(UPDATED) Maine Reacts to Trump Inauguration

Posted on January 22, 2017. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

(UPDATED, 1/22/17) MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Show aired the following as a quick review of the weekend’s events in Washington DC and nationally:

 

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On Friday, as Donald J. Trump was sworn into office as the country’s 45th President, Mainers gathered in the State House’s Hall of Flags to read the U.S. Constitution. Here is full video of the event, hosted by ACLU of Maine:

 

Saturday saw the largest number of protesters ever gathered outside the State House complex as part of the over 600 international location rally/ #WomensMarch event, protesting President Trump. Numbers for participation are still being totaled, but event organizers are claiming over 10,000 participants at the Augusta site.

A quick video from within the crowd. State Senator Shenna Bellows (D-Kennebec) can be heard speaking in the background.

Here are photos that better illustrate the strength of numbers (link to more photos here).

Via Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills’ offices in the Cross Building:

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A Facebook photo shared by Maine Senate Democratic press secretary Mario Moretto from the State House shows Senator Bellows looking down at the crowds:

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(UPDATED) Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: Despite Opposition, Maine is Putting Photos on All EBT Cards

Posted on November 21, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Updated post from July to reflect the following letter from the USDA to Maine DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew dated 11/20/14:

As the Portland Press Herald is reporting, Maine has 45 days to respond to the letter, else risk losing 50% of the funding that helps cover SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) administrative costs.

    “Since Maine has represented to (the USDA) that the state’s EBT photo program is optional, the state must affirmatively demonstrate that SNAP clients have a choice whether to have a photo on their EBT card and their choice does not adversely affect their SNAP eligibility,” Kurt Messner, administrator for the USDA’s Northeast Region, wrote in the letter dated Thursday.

    Messner went on to say that “there are significant civil rights concerns about the state’s practice of taking photos of all non-applicant household members.” The practice, according to Messner, may represent a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    “Any individual who applies for SNAP on behalf of eligible household members must be able to access the program without fear,” Messner wrote.

Newly minted DHHS spokesman David Sorensen responded that “that the photo ID measure is a policy, not a rule or law” and that Commissioner Mayhew “plans to review some of the USDA allegations, including the claim that recipients are given the impression that a photo is mandatory.”

Mayhew is quoted:

    “We remain 100 percent committed to placing photos on EBT cards. While we are still reviewing the letter, it is imperative that Maine is able to implement common-sense reforms to ensure the integrity of our welfare system, preserving resources for the truly needy while protecting taxpayers.”

ACLU of Maine and Maine Equal Justice Partners have also weighed in:

    “Maine has a real hunger problem and it’s very serious,” said Chris Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners. “(SNAP) is being administered in a way that the state is creating more hunger problems and greater barriers for those who are hungry. The state has to tell people upfront that they have a choice about the photo ID.”

    “Requiring photo ID on EBT cards is incredibly costly, it’s ineffective and the Department of Agriculture has said it’s illegal,” Zachary Heiden, the ACLU of Maine’s legal director, said in a written statement. “If the administration wants to do what’s best for the state, it will stop punishing people who are struggling in this tough economy.”

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Originally posted July 9.

A few weeks ago, DHHS officials provided case workers the following instructions regarding the photo ID EBT card changes the LePage administration was making.

DHHS also provided those same case workers a script of prepared answers to use when the inevitable questions would arise:

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AUDIO LINK HERE

Two men from South Thomaston were arrested last week for trafficking bath salts. Drug enforcement agents seized three handguns, $25,000 in cash and—yes, you guessed it—seven EBT cards.

Hello, this is Governor Paul LePage.

Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

Gov. Paul LePage discusses his EBT/ TANF reform bills LDs 1815, 1820, 1822 and 1842 at a press conference.

The drug dealer admitted that the seven EBT cards were given to him as payment for the drugs. Bath salts contain very dangerous synthetic stimulants. They result in overdoses, hallucinations and even death. It’s bad enough that some people will pay for these drugs, but it is even worse when taxpayer dollars are used to pay for them.

This drug bust, along with several others, shows EBT cards are being used to support criminal behavior invading our state.

I had a plan that added 14 agents to fight drug crime, but liberal politicians rejected it. Democrats couldn’t even say yes, when I found the money for a compromise package with fewer drug agents, judges, prosecutors and supported an additional $750,000 for substance abuse treatment. Instead, liberal politicians swept the bill under the rug killing the compromise in the middle of the night.

Despite all evidence, including major drug busts day after day, Democrats refuse to address drug crime in our State.

These same liberal politicians also believe that a certain level of EBT fraud is acceptable. I don’t think any level of EBT fraud is acceptable, and I know you don’t either. Using an EBT card to buy drugs means a needy child, elderly or disabled person is not getting their benefits.

That’s why we are moving ahead with our plan to put photos on all EBT cards. It will not stop all EBT fraud, but it will make it easier to identify who is abusing these cards. It puts those who would abuse EBT cards on notice that the state is holding them accountable.

