Here comes the annual end-of-session flood of LePage bills

Good morning from Augusta, where Gov. Paul LePage is hoping the second or third or fourth time is a charm for conservative initiatives that have previously failed, including a new bill to give his successor a raise from $70,000 to $150,000 starting next year.

LePage is flooding lawmakers with new bills. That’s even though there is less than a month left before the Legislature’s April 18 adjournment date and the “deadline” for legislative committees to finish their work is Friday. The governor issued a statement Wednesday about his bill to more than double future governors’ salaries but other proposals surfaced with far less fanfare. If some of them sound familiar, it’s because they are.

Right to work. The newest of the bunch would prohibit mandatory membership in a labor union as a condition of employment. LePage has said his many failures to make Maine a “right to work” state rank among his deepest regrets, though he gained ground on the issue last year when his administration negotiated contracts with two major unions that eliminated mandatory union fees for public employees.

Banning welfare for immigrants. Another brand new bill would repeal eligibility for food stamps, TANF, Supplemental Security Income and General Assistance for certain non-citizens who have “alien” status. Reducing services to immigrants and asylum seekers who have not yet attained residency is another issue LePage has dogged legislatively, through rulemaking attempts and in the courts. In January, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled the state can’t refuse food stamps to eligible asylum seekers.

Miscellany. In recent days LePage has also proposed changing residency restrictions for sex offenders, changing the standards for Maine’s proficiency-based diplomas, rehiring attorneys in the Department of Health and Human Services who were eliminated in last year’s budget negotiations, creating a public defender, and aligning rules for health and life insurance companies with federal law. That’s not all and there will surely be more, including the usual storm of vetoes.

Some of those have virtually no chance of passage given a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives that has solidly opposed similar measures in the past. So what’s the point? it’s an election year and both parties are pushing bills for the simple purpose of using opponents’ votes against them in this year’s campaigns. This is more of that.

This sets up attacks from LePage a couple of weeks from now about how the Legislature is inefficient and dragging its feet — another common refrain. The Legislature goes to three-times-a-week sessions next week and could be meeting every weekday soon. Committees can’t work when the House or Senate are in session and vice versa, so proposing new bills now can really gum up the works. Expect April to brim with triple-session days, late-night votes and possibly an extension of the session.

Seem familiar? It is. This maneuvering by the governor has become expected and it’s not over until the hammers drop on final adjournment. (Oh, and LePage is on his way out of office and he really wants this stuff. There’s also that. Here’s his soundtrack.)

House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said LePage should be focused on problems like the opioid epidemic, workforce training and the state’s mental health system instead of “trying once again to argue battles that he has repeatedly lost.”

“The Legislature will remain focused on what we know Maine people need and look forward to wrapping up the final legislative session under his administration,” Gideon said.

Susan Collins’ health reforms have stalled … again

Changes backed by the Maine senator won’t be in a new budget bill. It was a whipsaw Wednesday for Collins, a moderate Republican who has pushed for changes to stabilize the Affordable Care Act alongside her support of Republicans’ tax bill passed in December that repealed the requirement that Americans have health insurance or face a penalty.

At first, Collins wanted those changes to pass as part of the tax bill. Then, she said they would be considered in January. On Wednesday, similar measures were omitted from the omnibus budget bill expected to pass on Friday, which Collins has called “the last opportunity” to stabilize the health care market and prevent premium increases.

Collins blamed House Speaker Paul Ryan for not including the changes amid Democratic opposition. Republicans got President Donald Trump on board with the changes, which would restart cost-sharing subsidies halted by Trump and allow states to start high-risk polls to cover costly claims. At a news conference on Wednesday, Republicans said Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, agreed with them.

They also decried that their bill had become partisan. Democrats have abandoned the bill over abortion language that they argue would expand an existing ban on federal funding for abortion coverage for a new pool of funding. Republicans, including Collins, said that argument was “phony” on Thursday, since that language is standard.

By day’s end, Collins hit Ryan on Twitter for not including the changes in the House version of the budget bill over opposition from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, calling it “extremely disappointing.”

It’s as unclear as ever if these will pass. Democrats are already using it to bolster past arguments that Collins’ original tax vote was based on a bad deal.

Today in A-town

It’s a busy day on the chamber floors. Several bills — most of them minor — are up for initial and enactment votes today in both the Senate and House of Representatives. Each chamber will also handle one LePage veto — one of a bill aimed at making insurers cover naturopathic services in the House and another bill on liquor licenses in the Senate. A symbolic rebuke of neo-Nazis is up in the House after passing the Senate on Tuesday.

Nine legislative committees are also in, highlighted by a meeting on utilities’ response to a powerful fall storm. The energy committee will continue its discussion on power companies’ response to a powerful October wind storm that knocked out power to 500,000 Mainers at its peak. The voting committee will discuss a bill intended to increase transparency around the backers of Maine referendums.

Reading list

  • Amid student protests, Mainers at a gun show highlighted respect for firearms. A Bangor Daily News reporter went to a weekend gun show in Orland and a Whitefield gun owner said we “don’t want to see this stuff going on,” referring to last month’s Florida school shooting, but also that kids protesting gun violence are “not aware of the good that guns do.”
  • Bucksport residents got a preview of a company’s plans to build a salmon farm on the site of a shuttered paper mill. The CEO of Whole Oceans gave a Tuesday presentation to residents on the company’s plans for a $250 million salmon farm announced in February that is expected to produce 5,000 tons of fish per year. The company is planning to discharge 4 million gallons of water per day into the Penobscot River, but that’s one-fifth of what the mill’s put out.
  • And Rockland is happy to shed its fishy reputation. A former mayor called the 1988 closure of a fish waste rendering plant the “pivotal moment” for Rockland, turning it from a pass-through city known for its smell to a tourist destination of its own. Here’s their soundtrack.

Wrong MJ, son

I was chatting with my boys about basketball yesterday and mentioned how Michael Jordan used to be able to run and jump from the foul line and dunk the basketball.

“Wow, could he really do that?” asked my 13-year-old, who plays basketball. “Wait, I thought Michael Jordan was that famous singer who died.”

It was like a gut punch. Do I really have kids who could confuse Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson? Apparently. I am a failure. Here’s my soundtrack.Christopher Cousins

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins and Michael Shepherd and edited by Robert Long. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, click here to get Maine’s only newsletter on state politics via email on weekday mornings.

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.