Monday, March 19, 2018


Legislative Blog Post # 10

If you have been following this blog and haven't yet become a follower, I invite you to do so. In the upper right hand corner of this post you will see a list of followers. If you click "Follow" below that list, you will get a box that explains what happens when you become a follower. If you click "Follow" in that box, you will be notified by email each time a new post is published, and you can just click on the link provided to get to the latest post. Full disclosure: I just discovered how to do this myself. 

2 Snow Days at the Legislature this Week

More on Tax Subsidies 
for General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works
"Bruce Gagnon is Right; 
Maine has been 'Outsourced' to Bath Iron Works
says Alex Nunez, reporter at this site.

A rally at the State House Thursday 
protesting LD 1781, the bill to give tax subsidies to 
General Dynamics (GD)/Bath Iron Works (BIW).

"BIW gets tax credit, but $15M less" This headline is misleading. They haven't got the credit yet: "The amendment language is currently under review by the State Revisor’s Office. It will need to be verified by the committee before going out to the full Legislature for consideration." There is still time to contact your legislators. This deal is not a reduction at all in the annual amount. $45 million over 15 years is still $3 million annually, the same annual amount they would be getting if the deal was $60 million for 20 years, and there is nothing to stop them from coming back in 15 years to ask for more.

Wind Development in Maine

Friday, March 16, I attended the Public Hearing for LD 1810 "An Act To Amend the Laws Governing Expedited Permitting for Wind Energy Development," This is the Governor's bill to restrict wind turbine development in Maine. Specifically the bill seeks to change "from 8 miles to 40 miles the farthest distance from a proposed expedited wind energy development for which a visual impact assessment for potentially affected scenic resources of state or national significance may be required."  The "Expedited Permitting for Wind Energy Development" refers to a bill passed in the Baldacchi administration that made it possible for a "boom" in wind energy development according to an article from Bloomberg News"Wind energy has boomed in Maine as developers have added enough turbines over the last two years to double the state’s capacity to 900 megawatts, according to the American Wind Energy Association. That’s more than all other New England states combined and enough to rival a nuclear reactor." 

The LD 1810 bill specifically defines "expedited permitting areas" as "specified places that are identified by rule and the eastern portion of Aroostook County, specifically described as the Town of St. Francis, St. John Plantation, the Town of Fort Kent, the Town of Wallagrass, the Town of Eagle Lake, Winterville Plantation, T14 R6 W.E.L.S., the Town of Portage Lake, Nashville Plantation, Garfield Plantation, T10 R6 W.E.L.S., Oxbow Plantation, the portion of Aroostook County east of those municipalities and also all municipalities in Aroostook County that are wholly located south of the northernmost extent of Penobscot County, excluding Cary Plantation and Molunkus Township." If the bill is passed these areas would no longer have expedited permitting. 

The purpose of the bill is to sharply reduce or halt the development of wind energy in Maine

James C. LaBrecque,  the Governor s Technical Advisor on Energy, began his testimony with a quotation from the governor: "Arguing about climate change is superfluous. Determining what solutions are viable is paramount." LaBrecque asked, "How many mountain tops is the state willing to allow the wind industry to blow up? What s the specific number of mountain tops that the Maine people are willing to sacrifice to wind? [. . . .] What is the plan for locating the cobweb of transmission and distribution lines necessary to move the wind to market?" He said, "When it comes to CO2, Maine is an oil state. If lawmakers are truly concerned about CO2, they should refocus their efforts on reducing oil use. This will have the additional benefit of alleviating the public s concern for the environmental impact caused by blowing up mountain tops, installing large numbers of wind turbines, and their associated cobweb of transmission and distribution lines." Listening to LaBreque's testimony could make one think the governor has evolved in his concern for the environment. 

Other proponents of the bill argued that wind turbine farms can do irreparable damage to the tourism industry, reducing the the industry by as much as half because tourists do not like the view of the turbines themselves and the blinking red lights, There are also complaints about the sound of the turbines. 

The most eloquent and persuasive proponent of the bill was Senator Paul Stearns: 'Many Mainers, including some with strong environmental leanings, have said "oh my, look how huge and out of place these things are."' "These massive wind turbines are far more intrusive and far reaching into the view-shed than ever imagined" "Southern New England has an appetite for 'green' energy. While these urban areas pour vast amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere their answer is to construct windmills hundreds of miles away and then take credit for being green." During the question period, Senator Stearns spoke of the legacy we are leaving to his grandchildren and Maine wild life. "I speak for the loons," he said.  

