Archive for March 8th, 2015

President Obama at 50th Anniversary of Selma March: The single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We”

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , |

    “It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes. And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

    Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning fifty years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind. A day like this was not on his mind. Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about. Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked. A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones. The air was thick with doubt, anticipation, and fear. They comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

      No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;

      Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.

    Then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, a book on government – all you need for a night behind bars – John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

    President Bush and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Members of Congress, Mayor Evans, Reverend Strong, friends and fellow Americans:

    There are places, and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided. Many are sites of war – Concord and Lexington, Appomattox and Gettysburg. Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character – Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

    Selma is such a place.

    In one afternoon fifty years ago, so much of our turbulent history – the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham, and the dream of a Baptist preacher – met on this bridge.

    It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the meaning of America.

    And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. King, and so many more, the idea of a just America, a fair America, an inclusive America, a generous America – that idea ultimately triumphed.

    As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation. The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

    We gather here to celebrate them. We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching toward justice.

    They did as Scripture instructed: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And in the days to come, they went back again and again. When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came – black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope. A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing. To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

    In time, their chorus would reach President Johnson. And he would send them protection, echoing their call for the nation and the world to hear:

      “We shall overcome.”

    What enormous faith these men and women had. Faith in God – but also faith in America.

    The Americans who crossed this bridge were not physically imposing. But they gave courage to millions. They held no elected office. But they led a nation. They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, and countless daily indignities – but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.

    What they did here will reverberate through the ages. Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible; that love and hope can conquer hate.

    As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them. Back then, they were called Communists, half-breeds, outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse – everything but the name their parents gave them. Their faith was questioned. Their lives were threatened. Their patriotism was challenged.

    And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?

    What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people – the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many – coming together to shape their country’s course?

    What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?

    That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience. That’s why it’s not a museum or static monument to behold from a distance. It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:

      “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”

      “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

    These are not just words. They are a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny. For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all our citizens in this work. That’s what we celebrate here in Selma. That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.

    The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge is the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny. It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot and workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.

    It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.

    That’s what makes us unique, and cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity. Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down a wall. Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid. Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule. From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest superpower, and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

    They saw that idea made real in Selma, Alabama. They saw it made real in America.

    Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed. Political, economic, and social barriers came down, and the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African-Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus to the Oval Office.

    Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for African-Americans, but for every American. Women marched through those doors. Latinos marched through those doors. Asian-Americans, gay Americans, and Americans with disabilities came through those doors. Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

    What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.

    What a solemn debt we owe.

    Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

    First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough. If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done – the American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

    Selma teaches us, too, that action requires that we shed our cynicism. For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

    Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country. I understand the question, for the report’s narrative was woefully familiar. It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement. But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed. What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic, or sanctioned by law and custom; and before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.

    We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, or that racial division is inherent to America. If you think nothing’s changed in the past fifty years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or L.A. of the Fifties. Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed. Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago. To deny this progress – our progress – would be to rob us of our own agency; our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

    Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that racism is banished, that the work that drew men and women to Selma is complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes. We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true. We just need to open our eyes, and ears, and hearts, to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us. We know the march is not yet over, the race is not yet won, and that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged by the content of our character – requires admitting as much.

    “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

    This is work for all Americans, and not just some. Not just whites. Not just blacks. If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination. All of us will need to feel, as they did, the fierce urgency of now. All of us need to recognize, as they did, that change depends on our actions, our attitudes, the things we teach our children. And if we make such effort, no matter how hard it may seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.

    With such effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some. Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on – the idea that police officers are members of the communities they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland just want the same thing young people here marched for – the protection of the law. Together, we can address unfair sentencing, and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and workers, and neighbors.

    With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity. Americans don’t accept a free ride for anyone, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes. But we do expect equal opportunity, and if we really mean it, if we’re willing to sacrifice for it, then we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts their sights and gives them skills. We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

    And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge – and that is the right to vote. Right now, in 2015, fifty years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote. As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed. Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood and sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, stands weakened, its future subject to partisan rancor.

