Archive for April, 2013

Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Raising Minimum Wage Would Hurt Low Income Mainers

Posted on April 27, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Audio link here.

lepage officeMy fellow Mainers, I have proposed common-sense reforms to reduce taxes, pay our bills, create jobs and lower home-heating costs for Mainers. But legislators on the other side of the aisle don’t want to make the tough choices. They just want to raise taxes so they can keep expanding welfare and growing government.

Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

My agenda makes difficult choices and sets priorities that will put Maine on the right track toward prosperity. My goal is to improve our business climate, provide better educational opportunities for Maine students and right-size government.

The other side has only one priority, and it is simple: raise taxes. Democrats believe that raising taxes or taking more money from the private sector is the path to prosperity. That’s why they want to hike the minimum wage to 9 dollars by 2016 and then automatically adjust it for inflation each year after that.

But their plan has hit a snag: they have to find the money to pay for this job-killing bill. If cost-of-living adjustments increase the minimum wage beyond the hourly rate for state employees, then the state must find the money to pay for these increases. And folks, when the state needs money, where does it come from? It comes from you.

Even worse, if the minimum wage increases automatically each year, employee unions can use those increases to bargain for higher wages. Where will this money come from? Yes, it will come from you.

Supporters say raising the minimum wage would provide more money to low-income people, who would then spend this money and stimulate the economy. They claim that hiking the minimum wage would create 166 million dollars in new income and new spending each year. But folks, that money would not fall from trees; it has to come from somewhere.

To pay for higher wages in the public-sector, that money would come from higher taxes. In other words, it would come from you. In the private sector, that money would come from the businesses that must pay the higher wages.

To absorb the cost of those higher wages, businesses will hire fewer workers and increase prices on their products and services. Who will pay that cost? You know the answer.

Raising the minimum wage will take away jobs from students trying to save money for college or senior citizens on fixed incomes. It won’t make us more business friendly, and it won’t increase anyone’s standard of living. It will actually hurt low-income Mainers who will find fewer jobs available to them and higher prices on the shelves.

Once again, Democrats have misplaced their priorities. They want to take more money from you and from businesses so they can say they are increasing the livable wage for Mainers. This is a politically motivated illusion that has never worked and will not work this time.

Mainers working full-time, minimum-wage jobs now earn $300 a week ($15,600 a year). If the minimum wage increases to 9 dollars an hour, they would make $360 a week ($18,720 a year). Folks, that is not a livable wage. And that is exactly why raising the minimum wage is the wrong thing to do.

We don’t need to increase our minimum wage, which is already higher than the federal minimum wage. We need to increase our median wage. The U.S. average wage is $916 a week. In Massachusetts, the average wage is over $1,100 dollars a week. In New Hampshire, it is over $900 a week. But Maine’s average weekly wage is only $734.

I come from the streets, and I know how hard it is to live on low wages. That’s why I passed the largest tax cut in our state’s history to eliminate the income tax for 70,000 of Maine’s lowest wage earners. This is the kind of policy change that makes a real difference by putting money back into the hands of Mainers.

Mainers are proud people, and it’s not a hand out they want. Let’s give them a hand up that will lead them to their own earned success.

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President Obama Speaks on the Explosions in Boston (VIDEO; Text)

Posted on April 15, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

President Obama receives updates on Boston bombings. (Via: White House)

President Obama receives updates on Boston bombings. (Via: White House)

Good afternoon, everybody. Earlier today, I was briefed by my homeland security team on the events in Boston. We’re continuing to monitor and respond to the situation as it unfolds. And I’ve directed the full resources of the federal government to help state and local authorities protect our people, increase security around the United States as necessary, and investigate what happened.

The American people will say a prayer for Boston tonight. And Michelle and I send our deepest thoughts and prayers to the families of the victims in the wake of this senseless loss.

We don’t yet have all the answers. But we do know that multiple people have been wounded, some gravely, in explosions at the Boston Marathon.

I’ve spoken to FBI Director Mueller and Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano, and they’re mobilizing the appropriate resources to investigate and to respond.

I’ve updated leaders of Congress in both parties, and we reaffirmed that on days like this there are no Republicans or Democrats — we are Americans, united in concern for our fellow citizens.

I’ve also spoken with Governor Patrick and Mayor Menino, and made it clear that they have every single federal resource necessary to care for the victims and counsel the families. And above all, I made clear to them that all Americans stand with the people of Boston.

Boston police, firefighters, and first responders as well as the National Guard responded heroically, and continue to do so as we speak. It’s a reminder that so many Americans serve and sacrifice on our behalf every single day, without regard to their own safety, in dangerous and difficult circumstances. And we salute all those who assisted in responding so quickly and professionally to this tragedy.

We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But make no mistake — we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we’ll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.

Today is a holiday in Massachusetts — Patriots’ Day. It’s a day that celebrates the free and fiercely independent spirit that this great American city of Boston has reflected from the earliest days of our nation. And it’s a day that draws the world to Boston’s streets in a spirit of friendly competition. Boston is a tough and resilient town. So are its people. I’m supremely confident that Bostonians will pull together, take care of each other, and move forward as one proud city. And as they do, the American people will be with them every single step of the way.

You should anticipate that as we get more information, our teams will provide you briefings. We’re still in the investigation stage at this point. But I just want to reiterate we will find out who did this and we will hold them accountable.

Thank you very much.

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(UPDATED) With Unanimous Support of Senate, Maine Legislature Passes LD 72 Opening St Croix River to Alewives

Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Updating to include a video that Gerald shared over at Dirigo Blue.

    A June 9-10 spiritual run by Passamaquoddy Tribe members and others to recognize the importance of the indigenous sea-run alewife to the St. Croix River watershed. This two-day, 100-mile relay will highlight the Maine Legislature’s 17-year blockage of this fish run and connect with a 4000-year-old tribal fishing site at the top of Spednic Lake. The sacred run is organized by the Schoodic Riverkeepers, a group comprised of Passamaquoddy tribal members focused on restoring their ancestral river, and indigenous populations of fish in the St. Croix River.

alewives riverIn 1995, a great error was made by the 117th Legislature which nearly resulted in elimination of Maine’s alewives, as passage up their native St. Croix River was blocked with strategically places flashboards on the dams’ fishways. Grand Lake Stream area guides claimed that alewives were decimating the small mouth bass fry population they depended on for their 12-week season.

