Monday, April 23, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA ON THE 128th 2018 SESSION OF THE MAINE LEGISLATURE

Legislative Post # 15

IMAGES OF THE LEGISLATURE IN SESSION, APRIL 18, 2018

  

The House Opening the Session.
I wasn't allowed on the floor of the house to get close ups.

At Ease in the Senate Session, Senator Jackson

Calvin Hall with Senator Carpenter, at Ease

I was tempted to write FINAL OBSERVATIONS in the title line of this post, but after watching the last late-night sessions of the House and Senate, I changed my mind. They did adjourn, unless or until they come back for a special 1-day session. By the time you read this, you likely know about the confused, confusing, and contentious adjournment of the 2018 128th session of the legislature: more than 120 bills remaining in limbo with no decisions made. For 4 days, I have watched several times the on-line Senate and House sessions of April 18, the day of adjournment. I researched articles in the major media.

And I watched the video of the press conference  with the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate. Democrats complained about the actions of a group of Republicans in the House who were obstructing efforts to finish the work with filibustering, with stalling in important negotiations needed to finish the work. and with refusing to extend the session so the work could get done.

House Speaker Sarah Gideon told WABI TV, "one group of people in the Legislature continues to obstruct the bipartisan majority in both chambers who are intent on getting back to work and doing the business our constituents sent us here to accomplish. Ensuring our businesses and hardworking Mainers are treated fairly by our tax code, making health insurance available to 70,000 people, combating the devastating opioid epidemic in our state - these are the serious issues that demand serious debate.

In a radio address, Senate minority leader Troy Jackson said the move to extend the session "was not an issue of partisanship – the vote was unanimous in the Senate." "When it comes to minimum wage, ranked-choice voting, marijuana legalization, and Medicaid expansion, Maine people have spoken loud and clear. We aren’t going to turn our backs on Maine people."

I searched for a press conference with the Republican leaders and haven't yet found it, so I visited the Facebook Page of the Aroostook Republicans. There I found Republicans blaming the Democrats for obstructing efforts to finish the work by tabling bills and taking long recesses.  A link there to
the Maine Wire has this to say: "The House was at ease for lunch at 12:30 p.m. and was set to reconvene at 3 p.m. Session did not resume until 4:52 p.m. Despite calls by Democrats to extend session because they had important work to do, the House was at ease again last night for nearly three hours – from 6:52 p.m. to 9:46 p.m. – so legislators could eat pizza. Combined, the House wasted at least seven hours yesterday when it could have been running bills with bipartisan support. 

I, too, was wondering what was going on during those long recesses, so I asked my Senator. He replied, "There is always a lot of 'dead' times toward the end of the session. That's when leadership and the Appropriations Committee are putting together the  spending/tax package."  

Bills that need funding may need to be tabled until bipartisan agreement is reached about how to fund them. This explanation is confirmed in the Maine Wire. "Legislative leaders from both sides of the aisle had been working over the past week to strike a deal on issues such as tax conformity, Medicaid expansion and pay increases for direct service workers, however no deal was reached by adjournment.

Leaders are working during those long recesses, not just eating pizza. Bills needing funding necessarily get tabled until funding issues are settled, and funding doesn't get settled unless or until negotiated agreement is reached. Other bills not requiring funding may also get caught up in time- consuming negotiations and get tabled while negotiations occur outside of scheduled session time where votes are taken, both in committee and in Chamber sessions. The Maine Wire does not make that connection, but Ken Fredette, the minority leader in the House understands it because he is involved in those leadership negotiations. And it was him and his minority caucus who succeeded in delaying progress by making new demands after agreement was reached. I think that is called "refusing to negotiate in good faith."

All kinds of "impugning motives" went on during this day and its aftermath. This session is about as good an example as I could find of tribalism at work in our 2-party political system. It makes me want to abolish political parties. As an observer writing these posts, I want to clarify the issues and inform readers, and I wrestle a good deal with my own mind about my own tribalism. I, too, want to select only the information that supports my values. I want to impugn motives. I want to argue opposing values to their death. And I want to resort to name-calling and blaming in frustration at how hard problem solving and conflict resolution can be.

So I have gained a new respect for the difficulty of legislating in this political climate and system. As I leave Augusta to go home, I salute the many hard working, conscientious, and sincere legislators I witnessed doing the peoples' business. A hearty THANK YOU for your service and endurance.



