Archive for January, 2014

Senator George J. Mitchell Honored at Maine State House (Video, Text, Photos)

Posted on January 30, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: |

Updated: It is now being reported that Senator Mitchell has been asked to serve as negotiator for the victims of last year’s Lac-Megantic, Quebec train disaster, as the company owning the train involved, Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, goes through bankruptcy.

mitchellportraitMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell was honored this week at the State House and invited to speak before a joint convention of the full 126th Legislature, former leaders and invited guests. Among the dignitaries and Maine notables present were former Governor Joseph Brennan, Maine Supreme Court Justice the Hon. Leigh I. Saufley, Attorney General Janet T. Mills, Auditor Pola Buckley, former Maine Senate President Libby Mitchell, Speakers of the House John Martin and John Richardson, and many others. Others who were unable to attend included Governor Paul LePage (due to a family medical issue), former Governor John Baldacci and Maine’s Congressional members, who sent well wishes which were read aloud to those assembled.

Rep. Mike Michaud:

    “I am honored to send my greetings as you address the Joint Session of the Maine State Legislature and attend the unveiling of your portrait in the Hall of Flags.

    You are one of America’s finest statesmen, and we in Maine are proud of your distinguished legacy of public service. As Senator, you were a skilled legislator and a champion for the environment, education, health care, and for working families. When you became Majority Leader, you still came home every weekend and traveled throughout the state. While many may point to your legislative victories and diplomatic successes as the highlights of your career, the establishment of the Mitchell Institute is perhaps your greatest and most lasting accomplishment.

    Throughout your career you have inspired and encouraged Maine’s young people to work hard, continue their education, and pursue their future careers. With the establishment of the Mitchell Institute, you have enabled countless young Mainers to go onto college and fulfill their dreams. For a lifetime of service to the people of Maine, it is a most fitting tribute to have your portrait displayed in the Hall of Flags.

    Thank you, Senator, for your service to our state and to our nation, and thank you for your friendship and your wise counsel.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree (via Facebook):

    “Senator George Mitchell had his portrait hung up at the State House today. I first got to meet him years ago when I was School Board Chair on North Haven–as Senator, he visited every high school in the state, including the one on our tiny little island. He has touched thousands of lives, and I hope his portrait guides many generations of Maine leaders to come.”

Link here to some of the day’s photos.

Senator Mitchell’s address was heartfelt, humorous, insightful and mindful of the changing political environment facing politicians. He discussed the decades of his career in public service and cautioned the 126th Legislature that much of his accomplishments as both Senate Majority Leader in Congress and in helping negotiate peace in Northern Ireland came not from his ability to talk- but rather his ability to listen, to all who wished to be heard:

    “Remember that no party has a monopoly on patriotism, on good intentions, or wisdom. To the extent it’s possible, try to forego the personal insult, and concentrate on the issues. It’s better for you, and most importantly, it’s better for the people of Maine.

    We share pride in the fact that we represented our country, first of all, our states, our parties and our constituents vigorously, and we hope, effectively, but without personal rancor or hostility. It can be done in Washington, in Augusta, in America.”

He also discussed with pride the work of the Mitchell Institute and the scholarships his foundation has provided to thousands of Maine students over the past twenty years. He drew applause when he praised Maine’s students:

    “I’ve met thousands of these young people and I can tell you, without a doubt, Maine students are as good as any students in America,” Mitchell said Tuesday morning, to rousing applause from every corner of the packed House chamber. “And if they are given the chance and the tools, they can compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

Text of his prepared remarks:

He concluded his remarks by asking lawmakers to do the best they could for the people of Maine based on their conscience and best judgment.

After his address, a commissioned portrait of Mitchell painted by artist James Hanley of Dublin, Ireland was unveiled in the Hall of Flags, where the picture now hangs. This is an honor previously given to a very select few Maine politicians, as only five others have preceded him: William King, James G. Blaine, Thomas Brackett Reed, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith and Sen. Edmund Muskie.

Video of the unveiling of Senator Mitchell’s portrait in the Hall of Flags:

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(UPDATED) Maine Takes Up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”

Posted on January 24, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

UPDATE (1/24/14): The Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted against the measure, 9-4. Senator Linda Valentino (D-York), who serves as chair of the committee, later issued the following statement:

    “I support and believe strongly in the First Amendment which provides for religious freedom. This bill would do nothing more than foster and legalize discrimination. We’ve come too far to take such a drastic step backward. One danger of this measure is the unintended consequences. Because your religion ‘says so’ does not mean you have carte blanche to break the law.”

The bill will now go before the Senate for another vote.


(Originally posted 1/19/14)

LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom” was held over from earlier in the session and had a public hearing on January 16th before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee. Among those to speak in opposition to the bill, which opponents say will lead to legalized discrimination was Maine’s Attorney General, Janet T. Mills. Below is her testimony as presented to the committee.

An overview via EqualityMaine:

    Everyone’s religious beliefs should be respected, but no one should be above the law.

  • LD 1428 would allow anyone who claims that a law or regulation has burdened their religious freedom to sue for monetary damages, no matter how minor, incidental or indirect the alleged infringement is.
  • It creates a pre-emptive cause of action, allowing someone to sue if they merely expect their religious freedom to be burdened, without showing harm.
  • It makes no exceptions for civil rights, health care, criminal behavior or public safety.

    Maine already has strong protections for religious freedom.

  • The Maine Constitution and the U.S. Constitution explicitly protect religious freedom.
  • The Maine Human Rights Act explicitly protects people from discrimination on the basis of religion.
  • There are 13 individual statues in Maine that protect religious freedom in everything from property tax, to militia service, to immunization and school absences for children.

    LD 1428 creates many problems and solves none.