Although efforts were launched in 2001 to repeal the earlier law, blockage was maintained that year with a stronger 2008 lobbying campaign that opened only 1% of spawning St Croix habitat to alewives and blue backed herring.

In 1994, the last year the fish had free passage, 2.6 million alewives ascended the St. Croix waterway, perhaps the most fertile in the state. By the next year, fewer than 1,000 were counted (Source: “Alewives on the St. Croix: a ‘mistake’ fixed”).

fishiesThis year, the 126th Legislature swiftly acted to right what former SAM executive director and veteran writer George Smith labelled “a mistake”. The bill had a contentious hearing on March 25, lasting over three hours, followed by a rapid work session April 1 resulting in the Joint Standing Committee on Marine Resources unanimously approving LD 72, opening two dams on the lower St. Croix. Co-Chair Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) characterized the work session for the bill thus: “That was the fastest report we’ve dealt with in almost two years.”

As the bill sponsored by freshman Rep. Madonna Soctomah (Passamaquoddy) was an emergency measure, it then required 2/3rds vote in both chambers of the Legislature. It easily passed in the House by a 124-23 margin on Wednesday morning, then flew through the Senate, 33-0, on the same day.

Via Maine House Democrats’ press release:

    soctomah  lincolnThe Maine House gave final approval Wednesday to a historic measure to reopen the St. Croix River to alewives, a species of river herring that is critical to the ecosystem because of its role as a food source for other fish and that is also important as bait for the fishing industry. The proposal would end the state’s 18-year blockade of the sea-run fish at Grand Falls Dam in time for this year’s upriver migration of alewives, allowing them to return to their native spawning habitat. The bill sets a May 1 deadline to open the fishways.

    Passamaquoddy Tribal Rep. Madonna Soctomah, the bill’s sponsor, spoke of the important role alewives play in Maine and how they do not pose a threat to smallmouth bass, as opponents of the measure claim.

    “The restoration of the abundant alewife runs in the St. Croix River watershed should remain a high priority for the people of the state of Maine,” Soctomah said in the House chamber. “The alewives are a native and indigenous species, with their migration history dating back 400 years. The smallmouth bass lives harmoniously with alewives in hundreds of lakes and rivers in Maine.”

    Rep. Bruce MacDonald, D-Boothbay, said, “We’ve seen study after study showing that the alewives don’t pose a threat to smallmouth bass.”

    The once-abundant alewife population has fallen sharply since the closure of the fish passages in 1995. Alewives, whose numbers are now estimated at less than 1,000, are a key food source for a number of fish species such as bluefish, cod, haddock, salmon, striped bass and tuna. Alewives also have an important role as bait fish.

    “We’re pleased to have reached this bipartisan vote to restore this vital native fishery,”
    said House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. “Alewives are important to the ecosystem, to the lobster industry and could also benefit the groundfishing industry.”

More via BDN:

Rep. Soctomah testifies before Marine Resources Committee. (photo via WABI-5, Bangor)

Rep. Soctomah testifies before Marine Resources Committee. (photo via WABI-5, Bangor)

    …in 1995 the Maine Legislature voted to close the Woodland and Grand Falls fishways, and the alewife population plunged to 900 fish in 2002, from 2.6 million in 1987. The law was amended in 2008 to open the fishway at Woodland, but alewives still cannot reach 98 percent of their traditional spawning ground.

    Many studies have shown that alewives and bass coexist, and bass even eat alewives. If anything, a 10-year study found, a lake drawdown made the bass’ protective rock habitat disappear and forced the bass to compete for food and habitat with other fish. The Legislature’s vote on Wednesday is a recognition of the science.

    The original closure of the St. Croix was based on “myth and misinformed rhetoric,” John Burrows, director of the New Brunswick Programs for the Atlantic Salmon Federation, told the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee March 25. “The fact that 98 percent of the river has remained closed when there is substantial scientific support for restoring alewives is simply astounding. To our members, this is the greatest ecological injustice to occur in the state of Maine in generations, and there is no reason to keep the river closed.”

Video link of the unanimous passage by all 33 present Senators (Hill and Flood absent). Senator Johnson spoke to his colleagues, urging their full support, just prior to the vote.

    “The restoration of alewives to the St, Croix River will benefit people all over Maine. Alewives are critical to Maine’s environment and fill an important role as baitfish for the lobster industry,” said Senator Chris Johnson (D-Somerville), the Senate Chair of the Marine Resources Committee. “They also serve as critical prey food for our depleted ground fish stocks. Getting this bill passed now means that the benefits can begin with this year’s run, and they will grow over time. The additional alewives will make a real difference to our struggling ground fish and lobster industries.”

Senator Doug Thomas (R- Somerset)  congratulates Rep. Soctomah after the vote in the Senate.

Senator Doug Thomas (R- Somerset) congratulates Rep. Soctomah after the vote in the Senate.

No word yet as to whether Governor LePage will sign the bill, even with its strong bipartisan support, veto it outright or let it pass into law without his signature. His administration supported LD 548, “An Act To Provide for Passage of River Herring on the St. Croix River in Accordance with an Adaptive Management Plan”.

    A competing measure that reflects the Department of Marine Resources’ position, LD 548, sponsored by Rep. Windol Weaver, R-York, would align alewife restoration strategies with an adaptive management plan approved in 2010. That plan aims to address concerns raised by fishing guides about whether the introduction of alewives would decimate the bass population.

That bill was voted ONTP in committee.

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Democrats McCabe, Millett Urge Support of LD 1185, Enhancing School Efforts To Use Locally Produced Foods

Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

Maine would take a step toward increasing the use of locally produced foods in schools under a measure sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan. McCabe’s bill, LD 1185, “An Act To Enhance Efforts To Use Locally Produced Food in Schools”, would require school districts to include its use of local foods in its existing annual reporting on their school meal programs. The addition of local foods to the report would require only a minor change to the existing reporting website.

jeff full education cmteOther bill details include the following rating of schools:

  • “Gold Medal Eat Local School” = 30% or more locally produced foods usage
  • “Silver Medal Eat Local School” = 20-30%
  • “Bronze Medal Eat Local School” = 10-20%
  • The designations would be included on the state Department of Education website.