Monday, April 16, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA


Legislative Blog # 14


Look at the means which a man employs, 
consider his motives, 
observe his pleasures. 
A man simply cannot conceal himself! 
~Confucius

Whenever a man does a thoroughly stupid thing,
it is always from the noblest of motives. 
~Oscar Wilde

RULES OF DECORUM IN LEGISLATIVE DEBATE 
I first heard about the prohibition against questioning motives and wrote about it last week in connection with the Ranked Choice Voting Bill. It has come up in 2 other bills that I was observing this week, and I don't know how many others I didn't observe. These rules date back to Jefferson's Manual of Parliamentary Practice:
"Remarks in debate may not address personal motivations for legislative positions, but may focus on a Member's political motivations. For example, the chair has stated 'there is nothing per se a violation by using another Member;s name in describing a political action or motive'. . . . It is not a breach of decorum to discuss a Member's policy position, provided that 'personally offensive' words are not used. Critical references to a 'collective political motivation,' such as the motives of the Democratic or Republican party, are permitted. . ..there is nothing wrong with using the word 'deceptive' or the word, 'hypocritical' in characterizing an amendment's effect but when a Member so characterizes the motivation of a Member in offering an amendment, that is not in order."  ~"Decorum in House Debate"

LD 912 An Act To Clarify the Scope of Practice 
of Certain Licensed Professionals Regarding Conversion Therapy
 SUMMARY: "This bill proposes to amend the current law to establish that practices or treatments that seek to change an individual's sexual orientation or gender identity are prohibited for certain professionals licensed under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 32 and to establish penalties for that conduct."

Way back in February, I reported on the Public Hearing for this bill in Legislative Blog # 7. The Public Hearing was contentious then with speakers on both sides passionate about their support or opposition. Thursday April 12, the full House of Representatives debated the bill, and this debate was even more contentious. You can watch it at 12:09 here.

House Speaker Gideon interrupted speakers several times to remind Representatives that House rules of decorum . . . forbid questioning or impugning other legislators' motives. She reminded Representative Lockman twice. Several members interrupted Representative Reed who was arguing the bill "drives a wedge between the traditional family and the church," that it was the "most dangerous bill ever proposed by this legislature," and that it was an "attempt to legitimize the unnatural inclinations of the society over natural inclinations." Speaker Gideon reprimanded both Reed and his vocal critics  and declared the House "at ease while members take a deep breath."

Opponents of the bill included people of faith and proponents of family values They declared that the bill was a violation of First Amendment guarantees of free speech and freedom of religious expression.

Supporters of the bill included members of the LGBTQ community, people of faith, therapists, and a neurologist. They argued that attempts like conversion therapy to convert, repair, fix, or cure them causes harm to their emotional and mental well being. It can and often does lead to depression or suicide.

Homosexuality was once listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM) as a disease.  All supporters of the bill repeated that LGBTQ people are not suffering from a disease or disorder to be fixed or treated, though the person may need counseling for the traumatic effects of stigma and discrimination.  Differences in gender identity and sexual orientation are no longer listed in the DSM as mental disorders. LGBTQ people adjust to their lives better when they accept themselves and when we accept them for who they are and how they identify themselves. 

This standard can be applied to other diagnoses of mental illness still listed in the DSM as diseases or disorders in need curative or "recovery" treatment. My son Alan spent his whole adult life in treatment for a diagnosis of serious and chronic mental illness. Except for some forms of talk therapy from therapists who could accept him for who he was and could focus on effects of life trauma (PTSD), on life-skills management, and on his strengths, his treatment mostly caused more harm than good, and in the case of prolonged drug therapy, it caused irremediable physical harm and brain damage.   "While prescribing drugs for mental health problems may have a short-term palliative effect, drugs don’t obviously help people to change the way they think or change the socioeconomic environments that might be a root cause of their psychological problems." 

All people, especially those who are diagnosed as mentally ill or disordered or who are otherwise stigmatized by society, adjust to their lives better when they accept themselves and when we accept them for who they are and for how they identify themselves.

The bill forbidding conversion therapy to be practiced by licensed therapists narrowly passed the House 76-68. Violating rules of decorum I question and impugn motives of those 68 legislators. I am dismayed at hearing the prejudice against LGBTQ people expressed explicitly in such phrases as "unnatural inclinations" and expressed implicitly in all the speakers opposing the bill.  In observing such prejudice, I find it impossible to distinguish between personal and political motivations. 


LD 1864 An Act To Establish Universal Home Care 
for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities.
SUMMARYThis initiated bill establishes the Universal Home Care Program to provide in-home and community support services for all people with disabilities living in Maine who require assistance with an activity of daily living and people 65 years of age or older who are living in Maine and who require assistance with an activity of daily living, without regard to income, to be funded by a new tax of 3.8% on income and wages that exceed the maximum wages subject to social security employment taxes.

This is another Referendum bill scheduled to be on the June ballot, and this bill also prompted reprimands for violations of the Rules of Decorum regarding questioning or impugning motives. You can watch the debate at 10:58 here.