  • Religious freedom is protected in Maine, and there is no evidence that Maine’s existing religious protections are not working.
  • Maine already has a law that says that doctors and nurses can’t be required to participate in the performance of an abortion, if they object. LD 1428 would, however, open the door to possible claims by health care professionals that they have the right to refuse to provide any medical service based on their religious beliefs, regardless of existing state laws or governing standards of care.
  • This proposal creates a gaping exemption to every Maine law, allowing people to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to break laws that apply to everyone else.
  • LD 1428 would circumvent the non-discrimination laws and their requirements that any individual or entity treat all persons fairly, regardless of race, religion, sex or sexual orientation.
  • This bill could dramatically increase the number of lawsuits against state and local governments, and cause them to incur large legal costs.

    Laws like LD 1428 have fostered lawsuits and discrimination in other states.

  • In Texas, a public bus driver refused to drive a passenger to Planned Parenthood, citing his religious beliefs. (Graning v. Capital Area Transportation System)
  • In Florida, an employer who believed pregnancy outside of marriage is a sin fired an unmarried pregnant employee. (Hamilton v. Southland Christian School)
  • In Georgia, a student enrolled in a university counseling program claimed that she had the religiously based right to defy professional standards and condemn gay clients. (Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley)

ACLU of Maine shared statements of some of the opponents who spoke.

Rev. Sue Gabrielson:

    “LD 1428 would actually foster discrimination, by undermining our non-discrimination laws and the understanding that people treat others fairly, regardless of their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. As people of faith, we honor the inherent worth and dignity of all people and reject any law that would allow discrimination against Mainers in the name of religious freedom.”

Apollo Karara:

    “Throughout the immigrant community here in Maine, there are many people who have fled violence and persecution based on religious or ethnic discrimination with the hope of a peaceful new beginning here in a country where “all men are created equal”. The blessing of America is that our freedoms are protected – including freedom of religion – but discrimination is not. As a Christian I am glad that I have the freedom to practice my religion. But I know firsthand how dangerous it can be to decide that your personal beliefs entitle you to break laws that protect us all. Once we start down the slippery slope of allowing someone to use their religious beliefs to pick and choose the laws that they need to follow, we start down a path that has caused violence and persecution in other nations around the world.”

Oamshri Amarasingham:

    “Freedom of religion is a fundamental right, protected by the constitutions of Maine and the United States, and we will always fight for the right of individuals to believe what they choose. But LD 1428 goes far beyond protecting religious freedom, so far that it would allow people to use their religion to ignore important laws that are meant to protect the common good of all Mainers. This bill is a solution in search of a problem, and in fact it creates far more problems than it solves. The legislature should reject it.”

The bill next comes up for a January 23 work session.

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Weekly Democratic Address by Senator Dawn Hill (York): Dems Working Across Aisle To Keep State’s Promise to Towns

Posted on January 17, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

(NOTE: All stresses and links within the address below are mine and not as sent out to media. ~AP)

Audio link here:

      DEMOCRATIC RADIO ADDRESS

    Hill says: Some spend their time pointing out all that is wrong and offer no solutions, but Democrats are working across the aisle to see that the state keeps its promise with Maine towns.

    One of the most important tasks for any legislature is to work with the governor to put together a budget for our state. Budgets are built upon compromise and negotiation. And while each political party may have variations in their funding priorities, there’s often bipartisan agreement when it comes to meeting our financial obligations, especially when it comes to the towns and communities across our state.

    dawn hillGood Morning. This is State Senator Dawn Hill of York. I am the Senate Chair of the state’s budget writing committee.

    More than forty years ago, state government made a promise to each town and city in Maine: give five percent of sales and income taxes collected from towns, by the state, back to the municipalities. This is called revenue sharing. The goal of this promise was to provide property tax relief to homeowners and commercial property owners.

    The state has kept its promise— until recently.

    Last year, Governor LePage broke this promise by proposing the complete elimination of revenue sharing. During the public hearing, we heard days of testimony from Mayors, City Managers, and Selectboards—each narrating the devastating impact this would have on communities in every corner of our state.

    The Legislature responded.

    Democrats led the way to restore revenue sharing. And while we restored a good portion of it, we were thwarted by some Tea Party Republicans, and were unable to fully fund revenue sharing.

    Last month, Governor LePage doubled down on his pursuit to completely eliminate revenue sharing. He even went so far as to call it “welfare.” Ask any town manager if they agree with Governor LePage’s label.

    I can tell you that town officials from our biggest cities to our smallest towns have responded in outrage.

    Belfast. Standish. Brewer. Eddington. Portland. And dozens more.

    Towns are telling us their budgets are as tight as can be. They depend on the state’s revenue sharing, and cannot tolerate placing any more unnecessary pressure on local taxpayers.

    If the state doesn’t keep its promise, no town will escape the choice between cutting bare-to-the bones services or raising property taxes. And, many will have to do both.

    Last week, my co-chair and I proposed a measure that will honor the state’s promise to our local towns. Without this, towns will lose an average of sixty-two percent of revenue sharing toward their budgets.

    So why does revenue sharing matter?

    As you drive—or walk—around your town, look around.

    • Are your streets plowed, paved?

    • Do you have sidewalks?
    • Are there street lights directing traffic? What about trees lining your Main Street?
    • Are the restaurants in your town clean and up to code? And let’s not forget about the police and firefighters who keep us safe. And our schools, that teach our kids.

    Revenue sharing matters.

    While some in Augusta spend their time pointing out all that is wrong with our state—and offer no solutions, Democrats are working across the aisle to see that we uphold our share of the bargain for our towns. And because of that, I hope our Republican colleagues will join us in fulfilling the state’s commitment.

    This is State Senator Dawn Hill. Thank you for listening. Have a good weekend. And, let’s remember to honor Dr. Martin Luther King on Monday.