    How can that be? The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic effort. President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office. President Bush signed its renewal when he was in office. One hundred Members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right it protects. If we want to honor this day, let these hundred go back to Washington, and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore the law this year.

    Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or the President alone. If every new voter suppression law was struck down today, we’d still have one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples. Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar or bubbles on a bar of soap. It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life. What is our excuse today for not voting? How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought? How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?

    Fellow marchers, so much has changed in fifty years. We’ve endured war, and fashioned peace. We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives, and take for granted convenience our parents might scarcely imagine. But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship, that willingness of a 26 year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five, to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

    That’s what it means to love America. That’s what it means to believe in America. That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

    For we were born of change. We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people. That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction, because we know our efforts matter. We know America is what we make of it.

    We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea – pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, entrepreneurs and hucksters. That’s our spirit.

    We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some; and we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth. That’s our character.

    We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free – Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan. We are the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because they want their kids to know a better life. That’s how we came to be.

    We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South. We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

    We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent, and we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, Navajo code-talkers, and Japanese-Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied. We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, and the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    We are the gay Americans whose blood ran on the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge.

    We are storytellers, writers, poets, and artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

    We are the inventors of gospel and jazz and the blues, bluegrass and country, hip-hop and rock and roll, our very own sounds with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

    We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.

    We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of, who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”

    We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

    That’s what America is. Not stock photos or airbrushed history or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American as others. We respect the past, but we don’t pine for it. We don’t fear the future; we grab for it. America is not some fragile thing; we are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes. We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit. That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

    And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day. You are America. Unconstrained by habits and convention. Unencumbered by what is, and ready to seize what ought to be. For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, and new ground to cover, and bridges to be crossed. And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

    Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.

    Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.” We The People. We Shall Overcome. Yes We Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

    Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished. But we are getting closer. Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding, our union is not yet perfect. But we are getting closer. Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile. Somebody already got us over that bridge. When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:

      “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.”

    We honor those who walked so we could run. We must run so our children soar. And we will not grow weary. For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

    May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.”

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AFA/ HHS Public Hearing LePage FY 2016/17 Biennial Budget, Day 5- Developmental Disabilities, Children & Adult Mental Health

Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Public hearing before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee regarding LR 1852 (Governor LePage’s proposed FY 2016-17 biennial budget), recorded 3/6/15.

Topics covered (summarized):

  • Developmental Disabilities
  • Brain Injury
  • Children’s Services
  • Children’s Mental Health
  • Medical Payments to Providers

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 1)

    Return to editingAFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 2)

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 3)

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 4)

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 5)

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 6)

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 7)

    AFA/ HHS LR 1852 Public Hearing, Friday 3/6/15 (Pt 8)

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  • AFA/ HHS Public Hearing LePage FY 2016/17 Biennial Budget, Day 3 (VIDEOS)- Methadone, Mental Health

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

    Democrats responded via press release:

      The governor’s plan to make deep cuts in mental health services puts at-risk vulnerable Mainers by reducing the availability of vital services, increasing wait lists and pushing them toward crisis, according to testimony at public hearings before the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Services Committee.

      The governor’s proposed state budget would impose 10 percent across-the-board cuts in Medicaid behavioral and mental health services. The governor’s budget would also deal cuts of about 60 percent to some providers in the area of medication management, services now provided by psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses to ensure that patients are complying with their regimens and not in danger of potentially dangerous drug complications.

      In his testimony, Tom McAdam, chief executive of Kennebec Behavioral Health, referred to a 1996 tragedy in Waterville in which a severely mentally ill man bludgeoned to death two elderly nuns and left two others severely injured. He described how the case galvanized mental health services in Maine.

      “I think it had a fairly major impact on the entire system. I think that it helped to bring resources into the community-based side. And frankly, many of us that are in the provider community are confused by some of the initiatives in this budget because they kind of run counter to what we thought our role and responsibility (were) as community providers,” McAdam said. “Really, next to housing, for people to be successful med management – access to med management – is important. And we already have an access issue, and that really is especially true for the kids.”