Opponents of the bill moved to insist the bill, before the June election, go through Public Hearing and Work Sessions in Committee as any other bill does. The debate focused on this motion, not on the merits or demerits of the bill. 

Supporters of the motion argued that the Committee process would educate the public and legislators about all intended and unintended consequences: Senator Diamond, argued that all Referendum questions should go through committee hearings, work sessions, and reports as they did routinely before 2012 but have not since. He argued that this process, which includes findings of nonpartisan professional staff who study the issue, brings transparency to the public's right to know. Senator Carpenter echoed Diamond's concerns and said if he returns to the Senate, he will propose that 2 public hearings be held in each Senate District. Senator Katz listed questions that need to be answered about the bill's complications in creating a "brand new State Board to run a brand new State Program funded by a brand new State Tax." He said advertising cannot be trusted to educate the public: "Hearings uncover facts. TV ads distort facts." Senator Brakey offered his Committee on Health and Human Services as the proper committee to hold hearings on the bill.   

Opponents of the motion argued that the insistence was not necessary and that Referendum questions are given adequate public hearings in news coverage and in local house parties and town halls. Senator Miramant listed problems he heard from constituents about Committee Hearings: hearings are not always as open as they seem; notices are not always adequate nor accurate about time; there can be too much partisanship and sometimes lies that go unchecked in public hearings; lobbyists and special interests have more access to legislators than voters do; 3-minute time limits are often not adequate to develop an opinion or explain pertinent facts. Senator Chenette argued that a Public Hearing this late in the session is a media spectacle of lobbyists and special interests arguing with each other in front of legislators. He encouraged members to hold town hall meetings with their constituents like he does. He said the motion was not about transparency, it was about "our power to silence voters, and I will not stand for it!" 

Senator Katz rose immediately to remind Senators about "the rule against impugning motives of anybody who speaks on emotion." I do not clearly understand his point in that last phrase "on emotion." Chenette's tone was certainly firey. Was he talking about Chenette's emotion? The phrase appears to be a misplaced or dangling modifier, a confusing error I make regularly when speaking spontaneously and emotionally. I misheard Katz. He must have said "on a motion." That makes more sense. 

Senator Chipman responded to Senator Cyrway's complaint that voters do not understand the cost of this bill by reminding the Senators that the cost was printed at the top of the petition voters signed. 

The Senate's motion to insist LD 1864 go to Public Hearing passed with bipartisan support, 28-4, in non non-concurrence (disagreement) with the House vote to insist that the Bill and accompanying papers be indefinitely postponed. Since it is in non-concurrence with the House, I assume the motion will have to be approved by the House before going to Public Hearing in the last few days of the session. 

I support LD 1864 and any bill that gets us closer to universal-single payer  health care insurance such as Expanded and Improved Medicare for All. I also support public hearings on Citizens' Initiatives when they are deemed necessary, not only to educate the voters, but for voters to educate legislators. I especially like Carpenter's suggestion of Public Hearings in the Districts which would surely reach many more voters. And I like Chenette's suggestion that all legislators should hold public meetings with their constituents as he does. 

I agree with Miramant that committee hearings and work sessions in Augusta are not always as open and transparent as they seem. Work Sessions are frequently recessed before a vote for party members to caucus which gives the impression that decisions are made behind closed doors, result in party-line votes, and are not transparent to the public about motives. I agree there should be rules of decorum that encourages respect for other members in legislative proceedings, but transparency about political motives, being goal directed, are important to voters' evaluation of political candidates and issues, and it is right to question them because they are too frequently not transparent: unstated, lied about, or otherwise inaccessible.

In the waning days of this legislative session, emotions are heating up about some issues, and I  watch myself getting caught up in the frenzy. I'm still trying to figure out what point legislators are making about the expression of emotion in deliberation, but they appear to be very uncomfortable with it. Is that because it is so frequently involved in the rule about impugning members' motives? Though the rule, as indicated above "may focus on a Member’s political motivations." I suspect that trying to inhibit emotion is likely a lost cause and quite possibly harmful to one's mental health. 

In political debate, I'm reminded here about Aristotle's rhetorical triangle of  logic, emotion and ethics being necessary and appropriately balanced in good argument. To me this means legislators should make policy and law by reason and logic emboldened and energized by passion, and political passions should be informed and tempered by reason and logic. 








Sunday, April 8, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog # 13

"Do I contradict myself? 
Very well then I contradict myself. 
I am large; I contain multitudes."
~Walt Whitman singing as the voice of America.