    Wiscasset Primary School, which purchases food from eight local farms, has had success in incorporating local foods into its cafeteria offerings, according to Abby Plummer, program director and farms-to-school educator for Focus on Agriculture in Rural Maine Schools.

      “The food service staff feels very proud to be able to serve fresh, healthy, local foods to children, and to support our local farmers and the economy,” Plummer said in testimony. “The children are excited every time there is a new local food item on their tray. Students who are exposed to local foods are learning lifelong healthy eating habits and simultaneously gaining a sense of respect, responsibility and appreciation for farming, their state, their community and their environment.”

    A typical food item in the United States travels 1,500 miles from farm to its final destination, and industrial agriculture is responsible for 20 percent of the nation’s fossil fuel consumption, Alexandra Fields, preservation associate for Environment Maine said in testimony. Locally produced foods reach their destinations in a more efficient manner, are less likely to have been produced with excessive chemicals and do not lose nutrients in a long shipping process, she said.

      “And, when schools buy seasonally, they are serving the freshest and best-tasting fruits and vegetables available, which is exactly what Maine’s kids deserve,” she said.

    The bill, co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, also has the support of other supporters including Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and Maine People’s Alliance.

    Here is the testimony of the bills’ lead sponsor, House Assistant Majority Leader Rep. Jeff McCabe (D-Skowhegan).

    Rep. McCab answers questions of Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick)

    Rep. McCab answers questions of Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D-Brunswick)

      Good afternoon Senator Millett, Representative MacDonald and distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. My name is Jeff McCabe and I serve as State Representative for District 85, the town of Skowhegan. I am pleased to present to you LD 1185, “An Act to Enhance Efforts to Use Locally Produced Food in Schools”.

      I think we can all agree that providing our students with fresh, healthy food sets them up for success in the classroom. Research shows that healthy eating can improve children’s concentration and classroom behavior and help them perform better in school. It also helps to lay the groundwork for healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. One great way to achieve this is to increase the amount of fresh, locally produced food that is available to our students.

      This bill seeks to simply ask schools to add this once-a-year report to the nutrition and pricing reporting that they are already required to submit to the Maine Department of Education. The reporting is designed to be simple and integrated into the system that school nutrition professionals are already using to track and report the meals they serve, utilizing the same website that schools are currently using for this purpose. This minor addition to the current reporting requirements would provide parents, educators and lawmakers with a wealth of information about the food schools are serving our kids.

      I was surprised to learn that even though Maine is a rural state with a proud farming and fishing tradition, we import more of our food than any other state in the continental United States. That sad reality can easily result in serious consequences for our state’s overall health, educational achievement, environment and economy.

      Rather than make guesses or assumptions, based on anecdotal information, this processes would give the Department useful data when making school nutrition choices in the future. I urge the committee to support the bill and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

      Thank you.

    Chair Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) also testified on behalf of LD 1185:

    rebecca millett

      Good afternoon Representative MacDonald and fellow Members of the Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs. I am Senator Rebecca Millett, representing District 7, which includes South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and a part of Scarborough. I am pleased to come before you in support of LD 1185, “An Act to Enhance Efforts to Use Locally Produced Food in Schools.”

      We all know eating locally is better for the environment. When the produce and animal products we consume come from our neighbors’ farms, the fossil fuels used to transport these goods is dramatically reduced thus lowering carbon emissions. But it is also better for us. When produce is sourced locally, it is fresher than produce that has been shipped from across the United States or even from other countries. When they are harvested, fruits and vegetables begin losing vitamins such as A, some B, C and E. Eating local produce means eating fresher, more flavorful and more nutritious foods.

      When we increase the percentage of local foods in our school, we increase the nutrients our children consume. When our children consume healthier, nutritious diets, they are better able to focus, learn and strive in schools.

      LD 1185 will encourage schools to source food for our children from local farms within our state. By creating an incentives program, schools will not be forces to make drastic changes but have an interest in improving the percentage of local produce over time. Schools across the state have been working hard in recent years to improve the nutritional content of the meals they serve, but we can make further improvements by increasing local content.

      I ask you for your unanimous support for LD1185. Thank you for your time and I would be happy to answer any questions.

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    Speaker Mark Eves on LD 1230: “No one should have to get their dental care in an emergency room”

    Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

      “No one should have to get their dental care in an emergency room.”

      ~Speaker of the House Mark Eves, at 4/10/13 Dental Access for Maine Coalition press conference, held in the Hall of Flags, 4/10/13.

    Link here to the Dental Access of Maine Coalition site. Here is the testimony as prepared that Speaker Eves delivered before the LCRED committee on Thursday:

      Chairman Patrick, Chairwoman Herbig, Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Development, good afternoon.

      I am here today to introduce LD 1230, “An Act to Improve Access to Oral Health Care.”

      As we all know dental care is a critical aspect of a person’s overall health. While I have spent my professional life providing care for those with mental health needs, I have become intimately aware of the connection between oral health, mental health, and a person’s overall health.

      I have heard many personal stories in my clinical practice and reviewed the data as a member on the Health and Human Services Committee and the picture is clear- Maine has a significant challenge in accessing dental services-particularly in rural parts of our State.

      Over the past couple of years Senator Chris Rector and I worked with the HHS and your committee to get the dental facts.

      Both our committees had been facing confusion of dueling statistics from advocates from different perspectives and interests. Together we worked to pass LD 1105. The study was directed by stakeholders including dentists, dental hygienists, clinics and advocates for low-income Mainers. Together that group identified and hired the Center for Health Workforce Studies to perform an objective analysis. While the American Dental Association and Maine Dental Association were the major funders of the effort, Maine foundations, Dental Hygienists and others all financially supported the effort. For those of you who have followed this issue, that alone was a major accomplishment.

      Thanks are due to all those who left their turf aside, and agreed that good public policy demands good facts.

      And, the dental facts they found paint a clear picture of enormous challenges for low income and rural Mainers to have access to dental care.

      Speaker Eves at press conference held 4/10/13 discusses need for LD1230. Also in attendence were members of Dental Access for Maine Coalition, legislative co-sponsors, and guest from Alaska.

      Speaker Eves at press conference held 4/10/13 discusses need for LD1230. Also in attendence were members of Dental Access for Maine Coalition, legislative co-sponsors, and guest from Alaska.