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Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) Introduces LD 1640 to HHS Committee (Video; Text)

Posted on January 16, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

The second bill that came up for public hearing yesterday before the HHS Committee was presented by Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson. His bill, LD 1640, “An Act To Enhance the Stability and Predictability of Health Care Costs for Returning Veterans and Others by Addressing the Issues Associated with Hospital Charity Care and Bad Debt”, is designed to address the specific needs of Maine’s service members and other Mainers who find themselves excluded from the existing Affordable Care Act. Here is video of the senator’s address to the committee and his prepared speech.

(Note: As access to healthcare for all Mainers has long been a personal cause for Senator Jackson, he went off script on occasion to stress the need.)

    TESTIMONY FROM SENATOR TROY JACKSON IN SUPPORT OF LD 1640 AND 1578

    My name is Troy Jackson. I am from Allagash and I am the State Senator representing District 35, the northern most part of Aroostook County. I also serve as the Senate Majority Leader.

    I am the primary sponsor of LD 1640 and a co-sponsor of LD 1578, Presented by Speaker Eves. These bills will secure $263 million dollars from the federal government to expand Medicaid coverage to 69,500 hard working, deserving Mainers – including veterans. Right now these mainers face a future without health insurance and without adequate access to necessary, healing and life-saving medical care.

    troy hhsI want to remind this committee and all of my colleagues in both parties in the house and the senate that these bills represent our last chance to do right by Maine people and families who depend on our actions. If Governor LePage had not vetoed LD 1066 last year – or, if the legislature had stood up and over-ridden that veto – we would already be moving toward the goal of a unified, fair and open health care system for all Mainers regardless of income.

    Making public policy relies on both common sense treatment of facts and figures and on political philosophies. We know the governor’s philosophy. He called this effort to expand healthcare in Maine – and I quote from his veto message: “a massive increase in welfare expansion.”

    Let me be clear: health care is not welfare
    — not to me and not to a single one of the 69,500 mainers who will be left out in the cold if we do not bring them into our healthcare system.

    No – health care is not welfare. Health care is a basic necessity of life like food and shelter and fuel. Health care is a basic right.

    But I am not here to debate philosophy.

    I am here to push for action because time is running out to extend help to 69,500 Mainers who desperately need our leadership. If we do not expand Medicaid in Maine we will be failing as leaders. That failure would be wrong-headed and hard-hearted. It would be a heartbreaking tragedy for thousands of working Mainers and their families.

    troy standYes – working Mainers. The majority of people waiting to learn if they will have health care coverage do work.

    Sixty five percent of Maine’s uninsured live in a family where someone works full-time. And I want to emphasize that: full time.

    Full time in retail jobs, food service and restaurant jobs; full time in our hospitality industry; full time in office jobs, in manufacturing and construction, in transportation. They work full time on the waterfront and on our farms and in our forests. You and I – we all know them: they’re our friends and neighbors and family members.

    The next time you pay your bill at the local diner or a fancy restaurant, look your waiter in the eye and know this: that person is probably relying on you to offer help with health care.

    The next time you go through the grocery line and tell the cashier to have a nice day, that person is waiting to be covered by MaineCare.

    The next time you go to a local farmer’s market and buy local, that farmer and his workers are waiting for your decision to include them – not exclude them – from Maine’s health care system. And their children and loved ones are waiting, too.

    I would refer you to reports and analysis compiled by the Maine Center for Economic Policy for a clear sighted view. And I will highlight some of the findings that we must consider and weigh in order to make common sense public policy.

    And it is pure common sense to take the opportunity we have right now and accept federal funds to expand Medicaid in Maine, to help those working Mainers who find themselves locked out of access to health insurance and to take the next step toward a unified, fair health care system open to all Mainers.

    What is that opportunity?

    First: accept $263 million dollars of federal funding in order to close the coverage gap and insure Mainers who could go uninsured if we do not say yes to the federal government’s offer.

    That money will allow us to potentially cut in half the number of uninsured Mainers.

    So if you earn less than $15,856 on your own as an individual, or if you are the bread winner of a family of three earning less than $26,951, you will be eligible for Medicaid in Maine. You will gain access to a basic right.

    Second: let’s understand the reality of our State and act so we can both expand Medicaid coverage and provide a measure of fairness to rural Mainers. Many, many more working Mainers who may lose coverage and go without live in our most rural counties.

    If we do not expand Medicaid, we will penalize rural Mainers and undermine efforts to revive Maine’s rural economy.

    If we do not expand Medicaid, we will divide Maine yet again and increase the gap between haves and have nots, between rich and poor, south and north, urban and rural.

    The loss of basic health insurance would be crushing to individual families living in rural Maine, to businesses in rural Maine and to the very health care system designed to provide medical care. We must open our eyes to this reality.

    Let’s keep in mind – let’s always keep in mind – that our neighbors, friends and family members are those who are relying on us. These working Mainers are not statistics. They are individuals with a common need: healthcare coverage and medical care.

    But facts and figures do guide us to understanding what is best if we just say yes to medicaid expansion.

    For example, in Washington County more than 13% of people from age 18 to 64 will become eligible for Medicaid. And Washington County could receive more than nine million dollars to fund that expansion. In Somerset, 11 percent become eligible and the County receives more than twelve million dollars.

    In Waldo, almost eleven percent will get covered and the County gets almost ten million to help. In Androscoggin, 8.6 percent and twenty million get help. In Penobscot, 8.3 percent and thirty one million. In Aroostook 10.6 percent and sixteen million.

    The money available from the federal government goes into our State economy, creating jobs and generating state and local taxes. The money not only helps people in need, the money helps to expand Maine’s whole healthcare economy. In Penobscot, Androscoggin, Aroostook and Washington Counties as many as one in five jobs are in health care related businesses and services.

    Many of these jobs are held by women whose families rely on their earning power. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Medicaid-supported jobs held by women in Maine amount to more than 17,000 – and this number will increase when we say yes to Medicaid expansion in Maine.