      Democrats reaffirmed their commitment to a budget that protects the most vulnerable Mainers.

      “The governor’s cuts would shred our safety net. They would have devastating effects on some of our most vulnerable Mainers – those grappling with severe mental illness – as well as their families and communities. Slashing mental health services to this extent has grave implications for public health and public safety in Maine. It’s beyond irresponsible to play games with people’s lives and public safety like this. The governor has presented us with a series of false choices. We do not need to pit one group against another,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, House chair of the budget-writing committee.

      “The facts presented today over hours of testimony show that we must protect mental health services. These drastic cuts would prevent Mainers with mental illness from getting needed care and push them toward crisis. Providing sufficient services is not only compassionate, it makes economic sense. Severely mentally ill people who cannot access the services they need often wind up in emergency rooms or in jail, much more expensive and traumatic experiences that can be avoided,” said Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, a member of the budget-writing committee.

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    (VIDEOS) AFA/ HHS Public Hearing LePage FY 2016/17 Biennial Budget, Day 2- General Assistance

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

    Here is a copy of DHHS Commissioner Mayhew’s testimony.

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    Maine Democrats Introduce LD 695, Clarifying Right To Opt Out Of Standardized Testing

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

    Lois Kilby-Chesley, Maine Education Association president, and Rep. Sara Gideon

    Lois Kilby-Chesley, Maine Education Association president, and Rep. Sara Gideon

    Democrats held a press conference in the State House’s Welcome Center with area parents and PTA members to roll out a proposed bill aimed at clarifying the rights of students bombarded with a slew of standardized testing under the “No Child Left Behind” Act.

    While parents already have the right to opt out, there has been confusion among parents, superintendents and school boards. LD 695, “An Act To Empower Parents in the Education of Their Children by Allowing an Opt-out from Standardized Assessments” would codify those rights in state statute and eliminate any confusion on the matter. The bill is sponsored by Asst House Majority Leader Rep. Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) and Senator Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin).

    Due to federal mandates, schools are spending more time than ever preparing students for standardized tests. Under No Child Left Behind, students are tested every year in grades 3 through 8, and the state is moving toward testing all third- through 12th-graders.

    In addition to codifying parents’ rights, the bill:

    · requires alternate learning opportunities for students who opt out;

    · requires that school districts inform parents of their rights by posting the information in a public place, like the Internet;

    · ensures teachers are allowed to notify parents of their rights; and

    · prohibits the state from penalizing a district when students have opted out.

    Via press release:

      “As the mother of three kids, I know how much time these tests now take and about the stress and anxiety high-stakes testing causes for teachers, educators, parents and students,” said Rep. Sara Gideon (D-Freeport). “I really want Maine to have a conversation about the sheer number of tests our kids are taking, the effectiveness of these tests and whether we’re using these tests in the best way to improve education for our kids.”

      DSC_0138“Teachers, parents and students in my community are fearful, frustrated and seeking relief from these heavy-handed testing mandates,” said Sen. Nate Libby (D-Lewiston). “This legislation is simple and straightforward. And, it will ensure parents and students know and understand their rights. School performance, teacher performance and student performance based so heavily on standardized testing is deeply flawed. We all know some students perform better than others on standardized tests and that test results do not universally reflect individual students overall academic performance. Classroom time is at a premium. State and federal mandates on classroom instruction continue to grow while teachers and students struggle to meet all the requirements in a six-hour school day.”

      Karen McClure-Richard, a Lewiston parent, described the standardized testing experience of her daughter. The tests didn’t have “cut scores” – set benchmarks for passing a test – but instead looked for progress made from previous tests. Because her daughter scored high, her goal scores climbed higher and higher. In her sixth-grade year, she put a great deal of pressure on herself before missing the goal score by one point despite doing her very best.

      “She came home very upset and eventually told me that she felt ‘stupid,’”
      McClure-Richard said. “My daughter who made honors every single year felt stupid and subsequently lost her love of school because of a meaningless test. Because she missed the growth goal, she also contributed to the ‘failure’ of her teacher and the ‘failure’ of the school even though she scored the equivalent of one grade level higher than the grade she was in.”