      So now the easy part, the facts:

      · Now that we know that more than 55% of kids on MaineCare don’t see a dentist; it is obvious that we have barriers to care.

      · Now that we know that Maine has the 6th highest percentage of Medicaid children without access to care in the United States; we know we have barriers to care.

      · Now that we know that 15 of 16 Maine counties (73 separate dental health shortage areas) have designated dentist shortage areas; we know we have barriers to care.

      · Now that we know one in 5 Mainers live in a dentist shortage area; we know we have barriers to care.

      · Now that we know that nearly 40% of Maine dentists are planning to retire in the next five years or substantially reduce their hours; we know we have barriers to care.

      · Now that we know that there were 11,960 separate MaineCare ER visits for dental care wasting over $6.6 million in 2009; we know we have barriers to dental care.

      Believe it or not, I am being restrained here. The facts are astounding. This extremely thorough report included data distilled from millions of claims files, hundreds of interviews, and dozens of reports. The executive summary alone is 28 pages.

      It paints a bleak picture for enormous challenges to care that demand legislative action. Here’s the good news, there are strategies used in other states and other countries that can help alleviate this crisis.

      Dental Hygiene Therapy has provided excellent care in over 54 countries and Alaska and Minnesota. Started in New Zealand nearly a century ago, it has been extensively researched and found to provide safe, quality care. There are over 1,100 peer reviewed studies confirming this fact.

      We believe this is a proven model that could help address the dental shortage crisis in Maine. Here is what the legislation does:

      1. Establishes Dental Hygiene Therapy in Maine
      2. Practiced only under the supervision of a dentist as part of a dental home
      3. Authorized to perform a very limited number of procedures like drilling and filling surface cavities, removing loose teeth, gluing back a crown that has fallen off, and providing all the cleaning and educational services provided by a hygienist.

      That’s it.

      Here are the big concerns I have heard:

      1. They only get 500 hours of education. That is not true.

      All Dental Hygiene Therapist’s would have a hygiene degree. That is 3-4 years in the two Maine programs, and a minimum of two nationally. In addition, they would receive 1 ½ to 2 years of additional education using a curriculum developed by the American Association of Public Health Dentistry. After successful completion of what is typically 4-6 years of education, Dental; Hygiene Therapist’s would receive an additional 500 hours of clinical training under the direct supervision of a dentist. After completion of that, the supervising dentist could issue standing orders to further limit the procedures performed by a Dental Hygiene Therapist. In all, Dental Hygiene Therapist’s would be trained to the exact same standard of care for a very limited number of procedures as a dentist would receive for hundreds, and would have more clinical and class room time than a dentist on those same procedures.

      2. Dental Hygiene Therapists will not reduce barriers to care. That is not true.

      This legislation specifically limits the care settings for Dental Hygiene Therapist’s to dental clinics, hospitals and private practices serving 25% or more MaineCare patients. The study also finds that Maine’s diverse dental workforce (Independent practice dental hygienists and public health supervision dental hygienists) increases access to care for low-income people and those living in rural Maine. This legislation will increase access to care.

      3. 95% of Maine dentists are open to seeing new patients. That is misleading and only partially true.

      The question is: are 95% of Maine dentists accepting new MaineCare patients and the answer is no. Only 22% of Maine dentists saw a “significant number of MaineCare patients in 2010” (defined as billing over $100,000 or more annually) and only a quarter of practicing dentists are accepting new MaineCare patients.

      4. If dentists received higher MaineCare reimbursement this problem would go away. This is not true.

      Between 2008 and 2011 the reimbursement rate went up 26% for routine dental services, but the percentage of MaineCare kids who received care remained basically the same. While I support increased reimbursement, the claim that it will increase access has not proven to be true in Maine, or in most states.

      Of course there are many more claims and counter-claims about what is going on, but let me bring you back to the essential problem: too many Maine kids are not getting dental care. These kids have a higher rate of dental disease, which leads to poorer overall health. Dental disease is the most prevalent unmet health need in Maine and in our country, 5x higher than childhood asthma. This leads to a lifetime of tremendous challenges including impacts to cognitive development, self-esteem, missed school days, and economic performance.

      There is no one answer to this significant problem. Often we struggle to implement multiple strategies to make a difference. The legislation before you today is a critical strategy to meet a pressing need. I hope that you will join me, Representative Sirocki, Senator Burns and over 45 of your colleagues in supporting this step to improve access to dental care for Maine.

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    Democratic Weekly Radio Address by Sen. Rebecca Millett (Cumberland): We should not brandish our schools with a “scarlet letter”

    Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

    Audio link here.

    rebecca millettSchool pride.

    For many of us, regardless of how long ago it may have been since we graduated, we still hold on to the memories of high school pep rallies, athletic events, and school field trips. There were school mascots, school fight songs, and school colors–how many of us wore our school colors even when we weren’t at school?

    Perhaps it is through our school pride that we learn, as young adults, that we belong to something, we identify with something, a symbol of what and who is important to us.

    As the years pass, we now know that school is much more than the bricks and mortar. We may no longer remember the words to the school fight song, but we do remember the teacher who urged us to study a little longer; the principal who remembered our name as we passed in the hall; or the guidance counselor who gave us the courage to take a class that pushed our limits.

    Good Morning. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth.

    As the Senate Chair of the Education and Cultural Affairs committee, it is my job to think about what is important for education today as well as for the students of our future. And for a variety of reasons, we, as a state are at a crossroads.

    Just this week, the LePage Administration presented its newest school “reform” plan to our committee. The plan assigns a letter grade of “A” through “F” to Maine’s public schools.

    Democrats on the state’s education committee are deeply concerned by this approach. This sends the wrong signal to our schools, teachers, students, parents, and community.

    Issuing letter grades for schools is akin to brandishing them with a “scarlet letter.” It is shaming and stigmatizing–and, it seeks to embarrass students, teachers, and schools rather than motivate, incentivize, and actually help underperforming schools do better.

    Additionally, this simplistic and superficial grading system aimed at evaluating school performance cannot provide an accurate picture of what is taking place at a school. It could give a false sense that all is going well at a school, or it could wrongly shame a once-struggling school that is improving.