Delivering Petitions for Ranked Choice Voting

Update on LD 1646An Act To Bring Maine's Ranked-choice Voting Law 
into Constitutional Compliance
SUMMARY: This bill amends the ranked-choice voting law to bring it into compliance with the Constitution of Maine by applying the provisions of the law only to primary elections for the offices of United States Senator, United States Representative to Congress, Governor, State Senator and State Representative and general and special elections for the offices of United States Senator and United States Representative to Congress. The bill does not allow ranked-choice voting to be used for general and special elections for the offices of Governor, State Senator and State Representative unless an amendment to the Constitution of Maine, Article IV, Part First, Section 5, Article IV, Part Second, Sections 4 and 5 and Article V, Part First, Section 3 that authorizes the Legislature, by proper enactment, to determine the method by which the Governor and members of the State Senate and House of Representatives are elected is ratified.

The bill requires the Secretary of State to adopt routine technical rules for the administration of ranked-choice voting, including the administration of recounts.

Last week, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and Attorney General Janet Mills called for the legislature to fix constitutional wording to allow for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) to be implemented in time for the June primaries. Instead of fixing the problem, The Senate Monday, April 2, debated Senate Order 28 that challenges the implementation of RCV adopted twice by voters in Referendum and denies the authority of Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap to implement the law. The Order consists of 45 "Whereas . . ." clauses giving constitutional reasons, as interpreted by proponents of the Order, why the law cannot and should not be implemented. The order itself is the 46th clause: "ORDERED, that the Senate authorizes the President of the Senate to represent the interests of the Senate and take all appropriate action, including the retention of outside counsel, on its behalf in any matter related to advocating for and defending the interests of the Senate, preserving the integrity of the separation of powers provided for in the Constitution of Maine, and preserving the integrity of the election process of Maine, and to raise all appropriate claims and defenses and to seek all appropriate manner of relief, including but not limited to seeking injunctive relief against any state official or private person seeking to exercise powers relegated to the legislative power of Maine not duly and properly extended to such official or officials or person or persons or any of them."

You can watch the debate here beginning at 4:16 PM. Senator Katz started the debate by asking senators to put aside feelings about the policy of RCV and about the partisan divide on the issue. He suggested the order was not about the policy but about confidence in the electoral policy presented by constitutional problems in the bill and about the authority of the Secretary of State in implementing the law. He proceeded with a 30 minute speech explaining the problematic issues with the RCV Bill which included the reasons given in the 'Whereas . . ." clauses of the order. Election statutes and the constitution contradict the RCV primarily in the use of the word "plurality" for the winner of elections though in one instance the  statute uses the word majority. In addition, the constitution requires a separation of powers, and the Secretary of State does not have the authority, the order contends, to implement the RCV law. And finally the legislature, not the Secretary of State has the power to fund the implementation of the law, or not. 

Senator Jackson spoke about the unprecedented and wide-ranging authority the Order gives to the Senate President, not only to legally challenge Ranked Choice Voting, but also to challenge any policy, bill, or law he deems unconstitutional. 

Regardless of the wording, the intention of the RCV law and the will of voters is clear and not in dispute. Senator Bellows explained constitutional provisions that allow the power of the people to trump the power of the Senate. She spoke about the opportunity the legislature had since the first passage of Ranked Choice Voting in November of 2016 and the override of the governor's veto in November 2017 to find legitimate ways the legislature could fix problems involved in implementing it. Instead opponents only looked for ways to prevent implementation. It appears to be Bellows' comment about the failure of the legislature to make the necessary changes that prompted the Senate President to remind the chamber that it was not OK to question the motives of others.

In spite of the Chairman's reprimand to Bellows, Senator Chipman in speaking for voters echoed her remarks when he expressed his frustration at efforts of legislators who repeatedly try to reduce, delay, amend, or unfund referendums passed by the people in recent years. These include expanding Medicaid, increasing Minimum Wage, Legalizing Marijuana, and more. Chipman said the problems cited in the Order could be easily fixed by the legislature if it willed just by simply directing the Revisors' Office to write a new bill that fixes all problems listed in the "Whereas. . . ." clauses of the Order. 

Senator Carpenter said he wasn't questioning anyone's motives; he knew exactly why people were doing what they were doing. He echoed Jackson's criticism that the Order is way too broad. He pointed out that the Senate is not the whole legislature, that if the Order is to be enacted it would only be representing ½ of 2 coequal chambers. And it would only be representing the fraction of the Senate who vote for it.

After the Order passed 21 to 13 Jackson's criticism  provoked an amendment "that set a 21-day time limit on the Order and restricted it to issues involving only ranked-choice voting [which] won majority support and the votes of three Democrats." 