To test the plan to put photos on EBT cards, the Department of Health and Human Services ran a pilot project in its Bangor office. DHHS studied the mistakes other states made to ensure they did it right. The pilot program ran for two months and was very successful.

We are now implementing the program statewide. The new card not only features a photo, but it also clearly states that misuse of the EBT card is considered a crime. Photos on the new EBT cards will help DHHS verify the identity of the card holder. The photos will be helpful in cases where EBT cards are sold for cash or drugs.

They will also help determine who is the rightful owner of a card when multiple EBT cards are found on an individual.

There are about 223,000 EBT cards in Maine. These cards are loaded with benefits such as food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other welfare benefits. Over the last 12 months, more than $383 million in benefits have been put on Maine EBT cards.

Even if just one percent is wasted or abused, that’s almost 4 million dollars. Wasting 4 million dollars of taxpayer money may be okay to liberals in Maine and Washington, D.C., but it’s not okay with me.

While I am your Governor, I won’t tolerate one dollar of waste, fraud or abuse. I believe it’s government’s responsibility to ensure your taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. That’s why my administration will keep moving forward to protect taxpayer dollars and the benefits that are truly needed by our most vulnerable citizens.

Thank you for listening.

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(UPDATED) Weekly Address of Governor Paul LePage: “Illegal Aliens Should Not Get General Assistance”

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

9PM UPDATE: Some regional coverage now, as Boston media is paying attention

Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills has now issued a response to this morning’s weekly address of Governor LePage (see below). Within the letter is a detailed statement of why she and her office believe that the rules changes set forth by the administration are unconstitutional, the substantial risks that LePage places all Maine municipalities and citizens, and a detailed timeline of communications between her office, DHHS and that of the Governor.

Note: Using more of his “My Way Or The Highway” approach, Governor Paul LePage has now forced all Maine municipalities to decide whether they will take his side (with a recent rule change in eligibility) or that of Attorney General Janet Mills (who along with ACLU of Maine maintains that the change is unconstitutional) in the ongoing fight over general assistance for undocumented immigrants.

The letter seen below was sent to all Maine cities and towns late last week.

AUDIO: Illegal Aliens Should Not Get General Assistance

      Illegal Aliens Should Not Get General Assistance

    I have always said Maine’s safety net should help our most needy citizens.

    Hello. This is Governor Paul LePage.

    togethThese vulnerable Mainers include the elderly, children, disabled and mentally ill.

    Illegal aliens who choose to live in Maine are not our most vulnerable citizens. We need to take care of Mainers first. I think most Mainers would agree.

    During my first few days in office in 2011, I issued an Executive Order to repeal Maine’s status as a sanctuary state. In 2004 Democratic leadership banned state officials from asking people about their legal status when they requested benefits. My order rescinded that policy.

    Also in 2011, the State eliminated state welfare benefits for illegal immigrants.

    Last week, we took the next step. We told Maine towns and cities they will no longer get state funding to give to illegal aliens.

    Federal law prohibits states from providing General Assistance to illegal immigrants. This law was enacted in 1996, when President Clinton and the Republican Congress approved sweeping welfare reforms.

    paul janetAttorney General Janet Mills was appointed by the Democratic-led Legislature, and she works for them. Mills has been working aggressively to keep giving General Assistance to illegal aliens. What about “illegal” doesn’t she understand? I find it inexplicable that the state’s top law enforcement official would encourage municipalities to violate federal law.

    It’s really quite simple. Federal law prohibits state reimbursement for illegal immigrants. We are just enforcing the federal law.

    Local taxpayers must speak for themselves. I urge all Mainers to tell your city councilors and selectmen to stop handing out your money to illegals.

    By following federal law and eliminating welfare abuse, we can provide a safety net for our most vulnerable. We will be able to use our resources more effectively and efficiently to better provide Mainers a path to economic independence.

    Thank you for listening.

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Maine State Sen. Linda Valentino (D-York) Floor Speech Opposing Religious Discrimination Bill LD 1428 (Video, Text)

Posted on February 23, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

Last week, the 126th Maine State Legislature took up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”. The bill was voted down Tuesday in the Senate by a 19-16 vote and finally died with a 89-52 tally in the House on Thursday.

Judicial Committee Chair Senator Linda Valentino (D-York) rose to speak quite strongly and eloquently in opposition to the bill. Here is video of her floor speech presented on Tuesday to her colleagues with the senator’s prepared remarks.

Thank you Mr. President. Mr. President, Men and Women of the Senate, I rise today to say that I support religious freedom. And if I had to venture a guess, I would guess that almost everyone in this room, if not every person in this room, supports religious freedom.

I support the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. I support Article 1, Section 3 on religious freedom in the Maine Constitution. I even support the title of this bill, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.”

What I do not support is this bill. Bill titles do not become part of Maine Law.

I do not cast my vote based on the title of a bill. I cast my vote for the contents of the bill, for this is the part that will be entered into Maine Law.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …

When our founders drafted the Constitution “religious freedom” and “equality” were lofty ideals, not reality. There was no equality for women or poor people or people of color. Religious freedom may have extended to people’s rights to worship and congregate, but certainly not to politics or jobs.