    Currently, the Department of Education has only provided raw data to struggling districts and expects them to devise and deploy improvement efforts with no additional funds. If this administration is truly interested in helping underperforming schools, they would provide the funds in addition to the data necessary for proper evaluation; they would support the efforts of our public school teachers and school principals.

    Right now, our state’s budget writing committee is working on crafting a budget for the next two years. The task ahead of them is daunting. Earlier this year, Governor LePage presented his proposed budget to them. And his budget continues to fall short of the state’s promise to fully fund education and places a heavier burden on local property taxes.

    Budgets are a reflection of our priorities and at a time when schools and teachers are already being asked to do more with less, we need to put our dollars behind our rhetoric. If we all agree that we are putting students first, then fund the classroom–don’t shame them for their performance.

    If a student doesn’t have a pencil, they can’t possibly pass the test. If a teacher lacks the tools needed to do their job, they can’t possibly improve classroom performance.

    We shouldn’t demand more of our teachers, more from our students, and not back them up. The mere threat of a failing grade, won’t magically eliminate the hurdles schools and teachers face: textbooks will still be scarce, school buildings will still be crumbling, and classroom sizes will still grow.

    We believe that our teachers and principals want to succeed and are eager to do the best job possible for our students. Now it’s up to us, as lawmakers, to encourage them as we all strive for innovation in our classrooms and the strengthening of our public schools.

    Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Rebecca Millett. Have a good weekend.

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    Weekly Message of Governor Paul LePage: It’s Time for Democrats to Present a Plan

    Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

    Audio link here.

    lepage officeMy fellow Mainers, you are hearing a lot of sound and fury from Augusta these days. But on one issue—the most important issue facing our state’s future—all we hear are crickets.

    Hello, this is Governor LePage. I submitted a balanced budget proposal three months ago that sets priorities and lays out a fiscally responsible plan to right-size our government. The Democrats have been attacking my proposal every day. Even a former governor is on the attack. But these critics have yet to submit their own budget proposal.

    Folks, it has been three months. Beyond the sound of their petty criticism, all we hear is crickets. If they don’t like my common-sense approach to managing our finances and our future, that’s fine. But where are their budget proposals? Where are their solutions?

    My agenda focuses on long-term fiscal responsibility; paying our hospitals; putting students first; reforming our welfare system; and lowering energy costs for all Mainers. My proposal creates jobs; pays off old welfare debt; invests in infrastructure; and confronts the high cost of local control. This is not an easy budget proposal to make, and I take no pleasure in it.

    But, my fellow Mainers, we are in challenging and difficult times. Our state—and our nation—is facing an economic crisis. We must examine our all of our spending. We must scrutinize how we deliver services, and we must reform our overly generous welfare system. We must reduce the tax burden on Maine families, and we must pay our bills.

    These are difficult problems that demand tough choices, but we cannot keep ducking them. As a mayor, I faced these kinds of tough decisions. But I was still able to reduce taxes and to right-size local government without the loss of services to our citizens. It is very difficult, and it takes courage. But it can be done.

    Unfortunately, the majority of Democrats don’t want to make these tough decisions. They want to continue business as usual. It is much easier to say “yes” to everyone than “no” to someone.

    They want to raise your taxes to keep growing government, and they want to believe empty promises from Washington, D.C. to keep expanding welfare. They want to take money out of the classroom to benefit the adults in our educational system. Even worse, they want to keep stacking debt on your children’s shoulders to pay for this government expansion.

    Instead of making the tough decisions over the past three months, the Democrats told parents that their teens can’t get a tan. They attacked education reform, and they worked to allow drinking on a Sunday morning. They conspired to steal my pension, and they tried to sell the historic Blaine House. They want to repeal your tax cuts and raise your health-insurance costs. They want to deny Mainers right-to-work protections, and they want to force job-killing wage increases on our struggling businesses.

    It’s been three months, folks. I’m still waiting for their budget proposals. I’m still waiting to hear their solutions. It’s easy to criticize, and they are very good at it. But when it comes to their budget solutions, all I hear is crickets.

    My balanced budget proposal tackles the long-standing problems facing our state. We are one of the highest-taxed states, and our welfare system is too big and too expensive. Our energy costs are some of the highest in the nation, and we pay significantly more for education than the national average.

    Our local property taxes have increased 123% since 1992, while state government spending has increased by 89% since then. Mainers like home rule, but it is expensive. The state cannot continue to subsidize the costly duplication and redundancy of services in our largest communities.

    Democrats don’t like my proposed revenue sharing cuts, and that’s okay with me. But it is not okay for them to stonewall the Maine people. They hope to spring their budget on Mainers at the last minute without any public discussion, and they will demand an enormous tax increase to pay for it.

    If they have proposals, they should share them with me and with Mainers. We all want to know how they will pay for more government expansion. But where will the money come from?

    I hear crickets again.

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    Weekly Address of President Obama: Sandy Hook Victim’s Mother Calls for Commonsense Gun Responsibility Reforms

    Posted on April 13, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

      Weekly Address: Sandy Hook Victim’s Mother Calls for Commonsense Gun Responsibility Reforms

      The White House

      Remarks of Francine Wheeler
      The President’s Weekly Address

    Hi. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the President. I’m just a citizen. And as a citizen, I’m here at the White House today because I want to make a difference and I hope you will join me.

    My name is Francine Wheeler. My husband David is with me. We live in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

    David and I have two sons. Our older son Nate, soon to be 10 years old, is a fourth grader at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our younger son, Ben, age six, was murdered in his first-grade classroom on December 14th, exactly 4 months ago this weekend.

    David and I lost our beloved son, but Nate lost his best friend. On what turned out to be the last morning of his life, Ben told me, quite out of the blue, “ I still want to be an architect, Mama, but I also want to be a paleontologist, because that’s what Nate is going to be and I want to do everything Nate does.”

    Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. He couldn’t wait to get to school every morning. He sang with perfect pitch and had just played at his third piano recital. Irrepressibly bright and spirited, Ben experienced life at full tilt.

    Until that morning. 20 of our children, and 6 of our educators – gone. Out of the blue.

    I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday. And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief.

    Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.

    Sometimes, I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home – the same firehouse that was home to Ben’s Tiger Scout Den 6. But other times, I feel Ben’s presence filling me with courage for what I have to do – for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon.

    We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us.

