Sunday, February 18, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog # 7, February 18
For people new to these Observations:
You might want to scroll down to previous Blogs, and read up.

Health Care Rally beginning to gather outside the State house
before the Governor's State of the State.

Jan 31, I attended the final hour or so of the work session on LD 1757, An Act To Protect Maine's Economy by Slowing the Rate at Which the State's Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage. The SUMMARY explains
This bill affects the minimum wage by:
1. Reducing the minimum wage from $10 per hour to $9.50 per hour beginning June 1, 2018;
2. Reducing the amount by which the minimum hourly wage rates are scheduled to increase annually on January 1st from 2019 to 2021 from $1 per year to 50 cents per year, and decreasing from $12 to $11 the minimum hourly wage rate required to be paid in 2021;
3. Eliminating the cost-of-living adjustment to the minimum wage; and
4. Establishing a training minimum wage for employees 18 years of age or older and under 20 years of age for the first 90 days of employment and a youth minimum wage for employees under 18 years of age.

This session is among the most contentious I have attended with some business owners on the Committee declaring they would have to close their businesses if they didn’t get some relief from the minimum wage law passed by the voters in the 2017 Referendum. Other business owners on the committee said the law helps their businesses. 95 people testified at the public hearing. I scanned and tabulated the first 39 to find 32 testifying in favor of the bill, 7 opposed. Since they were listed in alphabetical order, I’m guessing that is an approximate guesstimate of the entire ratio, and it gives a sense of what the legislators are up against—Do they respond to the will of the voters or to the will of those testifying at the Public Hearing? 

The committee members voted 7-6 along party lines, “Ought not to Pass,” and issued a divided report which leaves the current law passed by referendum in place unless or until the bill sponsors come back to try again, perhaps with amendments, to reduce the effects of the minimum wage referendum. It looks like they are likely to do that at a future Work Session.

Some bills I’m interested in are listed as “concept drafts": When directed by the sponsor, the Revisor of Statutes shall prepare a bill or resolve in concept form. The bill or resolve shall contain only an enacting clause and a summary of the proposed legislation and shall not be fully drafted by the Revisor of Statutes. The bill or resolve prepared in this form shall be printed and referred to a committee in the same manner as other legislation and may be reported in fully drafted form by that committee in the same manner as other legislation. I interpret this as an idea for a bill rather than a fully formed bill, and it will not be fully formed unless or until it is reported out of committee as a complete bill.

One such bill is LD 1063. You can go to the bill tracking site to read the bill, and instead of pages of detail about the bill which I usually scan quickly to find the summary at the end, all you find is this:  
An Act To Protect Substance-exposed Infants
CONCEPT DRAFT SUMMARY
This bill is a concept draft pursuant to Joint Rule 208.
This bill proposes to enact measures designed to enhance the protection of substance-exposed infants, which may include prevention, intervention, identification of risk and treatment of prenatal substance exposure.
I wanted to testify at the Public Hearing of the Health and Human Services Committee on this bill, and somehow in my google searches I stumbled across enough detail to write the following testimony: I support this bill because it puts prevention and intervention with the mother at the heart of the plan with a focus on outreach, education, specific contraception and access and choice. I believe there is abundant evidence that such a plan holds the strongest promise for reducing the incidence of Substance-exposed infants. Please vote “ought to Pass” on this important bill.

The specific contraception is Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC). To find more detail about the bill for the purposes of this blog post, I reviewed the testimony of the bill’s Sponsor, Representative Scott Hamann

An easy, inexpensive, effective Way to reduce the number of babies born with substance exposure is to help women struggling with substance use disorder to avoid unintended pregnancies. Among women struggling with opioid use, nearly 9 out of 10 pregnancies are unplanned. This bill aims to improve access to one of the most effective methods of contraception. Additionally, this bill supports targeted outreach and education, also in the interest of addressing the dire rate of substance-exposed infants.” “[The] revised version also requires that MaineCare rules around post-partum contraceptive services include protections against potential coercion in patients’ decisions around accessing contraceptive care. The anti-coercion protections in the bill are identical to those of the federal Title X family planning program.” “A further amendment to Section 2 of the bill . . . creates an outreach and educational program: Rather than limiting the outreach to women involved with illegal substances, the outreach should be broadened to reach women at risk of giving birth to an infant exposed to any dangerous substance, including alcohol, and those who are not actively in treatment.” “Programming must be targeted to women and adolescents who are: l. Experiencing substance use disorder; 2. Housed in a correctional setting; 3. Experiencing homelessness; and 4. Living in other circumstances that identify a need for family planning services.”