Many people may not realize that when the First Amendment was enacted, it applied only to laws passed by the U.S. Congress. State and local governments could abridge the free exercise of religion as long as there was no similar provision in their State Constitution. In South Carolina and Georgia’s original constitutions it stated that only men of the Protestant religion were eligible to sit in the House of Representatives. In Maryland, it wasn’t until 1828, that Jewish Americans were eligible as candidates to the Legislature.

Growing up in a very poor Irish-Catholic family in Portland, my father was a paper boy. One of his routes was the very exclusive West End. Hundreds of times I heard the story about his grandmother warning him that if he wanted to keep his job that if he ever met a person of a specific “privileged” religion on the sidewalk, in the West End, he was to get off the sidewalk and walk in the gutter until the person passed.

He also told me about signs for job openings hanging in shop windows saying “Catholics need not apply”. This was in the 1940’s.

Over the last 200 years, people in both Maine and the nation have fought hard to extend religious freedom to all denominations. I do not want to roll back any of the protections and advances we have made in religious freedom.
I admire the integrity and the beliefs of the sponsor of this bill and those who support it, and I do not question his motives for the bill, but we differ in our opinions.

I see this bill as a step backwards.
I see this bill filled with unintended consequences.
I see this bill being used as a vehicle for extremists to hide behind the words “religious freedom” as a way to circumvent our anti-discriminate laws.
And I see this bill being used as an end run around the Maine Human Rights Act.

So why do people feel we need this law?

    • One of the biggest reasons we uncovered during the public hearing on this bill was that people did not know their rights under current Maine law. For example: A woman said she was not allowed to wear a cross necklace at work, while others wore necklaces. Yes, she was discriminated against, because she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Another said their child was not allowed to bring a Bible to school. Yes, they were discriminated against, because again she did not know that Maine law protects this religious freedom. Children can bring a Bible or other religious book to school. It is school organized religion, or someone forcing their religion on another, in school that is prohibited. This RFRA bill will not give them anything they don’t already have for protections. People need to know their rights.

    • Another example, was the South Bristol Elementary School boat launching ceremony. This boat launching had been done for 18 years, and each time a pastor was asked to recite a blessing, asking for safe passage of the boats that the students built. In 2013, they did not conduct the blessing. Why? Because prior to the boat launching – someone complained!
    This caught the attention of a Washington based group who threatened to sue, claiming that a prayer at a public school event violated the Establishment Clause. The school backed down. Even if RFRA had been in place, the public school would not have been able to say the prayer. Again, people need to know their rights. Just because no one had complained for the past 18 years, didn’t mean they were allowed to say a prayer.

So why don’t we need this bill?

    • Religious freedom is protected in Maine under the Constitution and there was no evidence given that Maine’s existing religious protections were not working.

    • Religious freedom is explicitly protected in Maine under the Human Rights Act.

    • There are 34 religious exemptions in Maine Title 5 law that protect religious freedom – in everything from property taxes, immunization, school absences, smoking, polygraph tests, highway signs, food safety, workers compensation, prisoner’s rights, alcohol and drug counseling,- to name just a few.

    • Plus under Title 22, Health and Welfare, Maine has two statutes that protect physicians, nurses, health care workers and others from having to perform or assist in any act pertaining to an abortion.

    • Many people mistakenly believe this bill will allow the navitity scene back at City Hall or some other religious display. It does not do this, or any other specific example. It only allows a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding. You must bring action in court against the government. Which are those who make the laws.

Why now? What has happened to bring this bill forward? I don’t know, but I do know that:

    • Although the first state passed a RFRA-like statute 17 years ago, according to research from our Law Library, this bill has never been introduced before in Maine.

    • I also know that in 2012, same-sex couples won their freedom to marry by changing Maine law through the citizen initiative ballot process.

    • And also in 2012, the Affordable Health Care Act was passed by Congress and a ruling was made which required health plans to cover contraception. To date, 90 cases have been filed using state RFRA acts to challenge this one ruling under the Affordable Care Act. The Hobby Lobby case is the test case. This case is before the United States Supreme Court and oral arguments are scheduled to be heard on March 25. This is a case where the owner of the company is using RFRA and his religious freedom to deny contraceptive coverage for his 13,000 employees. Maine should not pass anything until this case is decided.

Since this bill was never introduced prior to 2012, it makes me wonder if this bill is really about religious freedom, or is it about trying to erode existing women’s rights and gay rights that we have fought so hard for?

We cannot use religious freedom as a vehicle to circumvent Maine’s strong anti-discrimination laws. Maine has a history of working hard to strike a balance between religious freedom rights and the right to equal protection under the law. We have a strong Human Rights Commission to uphold the Human Rights Act and we have strong Maine case law based on well-defined facts.

There are over 10,000 religious denominations in the world, with 50 to 100 known ones in Maine. According to survey results in the Portland Press Herald, 70.8% of Maine people responded that they do not identify themselves with any particular religion. If we pass this bill what happens to their rights?