    When I packed for Washington on Monday, it looked like the Senate might not act at all. Then, after the President spoke in Hartford, and a dozen of us met with Senators to share our stories, more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward.

    But that’s only the start. They haven’t yet passed any bills that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And a lot of people are fighting to make sure they never do.

    Now is the time to act. Please join us. You can talk to your Senator, too. Or visit WhiteHouse.gov to find out how you can join the President and get involved.

    Help this be the moment when real change begins. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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    UPDATED: 62 (and Counting) Maine Municipalities, Schools Pass Resolutions Opposing LePage Biennual Budget (LR 1046)

    Posted on April 9, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

    In light of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee March 25 public hearing in Brewer regarding the municipal aid portion of LR 1046, here is a list of the 29 40 48 55 58 62 various towns, cities and as of April 2, multiple school committees and county superintendents associations around the state that have now passed resolutions opposing Governor LePage’s biannual budget.

    Among those who spoke at the AFA public hearing in Brewer:

    • Bangor finance director Debbie Cyr: “We understand the situation the state is faced with now is a culmination of past fiscal policy. But this proposal merely shifts the burden and ultimately the responsibility for state decisions to the municipalities.”
    • Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci: “It would require substantial layoffs across all departments.”
    • Brewer Mayor Kevin O’Connell (VIDEO): … is skeptical when (he) hears that legislators will not let the budget the governor is offering go forward as proposed. “We’re not buying it,” his statement says. “You need to stand by your promises. Don’t let revenue sharing go the way of school funding — a promise made but not kept.”

      Brewer would lose approximately $1.28 million, he said. (NOTE: More below on Brewer’s predicament. ~AP)

    • Brownville Town Manager Matthew Pineo: “Estimates the changes would raise the community’s property tax by $2.96 per $1,000 valuation.”
    • Madison’s part-time assessor (unnamed in article): “Municipal revenue sharing, which offsets municipal property taxes, has been around for three decades and taking it away is a big change.”
    • Town Councilor Mike Madore (VIDEO)
    • Easton Town Manager Jim Gardner: “We fought TABOR [Taxpayer Bill of Rights] and now we’re fighting our own governor.”
    • Town Manager Eugene Conlogue
    • Town Manager Dave Pearson

    Some more video from the public hearing (h/t Maine Dems):

    1. Brewer Firefighter Jason Gross: LePage’s budget will “destroy us”

    2. Pam Pierson of Orland

    A BDN article of note (4/1/13), as it illustrates the difficulties facing those mandated to submit time sensitive school budgets and highlights an especially vulnerable region’s immediate impact, due to Governor LePage’s zero revenue sharing proposal: Brewer school layoff notices to be sent May 1, but may be rescinded, officials say.

    witches

      “I think a lot of people will be upset on May 1st,” school committee chairwoman Janet McIntosh said, stressing that she is worried about teacher reactions.

      How many jobs are actually cut, if any, will be determined in the coming months as state legislators and the governor try to iron out a budget, she and Superintendent Daniel Lee said.

      While state legislators work on the budget, the school department is under statutory obligation to notify teachers and staff who may not have a job next year, Lee said.

      “Next week, you have a meeting to try and settle on where we’re at,” he said to the school board, explaining the two-step process to notify employees. “At that time, I’ll give you positions to eliminate. Between April 1 and the May meeting, we’ll determine who these people are.”

      Lee said that he expects the budget process in Augusta to go down to the last possible minute, which means that if things improve financially, “you can withdraw the letters.”

      One out of every nine positions, mostly teachers, may be eliminated if all the cuts and changes proposed in Augusta under Gov. Paul LePage’s biennial budget are put into place, Lee and school department business manager Gretchen Gardner said last month when they outlined the budget figures for fiscal year 2013-14 to the school board. At that time the shortfall was estimated at $1.4 million. That amount has increased to $1.55 million.

    Brewer High School, home of the Brewer Witches, serves at least a dozen area communities including Brewer, Holden, Eddington, Clifton, Dedham, Orrington, Amherst, Aurora, Osborn, Osborn Plt, Bradley and Glenburn.

    Now for the ever-growing list of communities:

    map

    (This list will be updated as more municipalities submit their passed resolutions to the Legislature. ~AP)

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    President Obama in CT Addresses Gun Violence Reduction (VIDEO; Transcript)

    Posted on April 8, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON REDUCING GUN VIOLENCE

    University of Hartford
    Hartford, Connecticut

    5:45 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Connecticut. (Applause.) Thank you. Well, thank you so much, everybody. Let me begin by thanking Nicole, and Ian, for your brave words. (Applause.) I want to thank them and all the Newtown families who have come here today, including your First Selectman, Pat Llodra. (Applause.) Nobody could be more eloquent than Nicole and the other families on this issue. And we are so grateful for their courage and willingness to share their stories again and again, understanding that nothing is going to be more important in making sure the Congress moves forward this week than hearing from them.

    I want to thank all the educators from Sandy Hook Elementary who have come here as well — (applause) — the survivors —

    AUDIENCE MEMBERS: We love you, Obama!

    THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. I do. (Applause.)

    — the survivors who still mourn and grieve, but are still going to work every day to love and raise those precious children in their care as fiercely as ever.

    I want to thank Governor Malloy for his leadership. (Applause.) Very proud of him. I want to thank the University of Hartford for hosting us this afternoon. (Applause.) Thank you, Hawks. (Applause.) And I want to thank the people of Connecticut for everything you’ve done to honor the memories of the victims — (applause) — because you’re part of their family as well.

    One of your recent alumni, Rachel D’Avino, was a behavioral therapist at Sandy Hook. Two alumni of your performing arts school, Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, lost their daughter, Ana — an incredible, vibrant young girl who looked up to them, and learned from them, and inherited their talents by singing before she could talk.

    So every family in this state was shaken by the tragedy of that morning. Every family in this country was shaken. We hugged our kids more tightly. We asked what could we do, as a society, to help prevent a tragedy like that from happening again.

    And as a society, we decided that we have to change. We must. We must change. (Applause.)

    I noticed that Nicole and others refer to that day as “12/14.” For these families, it was a day that changed everything. And I know many of you in Newtown wondered if the rest of us would live up to the promise we made in those dark days — if we’d change, too; or if once the television trucks left, once the candles flickered out, once the teddy bears were carefully gathered up, that the country would somehow move on to other things.