LD 912 An Act To Clarify the Scope of Practice of Certain Licensed Professionals Regarding Conversion Therapy [or so-called reparation therapy] is also a Concept Draft. This bill was not on my radar until I had an email from Rev. Carie Johnson, Pastor of the Augusta Unitarian Universalist Church I attend sometimes. She said she was going to testify in support of the bill the next day and invited people on her list to come stand behind her in support while she testified. I looked up the bill on the legislative site and found the CONCEPT DRAFT 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 for people under 18 are prohibited for certain professionals licensed under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 32 and to establish penalties for that conduct.

The bill has a bipartisan panel of cosponsors including my own Representative Trey Stewart. On the basis of what I could find at the time, I emailed Rev. Carie back and said I would be honored to stand behind her at the hearing the next day, Wednesday, February 14.

A Medical Dictionary defines Conversion Therapy as Psychiatric therapy aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation,based upon the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder requiring therapy, (a position condemned by the American Psychiatric Association as unethical). 

We arrived at 10:00 when the hearing started to an already packed room. We first heard from the bill’s Presenter of the bill, Rep. Ryan Fecteau who said in his testimony there is indeed a difference between talk therapy that is neutral, helping someone sort out the complexities of sexual orientation and gender identity, versus talk therapy intended to change someone based on the assertion that something is wrong with them. The latter [conversion therapy] is not therapy; it’s abuse

I couldn’t find an official definition of Reparative Therapy separate from Conversion Therapy. The terms are used interchangeably in the professional literature. However Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D who testified as an expert witness in opposition to the bill said: Conversion Therapy is broad, ill-defined, there's no ethics code, no governing body, and it's practiced predominantly by unlicensed individuals. Conversion therapy in some forms may be harmful to some people. The American Psychological Association has expressed legitimate concern about some of these approaches. In reparative therapy, the client is in the driver's seat. He sets his own goals, which the therapist helps him achieve. We use established, evidence-based treatments, the same treatments found in other clinics throughout the world, to treat trauma and sexual addiction. And as those underlying issues are resolved, the sexuality begins to change on its own.

According to his testimony, Joseph Nicolosi is the son of the creator of Reparative Therapy, and his family owns the trademark rights to the term. According to another person who testified, the rights have been applied for but not yet granted. An article in the New Republic says it was Nicolosi who brought gay conversion therapy into the mainstream, popularizing it among religious communities and the American right, and turning what was once a scattered practice of abuse into a multi-million-dollar worldwide industry.

I had to leave at 3:00 PM so I didn’t hear all of the 53 testimonies. Of what I heard, virtually all of the professionals representing professional associations spoke in favor of the bill. All of the LGBTQ people I heard testified in support of the bill. One of these had been exposed to Reparation Therapy for 3 years. During this time he was traumatized by not being allowed to speak to his mother or 2 sisters because, he was told, there was too much feminine influence in his life and it needed to be reduced; his father paid a total of $30,000 to the Reparation Agency, and he is still gay.

In addition to Rev. Carie, there were other pastors who spoke in favor of the bill based on Christian values of faith in “social justice, equity, and compassion through words and actions.”

Virtually all of the testimony opposed to the bill had a Christian or family-values rationale also. Headmaster of Bangor Christian Schools stated this position clearly: The mission of Bangor Christian Schools is to assist families in educating the whole child by encouraging spiritual maturity and academic excellence in a supportive environment. Our final authority in all matters is the Word of God. Every facet of our program seeks to understand God, His creation, His purpose for humanity and to have our students accept their responsibility for each of those things. We have a school counselor on staff and we refer students as necessary to several licensed counselors that hold to a Biblical worldview consistent with our mission, vision and statement of faith.  