    Third: The Federal funds that we accept to expand Medicaid bring healthcare and healthy benefits to working Mainers and to our economy. I’ve talked about the direct economic benefits from our decision to expand Medicaid. And there is the benefit that matters most to working people: more days on the job, earning a wage, making ends meet and fewer days off the job because they can’t afford medical care or receive ongoing care for chronic conditions or injuries.

    At a time when unemployment in rural Maine is chronically high, when low wage jobs offer little hope of economic security, with the minimum wage stuck in low gear, failure to expand Medicaid in Maine will add another strain on the budgets of working families. Failure to expand Medicaid will unfairly penalize rural Mainers and women who work in Medicaid-supported healthcare jobs. Failure to expand Medicaid will force Maine families to make terrible choices between basic necessities: food or fuel? Shelter or medical treatment? A warm winter coat or a drug prescription?

    To me, all of this makes our choice clear: just say yes to Medicaid expansion in Maine.

    Fourth: There are 2,700 veterans in Maine who would become eligible for care when we expand Medicaid. Don’t assume that all veterans young and old automatically receive care through the Veterans Administration. If we do not expand Medicaid, veterans will lose out – and perhaps live out their days without a basic right they fought for: and that’s the right to healthcare.

    troy pointFinally let me say a word about Medicaid. There is little or no administrative fat to cut in Medicaid. Ninety-six percent of Medicaid spending goes to pay for health care and long-term care for Maine people – not for administrative overhead. Medicaid works to control healthcare costs for all of us.

    A failure to expand this program here in Maine will mean that older people, working people, low-income children, individuals with disabilities and even returning veterans will have no where to turn but the emergency room. Or worse, they will put off care and suffer pain and ill health silently, without complaint. Is that right?

    Especially when every lawmaker in Augusta has access to government funded health insurance?

    Will we ask working Mainers to take a dose of Yankee stoicism because we won’t use common sense and offer a little Yankee practicality? That’s what it comes down to.

    Accept the Federal Government’s offer of help, and use $263 million dollars to cut in half the number of uninsured Mainers.

    Use this money to bolster our State economy, and to provide access to a basic right.

    Act now because 69,500 Maine people we know – who live down the road or around the corner, whose children go to school with our children, who sit in the pew every Sunday in church with us, who work with us, who are a living, breathing vital part of our communities – act now because these Mainers are relying on our leadership.

    Thank you and I urge you to move this legislation forward as rapidly as possible.

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Speaker of the House Mark Eves (D-N Berwick) presents LD 1578 Expanding Federally Funded Health Care in HHS public hearing (Video; text)

Posted on January 16, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Yesterday Speaker of the House Mark Eves (D- N Berwick) presented his bill, LD 1578, “An Act To Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People” before the Health and Human Services Committee in a packed public hearing. Here is a clip of his address to committee members and released text of his prepared remarks.

    Testimony in Support of LD 1578, “An Act To Increase Health Security by Expanding Federally Funded Health Care for Maine People”

    Good morning, Senator Craven, Rep. Farnsworth and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services. It’s a great privilege to be before you today to present my bill to accept federal health care dollars to cover 70,000 Maine people, including nearly 3,000 veterans.

    LD 1578 would provide life-saving health care to tens of thousands of Mainers. It directs the state to accept 100 percent federal funding to cover more Maine families under the Affordable Care Act.

    This is an unprecedented bargain for the state. It’s a good deal. Not only would it provide critical care to Mainers in need, it would also save money in the state’s general fund and generate hundreds of millions in economic activity. The federal government would literally pick up the tab for state programs, freeing up state dollars for other key programs.

    eves cmteNow more than ever, it is critical for Maine to accept these federal dollars. On Jan. 1 — only a few short weeks ago — nearly 25,000 Mainers, including nearly 15,000 working parents whose children depend on them to stay healthy to go to work each day, are losing their health care. They lost this care for one simple reason: because the state turned down this bargain from the federal government.

    Like so many of you, I hear from constituents on different issues. Earlier this week, I had a heart breaking call from a woman, Amy, whose family had lost their health care in January. Her husband is a type-1 diabetic and they simply couldn’t afford to fill his insulin prescription. They went to the pharmacy at Shaws and it was $203.00 per bottle. She was scared. Her husband needs his medicine, but they don’t have an extra $400 to $600 a month to pay for his critical insulin. She works and so does her husband. She doesn’t want a hand out, but her employer doesn’t provide health insurance and she can’t afford to buy private insurance.

    Amy is not alone. There are hundreds of people just like her, whose lives have changed because of decisions we make in this building every day. You will hear from many of them today. We are talking about life-saving health care. I urge you to really listen.

    Over the past few months, I’ve worked to address some of the concerns I’ve heard from lawmakers. This bill is tri-partisan –it has four Republican co-sponsors, one independent and five Democrats.

    It includes good-faith effort to bring all parties together:

    ● A sunset provision after 3 years, prior to the decline in federal funding to 90 percent.

    ● An opt-out provision if the federal government breaks its commitment before the 3 year period

    ● It requires a co-pay from individuals utilizing the program.

    ● Creates a MaineCare Stabilization Fund to pool savings accrued from accepting the federal dollars

    This is a true compromise.

    I am ready and willing to consider any idea that will allow this life-saving care for Maine families to move forward. It’s too important. Too much is at stake. We can do this if we turn down the rhetoric and the politics and look at the facts:

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson wait before presenting their bills before HHS Committee.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves and Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson wait before presenting their bills before HHS Committee.

    And these are the facts.

    Maine could prevent around 395 deaths per year by accepting federal funds. (Harvard Study) and we will lose out on millions of dollars if we don’t (RAND Study). We have an opportunity to save our state more than $600 million dollars by accepting these funds (Kaiser).