Tuesday Senator Carpenter moved the following order: 
On motion by Senator CARPENTER of Aroostook, the following Joint Order: S.P. 730, STATE OF MAINE 128TH LEGISLATURE:
ORDERED, the House concurring, that the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs shall report out, to the Senate, a bill to implement ranked-choice voting.  At a minimum, the bill must:
1.  Provide necessary funding to the Department of the Secretary of State to conduct all primary and general elections in 2018;
2.  Expressly authorize the Secretary of State to take physical control of the ballots and related materials as necessary to implement ranked-choice voting; and
3. Expressly authorize the State Police, at the direction of the Secretary of State, to retrieve ballots from voting jurisdictions as necessary to implement ranked-choice voting.

Senator Carpenter's motion failed 17 to 17. Ironically, the rule that a motion requires a majority winner and fails with a tie vote or less is what RCV is after in the electoral process. 

On Wednesday, a Superior Court judge ordered the Secretary of State to implement Ranked Choice Voting. On the same day, this same judge heard arguments from the Senate majority in favor of the Senate Order to intervene on behalf of "constitutional integrity." A ruling on this intervention is expected in time to implement the RCV law if the ruling favors that.

So the issue remains in limbo. It's not clear that Republicans, who oppose the RCV bill and have a majority in the Senate, will not vote against any bill to fix the constitutional issues.  And Governor LePage "has 10 days to act on any bill sent to him, so even if lawmakers pass an emergency measure to fix the problem, the governor could hold the bill until close to or past the deadline the secretary of state set for ballot preparation." 

I'm inclined to agree with Senator Katz's remark that this might be the most important issue the legislature deals with this session--to follow the will of the people, or not. 

Power. 
We are in the midst of great power upheavals world-wide. These power conflicts are Civil Rights issues in Maine and across the nation. I believe the track of history bends towards the justice promised in our founding documents: "We the people" in the preamble to the Constitution, "Governments are instituted among Men [sic] deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed" in the Declaration of Independence.  But, recalling the words of Abraham Lincoln, I question: Can this house so divided against itself long endure? Can any nation dedicated to the proposition that all men [sic] are created equal long endure? 

Contradictions
Is it news or surprising that the Maine Constitution and Maine Statutes have contradictions? That any constitution has contradictions? Human beings make constitutions and human beings are complex, contradictory creatures individually and especially collectively. As a people, we have contradictory beliefs about what is true, contradictory values about what is ethically right, contradictory laws that rule our lives, contradictory interpretations of laws, and contradictory opinions about who has the authority to decide and implement law. Contradictions are why we have the judicial court system and why supreme court justices can and regularly do have to argue the interpretation of our constitution and take a vote to determine what it means. It's how we keep our Supreme Courts busy and why so many issues keep coming back to haunt us. We can and regularly do find and argue about contradictions in virtually every constitutional statement, Federal or State.

Motivations
It's very hard to know with certainty my own motivations and to be aware of them with all my actions. Like the Senate Chair, I am uncomfortable when people question my motives. People ask me quite regularly why am I doing this 4-month observation of the Legislature and writing this blog series. I have canned answers: curiosity, a desire to testify about issues I care about, a wish to do my bit to save the world. I giggle in self consciousness at the last one because it seems arrogant to assume I can have any influence. But those motives, especially the last one, are really superficial and abstract. 

I watched The Nuclear Requiem on PBS World this morning. It stirred a mix of fear, horror, outrage, poignancy, grief, love for sufferers, admiration for those who work to alleviate suffering. It made me want to renew my pacifist activity that I have not paid much attention to in recent months. I seldom talk about or reflect on the emotional stew that underlies virtually all of my action. I can only talk about these emotions with abstract words that always seem inadequate, but I know, emotional stew feeds the rock-bottom motivation for why I am here doing this. 

It turns out there is good evidence that emotions and motives are inextricably linked and underlie all our actions. Try a quick Google search and you will see, The relationship, though is more complex than I indicate with my self reflection. It is not simply that emotion, or a complex of emotions, causes motives (which is goal oriented according to the literature). Nor is it simply that motives cause emotion. It is more that emotions and motives interact with each other in a kind of feedback loop that results in decision and action. 


In making collective policy, which is the job of our legislature, both feelings and motives are often unvoiced even though they appear to be very apparent to watchers and listeners We are taught not to make decisions on the basis of emotions, but I can hear clearly the passionate tone of President Franklin Roosevelt proclaiming, "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." That tone, I believe, is driven by fear of  his own fear. I listened to about an hour of the Public Hearing on LD 1884An Act To Create a Community Protection Order To Allow Courts To Prevent High-risk Individuals from Possessing Firearms. Feelings on both sides were very intense, and one opponent of the bill yelled all through his testimony and shouted several times, "We should not be making policy on the basis of emotion." He sounded very angry. In those moments I think, like Senator Carpenter, that I know exactly what motivates them. And I suspect the emotions of proponents and opponents are much more similar than the positions they take.