I would like to close by reading an email that I received yesterday urging me to defeat this bill. It says:

    “As a Christian minister, I’m offended when religion –any religion— is used as an excuse to deprive others of their rights as human beings. We need to send a message to those who would do so, that in the State of Maine, legalized bigotry will not be tolerated.”

Supporters of the bill have not demonstrated any factual problems with our current laws. Please follow the bi-partisan Majority Report and vote ought not to pass on LD 1428.

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UPDATED x2: Maine House Votes Down Controversial Religious Discrimination Bill LD 1428, 89-52

Posted on February 20, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham) addresses colleagues during LD 1428 debate.

Rep. Andrew McLean (D-Gorham) addresses colleagues during LD 1428 debate.

12:45pm UPDATE: House just voted 89-52 to accept the Judicial Committee “ONTP” (Ought Not to Pass) recommendation moments ago, 89-52.

This was the final vote on LD 1428; it is now dead.

Roll call vote shows 5 GOP members broke with their party to join Democrats: Reps. Beaulieu of Auburn, Campbell of Orrington, Libby of Waterboro, MacDonald of Old Orchard Beach and Maker of Calais. 2 House Democrats voted for the bill: Rep. Stan Short (D-Pittsfield) and Steve Stanley (D-Medway).

Over 2 dozen rose to speak on the measure in a lengthy floor debate. Some quotes:

    Rep. Matt Moonen (D-Portland): “Please vote to end the war on gay people in our state.”

    Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco): “Religious freedom is important, but this bill makes me feel like a second-class citizen… Name me an issue in Maine — I still haven’t heard one. There isn’t an issue. This is a bill searching for a problem, rather than solving one. This wastes taxpayer money… It’s fiscally responsible to oppose it.”

UPDATE #2 (1:45pm): Maine House Democrats issued a press release with more quotes from legislators:

    “This is not a bill about religious freedom; it will only create religious discrimination,” said Rep. Charles Priest of Brunswick, who chairs the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. “Maine’s law and constitution has strong protections for religious freedom. This bill is not necessary.”

    “This fight will continue across the country. Many states still do not have a human rights law that covers sexual orientation. But in Maine our voters have settled this, ” said Rep. Matt Moonen of Portland, during the floor debate.

    “This bill moves Maine backwards on equality and women’s rights,” said Rep. Mattie Daughtry of Brunswick. “This is not religious freedom, it is legalized hate.”

National coverage here:

1. Breaking: Maine Rejects ‘Religious Freedom’ License To Discriminate Against Gays

2. Maine House Rejects ‘Right to Discriminate’ Bill

Reminder: The Senate voted down the bill 19-16 on Tuesday. The one Democrat who voted for the bill with the Republicans was Senator John Tuttle.

Link to House video here; session starts at 10 am. LD 1428, “An Act To Protect Religious Freedom” is listed as item 6-3 in the Divided Reports of the House Calendar.

Via press release this morning:

      Maine House to take up controversial religious discrimination bill
      Discrimination carve-out would undercut human rights, women’s rights

    Augusta — The Maine House today will take up a controversial bill that would undercut human rights protections and women’s rights by creating a loophole in the state’s strong non-discrimination laws.

    The religious discrimination bill, LD 1428, would carve out an exception for religious beliefs in the state’s non-discrimination laws, such as the Maine’s Human Rights Act.

    “Religion should never be used as a cloak to discriminate,” said Speaker of the House Mark Eves of North Berwick, whose father served as a pastor in the U.S. military. Eves attained his master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

    The Maine Senate rejected the GOP-sponsored measure earlier this week in a largely party-line vote of 19-16.

    “Maine has led the country with our anti-discrimination laws,” said House Majority Leader Seth Berry of Bowdoinham. “This bill is a big step backwards. There should be no exceptions or loopholes when it comes to discrimination.”

    Maine is one of 32 states that does not allow for religious exceptions in non-discrimination laws. In the last 10 years, only six states have enacted similar bills.

    Nationally laws like LD 1428 have been used to infringe upon women’s access to health care. In Texas a municipal bus driver refused to drive a woman to a reproductive health clinic on his bus route. At the federal level, corporations are trying to use the religious exception or loophole to avoid providing employees with health care that covers reproductive health.

    “This measure would take Maine backwards on women’s rights and equality,”
    said Rep. Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan the Assistant Majority Leader. “The Maine legislature and courts have a track record of being careful and deliberate about protecting religious liberty while balancing other rights. This bill is not necessary. ”

    During the public hearing on the bill, one survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, spoke about his experiences coming to America to escape persecution and asked the committee to oppose the bill.

    The bill has met with strong opposition from a broad group of organizations, including ACLU of Maine, Coalition for Maine Women, Equality Maine, Family Planning Association of Maine, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Maine AFL-CIO, Maine Choice Coalition, Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence, Maine Education Association, Maine LGBT Coalition, Maine Medical Association, Maine People’s Alliance, Maine School Management Association, Maine State Employees Association, Maine Women’s Lobby, Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, Secular Coalition.