Opponents of the bill included representatives of the wind turbine industry, representatives of large and small landowners hoping to diversify their land use with wind power, and representatives of municipalities who like the property taxes paid each year by the wind power companies and other economic benefits to the town, and representatives of environmental groups.   

The Bloomberg article says that even with the wind power boom in Maine, "tourism, meanwhile, grew for the fifth consecutive year in 2017, according to LePage and a report from the state’s tourism office. The industry pulled in almost $6 billion in 2016, the most recent year for which numbers are available."

Dwayne Jordan said you can see turbines from Cadillac Mountain, and it hasn't reduced the number of tourists driving up to the top of the mountain to see the view.  

The Appalachian Mountain Club opposed the bill but suggested a compromise on the required visual distance: "Given the significant increase in turbine size and greater experience with their visual impact of these structures, the idea that visual impacts should be considered only out to 8 miles (as under current law) is no longer supportable. However, we believe that extending the visual impact distance to 40 miles is extreme and unnecessary. We have consistently argued that 15 miles is an appropriate distance, at least for the most significant scenic resources."

As I drive south from my home in Presque Isle, I enjoy the view of wind turbines in Mars Hill and Oakfield. I find them graceful, especially compared to the visual pollution of so much of our urban areas with oil tanks, industrial parks, neon lights, and so many advertising signs it is hard to distinguish your destination as you drive through. I do understand the problems cited by proponents of the bill, but I oppose this bill as it is currently written because I believe the benefits to the environment outweigh the problems.
More on Health Care for All
I didn't know about the debate between the states and the U. S. Congress over strategy for how to achieve National Improved Medicare for All (NIMA) until I read this article from health over profit. Some argue that states cannot enact single payer bill without complex Federal approval and that states' efforts to do so dilute the momentum for a Federal plan:  "Pressure is building at the federal, level where more than half the Democrats in the House have co-sponsored HR 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act. Nancy Pelosi wants that pressure relieved, so she tells activists to pass the law at the state level. She knows if pressure builds on Congress, she will be forced to say more than 'I have supported single payer since before you were born' and actually do something about passing it." 

I support both Maine's efforts to achieve a single payer plan for Maine and the Federal HR 676.  I believe that state efforts enhance rather than dilute the national effort, as it brings the local attention and understanding to the issue that is needed to achieve Federal support. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018


Legislative Blog Post # 9
Those new to this Blog may wish to scroll down and read up.

If you have been following this blog and haven't yet become a follower, I invite you to do so. In the upper right hand corner of this post you will see a list of followers. If you click "Follow" below that list, you will get a box that explains what happens when you become a follower. If you click "Follow" in that box, you will be notified by email each time a new post is published, and you can just click on the link provided to get to the latest post. Full disclosure: I just discovered how to do this myself.  

40 members of the public attend meeting of 

I haven't paid as much attention to Health Care in these posts as I intended, so I will focus on it in this one. 

A public hearing for LD 386 was held on February 13. An Act To Establish Universal Health Care for Maine proposed "to establish a single-payor, universal health care system in the State."   I attended that hearing prepared to testify in support of the bill, but the sponsor, first thing, withdrew the bill in favor of the The Legislative Task Force on Health Care Coverage for All of Maine. I expressed my dismay when the Chair was about to close the meeting without hearing testimony, and they let me read mine :

Senator Brakey, Representative Hymanson, members of the Human Services Committee, thank you for this opportunity to testify in support of LD 386.

In the early 1960s, my oldest son suffered a near-fatal illness that lasted for several years and involved several lengthy hospitalizations. We were a working-class, one-income family, and we survived this crisis without medical debt with health insurance from a non-profit Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Most working-class families had high-quality affordable health insurance at that time.

Since then, corporate profit, corporate advertising, and corporate influence over legislators have entered the health-care business and created a system too expensive, too complex, too inefficient, too unaffordable, and too inaccessible to be sustainable.  Profit, not consumer health, is now the major concern of the health-care industrial complex. 