A frank and respectful exploration of feelings is one of Dudley Weeks 8 Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution.  Perhaps legislators need a course in conflict resolution during their orientation, a course that includes how to reflect upon and disclose feelings and motives? 

Some Useful Internet Sites

You can check the Legislative Calendar here.  Click on Daily for more detail.

You can watch the Senate in Session usually from 10:00 to 12:00, Monday through Thursday in these final days of the Legislative Session here.  Review Senate Journal and Calendar for each day's session here.

You can hear the House in Session, usually at the same time as the Senate is in Session here.
House Journal and Calendar for each day's session here

Monday, April 2, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog Post # 12

Spring has arrived in Augusta. Crocuses are blooming.

LD 1867 "An Act To Reestablish Certain Positions 
within the Department of Health and Human Services
"SUMMARY: This bill establishes 8 positions in the Department of Health and Human Services to replace positions that were eliminated by Public Law 2017, chapter 284, Part ZZZZZZ, section 9."

This is another bill from the Governor. It is the only spending bill from DHHS this session. It is not made clear in my review of the bill but came out in testimony that these are attorney positions called in the bill "Public Service Coordinators." I attended the Public Hearing on March 26.

Sponsor of the bill, Representative Chace testified: In June of this year eight contract attorneys who are the subject of this bill will no longer be employed by the Department. These individuals work with complex contracts, and possess institutional knowledge within the intricacies of policy, programming, and contract execution. These positions were created in response to the AG s assertion that contracts were unenforceable and the policy and programming was difficult to defend and substantiate. Since the establishment of these positions, there has been greater cooperation and understanding between DHHS and the AG s office. These employees are not litigators and ultimately all enforcement still resides in the Attorney General s office.

Deputy Commissioner of Program Policy and Operations for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services' focused his testimony primarily on DHHS need for internal legal counsel in relation to the Attorney General's office. He asserted this relationship "led the Department to reasonably take the approach of gradually hiring . . . eight counsel positions as an effective and accepted method for addressing day-to-day legal issues outside the capacity and/ or scope of the Attorney General's Office and for providing the Attorney General s Office with higher quality work products in matters on which they would ultimately provide approval or guidance. The Department is confident that the quality and sophistication of its service contracts, Department rules, and internal decisions have dramatically increased as a direct result of hiring for these eight positions. It should also be made clear that these positions are in no way designed to replace or duplicate the Work of the Attorney General s Office, but are designed to efficiently compliment their work. Furthermore, the Department believes that the Attorney General s Office even when fully staffed would not have the capacity to provide the day-to-day in-house legal services required by the Department to successfully operate; nor has the Attorney General s Office ever provided such services for the Department historically." 

Questions from the committee following the DHHS testimony focused on the need for clarity: Has there been communication with the Attorney General's office about the Department's perceived need for 8 full time internal attorneys? Are there existing attorneys already in the Department who could meet these needs without hiring new? Has there been analysis of hiring priorities in relation to other needs. Who authorized the original hiring? 

I did not feel greater clarity about these issues from the Department responses. 

There was a pause when the chair asked for people opposed to the bill, Finally the Attorney General said she hadn't prepared testimony but she could address some of the issues she heard in propnents' testimony. She said she had not known about and was not consulted about the hiring of these 8 attorneys. She also said that her office had sufficient staff to handle contract matters of DHHS. 

I paused when the chair asked if there were others opposed to the bill, but then got up and confessed that I, too, had not prepared testimony but that I had personal experience that might be relevant. I spoke about the many Health and Human Services needs I heard in my observations of the legislature during this session, and I questioned the priority of  hiring 8 new full time attorneys when there were so many unmet needs of people seeking services. I spoke about my experience with family members who could not get needs met. And I said that during the last eight years, trying to negotiate those needs with DHHS gave me the strong impression that DHHS was there to deny services rather than meet needs for services. The DHHS spokesperson said the number of contracts needed had gone down as a result of a push to reduce them. Were services likewise reduced?