    ###

*Related: Maine Senate Votes 19-16 Against LD 1428, “An Act To Protect Religious Freedom”

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

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Maine Senate Votes 19-16 Against LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom”

Posted on February 19, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

On the same day that Kansas state senators rejected a similar bill that had won support in that state’s House, Maine’s Senate took up LD 1428, “An Act to Protect Religious Freedom” (earlier write up here).

A lengthy floor debate transpired with many senators on both sides standing to present their views. Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Linda Valentino (D-Cumberland) spoke first in strong opposition to the bill:

    “I see this bill as a step backwards. I see this bill as being filled with unintended consequences. I see this bill as being used as an end run around the Maine Human Rights Act. … It is trying to erode the existing women’s rights and gay rights that we have fought so hard to attain. I support and believe strongly in the First Amendment which provides for religious freedom, but I cannot support this bill because it is a step backwards. This bill would allow extremists to hide behind the words ‘religious freedom’ as a way to circumvent our anti-discrimination laws.”

Earlier, Valentino had issued the following statement as the committee voted 8-4 ONTP on the bill before sending it to the Senate:

    “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.”

1428 senateLD 1428 sponsor Sen. David Burns (R-Washington) disagreed with his colleague’s assessment.

    “This law basically says that the government should be held to a very high level of proof before it enacts a law. This is about government. this isn’t about private citizens against private citizens. It does not allow religious people to get away with anything they want to. It does not guarantee claimants a victory in government actions. It simply requires that the government has a strong justification.”

Senator Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) agreed with Valentino.

    “I believe wholeheartedly in religious freedom as established in our U.S. Constitution and the Constitution of Maine. What I do not support is the overreach in this bill. My parents taught me long ago that my right to swing my arms ends when it meets up against another person’s right to not be assaulted. We all have to live this balance, free to personally hold and practice beliefs, but not free to impose our beliefs on others at the expense of their rights. Our laws exist to codify and implement balances between the many constitutionally expressed rights, as well as the interactions between people holding those rights.”

Ultimately the bill was voted “ONTP” (ought not to pass), 19-16. It now will go before the House for more votes.

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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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#MESEN Democratic Candidate Shenna Bellows: “Something Deeply Wrong in Washington When Senators Congratulate Themselves for Doing Their Jobs”

Posted on October 24, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

(Updated 10/25/13- What I did not yet know yesterday when posting this diary is that the campaign has an Act Blue donation page– please feel free to donate and share the link. Many thanks!)

Link to Shenna Bellows for Senate website.

Bellows speaks to full house at Portland's Rising Tide Brewing Company

Bellows speaks to full house at Portland’s Rising Tide Brewing Company

Maine Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Shenna Bellows kicked off the start of her official campaign yesterday with events in Ellsworth, Portland, Lewiston and finally Eliot.

Today she is in Presque Isle and Bangor; her week concludes with events in Topsham, Rockland and Skowhegan, as Bellows plans to speak in every Maine county this first week of campaigning with a target goal of stops in all of Maine’s cities and towns over the next year. The photos below were taken at the Portland event, held at Rising Tide Brewing Company- a local Maine business hit by the recent federal government shutdown.

The 38 year old Manchester resident and native of Hancock was introduced by friend and former ACLU of Maine coworker Jill Barkley, with supporters of all 16 Maine counties speaking briefly on why they support Shenna’s run for Senate and then addressed the large crowd assembled:

(Speech as prepared)

    Good morning. My name is Shenna Bellows and I am running for United States Senate because I believe we need more courage and honesty in Washington.

    Unfortunately, both are in short supply.

    But we have an opportunity for change.

  • To make things better.
  • To put government back to work for everyone and not just the few.
  • To get our country back on the right track.

    And that work starts here and it starts today.

    Maine U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows addresses supporters and media at Portland's Rising Tide Brewing Company, as her husband Brandon Baldwin looks on.

    Maine U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Shenna Bellows addresses supporters and media at Portland’s Rising Tide Brewing Company, as her husband Brandon Baldwin looks on.

    It’s been a whirlwind few weeks.

    As some of you may know, I was married on September 21.

    My husband, Brandon Baldwin – a Skowhegan native – is here with me today, and I am so grateful for his love and support. And I promise, he knew what he was getting into when he said “I do.”

    Brandon and I made the decision to spend our lives together in 2010.

    But we had made a vow that we wouldn’t get married until every loving committed couple could do the same, including our gay and lesbian friends and family members could be legally married.

    Last November, Maine made history when our state became the first to pass the freedom to marry at the ballot box.

    It was an amazing day made even better when the first couples started to wed last winter.

    But it wasn’t until June, when the Supreme Court overturned the outrageously named Defense of Marriage Act, which discriminated against gay and lesbian couples.

    I don’t think they knew it at the time, but when the Supreme Court justices said DOMA was unconstitutional, they were also opening the door for Brandon and I to tie the knot.