      Lorri Cahill, a kindergarten teacher in Skowhegan who has taught for 31 years, said there is no longer balance in the educational system.

      DSC_0155“The increasing amount of testing and assessing is leading to missed educational opportunities. In order to attempt to standardize children’s performance, we have adopted scripted lessons that are devoid of developmental theory. We are told to individualize our instruction, yet use high-stakes standardized tests to measure the success of that instruction,” said Cahill, who is opting her own son out of tests this spring.

      Lisa Cooley of Jackson, a school board member in RSU 4, said public education needs to be more responsive to students. The school district serves the communities of Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo.

      “This testing regime has created a toxic learning environment where too many children are left behind, disconnected from learning and ill-prepared for successful lives. With the advent of standards that are enforced by testing, we’ve embraced a regime that runs counter not only to the way kids learn, but to their happiness and fulfillment,” she said.

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    Maine Lawmakers Submit Bill Aimed at Prohibiting “Revenge Porn”

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , |

    100_5145LR 326, “An Act To Prohibit The Unauthorized Distribution of Certain Private Images” was introduced by members of the 127th Maine Legislature in late February at a press conference held in the Welcome Center. Speakers included:

      House Minority Leader Rep. Ken Fredette (R-Newport)
      Senator Asst Minority Leader Sen. Dawn Hill (D-York)
      Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland)
      Rep. Gay Grant (D-Gardiner)
      Julia Colpitts, ME Coalition to End Domestic Violence
      Cara Couchesne, ME Coalition Against Sexual Assault

    Fredette partnered with the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence to sponsor the bill, which would make posting revenge porn a Class D crime with penalties including a $2,000 fine and one year in jail.

    From a Maine House Republican post:

      More and more people are finding their intimate photographs and/or videos disseminated online without their consent with at least 3,000 active websites devoted to this practice. Many of them force victims to pay hundreds of dollars in order to have their images removed. This disturbing trend is now on the rise here in Maine, where the majority of the victims are women. Victims are publicly humiliated to the point where some of them are moving out of areas they have lived in their whole lives and in extreme cases, some are even committing suicide.

      In many cases these images are posted in an effort to exact revenge on a former girlfriend, boyfriend, wife or husband. In other instances, these videos and images are used as threatening leverage to keep victims trapped in an abusive relationship.

    House Minority Leader Ken Fredette: “This is a despicable act that mostly targets women. In states like Maine, where there are no laws on the books to punish those responsible, these victims have nowhere to turn. This is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.”

    Co-Sponsor Sen. Dawn Hill: “The practice of non-consensual pornography has no place in Maine. Victims of this despicable act serve a life sentence of humiliation and shame while those responsible are currently going unpunished. It’s time for Maine to join the other states who are putting a stop to this.”

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    Maine Lawmakers Focus on College Affordability: “It’s not just a young person problem”

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

    commissionLawmakers, students, parents, and higher education leaders held a press conference in February endorsing a collaborative 10-point plan to reduce higher education costs and increase degree attainment. The plan is the outcome of the Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion.

    Highlights of the Commission’s plan include:

  • Increasing the Maine State Grant Program from around $1,000 (roughly the same amount offered in 1992) to $2,500.
  • Then to ensure timely degree completion, the grant will be structured on a tiered system that provides an additional $250 for each year a student is enrolled, up to five years;
  • Fully fund public higher education institutions in order to keep tuition low;
  • Increase transparency in college costs by having a published list of average class fees by majors for all Maine colleges and universities;
  • Encourage partnerships between higher ed institutions to develop open education resources, textbook coops, and free or reduced cost digital textbook options in order to help combat the rising prices of textbooks;
    Adoption of the innovative “Game Changers” strategies from Complete College America by our state’s public institutions;

  • Setting specific degree attainment goals by the state and a plan to reach them.