For treatment of minors, the bill has an exception for pastoral counselors who are not licensed to practice therapy, but the ban would apply to licensed practitioners they may refer students to.
From listening to the testimony, it is not clear how much of this therapy is practiced in Maine, but judging by testimony of some social workers and by my experience with some social workers, there are Christian therapists who are likely practicing a form of it.

 

Homosexuality was once listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical 
Manual as a disease.  It is no longer listed as a mental health disease.  Many testimonies in favor of LD912 repeated that LGBTQ people are not suffering from a disease or disorder to be fixed or treated, though the person may need to be treated for the effects of stigma and discrimination. 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. They don’t need to be converted or repaired.

Perhaps that is a standard that should be applied to other diagnoses of mental illness listed in the DSM? But that idea is too big to adequately develop in this post, so I will just leave it there to think about. 

Health-care Rally inside the State House halls awaiting the Governor's arrival.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog # 6, February 9
For people new to these Observations:
You might want to scroll down to previous Blogs, and read up.


With Senator Mike Carpenter at NRCM Citizen Action Day

Legislative Blog # 6, February 9
For people new to these Observations:
You might want to scroll down to previous Blogs, and read up.

These written observations are only a fraction of what I actually observe each week at the legislature. And what I actually observe is a much smaller fraction of what goes on there each week. This gives me a greatly enhanced respect for the hard work each conscientious legislator must do and for why my legislator may not yet know enough about my issue to provide an opinion on where he or she stands. I do my best to educate myself about a bill so that I can address the pertinent questions before I contact my legislator, but I frequently fall short.

Tuesday I participated in a Citizen’s Action Day sponsored by the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) which consisted of a workshop discussing bills of environmental and energy interest followed by a trip to the State House to lobby our legislators about them. I read the summary of each bill and material provided by NRCM ahead of time. The workshop reviewed each bill. And still it was a challenge for me to remember sufficient detail to spontaneously answer legislators’ questions. I was very grateful for the information handouts NRCM provided to give to legislators.  

NRCM supports LD 1444  An act to prohibit Gross Metering, formerly titled “An Act Regarding Large-scale Community Solar Procurement” and still titled that on the main.gov web site. After getting confused in trying to explain this bill to my Representative Trey Stewart, and after further research into the formerly titled bill, into the NRCM position, and into news articles about the issue, I have to confess that I do not entirely understand this bill, so I will provide some summary and quotations that give me (and hopefully you) a sense (perhaps an illusion) that I at least understand the problem and the proposed solution.

First a definition of terms https://www.ecosoch.com/net-metering-vs-gross-metering-basics/: “Gross metering: The total energy generated by the solar rooftop plant is to be injected into the grid without allowing the generated solar energy to be consumed directly by the consumer. Net Metering: The energy generated by the solar rooftop plant is first allowed for self-consumption and the excess energy is injected to the grid.” LD 1444 attempts to ban Gross metering.

The problem started in 2017 when the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) instituted a Gross Metering Rule which required solar consumers to pay to the energy company a 3% tax on the market value of the energy they consume. 

In addition to banning Gross metering, LD 1444 also raises the cap on the number of participants allowed to participate in a community solar array from 9 to 50.  A community solar array is a sort of coop of solar consumers who individually can’t afford to install their own solar system. They pool their resources to create a community array. I don’t know why there is a cap at all on this except that utility companies lose business when they can’t charge customers for their electricity.  

I have heard about, but not yet found in writing, an argument that Transmission and Distribution companies are also threatened by solar energy consumers who don’t use the grid infrastructure the companies must build and maintain. The fear is that they will have to charge all customers higher rates to recoup their losses.

The PUC rule about Gross metering and the 3% tax to solar customers has yet to go into effect but will soon unless the legislature steps in to prohibit it.

Representative Trey Stewart thinks the tax is a bad deal, but wants to see the details of the bill to make sure rates won’t be raised for all customers before he decides how to vote.

Senator Mike Carpenter supports the bill and more solar in general.