    We were engaged on a trip to the Potato Blossom Festival in Aroostook County. We were married at our home in Manchester. We honeymooned in Rockland.

    And though we’re still traveling around Maine, I think the honeymoon is over.

    Being part of the leadership team of Mainers United for Marriage for seven years was to date one of the greatest honors of my life.

    We stood up for equality and freedom, and we created positive change one conversation and one person at a time. And we did it together.

    I share this story because it is fundamental to who I am, why I am running and what I would like to see change in Washington.

    First, who I am. I am a principled leader who has a proven track record of standing up for people’s rights.

    I was the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, a non-profit organization.

    Our mission was to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    I am proud of the work I did there – defending the right to vote, protecting privacy and fighting for freedom of speech and equality.

    Through that work, I had the opportunity to be involved on several statewide campaigns where I gained valuable experience that I plan to put to work over the next year.

    I grew up in Hancock.

    My mom, Janice Colson, is here this morning.

    She just got off the night shift at the hospital.

    She is the bravest person I know.

    When I was a kid, we grew our own food, organically. I don’t think we were trendsetters. Truth is, I don’t think we could afford pesticides and fertilizers.

    One day, mom was pounding fence posts in the backyard.

    She smashed her thumb. It was terrifying to us kids seeing mom hurt.

    We didn’t have a telephone so there was only one thing to do.
    Calm as could be, she just put the three of us in the car and drove herself to the emergency room.

    Shenna with her father Dexter Bellows and grandfather Bill Bellows at Forage Market in Lewiston.

    Shenna with her father Dexter Bellows and grandfather Bill Bellows at Forage Market in Lewiston.

    My dad, Dexter Bellows, is here this morning too.

    He’s a carpenter, and he and his wife Bethany Reynolds worked hard to make this day happen today.

    I get my courage and my work ethic from my parents.

    Thirty-three years ago, my dad started his own carpentry business, Bellows Woodworks.

    My mom stayed home with me, my brother and my sister.

    When I was in the fifth grade, she went back to work at the local greenhouse, Surry Gardens, and we were able to afford electricity.

    It takes a lot of courage to start your own business, especially when you’re trying to take care of a young family.

    My father took a risk.

    His story is the story of countless other entrepreneurs.

    And it’s the story of our country and what gives America the reputation of being the land of opportunity.

    My mom worked in the greenhouse for over 20 years. At age 49, she too took a risk by going back to school, first with adult education courses at Ellsworth, and then at the University of Maine where she obtained a degree in nursing.

    My parents’ courage and work ethic have inspired me my entire life to work hard and to try to make the world a better place.

    I have worked throughout my career to do my part to change the world.

    From my time as a volunteer in the Peace Corps in Panama, to service as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Nashville to standing up for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the ACLU.

    I understand what it’s like to work for a living.

    I’ve waited tables, worked retail, worked at the local lobster pound and was even a Subway sandwich artist. When I was in college, my job was in the recycling program, which meant essentially that I collected the trash each week.
    My community and education gave me other opportunities along the way too – the opportunity to go to Middlebury College, to work as a research assistant at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and then as an assistant to an economics professor who writes leading economics textbooks.

    These experiences shaped who I am today. I am unafraid of hard work, and I am inspired to make the world a better place.

    I’m running for United States Senate because I believe we need more courage and honesty in Washington.

    A dear friend tried to dissuade me from running when he heard the news. “Politics in Washington are too corrupt and too partisan,” he argued, “for an honest and independent person like you to be happy there.”

    The sequester, the shutdown and the default debacle made his argument for him.

    When senators congratulate themselves for doing their jobs – for doing what decent people do all the time and talk through challenges – something is deeply wrong in Washington.

    It took three weeks and cost our country billions of dollars because grown men and women couldn’t put aside their ideology and do the peoples’ business.

    When Congress acts merely to kick the can down the road three months, so that we will continue to lurch from one economic crisis to another, something is deeply wrong in Washington.

    The sequester and the shutdown are unforgiveable.

    When Head Start and Meals on Wheels programs are cut back while members of Congress pay themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary and benefits, something is deeply wrong in Washington.

    When workers’ pensions are underfunded or frozen but government pensions for members of Congress are not, something is deeply wrong in Washington.

    Our democracy is too important for good people to stay on the sidelines.

    Our democracy demands a full and fair debate in this race about our priorities.

    The future of our democracy requires that good people with good ideas participate and that at all levels we debate in a civil and respectful way the solutions that will move our country forward.

    Look, I understand that the road ahead in this campaign will be hard.

    Daughters of carpenters don’t usually run for the United States Senate.

    Races like this can cost millions of dollars, which is why we have a Congress of millionaires instead of a Congress of working people.

    I understand the power of the incumbency, but I am undaunted and promise to run a strong campaign that will challenge the status quo and give voters a real choice next November.

    And if elected to the United States Senate, I can assure you: I will work hard to advance meaningful campaign finance reform so that more sons and daughters of carpenters and working people can represent us in Washington.