    The 13-member commission was created with the passage of LD 1849, “Resolve, To Establish the Commission to Study College Affordability and College Completion”, during the 126th Legislature and included lawmakers and experts.They began their work last summer by meeting with students, parents, graduates, stranded learners, college representatives, financial aid representatives and key stakeholders from across the higher education landscape.

      “The issue of college affordability is an issue that spans beyond just being a ‘young person’s issue.’ It’s a concern for students of all ages, and their families. It’s a concern for the employers who lack a skilled workforce. And, it’s a concern for all of us, who want an economically prosperous state,” said State Senator Rebecca Millett of Cape Elizabeth, who served as the co-chair of the task force.

      Statistics show that the average debt for Maine college students jumped 25 percent since 2008 to nearly $30,000–putting Maine at the 7th highest debt per student in the nation.

      “As co-chair of the Legislature’s Youth Caucus, I know how important higher education is to a career and earnings but that many of my peers face insurmountable barriers to finishing college,” Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick, the House chair of the commission. “The commission can be proud of its work and of tackling the complex issues around college completion. I’m especially glad that we are boosting the Maine State Grant, a key program that has not kept pace with the costs of higher education. It has remained at about the same level it had been in 1992, meaning it barely covers the cost of textbooks rather than making a big difference in tuition costs.”

    Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta) shared his prepared remarks:

      Good afternoon – I am Rep. Matt Pouliot, I represent district 86, West and North Augusta, and am co-chair of the Maine Youth Caucus and a member of the commission to study college affordability and completion.

      $1.2 TRILLION. Yes, that is TRILLION with a T. That was the amount of student loan debt as of 2013. It is a number that has TRIPLED in the last decade alone. IN FACT, Student loans have passed credit cards and auto loans to become the second biggest source of personal debt in the U.S. This is absurd.

      Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta)

      Rep. Matt Pouliot (R-Augusta)

      The cost of college is in some ways not the worst of it. Let’s take this a step further. Let’s suppose for a moment that you have amounted some level of student loan debt, you are out of school and you’ve not even completed your degree. This is the reality for many Maine people. In fact, it is a reality for nearly a quarter million Maine people who’ve started some form of post-secondary education but haven’t completed that training. They are stranded learners. This grim reality forced us to study not only affordability in our commission, but also completion.

      Future generations deserve better and need real higher education reform now. To increase degree completion we required the Boards of Trustees for the University of Maine System, Maine Community College System and the Maine Maritime Academy to report back to the Joint Standing Committee of Education and Cultural Affairs by July 1, 2015 regarding their reactions to the Game Changers strategies and how the State of Maine could assist in implementation of these strategies. These Game Changers strategies have been developed by Complete College America and include 5 key elements.

      These elements are:

       Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D- Brunswick) speak at commission press conference.

      Senator Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) and Rep. Mattie Daughtry (D- Brunswick) answer media questions at commission press conference.

    • Performance Funding: Pay for performance, not just enrollment. Tie state funding to student progression through programs and completion of degrees and certificates. Include financial incentives to encourage the success of low-income students and the production of graduates in high-demand fields.
    • Corequisite Remediation: Default many more unprepared students into college-level gateway courses with mandatory, just-in-time instructional support. Combine reading and writing instruction. Align mathematics to programs of study, matching the curriculum to real-world career needs.
    • Full-Time is 15 Incentivize students to attend full-time and ensure that full-time means 15 credits per semester. Use banded tuition so 15 credits per semester cost students no more than 12 credits. Also, ensure that students can easily transfer credits.
    • Structured Schedules Help working students balance jobs and school by using structured scheduling of classes to add predictability to their busy lives — doing so enables many more students to attend college full-time, shortening their time to completion.
    • Guided Pathways to Success Enabled by technology, default all students into highly structured degree plans, not individual courses. Start students in a limited number of “meta majors,” which narrow into specific majors. Map out every semester of study for the entire program, and guarantee that milestone courses will be available when needed. Use built-in early warning systems to alert advisers when students fall behind to ensure efficient intervention.