NRCM supports LD 1510 An Act to Authorize a Bond to Fund Wastewater Infrastructure Projects ($50 million) and LD 178, An Act to Authorize a Bond to Provide Jobs, Improve Road Infrastructure and Protect Water Resources ($5 Million). LD 1510 is needed to prevent the millions of gallons of untreated storm water and sewage from spilling into and polluting Maine water ways by replacing outmoded systems with modern ones.  

LD 178 addresses the problem of nutrient pollution in Maine’s lakes by providing funds to improve camp roads and reduce the run off from them and other sources of run-off pollution. “Maine lakes generate at least $3.5 billion in economic activity and help sustain 52,000 jobs. . . . Water quality in Maine’s lakes isdeteriorating.”  These bond bills are important to the outdoor sports and recreation economy of Aroostook County.

Representative Stewart said he is strongly considering supporting LD 1510 depending on what other bonding priorities come up for his district and compete with the limited total amount of bonding money.

Senator Carpenter is very supportive of these bills and all efforts to reduce water pollution

NRCM opposes LD 1703, An Act to Create Equity for Wine and Spirits Containers.  This bill would reduce all bottle deposits and redemption value to $.05 each. NRCM opposes because the reduction would reduce incentives to redeem the containers; would impose an economic burden on redemption centers; would cause charities to lose income from bottle drives; would cause increased costs in waste management for towns and municipalities; during the label change, some consumers will only get $.05 redemption for containers they paid $.15 for; the state will have to pay $150,000 in implementation costs and will lose its annual $350,000 share of unclaimed bottle deposits.

Representative Stewart said he wants to know the reasons for LD 1703. I reported back to him supporting testimony summarized on the NRCM site:  Beverage industry representatives who testified in support of the legislation said the change would bring about “equal marketplace treatment” for spirits and wine containers. The deposit change would eliminate confusion among consumers and retailers, leave more money in customers’ pockets, and make Maine’s state beverage portfolio more competitive with neighboring New Hampshire’s. There wouldn’t be a risk of increased roadside litter, proponents said, because beverage containers currently make up only a small percentage of litter in Maine, with spirits and wine containers an even smaller subset of that litter.

Senator Carpenter is very opposed to this bottle bill.

While visiting in the State House legislative hall, my NRCM team bumped into Henry Bear, a non-voting Representative of the Maliseet people and got a chance to thank him and his people for continuous support of the environment. The non-voting status of Native American Representatives in the Maine Legislature is reprehensible.  I do not see any good reason why they should not have full voting rights. 


I have other important issues I observed in Legislative meetings this week that I would like to report on, but I suspect I have taxed followers of this blog enough for now with this one. I hope to write a second 6-week post about protecting substance exposed infants and the continuing story about minimum wage this weekend. 


Henry Bear with NRCM Activists for the Environment. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA



Legislative Blog # 5
For people new to these Observations:
You might want to scroll down to previous Blogs, and read up.

[. . . .] Today, Friday, February 2nd the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting meets "for a rally and press conference at the State Capitol building as we submit signatures to Maine's Secretary of State for the second time to insist on more voice and more choice in our democracy."   


Tuesday, January 30, I attended a Public Hearing of the Taxation Committee to testify on  LD 1781An Act To Encourage New Major Investments in Shipbuilding Facilities and the Preservation of Jobs.” 

About 7 people spoke in favor of this bill: Legislative sponsor JenniferDeChant of Bath , several legislative cosponsors, Dana Connors from  the Maine State Chamber of Commerce (COC), General Counsel to Bath Iron Works (BIW) Jon Fitzgerald, and a union spokeswoman spoke in favor of the bill. All focused on jobs, benefits to employees and the community, and the need to be competitive with a ship builder in Mississippi. The need to be competitive got the most attention in this testimony with strong suggestions that BIW could or would go out of business if the subsidy is not granted.  

Many questions for Fitzgerald from some committee members focused on the relationship between BIW and its owner and parent multinational corporation General Dynamics (GD). Fitzgerald said he did not know how much the CEO of GD made. He said he did not know how much the CEO of BIW made. He said he didn’t know how much profit GD made. He said he did know that BIW profits are shared with GD investors, but he didn’t know how much. He declined to be specific about what the tax-relief  money would be spent for. The focus on needing to be competitive suggests the money would not be spent for greater financial benefits for workers.