LD 1870 "An Act To Reorganize the Provision of Services for Children with Disabilities 
from Birth to 5 Years of Age"
I attended part of the the Public Hearing on this bill March 26. "This is a complicated bill from the Department of Education (DOE) that I do not fully understand, but the parts of this bill that seemed to cause the most concern in testimony are these from the SUMMARY: "This bill eliminates the Child Development Services System and moves the entire responsibility for providing services to children from birth to under 3 years of age to the Department of Education's office of special services. The funding plan continues the present arrangement of full responsibility for costs being shared by state funds, federal funds, the MaineCare program, and private insurers.
"The intent of the changes to the Child Development Services System [CDS] statutes are based on the belief that children with disabilities are best served by their local communities; children do better when there are fewer transition points; there are efficiencies that can be achieved by eliminating duplicative state functions and by maximizing existing services and facilities at the local level; and the State should continue its current practice of funding all services for preschool children with disabilities that are not paid for with federal funds, through the MaineCare program or from private sources."
State Director of Special Services, Birth to 20 from the DOE testified in support of the bill:  
"The problems plaguing CDS include high rates of staff turnover, due to the inability of CDS to offer competitive salaries and benefits; children on waiting lists for services; high and inequitable provider rates; and funding defecits. Contributing to the funding problems are redundancies in human resources, finance, and transportation, as these structures already exist in schools or State government. CDS has skilled, committed employees, and the Maine Department of Education's proposal is not intended as a comment on the quality of services that CDS has provided to our children. CDS has served many children very well over the years. But the system, configured as it is, has become cumbersome, inefficient, and most important, inadequate in its capacity to serve children. 
"The Department's proposal is based on the following key principles: First, no child who needs services should have to wait for those services. Second, children are best served in their local community by the same professionals who will also work with other members of their families. Third, children and families do better with fewer transition points. And finally, greater efficiency in a system means better services for its clients. This bill is intended to correct many problems in the system, to serve our children with disabilities as economically as possible, and to help ensure positive outcomes for our birth to 5-year-old population."
Opponents of the bill, including CDS Providers and Families of children who were provided services by CDS, feared the loss of critical services with the elimination of CDS. They were particularly concerned about losing the Child Find program which seeks to find children in need of early intervention and provide it. Opponents argued the bill was being rushed trough the  process without adequate planning  nor time to transition children and their families from the home-care services offered by CDS to the public school system.  One opponent, a preschool and CDS provider, likened the school's responsibility in implementing the plan to "flying the plane as they are building it."  Some testified neither for nor against with many suggestions for amending the bill that would assure the continued services in the public school that CDS provides. 
A 3rd Work Session on this Bill is scheduled for Wednesday, April 2, Room 202 Cross Building. 




Update on L.D. 1874 Resolve, To Ensure the Continued Provision 
of Services to Maine Children and Families
On March 27, I attended the work Session on this bill that "prohibits, until April 1, 2019, the Department of Health and Human Services from reducing, eliminating or redirecting services or funding relating to programs designed to protect children and families. The resolve also prohibits the department from cancelling contracts awarded pursuant to RFP number 201509167, Community Partnerships for Protecting Children (CPPC), and requires the department to renew those contracts."  

This bill attempts to restore an important program that DHHS cut the funds for. Discussion in the Work Session focused on a possible amendment to delay consideration and implementation of the bill so that a compromise might be worked out that would satisfy the need for the program to continue with the perceived need for DHHS to cut funding for it. The committee voted 8 to 3 Ought to Pass as amended with a divided report to be issued.


Final update (for now) on LD 1781

After vigorous debate in both Chambers, An Act To Encourage New Major Investments in Shipbuilding Facilities and the Preservation of Jobs at Bath Iron Works, owned by the giant defense contractor General Dynamics, passed by wide margins in the House on March 28 and in the Senate on March 29.

In my not-so-humble opinion this is a bipartisan mistake for reasons I explained before the vote on Thursday in a message to every senator:
When you cast your vote on this bill, please consider the following:
  • The total lack of BIW transparency and willingness to answer questions  in committee about their financial situation or financial relationship to General Dynamics that would demonstrate need for this tax subsidy. I was there, watched and heard it.
  • The fact that during the time period of the former tax subsidy of $60 million BIW reduced the work force by about 10,000 workers.
  • With LD 1781, BIW will be a triple tax winner 1) dependent on tax dollars to buy their product via US contracts that have built-in profits and tax write offs for state and local property taxes, 2) a wind fall tax break with the Trump tax breaks, 3) the tax break LD 1781 provides. And if the current bill to conform taxes to the Federal Code passes (4) that would make them a quadruple tax winner. 
  • The dire need in Maine for money to adequately fund needs of health care, social services, education, and the environment that I have been witnessing daily in my observations of these committees. 
  •  What will happen if/when BIW fails to live up to its commitment for investment and job retention and pleads again to legislators its need to remain competitive as the reason. Why should voters trust our legislators then when we can't trust them now to do the morally right thing?
  • The increasing income inequality between the few richest and the rest of us, and the increasing power and influence those few richest exert over all our lives.You have the power to do something about this with your vote on this bill.
Please vote no on LD 1781


How much money, war, and defense jobs does it take 
to make and keep the peace?