      Now is the time for these important reforms. We must all get a one way ticket on the college affordability and completion bandwagon. The growth of our economy and the prosperity of our future generations depends on it.

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  • Maine Legislators, Coalition Work to Address Senior Housing Needs Via Bond Initiative

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

    Press conference held inside Cony Flatiron Building, which is undergoing extensive renovations as to become 48 affordable units for Maine seniors.

    Press conference held inside Cony Flatiron Building, which is undergoing extensive renovations as to become 48 affordable units for Maine seniors.

    In February, the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC) released new research on Maine’s senior population, housing stock and unmet senior housing needs. They met with a bipartisan group of legislators, calling for passage of a general obligation bond proposal to help address those needs at Augusta’s Cony Flatiron Building, formerly a high school. The building is currently undergoing dramatic renovations and being repurposed into 48 units of affordable senior housing by Portland-based Housing Initiatives of New England.

    According to the data released, Maine has a shortage of nearly 9,000 affordable rental homes for low income older people with projected growth to 15,000 by 2022. It also found that Maine has the 8th oldest housing stock in the nation.

    (Executive Summary) Profile of Maine’s Older Population & Housing Stock – FINAL

    Press release – new senior housing research & bond proposal

    Profile of Maine’s Older Population and Housing Stock – FINAL

    House Speaker Mark Eves (D-York) and Sen. David Burns (R-Washington), co-chairs of the Legislature’s aging caucus, spoke to the press and discussed legislation they are co-sponsoring to address the problem. Their “KeepME Home” initiative would authorize a $65 million general obligation bond, which would be used in combination with a mix of private and public resources to create 1,000 highly energy-efficient homes for Maine’s seniors in strategic locations across the state.

    Later it was announced that eight statewide organizations representing the housing, development, construction, architectural, and engineering sectors released a letter to Governor Paul LePage and the 127th Legislature, signed by over 150 companies and organizations across the state, seeking legislative approval of the general obligation bond initiative.

    Eves issued a statement:

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves speaks as Senator David Burns looks on.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves speaks as Senator David Burns looks on.

      “The growing support and momentum for our bipartisan KeepME Home bond bodes well for Maine seniors and our economy,” said Eves. “Organizations from across the state are standing behind the proposal because it will help seniors live independently longer while also creating good construction and housing jobs across the state.”

    Governor LePage appeared not to be convinced:

      “By using general obligation bonds for senior housing we are placing the State in deeper debt and putting additional burden on the backs of Maine taxpayers,” said Governor LePage. “The Maine State Housing Authority has the ability to issue bonds to finance affordable senior housing under its current authority. I support the balanced approach they are taking already with the resources they have.”

      Governor LePage stressed his strong and continued support for Maine’s senior citizens, but expressed concerns about some of the details in the proposed $65 million bond. Those concerns include trying to build 1,000 new units and putting developments in every county, something that may not be financially viable. He also raised a concern that the proposal may not serve the state’s neediest senior citizens. “MaineHousing already is creating 250 – 300 new apartments each and every year. About half of them are for seniors and the rest are for other needy Mainers. They are trying to balance competing needs,” said Governor LePage.

      The Governor also commented on a recent study that determined there is a need for 9,000 affordable senior apartments. “If you look at the study you find that they define elderly as just 55 years of age. That inflates the number of units need – it would be a bit smaller if they used a more realistic age such as 65.”

      The Governor noted that in addition to allocating federal tax credits, MaineHousing is authorized to sell private activity bonds and other bonds and has subsidy resources available. “I’ve urged MaineHousing to continue to use these resources to their fullest to meet the needs of our vulnerable elderly population.”

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    LePage, Portland, Homeless Advocates Battle Over General Assistance

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

    Sen. Justin Alfond, Sen. Anne Haskell, Rep. Mark Dion, Rep. Diane Russell, Rep. Drew Gattine , Rep. Peter Stuckey, Rep. Erik Jorgensen, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland City Council Ed Suslovik, Preble St ED Mark Swann, and many others at 2/27/15 Oxford St Homeless Shelter press conference.