The rest of the testimony was offered by 20 citizens opposed to the bill. Those opposed to the bill included at least 1 former employee of BIW who was the chief tax officer for BIW from1986-1994, and several residents of Bath.

Listing myself as from Presque Isle on the sign-up sheet for giving testimony, I got to testify first, being the furthest from away.  I confessed to the committee my sense of being a fraud because I was temporarily living in Augusta, and they allowed me to proceed anyway. There are definite advantages to confession, to being from away, and to being an old lady—listen up old folks.

I was particularly interested in this bill, it being the first I have heard here that is directly relevant to my #1 priority, income inequality and the political and social power of the richest multinational companies. This is #1 for me because I believe this power affects everything else I care about. Here is my testimony, including comments in brackets and cross-outs that I added while listening to testimony in favor.

Senator Dow, Representative Tipping, members of the Committee on Taxation: 

I am Alice Bolstridge from Presque Isle. Thank you for this opportunity to testify.
[Let me first say that I greatly respect the Bath Iron Works workers--their skills, their work ethic, and their pride in their work]

[Nevertheless] I speak in opposition to LD 1781. The owner of Bath Iron Works, General Dynamics, is the 5th largest Defense contractor in the world and within the top 100 Corporations of Forbes Fortune 500. They are already profiting from recent corporate tax cuts. They make their profits from making defense products taxpayers pay for.   A large profit margin is built into their defense contracts. And now they are asking for an additional $60 million in Maine taxpayer subsidies.

This company is among the largest corporations in the “military industrial complex” that President Eisenhower warned us about. I am nearly 80 years old, and I have watched the bitter results of Eisenhower’s warning come to pass. The more profits this complex makes, the more unstable the world becomes and the more the military industrial complex uses fear-mongering about national security and job insecurity to persuade voters and our leaders we have no choice but to help them make more profits so they can be competitive.

General Dynamics does not need this subsidy. Maine needs that $60 million to help improve our education, to help provide health care for all, to help fight the opioid epidemic, to help fix up our crumbling infrastructure, to help clean up our environment and avert a climate-change disaster.  I would gladly pay my tax dollars for these urgent needs. [to create jobs to meet these urgent needs. This bill serves greed, not need.]

Please vote “Ought not to Pass” on this bill.

I stayed until the end of the Public Hearing. Some things I learned listening to others’ testimony in opposition:
  • ·        This bill is a request for only one entity in the state to get a tax break. Why should this one multi-national corporation be favored for a tax break over Maine-based business owners who keep their profits in Maine?
  • ·        The work force at BIW is reduced from about 12,000 in 1986 to about 5000 now, due primarily to automation. That trend will continue. $60 million will not go to increase the number of workers.
  • ·        BIW has contributed to the degradation of the Kennebec River.
  • ·        The use of Sonar in construction and deployment of BIW ships causes irreversible neurological damage to any life that comes in contact with it.
  • ·        Federal contracts include federal payment (from taxpayer dollars) of all expenses including a hefty profit margin for GD and the items BIW lists as things it needs money for to be competitive: worker training, salaries, and benefits; increasing costs of materials.
  • ·        BIW has contracts extending at least 10 years into the future. There is no emergency, no threat of imminent closure of BIW.
  • ·        “The annual income of GD in 2016 was roughly four times this state’s total annual budget.”
  • ·        GD is so rich they bought $9.6 billion dollars of their own stock to drive up stock prices.
  • ·        GD paid its CEO $21 million dollars in 2017
  • ·        At least 8 citizens from Bath testified against the bill. Bath citizens are advocating that Bath Iron Works convert to production of products that benefit the economy and the environment: “wind generators instead of warships; solar panels vs stealth destroyers; and high speed trains.”
  • ·        The use of Sonar in construction and deployment of BIW ships causes irreversible neurological damage to any life that comes in contact with it.
  • ·        “A study by the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that every billion dollars invested in the military creates 2.38 times more jobs when invested in education, 1.54 times more jobs when invested in healthcare, and 1.5 times more jobs when invested in clean energy”

This effort by Bath Iron Works and General Dynamics touches some of my most sensitive concerns: the widening income inequality between the richest and the rest of us; the increasing degradation of the planet and its effects on all life; the willingness of our Maine and US governments to sacrifice basic needs of health care, infrastructure, and education for the sake of more corporate welfare to the richest.  