    Over the weekend, I heard Francine Wheeler, who lost her son Ben that day, say that the four months since the tragedy might feel like a brief moment for some, but for her, it feels like it’s been years since she saw Ben. And she’s determined not to let what happened that day just fade away. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “We are here. And we are going to be here.” And I know that she speaks for everybody in Newtown, everybody who was impacted.

    obama determinedAnd, Newtown, we want you to know that we’re here with you. We will not walk away from the promises we’ve made. (Applause.) We are as determined as ever to do what must be done. In fact, I’m here to ask you to help me show that we can get it done. We’re not forgetting. (Applause.)

    We can’t forget. Your families still grieve in ways most of us can’t comprehend. But so many of you have used that grief to make a difference — not just to honor your own children, but to protect the lives of all of our children. So many of you have mobilized, and organized, and petitioned your elected officials “with love and logic,” as Nicole put it — as citizens determined to right something gone wrong.

    And last week, here in Connecticut, your elected leaders responded. The Connecticut legislature, led by many of the legislators here today, passed new measures to protect more of our children and our communities from gun violence. And Governor Malloy signed that legislation into law. (Applause.)

    So I want to be clear. You, the families of Newtown, people across Connecticut, you helped make that happen. Your voices, your determination made that happen. Obviously, the elected leaders did an extraordinary job moving it forward, but it couldn’t have happened if they weren’t hearing from people in their respective districts, people all across the state. That’s the power of your voice.

    And, by the way, Connecticut is not alone. In the past few months, New York, Colorado, Maryland have all passed new, common-sense gun safety reforms as well. (Applause.)

    These are all states that share an awful familiarity with gun violence, whether it’s the horror of mass killings, or the street crime that’s too common in too many neighborhoods. All of these states also share a strong tradition of hunting, and sport shooting, and gun ownership. It’s been a part of the fabric of people’s lives for generations. And every single one of those states — including here in Connecticut — decided that, yes, we can protect more of our citizens from gun violence while still protecting our Second Amendment rights. Those two things don’t contradict each other. (Applause.) We can pass common-sense laws that protect our kids and protect our rights.

    So Connecticut has shown the way. And now is the time for Congress to do the same. (Applause.) Now is the time for Congress to do the same. This week is the time for Congress to do the same. (Applause.)

    obama hartfordNow, back in January, just a few months after the tragedy in Newtown, I announced a series of executive actions to reduce gun violence and keep our kids safe. And I put forward common-sense proposals — much like those that passed here in Connecticut — for Congress to consider. And you’ll remember in my State of the Union address, I urged Congress to give those proposals a vote. And that moment is now.

    As soon as this week, Congress will begin debating these common-sense proposals to reduce gun violence. Your senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy — they’re here — (applause) — your Representatives, John Larson, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty, Jim Hines, Joe Courtney, they are all pushing to pass this legislation. (Applause.) But much of Congress is going to only act if they hear from you, the American people. So here’s what we have to do.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you, Mr. President.

    THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. (Laughter.) Here’s what we’ve got to do. We have to tell Congress it’s time to require a background check for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that people who are dangerous to themselves and others cannot get their hands on a gun. Let’s make that happen. (Applause.)

    We have to tell Congress it’s time to crack down on gun trafficking so that folks will think twice before buying a gun as part of a scheme to arm someone who won’t pass a background check. Let’s get that done. (Applause.)

    We have to tell Congress it’s time to restore the ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines, to make it harder for a gunman to fire 154 bullets into his victims in less than five minutes. Let’s put that to a vote. (Applause.)

    We have to tell Congress it’s time to strengthen school safety and help people struggling with mental health problems get the treatment they need before it’s too late. Let’s do that for our kids and for our communities. (Applause.)

    Now, I know that some of these proposals inspire more debate than others, but each of them has the support of the majority of the American people. All of them are common sense. All of them deserve a vote. All of them deserve a vote. (Applause.)

    Consider background checks. Over the past 20 years, background checks have kept more than 2 million dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun. A group of police officers in Colorado told me last week that, thanks to background checks, they’ve been able to stop convicted murderers, folks under restraining orders for committing violent domestic abuse from buying a gun. In some cases, they’ve actually arrested the person as they were coming to purchase the gun.

    So we know that background checks can work. But the problem is loopholes in the current law let so many people avoid background checks altogether. That’s not safe. It doesn’t make sense. If you’re a law-abiding citizen and you go through a background check to buy a gun, wouldn’t you expect other people to play by the same rules? (Applause.)

    If you’re a law-abiding gun seller, wouldn’t you want to know you’re not selling your gun to someone who’s likely to commit a crime? (Applause.) Shouldn’t we make it harder, not easier for somebody who is convicted of domestic abuse to get his hands on a gun? (Applause.)

    It turns out 90 percent of Americans think so. Ninety percent of Americans support universal background checks. Think about that. How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything? (Laughter.) And yet, 90 percent agree on this — Republicans, Democrats, folks who own guns, folks who don’t own guns; 80 percent of Republicans, more than 80 percent of gun owners, more than 70 percent of NRA households. It is common sense.

    And yet, there is only one thing that can stand in the way of change that just about everybody agrees on, and that’s politics in Washington. You would think that with those numbers Congress would rush to make this happen. That’s what you would think. (Applause.) If our democracy is working the way it’s supposed to, and 90 percent of the American people agree on something, in the wake of a tragedy you’d think this would not be a heavy lift.

    And yet, some folks back in Washington are already floating the idea that they may use political stunts to prevent votes on any of these reforms. Think about that. They’re not just saying they’ll vote “no” on ideas that almost all Americans support. They’re saying they’ll do everything they can to even prevent any votes on these provisions. They’re saying your opinion doesn’t matter. And that’s not right.

    AUDIENCE: Booo —

    THE PRESIDENT: That is not right.

    AUDIENCE: We want a vote!

    THE PRESIDENT: We need a vote.

    AUDIENCE: We want a vote! We want a vote!

    THE PRESIDENT: We need a vote.

    AUDIENCE: We want a vote!