    Sen. Justin Alfond, Sen. Anne Haskell, Rep. Mark Dion, Rep. Diane Russell, Rep. Drew Gattine , Rep. Peter Stuckey, Rep. Erik Jorgensen, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, Portland City Council Ed Suslovik, Preble St ED Mark Swann, and many others at 2/27/15 Oxford St Homeless Shelter press conference.

    At the end of the coldest February on record in Maine, political leaders and homelessness advocates held a press conference in Portland to discuss the needs of some of the region’s most needy and address the attacks by the LePage administration regarding the city’s spending of General Assistance monies.

    A reminder: this is part of an ongoing legal battle between Portland/ Westbrook and the state over GA funds.

      Alfond, Portland Mayor Michael Brennan and others on hand at the shelter Friday said they can explain why Portland seems to have an outsized share of the state’s General Assistance allocation, but that they can’t get a prompt audience with LePage or DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew to discuss it.

      “We want the coordinated attacks on Portland to end, and the work to make our social services better to begin,”
      Alfond said, pointing out that Portland is not only an “outlier” in its distribution of General Assistance funds but also in that it represents an outsized share of the state’s economy.

      Alfond acknowledged Friday the audit was “troubling” and that Portland’s city officials and state representatives were eager to meet with the administration to discuss ways the city could better administer General Assistance. Brennan said he called the governor’s office on Monday to set up an appointment to discuss the audit.

      “I thought it was urgent, but the first date they gave me [for a meeting] was the end of March,” Brennan said Friday. “Obviously, it’s not as urgent to them as it is to us.”

    Governor LePage immediately fired back and issued the following statements via a press release:

      “My quarrel is not with the people who stayed at the shelter,” said Governor LePage. “Mental illness often plays a role there. It’s a matter of who pays. The City of Portland knew these people had this money in the bank, but they decided to bill the taxpayers anyway for years’ worth of welfare reimbursement. Municipalities complain about losing revenue sharing, but then I see abuse like this. When municipalities set priorities that unfairly burden Maine property taxpayers, it’s hard to have sympathy for them. Tax relief should go directly to the property taxpayer, not to fund more government. That’s why my tax reform plan gives money directly to the Maine people by tripling property tax fairness credits, doubling the homestead exemption for those over 65 and significantly lowering income tax rates. The most recent news out of Portland shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it serves as an example of why Maine needs real tax reform.”

    This weekend, State Senator Anne Haskell (D-Portland) responded to the governor and administration via the Democratic radio address:

      At 8 p.m. last night it was 12 degrees. And it’s March–not January. Together we’ve experienced one of the longest, most frigid, and snowiest winters in history.

      Good Morning. This is State Senator Anne Haskell of Portland. And, I don’t really want to talk about the weather. But I do want each of us to stop for a second and think about a time this winter: Think about the ten minutes it took you to walk from your office to your car on a blustery cold day. Your cheeks froze. Your fingers and toes hurt and you couldn’t wait to seek shelter from the wind.

      What if you didn’t have a home. If you didn’t have a place where you could crank the heat, pull up the blankets, and settle in with a cup of tea.

      What if, at sun down, you had stand in line for hours with the hopes–not the guarantee–that you could get a mat to sleep on at a shelter. A mat, by the way, that is only three inches thick. A mat that is placed in an open room–flanked on each side by strangers–only five inches from you. Clutching all that belongs to you, in a bag or a backpack.

      Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street Homeless Shelter: We are just trying to keep people alive

      Mark Swann, executive director of Preble Street Homeless Shelter: We are just trying to keep people alive

      Mark Swann, the executive director at Preble Street in Portland, said, one day this winter, there were 282 people who showed up for one of the 142 mats. The math on this one is easy: 140 people were left to find shelter elsewhere that night. Some slept on the floor of the soup kitchen down the street. Others, had to sit up in chairs all night at city offices. And, a few others waited at the shelter–hoping a mat would open up. One person waited 11 hours; only to lay his head for two hours before the morning came, and the shelter closed for the day.