Friday, January 26, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA.

Legislative Blog # 4
For people new to these Observations:
You might want to scroll down to Legislative Blog # 1, and read up.

Committee On Marijuana Legalization Implementation

Preoccupied in writing testimony for a mental-health bill (copied below), I missed the Public Hearing on LD 1757 that attracted the most legislative news coverage Wednesday. This bill is called “An Act To Protect Maine's Economy by Slowing the Rate at Which the State's Minimum Wage Will Increase and Establishing a Training and Youth Wage.” It is the Governor’s effort to cut the minimum wage law passed by referendum last fall by 55 percent of the voters. It would reduce the minimum wage from $12 an hour to $11 by 2021, eliminate the cost-of-living adjustment, and allow a reduced wage for workers in the first 90 days of employment.
You can read an argument opposed to this bill at Maine Beacon: Small business owners testified against the bill, saying the extra money for employees helps their business; it means workers can better afford to buy their Maine-made products and keep the money in Maine: “By raising the minimum wage to $12, we reward the Maine-based small businesses that do right by their employees and communities while making the multinational chains that ship money out of our state compete on a level playing field . . . . The people have spoken. . . If our government is going to do its job, and serve the people, then you have been given your instructions.”
Most arguments in favor of a reduced minimum wage claim that it is better for business and thus for the economy. These arguments as I hear them do not take into account how important spending is in boosting the economy. These workers have to spend all they earn on living expenses, and in this way they contribute to the success of all businesses responding to their needs.  
I have been looking for bills that directly address my # 1 priority, money in politics, and haven’t found any. But in practically every issue I hear about the issue of money is a primary concern.
One scheduled public hearing on a bill to “To Support Maine Families through Universal Family Care” did not get much of a hearing.   The sponsor of the bill had advised that it ought not to pass because it hadn’t gained enough momentum in the legislature to pass. The term “universal” is misleading since there are eligibility requirements, and the bill is confusingly written without a clear definition that I could find of what those requirements are. However, it did seem to be creating a program that could meet care needs for families currently falling through the health-insurance cracks. Only three people testified on this bill and they were all opposed. Two from the Department of Health and Human Services argued that the bill creates a program that duplicates programs already provided by the Department. One testified for the Chamber of Commerce (COC) that the program was too expensive and created a new tax to fund it that Mainers can’t afford. The Chamber of Commerce is one of the largest contributers to political campaigns.  
Some committee members got a little testy in this hearing. Representative Hymanson asked the woman from the COC what the business community thinks about what should be done about the kinds of problems the bill tried to address. The woman said she was there to testify only to the effects on businesses of increased taxes and expensive programs, and she had no solution to any such problem. 
When Representative Hymanson pressed her a bit, suggesting that adequate health care for employees must be a problem for businesses, she got defensive and repeated that she wasn’t there to testify on the merits or demerits of a bill to solve problems. Representative Sanderson interrupted this exchange to say the Committee was there to hear testimony, not to make a political point. Representative Denno agreed, and the exchange stopped.
I find Representative Sanderson’s comment about our elected Representatives not being where they are to make political points ironic. Really? In saying it was not about making a political point, I thought Representative Sanderson  must be attempting to score a political point.  
I wish our legislature was all about solving problems, which is the point I thought Representative Hymanson was trying to make in her questions to the COC representative. It seems to me the whole process is heavily laden with making political points, by both parties. The utter failure of that bill may not be due solely to political point-making, but I suspect it is at least in part about that, and probably it is more about the influence of big money in politics such as the COC represents. 
Friday, I attended the first part of a Work Session on implementing and regulating the new marijuana law. I wanted to hear the review of the testimony at the Public Hearing which I missed, but they didn’t do that this morning. This issue is complicated enough that it has its own committee. I wrote the following to members of the committee about my concerns: “ I voted for the law to legalize the use of  marijuana  in November because I think the war on drugs has completely failed to solve the problems, and it seems to be actually intensifying the drug addiction problems. Even more important, I thought legalizing marijuana use for adults would provide a good opportunity to study its effects on human health with a large pool of legal users. I don’t know if there is anything proposed yet in the bill that would provide for such study, but I am writing to ask the committee if there is any way to include a provision for this type of study in your final bill, would you please do so?"
Wednesday, I testified about the bill LD 1665, “An Act To Maintain Mental Health Staffing at the Dorothea Dix Psychiatric Center and Support Statewide Forensic Services.” This bill appears to be well on its way to passage. No one testified against it. It adds no money to the budget, though it does use money that might have been used for other purposes. 