    These are facts from non-partisan; independent research institutes.

    With each day that passes, Maine loses out on an additional $700,000 per day, $500 per minute totaling 250 million a year.

    Maine will miss out on as many as 4,400 jobs and over half a billion dollars in annual economic activity by 2016 (MECEP).

    Many of the people who could get health care if we accept these funds are Mainers who work at low-paying jobs in our grocery stores or construction sites or home care providers that don’t get health care benefits through their jobs. There are even veterans whose ailments aren’t covered through the VA.

    We can truly put aside partisanship to accept federal dollars to increase access to healthcare for working people in our state. Republican and Democratic governors across the country have done it.

    In closing, I would like to echo the words of the Maine Hospital Association in a recent OpEd in the KJ, “Mainers routinely support initiatives to fund highway and clean water projects with federal match rates far below 90 percent, and we see no reason to forgo this level of funding just because it’s health care. If this were an opportunity for federal dollars for a ship at Bath Iron Works or a defense contract or for highways and bridges, we would be jumping at the opportunity and celebrating.”

    This is an opportunity that we should not pass up. Increasing access to healthcare for more Maine people is the right moral and economic thing to do.

    Thank you for listening. I’d be glad to take questions at this time.

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Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Maine has an Obligation to Help Our Most Vulnerable and Pay its Bills

Posted on January 15, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

Audio link here.

    Maine has an Obligation to Help Our Most Vulnerable and Pay its Bills

Welfare expansion will cost Maine more than $800 million dollars over the first 10 years. That’s worth saying again. Over the next decade, if Maine expanded welfare, it will cost taxpayers more than $800 million dollars.

Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

lepage officeWhile liberals are busy blasting me and the Administration about hiring a consultant to analyze whether we should expand Maine’s Medicaid program, the reality is the report provides a road map to save taxpayers money and improve services for the truly needy.

This week our Administration provided Mainers and lawmakers The Feasibility of Medicaid Expansion under the Affordable Care Act. If Maine opts to expand Medicaid as it did 10 years ago, the report estimates it will cost the state more than $800 million—and that’s without additional risk factors. It does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars that will be shifted onto the middle class who buy their insurance. This will cause private insurance premiums skyrocket.

When risks like the poverty rate and costs of care are taken into consideration, Maine could pay up to $3.2 billion over 10 years.

History does repeat itself, as you well know, we just paid off the hospital debt from the 2002 expansion.

Maine already has the third-highest spending on Medicaid in the nation. Expanding is not affordable.

The report also predicts between 31 and 36 percent of all Mainers will be receiving taxpayer-funded health care by 2023. In other words, for every three Mainers, one will be on Medicaid at the taxpayer’s expense.

Today, Maine’s welfare program is not financially solvent. Last week, I alerted legislative leadership of a major shortfall in the budget. The culprit? The Medicaid program. There is a multimillion-dollar shortfall for several reasons, including a rise in the use of services and increasing health care costs. Like everything else, prices are going up and health care is no exception.

I do not want to see Maine falling behind in paying its bills again. It was a battle with liberals for three years to get them to do the right thing and finally pay 750 million dollars to Maine’s hospitals. The state had an obligation to pay its welfare bills. And we have an obligation to continue to pay them.

I talk frequently about fiscal responsibility, but as important is the quality of care provided by our welfare programs.

Medicaid is supposed to help our most vulnerable citizens – the children, elderly, disabled and mentally ill. However, there are thousands of Mainers on waitlists who need health care services.

We have nursing homes on the brink of closing due to below cost reimbursement rates.

We also know of many vulnerable people who would like home and community-based health care services, but they are denied because funding is not available. If this care was available to them, it would cost the state less than current services.

Our Administration wants a welfare system that works for Maine people. Mainers deserve a safety net that provides quality and accessible care. That’s why we are striving to gain greater flexibility from the federal government to improve services for those who need it most.

The funny thing is that the guy who wrote the report has been very successful in getting the federal government to work with states on improving its Medicaid program. So, why aren’t liberals listening to what he has to say?

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LD 1656, “An Act To Increase Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence” Has Public Hearing (Videos)

Posted on January 13, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

A public hearing before the Criminal Justice and Public Safety legislative committee was held this morning for LD 1656, “An Act to Increase Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence”, sponsored by Senator Emily Cain (D-Penobscot). The bill builds upon an earlier law sponsored by then-House Democratic Leader Cain requiring law enforcement officers to receive training to use evidence-based domestic violence risk assessments. That earlier law did not specify how the information obtained from the assessments could be used and LD 1656 is meant to clarify how law enforcement, judicial, and community groups share information obtained from the risk assessments in order to plan the most effective response when domestic violence occurs.

A portion of her prepared testimony:

    Today I am here to present LD 1656, An Act to Increase Safety for Victims of Domestic Violence.

    As members of this committee, you know better than most that there is no quick fix, no magic wand, and no miracle cure for domestic violence.

    I sure wish there was. We all wish it.

    Last year, Maine police reported more than 5,500 incidents of domestic violence. State Police total numbers of homicides for 2013 are now available, and the facts are – again – scary and sad. According to the State Police, the number of homicides in 2013 totaled 24, which included one homicide committed in 2012, body discovered in 2013 and a double homicide. Of those 24 homicides, 11 or 46% were the result of domestic violence. In addition, domestic violence homicides were related to 4 additional deaths when murderers killed themselves or were killed by law enforcement.

    Since you and I have been engaged in this topic and this work to end domestic violence for many years, I bet you have the same reaction I do when you watch the news and hear about yet another incident of domestic violence. You take it personally, and wonder – what else could we have done? What else can we do? This has to stop.

    LD 1656 is not about a new approach to keeping victims of domestic violence safe. It does not create new policy changes. Today’s bill is about making the laws we have passed work better and as intended.