    Obama Travels To Connecticut To Advocate Passing Of Stricter Gun LawsTHE PRESIDENT: Now, I’ve also heard some in the Washington press suggest that what happens to gun violence legislation in Congress this week will either be a political victory or defeat for me. Connecticut, this is not about me. This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing for all the families who are here that have been torn apart by gun violence. (Applause.)

    It’s about them and all the families going forward, so we can prevent this from happening again. That’s what it’s about. It’s about the law enforcement officials putting their lives at risk. That’s what this is about. This is not about politics. (Applause.) This is not about politics.

    This is about these families and families all across the country who are saying let’s make it a little harder for our kids to get gunned down.

    When I said in my State of the Union address that these proposals deserve a vote — that families of Newtown, and Aurora, and Tucson, and a former member of Congress, Gabby Giffords, that they all deserved a vote -– virtually every member of that chamber stood up and applauded. And now they’re going to start denying your families a vote when the cameras are off and when the lobbyists have worked what they do? You deserve better than that. You deserve a vote.

    Now, look, we knew from the beginning of this debate that change would not be easy. We knew that there would be powerful interests that are very good at confusing the subject, that are good at amplifying conflict and extremes, that are good at drowning out rational debate, good at ginning up irrational fears, all of which stands in the way of progress.

    But if our history teaches us anything, then it’s up to us –- the people -– to stand up to those who say we can’t, or we won’t; stand up for the change that we need. And I believe that that’s what the American people are looking for.

    When I first ran for this office, I said that I did not believe the country was as divided as our politics would suggest, and I still believe that. (Applause.) I know sometimes, when you watch cable news or talk radio, or you browse the Internet, you’d think, man, everybody just hates each other, everybody is just at each other’s throats. But that’s not how most Americans think about these issues. There are good people on both sides of every issue.

    So if we’re going to move forward, we can’t just talk past one another. We’ve got to listen to one another. That’s what Governor Malloy and all these legislative leaders did. That’s why they were able to pass bipartisan legislation. (Applause.)

    I’ve got stacks of letters from gun owners who want me to know that they care passionately about their right to bear arms, don’t want them infringed upon, and I appreciate every one of those letters. I’ve learned from them. But a lot of those letters, what they’ve also said is they’re not just gun owners; they’re also parents or police officers or veterans, and they agree that we can’t stand by and keep letting these tragedies happen; that with our rights come some responsibilities and obligations to our communities and ourselves, and most of all to our children. We can’t just think about “us” –- we’ve got to think about “we, the people.”

    I was in Colorado. I told a story about Michelle. She came back from a trip to rural Iowa; we were out there campaigning. Sometimes it would be miles between farms, let alone towns. And she said, you know, coming back, I can understand why somebody would want a gun for protection. If somebody drove up into the driveway and, Barack, you weren’t home, the sheriff lived miles away, I might want that security. So she can understand what it might be like in terms of somebody wanting that kind of security.

    On the other hand, I also talked to a hunter last week who said, all my experiences with guns have been positive, but I also realize that for others, all their experiences with guns have been negative.

    And when he said that, I thought about the mom I met from suburban Chicago whose son was killed in a random shooting. And this mom told me, I hate it when people tell me that my son was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was on his way to school. He was exactly where he was supposed to be. He was in the right place at the right time, and he still got shot. (Applause.)

    The kids at Sandy Hook were where they were supposed to be. So were those moviegoers in Aurora. So were those worshippers in Oak Creek. So was Gabby Giffords. She was at a supermarket, listening to the concerns of her constituents. (Applause.) They were exactly where they were supposed to be. They were also exercising their rights — to assemble peaceably; to worship freely and safely. They were exercising the rights of life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So surely, we can reconcile those two things. Surely, America doesn’t have to be divided between rural and urban, and Democrat and Republican when it comes to something like this.

    hugIf you’re an American who wants to do something to prevent more families from knowing the immeasurable anguish that these families here have known, then we have to act. Now is the time to get engaged. Now is the time to get involved. Now is the time to push back on fear, and frustration, and misinformation. Now is the time for everybody to make their voices heard from every state house to the corridors of Congress.

    And I’m asking everyone listening today, find out where your member of Congress stands on this. If they’re not part of the 90 percent of Americans who agree on background checks, then ask them, why not? Why wouldn’t you want to make it easier for law enforcement to do their job? Why wouldn’t you want to make it harder for a dangerous person to get his or her hands on a gun? What’s more important to you: our children, or an A-grade from the gun lobby? (Applause.)

    I’ve heard Nicole talk about what her life has been like since Dylan was taken from her in December. And one thing she said struck me. She said, “Every night, I beg for him to come to me in my dreams so that I can see him again. And during the day, I just focus on what I need to do to honor him and make change.” Now, if Nicole can summon the courage to do that, how can the rest of us do any less? (Applause.) How can we do any less?

    If there is even one thing we can do to protect our kids, don’t we have an obligation to try? If there is even one step we can take to keep somebody from murdering dozens of innocents in the span of minutes, shouldn’t we be taking that step? (Applause.) If there is just one thing we can do to keep one father from having to bury his child, isn’t that worth fighting for?

    I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had tough days in the presidency — I’ve said this before. The day Newtown happened was the toughest day of my presidency. But I’ve got to tell you, if we don’t respond to this, that will be a tough day for me, too. (Applause.) Because we’ve got to expect more from ourselves, and we’ve got to expect more from Congress. We’ve got to believe that every once in a while, we set politics aside and we just do what’s right. (Applause.) We’ve got to believe that.

    And if you believe that, I’m asking you to stand up. (Applause.) If you believe in the right to bears arms, like I do, but think we should prevent an irresponsible few from inflicting harm — stand up. Stand up. (Applause.)

    If you believe that the families of Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and Virginia Tech and the thousands of Americans who have been gunned down in the last four months deserve a vote, we all have to stand up. (Applause.)

    If you want the people you send to Washington to have just an iota of the courage that the educators at Sandy Hook showed when danger arrived on their doorstep, then we’re all going to have to stand up.

    And if we do, if we come together and raise our voices together and demand this change together, I’m convinced cooperation and common sense will prevail. We will find sensible, intelligent ways to make this country stronger and safer for our children. (Applause.)

    So let’s do the right thing. Let’s do right by our kids. Let’s do right by these families. Let’s get this done. Connecticut, thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

    END 6:13 P.M. EDT

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