Last year, my son-in-law had heart surgery. Without the ACA, they would have been paying medical bills for that for the rest of their lives. Even with the ACA they are saddled with medical debt they have trouble paying from this procedure as well as other medical issues. The ACA has not and cannot solve problems created by profit-driven market forces.

My brother was diagnosed with cancer in Maine and received his early treatment here.  When it came time to retire, he and his wife, a Canadian citizen, moved to Canada where they could get much better quality health care at much less out-of-pocket expense.  Instead of worrying about threats to his assets by high premiums, deductions, co-pays, and possible long-term care, he could focus his final years on quality of life—time with his 4 generational family, gardening, fishing, practicing his craft of making beautiful jewelry.

Martin Luther King said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Pope Francis says, “It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare”  Worldwide wisdom supports that universal single-payer healthcare is morally the right thing to do. 

Comparisons of health costs as a percentage of GDP demonstrate that the United States spends nearly twice as much on Health Care as Canada and other industrialized countries.   Worldwide economies show that universal single-payer healthcare is economically the right thing to do. 
A PBS News Hour report shows that the United States lags behind other OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] nations in number of physicians per person, number of hospital beds per capita, life expectancy, and other indicators of health-care quality.  Worldwide experience shows that universal single-payer health care is the right thing to do for better outcomes and quality of care.

Single payer universal health care is the right thing to do, morally and economically, and it produces better quality of care and better outcomes.  You have a chance here to do the right thing. Please vote ought to pass.

There is only one other testimony about this bill posted at the site. This one, written by a spokes person for the Maine Heritage Policy Center, spoke in opposition to the Bill. I have been researching and testifying about Health Care problems and solutions for 7 years. Like all the other arguments opposed to any kind of single payer plan that I know about, this testimony claimed all such plans are too expensive. And it failed to consider the overwhelming evidence that single payer plans at home (such as Medicare) and abroad are less expensive than our current system and produce better outcomes.   
My big worry about this Task Force, based on what I know now, is the make up of the membership:
A. Four members of the Senate, appointed by the President of the Senate, including 2 members of the party holding the largest number of seats in the Senate and 2 members of the party holding the 2nd largest number of seats in the Senate, of whom at least one member is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services and at least one member is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services;
B. Four members of the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, including 2 members of the party holding the largest number of seats in the House of Representatives and 2 members of the party holding the 2nd largest number of seats in the House of Representatives, of whom at least 3 members are members of the Joint Standing Committee on Insurance and Financial Services or the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services;
C. One member representing the interests of hospitals, appointed by the President of the Senate;
D. One member representing the interests of health care providers, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
E. Two members representing the interests of health insurance carriers, one appointed by the President of the Senate and one appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
F. Two members representing the interests of consumers, one appointed by the President of the Senate and one appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives;
G. One member representing the interests of employers with fewer than 50 employees, appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and
H. One member representing the interests of the employers with 50 or more employees, appointed by the President of the Senate.
Of 16 members only 2 represent the interest of consumers. 8 are legislators, and all other members are appointed by legislative leadership. Health-insurance industry's influence extends far beyond its 2 members on the Task Force.  Legislators are all vulnerable to their influence, not only by lobbying, but also by campaign contributions. We saw with the Affordable Care Act how the insurance lobby controlled the outcome of the proposed public option that was scrapped, how Medicaid was not expanded in Maine and many other states, how taxpayers are still facing the burden of paying for all the people who still cannot afford health care, and other issues in the Affordable Care act that make it problematic for consumers and taxpayers. I fear the outcome of this Task Force  for consumers will meet a similar fate. 