    The components in this bill are all improvements to existing laws that are basically working very well. These improvements are badly needed to increase safety for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as to allow the policy, and the coordinated community response to domestic violence, to work the way the legislature intended when we passed laws in prior sessions. These are all changes to existing statute, and I have an additional amendment to the bill that has come to light in the past few weeks.

    The bill builds on current law with the following elements:

    Senator Emily Cain listens as CJPS committee member Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) asks a question.

    Senator Emily Cain listens as CJPS committee member Rep. Corey Wilson (R-Augusta) asks a question.

    • A judicial ruling in the Thomas case this past fall, related to the Address Confidentiality Act, provided a new interpretation of several phrases within that act in a way that left an unintended safety loophole. This bill repairs that loophole by clarifying the protection provided to victims at high risk by keeping their home addresses confidential after they have relocated for safety.

    • In 2012, we worked together on important changes to the bail code related to domestic violence. Some of the changes in bail procedures inadvertently left offenders who are now being detained in jail on the most serious domestic violence offenses and waiting for a judicial review of their bail, still able to call and terrorize their victims from the jail. This bill stops the opportunity for dangerous offenders to contact and terrorize their victims from jail before a no contact order can be put in place.

    • This bill integrates previously approved statutes related to domestic violence advocacy and sexual assault privilege with new legislation created in the last legislative session: LD 1493, An Act To Revise the Laws Concerning Criminal History Record Information and Intelligence and Investigative Information Act. This aspect of the bill makes certain that information sharing between criminal justice partners and advocates can continue just as it has been done for years to ensure good risk assessment and safety planning for victims.

    LD 1656 is the result of the hard work and conversations between many people, departments of state government, and organizations. The concerns about bail and advocate privilege have been discussed within the Attorney General’s office, Maine Department of Public Safety, Maine Commission on Domestic and Sexual Abuse, the Maine Domestic Violence Homicide Review Panel, The Maine Coalition of Domestic Violence, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, The Wabanaki Women’s coalition and in the January CLAC meeting just last week. And the address confidentiality improvements came via the Secretary of State’s Office.

    The work to end domestic violence in Maine is all-encompassing and requires all of these entities, and more, to turn that vision into a reality, and I am grateful for their help.

Senator Rebecca Millett was next to testify in support of the measure:


    “LD 1656 builds upon the good work done to reduce domestic violence in Maine. It strengthens the protection of victims and empowers police officers, victims’ advocates, and prosecutors to create the best plan to keep victims and families safe.”

CJPS Committee Senate Chair, Senator Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick) also rose to address his committee- a rare occurrence, but this bill which he cosponsored and issue as a whole is one that the senator feels very passionately and strongly about (clip to his full testimony here):

    “We keep working on bills, year and year, and trying to get it right. I think we’re doing it right, but I think there is room for improvement; there’s room to tie this stuff together better and to get more protection, and that’s what this bill is going to do.”

Others who spoke in support of the bill included Julia Colpitts of Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Attorney General Janet Mills, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, representatives from the Maine State Police and other advocates.

A work session for the bill will be held later in the session.

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Weekly Democratic Address by Speaker Mark Eves (N Berwick): Politics Only Obstacle to Life-Saving Health Care for Maine

Posted on January 11, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

democratic radio message 11014-1(Audio link here)

    Speaker Eves: Politics is the only obstacle to life-saving health care for Maine people
    Alexander report another political excuse to deny and delay health care.

speaker evesWhen Laura Tasheiko of Northport found out she had seriously aggressive cancer she was fortunate to get the treatment she needed because she qualified for life-saving health care through Medicaid. But earlier this month she was dropped and left without coverage as she continues her recovery from the ongoing and debilitating effects of cancer, surgery, and chemotherapy.

Like 25,000 other Mainers, Laura lost her coverage because Governor Paul LePage refused to accept federal health care dollars to expand Medicaid in Maine.

Good morning, I’m Speaker of the Maine House Mark Eves of North Berwick.

Laura’s story is one of the many reasons the Legislature will reignite our effort to make sure health care is affordable for more Maine families. Earlier this week, hundreds of Mainers like Laura rallied at the State House on the opening day of the Legislative session in support of accepting federal health care dollars to cover more Mainers.

Maine has an opportunity to accept 100 percent federal funding to provide health care for 70,000 Maine people, including nearly 3,000 veterans. We should do it.

The only obstacle standing in the way of this life-saving health care is politics.

Health care is a right not a privilege. No one should go bankrupt just because they get sick.

Accepting these federal dollars will mean life-saving health care for people like Laura. It will also save and create thousands of jobs by investing more than $250 million dollars into our state economy each year.

Plus, it will save the state money, Independent studies show the state will save $690 million dollars over the course of 10 years. Maine is one of only 10 states that will see such dramatic savings.

Now, Governor LePage and his Tea Party allies will say and do anything to stop this common sense health care proposal from moving forward.
They’ve even paid an out-of-state Tea Party consultant to produce a report opposing it. The $1 million contract went to Gary Alexander, whose mismanagement and failed policies resulted in 89,000 children losing health care in Pennsylvania and cost taxpayers in that state $7 million.

You can expect the Governor and his supporters to tout this report. I urge you to see it for what it is: Another political excuse to deny and delay life-saving health care to more Maine people.

I urge you to join the chorus of Mainers who support expanding health care. On Wednesday, Jan. 15th. a public hearing will be held on my bill to accept federal health dollars to cover more Maine people,

Lawmakers need to hear from Mainers about health care not out of state million dollar consultant.

Thank you for listening.

I’m Speaker of the House Mark Eves and I won’t stop fight for health care for the people of Maine.

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Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Fixing Maine’s Welfare System and Creating a Path to Economic Independence

Posted on January 11, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

(Audio link here.)

lepage officeMaine’s safety net should help our most needy citizens. Among those most vulnerable are our elderly, disabled and mentally ill.

Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

Maine’s safety net, however, should not pay for things like alcohol and cigarettes.

Unfortunately, we now know that welfare abuse is more widespread than we thought. This week, we shared with Mainers some shocking news about how some people are spending their welfare benefits – specifically money from Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.

EBT Cards issued in Maine have been used in all 50 states.

Since 2012, more than 3,000 transactions were made at more than 20 “smoke shops” in Maine, which sell mostly cigarettes and other tobacco products. There are several examples of individuals using their EBT cards to spend hundreds of dollars at a time at liquor stores too. One liquor store in New Hampshire had more than a thousand transactions totaling nearly $8,000.

There are nearly 650 transactions at retail establishments that sell primarily alcohol, such as bars and sports pubs. The data also shows that EBT cards were used at strip clubs in Maine.

It makes sense that these sorts of transactions would be illegal. And they are now.

In the next few weeks, I will give lawmakers a bill that aims to reduce this kind of illegal activity. It’s imperative that fraud is eliminated from the welfare system because it takes away from those who need it most. Our Administration is committed to helping those who are truly in need, but we cannot support those cheating the system.

This session, I will also be introducing a bill to repeal a state law that prevents Maine from complying with federal requirements in one of Maine’s welfare programs – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.

The Clinton Administration enacted welfare reforms in 1996, requiring beneficiaries of TANF to either work or train for a job. However, a year later the Maine Legislature updated state law to include a wide variety of exemptions that allow people to get around the federal work requirements. This puts us out of line with federal standards, and we now face $13 million in fines from the Obama Administration.

Under federal requirements, half of all families who receive TANF benefits and at least 90 percent of two-parent households must engage in work or education programs. Single parents must work 30 hours a week.

We just want to align state law with the federal standards so Maine taxpayers are not forced to pay millions of dollars in penalties. It’s common-sense legislation.

As Ronald Reagan used to joke, “The Democrats fought a war on poverty and poverty won.” A good job is the best way out of poverty. That’s why we are focusing on welfare-to-work programs to lift Mainers from poverty to the middle-class. I understand, it’s not an easy road.

By conforming to federal standards and eliminating welfare abuse, we can provide a safety net for our most vulnerable, and we can use our resources to provide Mainers a path to economic independence.

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Democratic Senators Jackson and Lachowicz Introduce Bills Addressing Ongoing MaineCare Ride Issues

Posted on January 9, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

The Health and Human Services Committee held public hearings on two measures to fix the flawed MaineCare Rides system today. Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson is sponsoring a bill, to cancel the current contract with Coordinated Transportation Solutions (CTS), the least responsive transportation broker and the broker with the most egregious errors, and Senator Colleen Lachowicz is sponsoring a bill to create a more reliable and efficient transportation system.

PPH reported in October that CTS had documented only 160 complaints for August when the company’s complaint line actually received 3,662 calls. Not only has CTS failed to meet the current terms of its contract, but they have requested additional funds, with no specifics as to how the money would be used.

Before the hearing, it was announced that the company’s contract will not be renewed by DHHS– Senator Jackson veered off of his prepared remarks to address his concerns regarding the now more urgent need for his bill’s swift passage.
Senator Colleen Lachowicz (D-Waterville) addressed the committee first:

Her testimony to the committee as prepared:

      Testimony of Senator Lachowicz Introducing LD 1636, “An Act to Provide a More Efficient
      and Reliable System of Nonemergency Transportation for MaineCare Members” Thursday,
      January 9, 2014

    Good afternoon Senator Craven, Representative Farnsworth and fellow members of the Health and Human Services Committee. I am Senator Colleen Lachowicz, representing Senate District 25, which includes the towns of Waterville, Winslow, Albion, Benton, Clinton, Pittsfield, Detroit and Unity Township. I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak before you and I ask for your support of LD 1636, “An Act to Provide a More Efficient and Reliable System of Nonemergency Transportation for MaineCare Members.”

    Senator Colleen Lachowicz (Kennebec) testifies before HHS Committee on LD 1636.

    Senator Colleen Lachowicz (Kennebec) testifies before HHS Committee on LD 1636.

    In addition to being a senator I am also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. In my work for the past 2 decades, I’ve had an up close and personal view of how transportation to medical appointments is provided to MaineCare members. I’ve sat with children and families as they’ve waited for their ride to pick them up. I’ve helped clients arrange transportation for themselves or family members. In a rural state such as ours, this isn’t always an easy task- for the client, transportation provider or the medical provider. When I looked into the changes in how we provide transportation for MaineCare members, I became concerned. So many people in our communities worked hard every day to make this system work. What would happen when it changed?

    I’ve heard a lot of talk that you have to let a new system work out the bugs. I suppose that’s true. I’ve worked in healthcare long enough to see new models and systems come and go. Some have worked; some have not. But here’s the thing: providing transportation for people to medical appointments is a big deal. Sometimes it is for scheduled vaccinations or a possible ear infection- things that can likely be rescheduled with little repercussions, but sometimes it is for chemotherapy for a cancer patient, or dialysis or critical tests and procedures for people with heart disease. Sometimes that appointment is for someone who is close to a psychiatric crisis. Other times it is simply for a person to get to their jobs so they can pay their bills. That’s why this is a big deal.

    We can look at the human costs and the monetary costs, but either way I think our current system that began in August is not working and the cost is too high. Too high for the patients and too high for the taxpayers. I ask of you, if it was you or your loved one that missed an appointment for life saving chemotherapy for cancer, chemotherapy that is specifically scheduled to best beat back that cancer so you can survive, would waiting to let the bugs be worked out be good enough for you? What if it was your child who was having more meltdowns and becoming more dangerous to himself and his family and you couldn’t get in to see the psychiatrist for another 3-4 weeks after your ride didn’t show up? Would that be acceptable to you? Or what if it was your elderly mother who had recently broken a bone in a fall and was in pain? How would you feel about a system that failed to get her to her doctor? I could spend the next hour or so telling this committee the stories I have heard from people who have been harmed by this flawed new system, but I know there are plenty of people here to do just that today. I and others on this committee have also already heard many of these stories in our monthly meetings we held in between the legislative sessions.