Executive Director at NAMI-ME (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) Jenna Mehnert, gave an impassioned plea for the legislature to consider the whole system of mental-health care in Maine and how it desperately needs to improve. This testimony inspired a number of suggestions about how the legislature might get an overview of the system from the Department of Health and Human Services. I hope they get it before the work session on this bill. Here is a copy of my testimony: 
Senator Brakey, Representative Hymanson, members of the Committee on Health and Human Services, Thank you for providing this opportunity for public questions and comment
My name is Alice Bolstridge from Presque Isle, Maine, and I am testifying in favor of LD 1665.

In 1976, my son was first hospitalized at BMHI diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.  In the early 1990s he became a forensic patient. He suffered from severe and persistent mental illness until his death in 2015.  So I have had nearly 40 years of experience with the mental health system of Maine, with the state hospital in Bangor, and with community agencies in Northern Maine.  On the basis of that experience and continuous research hoping to find answers to the problems of mental illness, I am here to say that for patients and families, grief about the appalling record of the mental-health industrial complex to make any progress in diagnosing and treating mental illness is very hard to bear.

But I have always been grateful for those social workers who spent the most time with my son of any care providers and who could take the time to cultivate a caring relationship with him. As I read this bill, the mental-health worker position is this type of social worker.
The last times my son was treated at Dorothea Dix, the quality of his mental health workers exemplified an outstanding staff that gives excellent care. When he was in crisis, my son was not an easy patient.  During his last visit there in late winter, 2010, I witnessed unfailing patience, sympathy, and kindness from his mental health workers. They are the most important workers for improving the quality of patients’ lives which, I believe, is more important for hope of recovery than any medication that is always, at best, experimental.

I don’t know the particulars of how lack of funding or spending priorities is responsible for indefensible lapses in quality of care that I have observed many, many times, but observation tells me it has a great deal to do with it.  Last time I checked, the providers of direct patient care at the top of the pay scale earn by my conservative estimate roughly 7.5 times as much as those at the bottom of the pay scale.  The result of that system is that psychiatric providers who are the most highly trained and competent cost the most and spend the least amount of time with patients.  

In a critique of psychiatric care, Psychiatrist Sami Timimi says, "People need connection and meaning as well as basics such as safety, housing, and work. In services, the evidence tells us that relationship is Queen.”  Relationships that meet basic needs require time, and time costs money.  Only the mental health workers were ever able to take that time with my son, and they had to fight for it. 


As a family member trying to understand, navigate, and use the system to get the best care possible for my son, I urge you to support mental health workers wherever possible. You should be increasing this staff, instead of just maintaining current levels as this bill provides. 







Saturday, January 20, 2018

MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM AUGUSTA

Legislative Blog # 3


Health and Human Services Committee

Supposed to be high of 43 here degrees today! Which means I will likely join the Women’s March beginning at 11:00 for at least an hour or so.