Maybe not. I haven't been able to get to either of the Task Force meetings, but I did read the report from Maine AllCare of the March 2nd meeting. Some things I was not encouraged by: 
  • [Of the] the survey results from the Task Force members; only seven (out of 16) were submitted to date, and five of those said “yes” (2 said “no”) to whether ‘all Mainers should be required to have health care coverage’.
  • CEO of Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company [. . . .] gave the impression that if only these people [workers who miss work because of ill health] controlled their weight, diet, exercise, sugar, etc., they wouldn’t get sick (even cancer was mentioned). Absent was the idea that regular medical attention, such as annual physicals and comprehensive care are crucial to good health.
  • "Options for a Public Model" . . . .  envisions the use of a unique and hybrid public-private collaboration. [Based on what I have observed about public-private collaboration, this leads to corporate welfare in which the public provides tax incentives and subsidies resulting in huge profits and CEO salaries for major private corporations.] 
Some things I was encouraged by:
  • Public comments were the highlight of the afternoon session. Of the 15 speakers 10 people were representing Maine AllCare. 
  • Retired business person Joe Lendvai urged the Task Force to recommend immediate action by the Legislature on two modest but important initiatives as a first step toward universal healthcare in Maine. First, implement universal primary care to cover every child in Maine; and secondly, expand school food programs to include breakfast, lunch and snacks free to all students. Both these actions would have immediate positive results in improving the health of Maine’s children at a relatively small cost to the state.
  • Dr. Phil Caper [. . .] summarized the proposed solution advocated by Maine AllCare: We need “publicly funded healthcare coverage for all Maine residents. The system must be efficient, financially sound, politically sustainable and must provide benefits fairly distributed to all.”
On that positive note I will leave this health-care issue to be continued. 

Sunday, March 4, 2018


Legislative Blog Post # 8
Those new to this Blog may wish to scroll down and read up 

Bruce Gagnon with Taxation Committee co-chair Rep. Ryan Tipping 

I have been home in Presque Isle this past week, so I missed direct observation of legislative sessions, But I had updates coming at me via email. Especially about LD 1781, An Act To Encourage New Major Investments in Shipbuilding Facilities and the Preservation of Jobs.  Bruce Gagnon, Bath resident and member of Peaceworks and Global Network, emails nearly every day with updates on this bill. He has been on a hunger strike (water and juice) since February 12 to protest LD 1781, the bill to give a 60 million tax cut to Bath Iron Works owned by General Dynamics. He says,when GD signs a contract to build ships at BIW all of their costs are covered by the tax payer funded Pentagon budget. Worker training, equipment, materials, wages, utilities and a healthy profit for the company are all included in the contract[. . .] . GD’s taxes owed to Maine are also reimbursed by the federal taxpayers under the contract” (emphasis mine). I have searched for any contradiction to Gagnon's claims and have found none. 

Protesters of the Bill showed up at the State House where the Taxation Committee held a Work Session and tabled the bill again Tuesday, February 27. Another work session is scheduled for Tuesday March 6.

This bill has bipartisan support and is expected to pass. One Democratic Candidate Representative I talked with said he will vote for it. He cited the reasons given by the bill's sponsor and by BIW Vice President Jon Fitzgerald  about supporting BIW workers, about the importance of BIW to the Maine economy, and about the threat that if BIW does not get the tax subsidy it cannot remain competitive with its costs and will lose out on contract bids. He said General Dynamics can readily buy up another ship builder with lower costs and abandon BIW.

There is push-back on these threats in the legislature as well as from concerned citizens and Global Network. LD 1781 was introduced in this special legislative session as an emergency following rules for what legislation can be introduced in the special second session. One Representative, responding by email to an inquiry about why the bill is considered emergency was enlightening to me about how corporate power works in the legislative process:

The requirements for acceptance of second session bills rests with the ten member Legislative Council (the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, and the floor leader and assistant floor leader of each major party in each chamber).  A look at their decisions shows that their interpretation of "emergency" is different from the vernacular meaning.
We have renamed a bridge, for an example of an emergency, or in our special session in October we overturned ranked choice voting.  But we have not addressed the opioid crisis. [. . .].
The courts have been very leery of intruding on legislative prerogatives and a US supreme court decision concerning recess appointments (wherein the nature of the recess was questioned) clearly showed that it is up to the legislature to determine its own rules and the interpretation of them.  The Legislative Council's executive director is a non-partisan staff member with no decision-making authority.
I think it useful to understand why the major party statehouse leadership is inclined toward supporting corporate welfare.  The leaders purchase loyalty from their caucus members through funds laundered by the leadership-PAC process, funds that mostly originate with "the lobby" which are primarily corporations.  Those members who are most loyal (and can be 'trusted' to follow instructions) become committee chairs, so it is not surprising that they are generally weak personalities.  (Remember that half of the 15 Democrats who flipped their votes to get rid of ranked choice voting were committee chairs.)
The most vulnerable statehouse leaders are those who are seeking higher elected office; the others are not accountable to anyone.