    In addition to courage and honesty, we need more people in Washington who will listen respectfully to people with different points of view and work together toward meaningful solutions.

    No two people can ever agree 100% of the time. Even my husband and I don’t agree on everything.

    While we may not agree, you will always understand where I stand, and I promise that I will come to any policy debate with an open mind and treat everyone with respect.

    Earlier this year, I organized a broad coalition that included Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Greens to pass a groundbreaking law that protects cell phone privacy.

    While we might disagree on other issues, we all came together to fight against the dangers posed by government intrusion into our personal lives.

    Our opposition was intense, bipartisan and included some of my close friends, but we were able to disagree respectfully.

    After months of hard work, Maine was one of two states in the country to pass cell phone privacy protections in the wake of the NSA spying abuses, and we were one of just five successful veto override votes when the Governor vetoed the legislation.

    I am proud of my work in Augusta to build broad coalitions across party lines to pass legislation that has made Maine a leader and a model for the rest of the country when it comes to civil liberties.

    This brings me to what I would like to see change in Washington and what I would do if elected to be Maine’s next Senator.

    In the last two decades, we have experienced a constitutional crisis, an economic crisis and an environmental crisis that threaten our country’s future.

    What unites us as a country are our shared values set forth in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

    Politicians in Washington have trampled on the Constitution over the last decade.

    Washington has created a constitutional crisis.

    My first job at the ACLU was as a “Safe and Free” organizer working back in 2003 to educate the public and organize opposition to the Patriot Act.

    I think it’s terrible that only one Senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, voted no to the Patriot Act.

    It’s concerning that only Rand Paul is taking to the floor to filibuster on drones. Abuses of power like the Patriot Act, REAL ID, NSA spying, and domestic drone surveillance threaten our democracy.

  • We need to repeal the Patriot Act and REAL ID.
  • We need to stop the NSA and the FBI from wasting their time and taxpayer dollars spying on ordinary Americans through our cell phones and email.
  • We need to place limits on drones.

    A reporter asked me last week why should we care if we have nothing to hide. The question suggests that we need to sacrifice our freedoms for security.

    But it’s a false choice. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    We do not have to sacrifice our fundamental freedoms to be safe.

    When the government spies on its own people, we, the people, lose trust in our government.

    We can restore trust and a sense of community by restoring our constitutional freedoms.

    In addition to a constitutional crisis, we have an economic crisis, manufactured by politicians in Washington who seek short-term solutions rather than visionary change.

    When I graduated from college with a degree in international politics and economics, I had more than $30,000 in student loans.

    It took me 10 years to pay off my loans, but I was lucky: I was able to get a good job after graduation.

    I met a woman a couple of weeks ago who told me with anger and sadness that her college-educated son and his wife are living with her at home because they can only find part-time work.

    Another friend laughingly told me that perhaps his college-educated daughter would work for my campaign for free: he is supporting her financially right now because the only work she can find in her field of study is an unpaid internship.

    She’s not the only one.

    Young people in this state are graduating with record levels of student loan debt, and they can’t find jobs.

    Not only has unemployment in Maine doubled since 2000 from 3.5% to 7.7% in 2012, but unemployment for young people ages 20 to 24 is in the double digits at 12.3%, up from 6.7% in 2000.

    We need to invest in our young people and in the next economy.

    We need to stop spending billions of dollars on a surveillance industrial complex we can’t afford and start investing in entrepreneurs. We can’t afford to be the world’s policeman anymore.

    We need to stop propping up big businesses that are too big to fail and start investing in local economies.

    We need to eliminate the sweet-heart deals that protect large corporations and stop writing new rules that block entry for small entrepreneurs and farmers.

    When I think about Maine’s economy, it’s those small entrepreneurs and farmers who are critical to our success.

    Young people are staying in or returning to Maine to farm in record numbers. The local food and economy movement – built in our communities, not in Washington, is thriving.

    We can learn from this model and bring rural innovations to the rest of the country.

    Politicians in Washington have failed to be forward thinking in their approach to the economy, so our communities here have picked up the pieces and thrived where Washington has failed.

    We need to bring this fresh energy and entrepreneurial approach to our federal economic policy debates.

    The local approach is not only economically sustainable but environmentally sustainable as well.

    In the last two decades, politicians in Washington have wrought an environmental crisis that threatens Maine’s economic future.

    Anyone who gardens, farms or fishes can tell you that Maine’s climate is warming.

    Politicians in Washington occasionally talk a good game, but they have done nothing substantive to address the looming environmental crisis.

    And as we all know, in Maine our economy and our natural environment are fundamentally connected.

    We have brilliant minds working in the environmental movement here in Maine to protect land for future and also promote and grow local economies.

    If elected, I will advocate and organize support for a power shift in our approach to energy and environmental policy.

    We need to have a debate about the best ways forward to fix environmental crisis. The politicians might say that solving climate change is impossible, but it’s too important not to try, and we cannot wait.

    Today is the beginning of my campaign for the United States Senate. And for the next year, I will work every day to convince voters that we don’t have to be content with the status quo.