It is still overwhelming to see pass by me the number of important bills I am interested in that I can’t pay proper attention to and to witness the complexity of the legislative process. In grossly abbreviated and simplified form, here is the process by which every bill becomes law —or not: 

1.      The bill is introduced by its sponsor and any number of cosponsors
2.      The bill is referred by the originating body (House or Senate) to one of the Joint Standing or Joint Select committees (18 in #) in the originating branch and then sent to the other body for concurrence. In a few unusual circumstances such as an emergency, a bill may go directly to the floor of the appropriate body for discussion and action.
3.      The committee conducts a public hearing where it accepts testimony supporting and opposing the proposed legislation from any interested party.
4.      The committee conducts one or more Work Sessions to discuss the bill, draft amendments or review amendments proposed by others and vote on a recommendation.
5.      The committee issues a report to the full legislature that includes one of the following recommendations: Ought to Pass, Ought to Pass as Amended, Ought to Pass in New Draft, Ought Not to Pass, Refer to Another Committee.
6.      The bill is debated on the floor of the originating body where further amendments may be debated and voted upon.
7.      The bill goes through a similar process in the other chamber.
8.      The bill may go through a Committee of Conference when the House and the Senate pass different versions of the bill.
9.      Finally the bill dies or becomes law 90 days after its passage.


It is my understanding that any bill may die in committee or in any step thereafter. Thousands of bills are introduced in every regular legislative session which leaves hundreds unfinished to be taken up in the special session, where we are now. I listened to part of the House in Session where one representative spoke about the need to set priorities and restrictions on the number of bills each legislator may be allowed to introduce. I approve.

Tuesday, I attended a public hearing of the Health and Human Services Committee beginning at 1:30 and attempting to hear testimony for 4 different bills, starting with LD 1742, a “Resolve, ToSupport Vulnerable Seniors by Funding Assisted Living Programs.” I stayed until about 4:00, and they had not heard all the testimony in favor of this bill and still had to hear from those opposed. I do not see how they could adequately hear the testimony for the 3 other bills at this session.

This resolve provides increased funding for the provision of assisted living services at facilities currently operating at a loss, including, but not limited to, facilities in Bangor, Millinocket, Camden and Sanford. It directs the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct a review of possible ways to stabilize funding for affordable assisted living facilities that contract with the office of aging and disability services within the Department of Health and Human Services, including permanent increases to existing funding levels, paying the medical costs of certain residents until they are eligible for MaineCare coverage, a practice known as Rate Code 53 spending, and designating facilities as private nonmedical institutions. It directs the department to report back with its recommendations to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over health and human services matters by January 11, 2019.” I learned that there are seven such contract facilities operating in Maine for seniors no longer able to provide for all their needs and too poor to pay for all the services they need. None of these facilities are in Aroostook.

I support whatever these senior need, but I have unanswered questions that concern me. If these seniors can no longer meet all their needs by themselves and must move a supported facility wouldn’t it be better for them and more cost effective to provide the assistance where they are for as long as that is possible before moving to this facility. As one legislator pointed out, these seniors are not going to become more capable and will eventually have to move to another facility such as a nursing home to get their needs met. Wouldn’t it be better to reduce the number of moves these seniors must make? I hope to learn more about the issue by attending the work session on this bill.

I also attended a Public Hearing on LD 1711 “Resolve, ToSave Lives by Establishing a Homeless Opioid Users Service Engagement PilotProject:” “ This resolve establishes within the Department of Health and Human Services a pilot project to provide rapid access to low-barrier treatment for substance use disorders and stable housing to support recovery and create stability for 50 opioid users who are among the most vulnerable and unstable in the State. It directs the department to implement the pilot project no later than September 1, 2018 and to report to the joint standing committee of the Legislature having jurisdiction over health and human services matters by March 15, 2019. The joint standing committee is authorized to submit legislation regarding the pilot project, including legislation to continue the pilot project, to the First Regular Session of the 129th Legislature.” 

I heard very moving terstimony from providers and some recovering addicts about the need for such services including one plea to the committee to please include in this project at least 15 addicted pregnant women in order to intervene on the number of babies being born addicted to opiods who must go through treatment at birth. I support this resolve without reservation.

If there were “world enough and time,” I could report on more of  these bills and others I heard at public hearings or work sessions this week, but I must get ready now to join the Women’s March here today, or I will miss that.