-0 to override LePage’s veto of LD 420, which would raise fees on utilities that want to build new grid-scale transmission lines. The fee is used to pay for independent studies of the proposals. The bill goes to the Senate.
  • The House voted 83-63 to sustain LePage’s veto of LD 459, which would have added firework debris to the state’s definition of “litter,” allowing police to crack down on people whose firework fun results in chemicals and other debris left lingering in the environment. The bill had previously passed both chambers with unanimous consent, but Republicans in the House flipped to support the governor’s veto. The bill is likely dead.
  • In the Senate, majority Republicans voted to sustain LePage’s veto of LD 13, which would have exempted Maine’s library network from sales tax. Republicans had previously supported the measure, but changed their votes after LePage wrapped the bill into his budget proposal.

— Mario Moretto

Reading list

Politicians and dirty diapers

U.S. Term Limits, the largest and loudest advocate for term limits in the nation, is paying attention to a bill by Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, that would change the way Maine elects its state senators.

Maine’s term limits law says a person can serve just four consecutive terms in either the House or Senate. As originally written, LD 1012 would lengthen the terms in the Maine Senate to four years, meaning a senator could serve 16 consecutive years rather than eight.

U.S. Term Limits opposes the move as a “radical undermining” of Maine’s term limit law. Enter these mailers, being sent to residents in Volk’s district.

The mailers utilize a quote attributed to Mark Twain to make the group’s point: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” The group is also targeting Sen. Linda Baker, R-Topsham, the lead co-sponsor of LD 1012.

Volk has already recognized that stretching the eight-year total limit is unpopular, and has proposed an amended version of her bill that would instead implement an alternating two-year and four-year term cycle, with each senator still capped at eight consecutive years. (For details, check out Volk’s testimony, where she outlines the plan.)

While the nuance may be lost in U.S. Term Limits’ mailers, I’m sure the group’s main premise (that politicians are full of … well, you know), will remain unchanged. —  Mario Moretto.

Mario Moretto

About Mario Moretto

Mario Moretto has been a Maine journalist, in print and online publications, since 2009. He joined the Bangor Daily News in 2012, first as a general assignment reporter in his native Hancock County and, now, in the State House. Mario left the BDN in 2015.