There is no emergency to warrant even considering this bill in this session.  According to MaineBizBIW has contracts extending at least 10 years into the future:
Bath Iron Works currently has under construction Zumwalt-class destroyers Michael Monsoor (DDG 1001) and Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), Daniel Inouye (DDG 118), Carl M. Levin (DDG 120) and John Basilone (DDG 122).
[. . . . . . . . . .]
General Dynamics, a global aerospace and defense company . . .  reported $3.1 billion in earnings in 2016 (on revenue of $31.35 billion), the highest earnings in its history, an operating margin of 13.7% and a company-wide backlog of work of $59.8 billion, according to its 2017 proxy statement to its shareholders

The influence of big corporate money in our elections and legislative process affects every other social justice issue: the environment, health care, education, poverty, income inequality. Some argue that there is nothing we can do about this short of a constitutional amendment since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that corporations are people and money is speech.  In the case of LD 1781, our legislature could do something now. They could refuse to be bullied into granting the corporate welfare that is requested when there is no need for it.  

The only thing more powerful than corporate power over legislators is the will of the people with their voices and votes.  There is still time to contact your legislators about LD 1781.
Mary Speiss with union representative from BIW

Cynthia Howard with Taxation Committee co-chair 
Sen. Dana Dow 

Monday, February 26, 2018


With former Senator Jim Boyle

Legislative Blog Post # 8, February 26
Those new to this Blog may wish to scroll down and read up 

Update on LD 1063An Act To Protect Substance-exposed Infants: I have not yet been able to find an amendment draft of the bill which the Health and Human Services Committee was referring to at the Work Session I attended February 20. So I'm not sure I understood all that was said at this session. Most of the discussion centered on clarifying the meaning of coercion in Section 1. I assume this is in relation to assuring an addicted woman's reproductive choices.  The concern of some committee members didn't seem to be about limiting or restricting the choice, but about how the banning of coercion could be monitored and about how it could inhibit a provider's interaction with the woman. Senator Brakey expressed a concern that section 2 might somehow lead a woman to choose abortion. There was no discussion about the intention of the bill to reduce the number of substance addicted infants being born. After a five-minute recess in which the Democratic members appeared to be caucusing, a motion was made by Republican Senator Hamper  and seconded that the bill Ought not to Pass. This failed with a 5 to 4 vote. Then a motion was made by Democratic Representative Hymanson that the bill Ought to Pass. This motion passed 7 to 4 in what seemed like a party line vote. Senator Brakey recommended another Public Hearing on the bill which was moved and passed.

Update on LD 1781,
 An Act To Encourage New Major Investments in Shipbuilding Facilities and the Preservation of Jobs, the request from Bath Iron Works for a tax credit.  I didn't attend the most recent work session on this bill Thursday February 22, so what I say here is a summary of information that came at me via e-mail and some research.   Representative DeChant introduced an amendment that would reduce the request for a tax credit of $60 million to $30 million over 10 years with further credits if and when BIW increased employment and met other requirements. Her amendment also included  requirements that Bath Iron Works increase reporting of what they are doing with the money. Jon Fitzgerald, BIW vice president and general counsel, said the increased reporting would give competitors the  advantage of knowing BIW's costs and plans. Fitzgerald did not have an answer to Representative Tipping's question about the possibility that BIW received more tax credits in the past than it was entitled to based on a misunderstanding of qualified employment levels. There will likely be another work session on this bill next week.

Update on LD 1711, Resolve, To Save lives by Establishing a Homelss Opiod Users Service Engagement Pilot Project within the Department of Health and Human Services. 
I attended the Work Session Thursday, February 22. Representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services reported that few questions remained for them after the detailed amendments, but they could not fully support the project without seeing tested results. 

Earlier I attended the public hearing and reported on this bill in Legislative Blog # 3 below. The Public Hearing was emotional on the part of people testifying. This Work Session was emotional on the part of committee members. Representative Hymanson gave an impassioned plea to support the Task Force's endorsement of the detailed bill. She said the Committee has had lead feet about the opiod epidemic, and it would be irresponsible not to pass the bill. 

Senator Brakey responded that the task force did not endorse the bill; it just endorsed consideration of the bill. 