LD 1864 An Act To Establish Universal Home Care 
for Seniors and Persons with Disabilities. 
SUMMARY: "This [citizen] initiated bill establishes the Universal Home Care Program to provide in-home and community support services for all people with disabilities living in Maine who require assistance with an activity of daily living and people 65 years of age or older who are living in Maine and who require assistance with an activity of daily living, without regard to income, to be funded by a new tax of 3.8% on income and wages that exceed the maximum wages subject to social security employment taxes." 

This is a Referendum bill to be on the November ballot. 

Governor LePage explains his opposition: "Big-money special interests from out of state are using Maine’s referendum process to push policies that would never make it past my veto. The Maine People’s Alliance will tell you that this bill simply taxes the wealthy to pay for free in-home care for people with disabilities and for all our seniors." "Just like the 3 percent surcharge on last year’s ballot, this bill will drive high-earning professionals out of Maine." "the bill includes a list of other things it can pay for: transportation, home repairs and rent, among others. A vast bureaucracy would need to be set up to audit these payments to prevent fraud." "it creates yet another wait list for services for our elderly and our people with disabilities." "this bill would . . .  require any individual care provider to be considered a state employee for collective-bargaining purposes. . . .  Forced unionism. " "[This bill] would just create a system that can’t pay for its promises."

I attended a Session of the House of Representatives in which a motion to refer this bill to the Taxation Committee was discussed. For over an hour, Representatives on the left side of the aisle (from my perspective in the gallery, on the right from the perspective of the chair)  echoed the opinions of the Governor and insisted the bill ought to go through the process that all bills go through for thoughtful  analysis in a public hearing and work sessions by the committee. Although I did not hear it  explicitly stated, I thought it was also implied that the bill should be voted out of the Taxation Committee Ought Not to Pass.  

In addition to echoing the governor's reasons for his promised veto if the Referendum Question should pass in November, the Representatives on the left side of the aisle also repeated frequently that voters do not understand the bills they vote on in referendum, and the committee process would help them understand all the unintended consequences. One Representative was explicitly anti-democratic, restating the argument (I'm paraphrasing here) that our system is a Federation (representative government) not a democracy, and if we are going to allow voters to make policy by referendum, the legislature might as well just give up and go home. 

During that whole hour I kept wondering who or what the left side was arguing against. Only at the end did one representative on the right of the aisle get up to say that other Referendum questions did not normally go through the Committee process. So the argument from the right side of the aisle was mostly unvoiced which disappointed me. And still, even without substantial argument from the right side of the aisle, the motion to refer the bill to the Taxation Committee failed 72 to 71. A second motion to postpone the bill and accompanying papers indefinitely passed 72 to 70. 

I am generally in favor of more democracy, not less, and I always favor it when I favor the referendum question. However, I must admit that I sometimes doubt the majority will of the voters, especially in view of what happened in some of our state and  federal leadership elections in recent years, and in view of some opinions I have heard expressed by voter-elected officials in this legislature. Sigh! I think it was Churchill who  said "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others which have been tried from time to time." 

A recent Atlantic article addresses the Democracy issue  "across a range of issues, public policy does not reflect the preferences of the majority of Americans [. . . .] The subversion of the people’s preferences in our supposedly democratic system was explored in a 2014 study by the political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton and Benjamin I. Page of Northwestern [. . . .] The results were shocking. Economic elites and narrow interest groups were very influential: They succeeded in getting their favored policies adopted about half of the time, and in stopping legislation to which they were opposed nearly all of the time. Mass-based interest groups, meanwhile, had little effect on public policy. As for the views of ordinary citizens, they had virtually no independent effect at all. 'When the preferences of economic elites and the stands of organized interest groups are controlled for, the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy,' Gilens and Page wrote."

Coming up: LD 1884. An Act To Create a Community Protection Order 
To Allow Courts To Prevent High-risk Individuals from Possessing Firearms

"SUMMARY: This bill creates a community protection order to authorize a court to order a person to surrender that person's firearms temporarily for 21 days or on an extended basis for 180 days when it has been proved that the person poses a danger of causing personal injury to that person or another person. The bill provides that:
1. A law enforcement officer or a family or household member may file a petition for a temporary community protection order, which expires in 21 days. A temporary community protection order may be issued on an ex parte basis. The court is required to hold a hearing to determine if the temporary community protection order should be extended for an additional 180 days;
2. A person who is the subject of a community protection order is required to surrender all firearms in the person's possession to a law enforcement officer. The firearms must be returned to the person at the expiration of the community protection order; and
3. A person who possesses firearms in violation of a community protection order commits a Class D crime. Part of the sentence must include a prohibition on possession of firearms for an additional 2 years."
From Suit Up Maine:  "A public hearing on the bill will be held Tuesday, April 3. Contact members of the Judiciary Committee, submit public testimony, and attend the public hearing to demand passage of LD 1884."