    In August of last year when the new system for MaineCare transportation first went live, we all began to hear the stories of the missed rides, unanswered calls for rides and more. Like many of you, I received numerous calls from constituents about the problem. To be honest, I couldn’t keep up with it. Many patients reported having missed appointments because rides were delayed, or failed to show up completely.

    The bottom line is we have given the new system a chance to work and it is not working. Taxpayers of Maine are paying $28M for services that are not being delivered. At a time of scarce resources, we cannot afford to be paying for something we’re not getting. This problem needs to be addressed immediately.

    We had a system that worked well for a rural state with an older population than many other states. Yes, the federal government had wanted our state to make changes, but we had other options. I think the broker system would work well in a more urban state with many competing transportation providers. But that’s not what we have. We have never had a system like that. We are rural. Our population is spread out. We never had multiple transportation providers competing for the privilege to transport patients to their appointments. We had a system where different regions had different transportation providers that had built up a network that worked well for the unique characteristics of that region. Some depended more on volunteer drivers than others. It’s quite different to drive someone from Ashland to Bangor than it is to drive someone from Westbrook to Portland. I thought we needed a system that worked for us and would meet the federal requirements. So I started looking into this. I talked with MaineCare members, transportation providers and medical and behavioral health providers. I also looked to see what other states had done. Maine wasn’t unique in having to make changes.

    By talking with legislators and administrators in Vermont, I discovered that they had considered making the same change we had when faced with the same dilemma. I asked questions. I discovered that Vermont is similar in many ways- rural, spread out, older population, but certainly not as big as Maine. But that state has decided that the brokerage system would not work as well in their state, so they crafted something different that met their needs and met federal guidelines.

    LD 1636 will create a more reliable and efficient system based on the Vermont model. Vermont satisfied federal requirements but maintained a system that relies on local nonprofits arranging and delivering rides, similar to our system before the Aug. 1 change.

    This bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to contract with transportation providers in each region to provide transportation for MaineCare members. The Department would negotiate on a per member per month basis. It would not be the old fee for service model. Transportation providers and the Department of Health and Human Services would have to work together to consider the amount of MaineCare members in a region, fuel costs, the logistics of travel in a particular region and other factors. Transportation providers would have to develop the systems required to meet reporting requirements. The Department would set performance standards much like they do now.

    In closing, I ask you to give this bill your full consideration. I believe that MaineCare members and the taxpayers of Maine deserve something better than what we are getting now. We can build on what we have, make it meet our needs as a rural state and meet federal guidelines and keep more of our tax dollars in our own state.

    Thank you.

Then it was Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash)’s turn:

Here is his prepared testimony:

      Testimony from Senator Troy Jackson in Support of L.D. 1663 Resolve, To Terminate a MaineCare Transportation Contract

    Senator Craven, Representative Farnsworth, and members of the Joint Standing Committee on Health and Human Services, I am Senator Troy Jackson from Aroostook County, and I am here today to ask for your support of my bill, Resolve, To Terminate a MaineCare Transportation Contract.

    Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) testifies before the HHS Committee on his bill, LD 1663.

    Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Allagash) testifies before the HHS Committee on his bill, LD 1663.

    The purpose of this bill is to cancel the current MaineCare rides contract with Coordinated Transportation Solutions (CTS) that began in August of last year. The MaineCare rides system services about 45,000 people a month and since the change to a new ride system, there has been mounting frustration with ongoing customer service problems. These problems have left our most vulnerable friends and neighbors without access to the critical care that they need. Of the three brokers, CTS has been the most aggregious in the mishandling of their services.

    While it is true that each transition can come with its’ share of bumps – these problems go beyond simple growing pains.
    Since the change, countless clients have had difficulty booking rides. According to Stefanie Nadeau, the director of MaineCare services of DHHS, 58 percent of callers hung up in frustration before reaching a live caller. In one notable case, a caller was put on hold for 21 hours waiting for help. Even in cases where their calls got through, the rides have often been seriously delayed or have failed to show up completely. In rural districts like mine in Aroostook County, there is often no other option for public transportation for those who need it.

    December 1 was the deadline for CTS to either meet their objectives or show progress toward meeting goals. There has been no evidence that this has happened, and the taxpayers of Maine have been left on the hook for $28 million dollars in exchange for services that aren’t being delivered.

    Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the new rides broker is the failure to secure a performance bond. This represents an extreme mismanagement, and makes throwing any more money towards the current brokers’ an irresponsible risk.

    As if this wasn’t enough, CTS has requested additional funds after failing to meet the terms of their contract.

    We’ve given the new system a chance to work and it hasn’t. Our friends and neighbors can’t wait for dialysis while the brokers get their act together, not to mention those who depend on these rides to get to their jobs. This is why my colleague Senator Lachowicz has introduced a measure to replace this system with a program based on the Vermont model which is much more similar to the system Maine has used effectively for years. This plan has been tested to be more efficient and effective, and is a system that has met the requirements of the federal government.

    In the case that the contract with CTS is cancelled, but the new system has not been implemented, two brokers have said they are willing to step in. American Medical Response and MTM are two well-funded, national non-emergency transportation providers that are willing to take up the task of providing services. In other states, these providers have stepped in for CTS where they have fallen short.

    We should be moving forward with this proposal, and cancel the existing contract with CTS to avoid further hardship for our citizens and further costs to the taxpayers.

    I would like to thank the Health and Human Services committee for their time and consideration.

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