      Who chooses this?

      The answer is, nobody.

      Nobody chooses to be homeless. Nobody chooses to be mentally ill. Not one of the 282 people who lined up at the Oxford Street Shelter that night was trying to get away with something. Nobody working at the shelter or the city who is trying to provide life-saving shelter is trying to get away with something.

      At its core, this service of providing EMERGENCY shelter is serving the most basic and fundamental and crucial needs of humanity.

      Yet, in recent weeks, it’s become a political football. The LePage administration has attempted to garner salacious headlines by vilifying the people who utilize the shelter, and also those who provide the service.

      It’s not an easy story to tell. Why? Because we are talking about mental illness. We are talking about diseases like Schizophrenia.

      Recently the City of Portland studied 30 of the so-called “long stayers” at the shelters. What did they find? All of them, 100% had serious and persistent mental health issues–often untreated. Some had money in the bank. Some even had thousands of dollars in the bank.

      What does this mean?

      It could mean many things.

      For some, it means that perhaps a special account was set up by family members to put money aside for them. Perhaps intended to pay for things like dental and medical care.

      For some, it could be the remnant of another time in their life–before they got sick.

      For all, it is money that–because of their psychosis, they are unable or unwilling to use.

      DSC_0132They are not staying at homeless shelters to save a buck. They are staying there because they believe staying at a shelter is the best option available to them.

      And…most importantly, they are not numbers on someone’s spreadsheet. They are our brothers and sisters, our parents, our aunts and uncles. They are our fellow human beings–living much more difficult lives than we can imagine.

      Mental illness is not easy to understand. But it is something that we all need to take a closer look at. We can’t be afraid of it. And most of all, we can’t play the blame-game–that serves no purpose other than to distract and delay from a meaningful solutions-based dialogue.

      Long before this administration, the mental health system in Maine has been broken. The overflowing shelters in our state is one symptom of that–as are our jails–that are also overflowing with people who would benefit more from mental health intervention and treatment.

      As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee and a former member of the state’s Criminal Justice Committee, I can tell you that there are dozens of lawmakers who are interested in solving this problem and helping our fellow Mainers who are suffering. But the first step toward a solution has to be one that is honest.

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    Governor LePage, Maine Legislature Work to Establish Tax-Free Military Pensions

    Posted on March 8, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

    DSC_0130Governor Paul R. LePage and a large number of Maine veterans met with press in the governor’s Cabinet Room this past Tuesday to discuss elimination the tax on military pensions, as part of the administration’s FY 2016-17 biennial budget proposal.

    If the 127th Legislature passes the measure, Maine will join 22 other states that have already passed similar exemptions for veterans.

    According to the governor, about 8,000 Maine veterans would benefit from the exemption. He further added that young military retirees would be encouraged to to come to Maine to begin second careers and that the state’s economy would benefit as retired military members have much to give back to the community when they leave the service.

    The following day, the Joint Standing Committee on Taxation unanimously threw their support behind a similar bill to provide an income tax exemption for pension benefits received under a military retirement plan, including survivor benefits. LD 280 “An Act To Exempt Military Pensions and Survivor Benefits from Maine Income Tax” is sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Ginzler (R-Bridgton), who spoke to her bill’s purpose before the committee.

      Rep. Phyllis Ginzler (R-Bridgton)

      Rep. Phyllis Ginzler (R-Bridgton)

      “Exempting these pensions from income tax is the least we can do for these brave men and women,” Rep. Ginzler said. “These are exactly the type of people we want to attract to Maine to live, work or start a business. These are highly skilled people that are sorely needed here and would make a great addition to our state.”

    Many veterans spoke in favor of the bill and no one in opposition. As there is overlap between LD 280 and the governor’s budget, it is expected that Taxation will table the bill until it is determined whether or not that portion will pass the Legislature via LR 1852 (the budget). If that does indeed come to pass, Ginzler’s bill will be a duplication and most likely be killed in committee. Taxation Committee members have already expressed a willingness to advance LD 280 as a stand alone measure, if needed.

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