    I know what’s coming and that this won’t be easy.

    But I’ve seen what good people, working together, can do.

    As Helen Keller, who triumphed over blindness and deafness to be an extraordinary leader and successful advocate, said, “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

    Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can change the world. The future starts now.

Link to video of her address to supporters in Lewiston.

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Shenna Bellows Kicks Off U.S. Senate Campaign With Busy Statewide Schedule

Posted on October 23, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

Shenna Bellows, former executive director for ACLU of Maine and recently announced U.S. Senate candidate, is officially kicking off her campaign with multiple stops around the state today. Her day started with a radio interview with The Pulse AM 620’s Don Cookson; she is holding a national call-in media press conference later today as well.

Link to Shenna Bellows for Senate website.

The scheduled stops for the Hancock native today include the following:port shenna

  • 7:45-8:45 am
    Riverside Café, 151 Main Street, Ellsworth
    (scheduled to speak at 8am)

  • Noon
    Rising Tide Brewing Company, 103 Fox Street, Portland

  • 3 pm
    Forage Market, 180 Lisbon Street, Lewiston

  • 6 pm
    Optimus Room at the Regatta Banquet & Conference Center, Eliot Commons on Rte 236.

From there, Shenna has visits all across Maine scheduled for the rest of the week:

  • October 24, 7:30 am
    The Whole Potato Café and Commons, 428 Main Street, Downtown Presque Isle

  • October 25, 11 am
    The Main Lodge, The Highlands at 30 Governor’s Way in Topsham ME
    (To RSVP, contact Bellows for Senate at 629-8131 or email hq@bellowsforsenate.com)

  • October 26, 11 am
    Hike on the Breakwater in Rockland
    (From the campaign: No RSVP required. Join us for the hike at 11!)

  • October 26, 7 pm
    Home of Carole Baldwin, Shenna Bellows’ mother-in-law (House Party in Skowhegan)
    RSVP required here.

There will be videos and photos updating this post later on.

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It’s Official! Shenna Bellows Running for U.S. Senate

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

Earlier today, former ACLU of Maine Executive Director Shenna Bellows ended speculation that she would be challenging incumbent Senator Susan Collins by confirming on Twitter that she had sent her initial paperwork to the Federal Elections Commission.

Bellows, a Hancock native, has yet to hold public office but considered briefly a run for Congress last year.

From her “About Shenna” page:

Shenna Bellows1

    Prior to her work at the ACLU of Maine, Shenna was the national field organizer at the ACLU in Washington, DC, organizing nationwide civil liberties campaigns including opposition to the Patriot Act, where she built broad coalitions that included librarians and gun owners alike.

    Shenna’s early career was devoted to economics. She worked as a research associate at Economists Incorporated from 1997 to 1999 before serving in the Peace Corps in Panama as a small-business development volunteer. In Panama, she launched a micro-lending program for artisans, started a Junior Achievement entrepreneurship program at a local high school, and was President of Women In Development/Gender and Development, dedicated to advancing economic and educational opportunity for women and girls. She continued her work in economic development as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer in Nashville, Tennessee. There she assisted a startup non-profit in developing an asset building program to promote educational and economic empowerment for young people in Nashville’s largest public housing project.

    Shenna is passionate about the environment and science. She worked as a research assistant for several summers during high school and college at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory. She worked for the campus recycling program at Middlebury College, and today she serves on the Manchester Conservation Commission.

    Shenna is a leader in women’s rights and reproductive freedom. She has been recognized for her work to advance women’s health and reproductive choice by awards from the University of Maine Women’s Studies Department, Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center, the American Association of University Women, the Frances Perkins Center and the Maine Democratic Party.

Bellows recently announced her resignation from ACLU of Maine after a eight year tenure, via Facebook , saying in part:

bellowslogotrans

    “I feel a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunities I have had at the ACLU for over a decade, both in my two years at the Washington Legislative Office and especially in my last eight years home in Maine with all of you.

    Together, we were the first state in the country to reject REAL ID. Together, we stood up against warrantless surveillance of our telephone and email communications in 2007, before most people were even thinking about it. This year, we were one of only two states in the country to pass warrant requirements for surveillance of our cellphone communications. Our work to reduce solitary confinement in Maine’s prisons served as a model for other states, and we submitted testimony to Congress and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights about it. We co-chaired the successful statewide campaign to restore same-day voter registration. We stopped literally hundreds of bad ideas from ever becoming law. And of course, we won marriage for all loving, committed couples in Maine.

    We have accomplished great things together. We have advanced constitutional freedoms in Maine, and we have served as a model for action for other states time and time again. I have learned so much from my colleagues on staff, from our dedicated board of directors, and from all of you. Thank you.”

Shenna recently married longtime beau Brandon Baldwin, Director of the Maine Attorney General’s Civil Rights Team Project. They reside in Manchester.

Her campaign website is already up and running, with links to Facebook and Twitter .

She plans to launch her campaign officially on Oct. 23 at events in Ellsworth and Portland.

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