Uncertainty rules as Maine lawmakers lurch toward adjournment

Good morning from Augusta. The Legislature is supposed to adjourn two weeks from today, and we still don’t know how Maine will vote in June, if lawmakers can make Medicaid expansion work and whether there will be a Republican primary to challenge U.S. Sen. Angus King.

Here’s where the legislative process stands on these swirling issues:

Legal maneuverings continue in ranked-choice voting. If you’re tired of hearing about this you’ll be disappointed to know that the issue is far from settled. While attorneys prepare filings and arguments that could send the issue to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court (read more about that below in today’s Reading List), Senate Democrats have launched a last-ditch effort to solve some of the problems in current law that could stop the voting method from being used this year.

Sen. Michael Carpenter, D-Houlton, will introduce a joint order this morning in the Senate that would direct the Legislature’s Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee to develop and report out a bill that would provide funding to implement the system, give the secretary of state the authority to direct the transport of ballots to Augusta for ranked-choice tallying, and authorize the state police to transport the ballots.

It’s hard to imagine a bill like that being successful, given past partisan fights over the issue and Republicans’ assertions that there are also constitutional issues, but if it could somehow find its way to enactment it would largely render moot the courts’ involvement.

Medicaid expansion. As you’ve read, the deadline has passed for Maine to file a plan with the federal government on how it will expand Medicaid — or MaineCare, as it’s called in Maine — following last year’s referendum. But Gov. Paul LePage did not submit the plan.

Advocates have said they’ll hold off on legal action until the Legislature adjourns and Attorney General Janet Mills has identified $35 million in new tobacco settlement money she said could fund the first year. Things are still in limbo, but lawmakers are forging ahead with discussions.

The powerful Appropriations Committee has scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. today for a MaineCare expansion discussion, according to schedules distributed by the committee.

We’re not sure where that will go but we’ll keep you posted. The budget committee will meet again Monday afternoon to consider a bill that would fund the new Department of Health and Human Services employees and other items that would be needed for expansion.

A U.S. Senate candidate’s campaign hangs in limbo, but will sink or float today. Today at the close of business is the deadline for Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to make a decision about the veracity of ballot access petitions submitted by Bar Harbor financial planner Max Linn in his eventful primary candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

Linn’s primary challenger, state Sen. Eric Brakey, R-Auburn, alleged in hearings last week that numerous signatures on Linn’s paperwork were forged and that several of them were from dead people. Then, Linn held a strange news conference challenging Brakey to debate and alleging without evidence that his opponent’s campaign planted the faulty signatures.

Dunlap’s decision hinges on whether enough of the signatures are faulty to put Linn below the ballot-qualification threshold, though Brakey’s campaign has argued that they should all be thrown out because of evidence of an overall fraudulent campaign effort.

Another fight over an anti-overdose remedy looms in the House of Representatives. The Legislature already approved LD 565, which would allow pharmacists to prescribe and dispense naloxone hydrochloride, an antidote for opioid overdoses known as Narcan, over the counter.

However, the bill was vetoed by LePage, who wrote in his veto letter that “the Legislature’s focus on naloxone as the most important tool is sadly misplaced.” The Senate vehemently disagreed on Wednesday, when it unanimously rejected the governor’s veto. The House, where in general, support for LePage’s vetoes is much stronger than in the Senate, is scheduled to consider the veto this morning.

Today in A-town

The House and Senate are in for a fourth day this week but plan to take Friday off. LePage is still introducing new bills with fewer than two weeks left until the statutory adjournment date of April 18. According to today’s House calendar, the Republican governor has introduced one proposal to exempt holdings in retirement and education savings accounts from consideration for Medicare and Medicaid services and another that would eliminate the state’s fledgling proficiency-based diploma requirement and replace it with a requirement that graduates meet alternative state standards.

A legislative committee will take testimony on a bill to expand drug courts in Maine. The proposal from Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Dixfield, would give $160,000 to DHHS and the court system to expand Maine’s drug court system so it can serve another 30 people this year. It faces a public hearing before the Judiciary Committee at 4 p.m. today.

Reading list

  • A judge’s back-to-back guidances on ranked-choice voting saved it and threw it back into question on Wednesday. Supporters of the voting measure cheered Wednesday morning when Maine Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy granted an injunction forcing the state to implement it for the June 12 primary. But in response to a separate suit brought by the Maine Senate that outlined a number of questions about the system’s constitutionality, Murphy raised the possibility that the issue should go to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Are you confused? We were, so here’s a timeline showing how we got here.
  • Sen. Susan Collins does not hold much hope for meaningful health care reform. The Republican senator — whose proposed changes failed to make it into federal tax and budget bills — said she will explore other ways to contain skyrocketing health care costs and insurance premiums, according to Maine Public. She offered her assessment of the U.S. health care situation while in Portland on Wednesday to receive an award from a national pediatrics group.
  • University of Maine scientists are working to create recyclable snack bags and make paper mills run more efficiently. Among the research subjects aired at the university’s annual Paper Days, a meeting of paper industry leaders, were potato chip bags made with wood pulp to replace the current plastic and metal bags and artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to help paper mills run more efficiently and automatically.
  • The vestiges of Dow Air Base in Bangor remain 50 years after it closed. Emily Burnham of the BDN assembled a nifty timeline to honor the history of the base. The last two planes to take off before base closure were the City of Bangor and the City of Brewer.

Holiday or holy day?

For decades, my credo has been to only wear neckties to funerals and court appearances. But today I dusted off my vintage Red Sox cravat to mark the harmonic convergence of the Sea Dogs’ first game of the season and Opening Day at Fenway Park.

It should be a holiday.

[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

— A. Bartlett Giamatti

Or a holy day.

I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshipped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stitches in a baseball. When I learned that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring,

— Annie Savoy in “Bull Durham”

In either case, we should not have to work — and expect those of us who do to be distracted this afternoon. Here is your soundtrack. — Robert Long

You are the boss, Robert. Does this mean I can have the day off? — Christopher Cousins

No. — Robert Long

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Christopher Cousins, Michael Shepherd and 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.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but email us directly at ccousins@bangordailynews.com, mshepherd@bangordailynews.com or rlong@bangordailynews.com.

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.