What the Maine Legislature has left to do in a dysfunctional session

Good morning from Augusta, where the Maine Legislature was back on Thursday for what we thought was possibly their last day, but leaders quickly decided that the session that led to the first state government shutdown since 1991 will keep on giving into August.

That protracted budget fight set the Legislature’s other business back significantly, leaving them to consider $200 million in proposed bonds on Thursday, hold final votes on several bills that affect state finances and act on more than 10 bills vetoed by Gov. Paul LePage.

Lawmakers did a lot of work yesterday, including sending a $105 million transportation bond to LePage’s desk alongside high-profile bills to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21 and ban cellphone use while driving, as well as a host of more minor proposals.

Those are all now subject to LePage’s veto pen, so legislative leaders set a date of Aug. 2 to vote to override any vetoes. But they also left a lot more work for summer’s dog days.

Two other bonds — $55 million for Maine’s biomedical industry and $40 million for a student debt relief plan backed by LePage and Democrats — were tabled in the House for lack of Republican support, leaving advocates to scramble for support or amendments by next month.

The highest-profile LePage veto never came up yesterday. That was on a hotly contested bill that would slightly liberalize solar policy in Maine.

Dylan Voorhees, a lobbyist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which backs the bill, said on Twitter that a behind-the-scenes “political circus” held up a vote on Thursday. It’s being opposed by Central Maine Power.

So, we’ll see everyone back at the State House in August. Here’s your soundtrack. Let’s just hope it’s actually almost over. — Michael Shepherd

Quick hits

  • Maine’s Janet Mills and 13 other Democratic attorneys general urged federal regulators to maintain ‘net neutrality’ on Thursday. The Federal Communication Commission is considering new rules that would allow internet service providers to slow or block access to certain website or mobile applications, doing away with what as known as “net neutrality.” Mills and others argue that the rules would unfairly restrict portions of the web and create an uneven playing field for users, depending on which company they use for access. Mills submitted official comments in the rulemaking process, arguing that an open internet “is critical to the free exchange of ideas so important to our society.” She calls on the FCC to reject the rules, which were launched in 2015 under the Obama administration to prevent internet carriers from funneling customers toward certain sites and applications and away from others. Just this week, the Trump administration called for a review of the rules and signaled that the FCC should roll them back. More than 3.5 million comments have been filed regarding the rules in the past month along, adding to a total of about 9 million comments. We hope the FCC has a fast connection when it comes time to download them all. — Christopher Cousins
  • Angus King is hosting a forum on the Affordable Care Act today. The subject is improvements that are needed to the law, which stands despite recent efforts by President Trump and Republicans to repeal and replace it. A vote to repeal the law is possible as early as next week. King and healthcare providers and advocates will hold the forum at the Fore River Campus of Mercy Hospital in Portland beginning at 11:30 a.m. You can stream the meeting through Facebook by clicking here. — Christopher Cousins
  • Federal cash is flowing. Announcements from our congressional delegation about federal grants to Maine agencies and entities are nearly constant. There were several on Thursday alone. U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin announced $333,000 in Federal Emergency Management Agency money to help the Houlton Fire Department buy a new pumper. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins announced a $20 million National Institutes of Health grant to the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough to establish the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network. Collins was scheduled to be at the institute for an announcement at 11 a.m. today. Collins also announced a $7 million congressional appropriation for dredging of the Saco River, York Harbor and Wells Harbor, and she and U.S. Sen. Angus King announced a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance to develop an online coaching program for rural communities. Here’s your soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins
  • If you’re on Social Security, beware of calls from California. Collins, who chairs the Senate Aging Committee, said reports are growing of fraudulent callers from California’s 323 area code calling recipients and implying a raise in benefits is due. The callers ask for information including dates of birth and Social Security numbers, which allows them to divert payments away from their rightful recipients. Collins said in a news release that Social Security Administration employees would never ask for personal information over the phone. If you receive a call like this, hang up and call either the Social Security Administration at 1-800-269-0271 or the Aging Committee’s fraud hotline at 1-855-303-9470. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Seven years in and the Senate president has finally left his mark

Not all tours of the State House include this, but one of the most interesting features in the grand old building are some scratches on one of the doors into the Senate president’s office, which used to be the governor’s office. They’ve been there for nearly a century since they were left by Garryowen, an Irish setter owned by Gov. Percival Baxter, who served from 1921-1925.

Garryowen’s fame isn’t quite to the level of his owner’s, but close considering he was a dog. Stories are still told about his romps around the State House and surrounding grounds, where students from a nearby elementary school used to wait on the corner to shake hands with him.

Anyway, most of the State House is kept in immaculate condition but Garry’s scratches have been left there on purpose, immortalizing the old pooch.

On Thursday, the Senate was speeding through a series of votes. After every one — as it has always been — Senate President Mike Thibodeau slammed down his gavel, but something went wrong. He said later that the rostrum was inching to the left on the table at the front of the Senate with every bang until on one bill, it struck the edge and left a gouge in the gleaming, historic wood that was unscathed until now.

Many legislative leaders have broken gavels — I can remember at least two broken by Thibodeau himself — but they have been replaced. That rostrum isn’t so easily repaired, raising the question of whether 100 years from now, will tours of the State House include this story? Will Thibodeau be as famous as Garry the Irish setter? For now, they both have the same soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

With tips, pitches, questions or feedback, email us at politics@bangordailynews.com. If you’re reading The Daily Brief on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics and policy delivered via email every weekday morning.

Michael Shepherd

About Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after covering state, federal and local issues for the Kennebec Journal for three years. He's a Hallowell native who now lives in Gardiner. He graduated from the University of Maine in 2012 and is a graduate student at the University of Southern Maine's Muskie School of Public Service.