Representive MaCreight said we must act now. She had never seen a bill with this much detail, and, she said, the task force did endorse the bill.

Representative Madigan, responding to criticism that we need measurable results, said "418 drug overdose deaths in 2017." That measurable result was repeated frequently through out the session.  

Representative Sanderson questioned the housing model and was told the project's housing would be integrated with existing programs and would not require new building. She also expressed doubts about the project's workability. Other committee members echoed that criticism. 

Representive Denno said he thought a cost-benefit analysis would show early intervention saves money, and we ought to match words with action. He didn't mention the Governor, but I thought of him at Denno's remark: "LePage has done little to expand access to treatment. Not only is he not taking action to help addicted Mainers receive adequate treatment, but he also wants to limit access to something that could save lives.

Sponsor of the bill, Senator Gattine, suggested a comprehensive bill package to include other opiod bills with this one could be considered . 

The Work Session ended with a unanimous vote to table the bill for further consideration. 

Friday, February 23, for the first time, I attended a Work Session of the Marijuana Implementation Committee which has been meeting since early 2017, so I came into this session very late in terms of what the committee has already accomplished. LD 1719,  An Act to Implement a Regulatory Structure for Adult Use of Marijuana is already a detailed and complicated bill of 73 pages. The Summary itself takes up 5 pages. Today's meeting focused on the tax structure for the bill written by the Maine Revenue Service (MRS) and presented to the Committee.  

After the lengthy presentation by MRS there was a brief discussion about the tax structure. Representative Hickman argued that the excise tax was too high to allow small cultivators of marijauna to compete in the market. Representative Akely pointed out that preventing illicit sales is an important goal of legalizing marijuana, and if the tax is too high it weakens that goal. 

Chair of the committee, Senator Katz, declared a 5-minute recess which lasted 55 minutes. During this time I wondered about how much of the legislature's business happens outside the public view, hearing, or reporting. Not just during recesses from the public meetings but all the intense conversations among legislators and lobbyists taking place in the halls, in the cafeteria, in private meeting rooms--outside the public meeting rooms. 

When the committee returned from recess, there was an immediate motion and second to accept the tax structure presented by MRS. Representative Blume expressed concerns about there being no provision to help towns with the excise tax, and Representative Hickman again expressed concerns about the excise tax being to high for cottage industries. The motion to accept the tax structure passed 12 to 2.

Senator Katz moved to remove the deadline date for implementation. This was seconded and passed 12 to 2. 

It was moved and seconded that the bill LD 1719 Ought to Pass. This motion passed 13 to 1 with the statement that 3 absent members of the committee would also be voting Ought to Pass as soon as they got a chance. Representative Hickman, the lone dissenting vote, stated that he would be writing a Minority Report, and he outlined changes he wants to see in the bill to make it more fair to small businesses. He also wants to remove the felony convictions in the code which unfairly impact people of color and other minorities, and he wants to change the term Marijauna to Cannabis.  He proposed many other changes which I could not keep up with in my notes. When he finished, Senator Katz declared another recess which this time did not last longer than 5 minutes. When he returned, he asked the Committee staff how much time they would need to prepare the report which now would need to include the lengthy minority report. They replied that they believed they could get it done by early next week.

I have e-mailed the Committee Clerk to ask if I could get a copy of the minority report when it is finished, and I hope to be able to summarize that in my next blog post.

People have been asking me often how or why I came to do this. I wanted a change of pace. I was curious about how the legislature works day by day. And I have been identifying myself as a volunteer lobbyist for issues I care about for a few years, so I expected to do a good bit of lobbying while here. But direct experience makes me very aware of  my limitations as a lobbyist. So far this session, my one-to-one, face-to-face lobbying has only happened with a few brief conversations and some emails. My major time is spent in research and committee meetings to learn enough to try to lobby more. Most of my actual lobbying takes place on Facebook and in this blog which I doubt ever reaches legislators except, I hope, that it might move some people to at least vote based on some knowledge of the issues and, better, to also contact their legislators directly. One of the SAGE students in my classes on political issues often expressed the need for more and better civics classes in school. In this political climate, don't we all need it, no matter our age?

Voter with Representative Drew Gattine

Sunday, February 18, 2018


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
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.