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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Maine Senate Takes Up EBT- TANF- GA Bills LDs 1829, 1822, 1820, 1842, 1815 and 1844 (VIDEOS)

Posted on April 8, 2014. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

(NOTE: All of these will be separated and written up over the rest of the week. In the meanwhile, for the sake of sharing quickly, here are all 44 video clips taken during the Monday afternoon/ evening second session in order of debate.)

1. LD 1829, “An Act To Require the Department of Health and Human Services To Report Annually on Investigations and Prosecutions of False Claims Made under the MaineCare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Food Supplement Programs”.
ROLL CALL: 21 Yeas – 14 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1829 to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1829

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1829

Asst Minority Leader Sen. Roger Katz Opposing LD 1829

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) Supporting LD 1829

2. LD 1822, “An Act To Increase Integrity in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Expenditures”.
ROLL CALL: 18 Yeas – 17 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1822 (OTP as amended by H-787) to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting H-787 amended LD 1822

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by H-787

Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Offers SAS 505 to amend LD 1822

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1822 SAS-505

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing LD 1822 CAH 787, SAS 505

Sen. Andre Cushing (R-Penobscot) Opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. John Patrick (D-Oxford) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Senate Minority Leader Mike Thibodeau (R-Waldo) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Sen. David Burns (R-Washington) opposing LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 1)

Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook) concludes supporting remarks on LD 1822, SAS-505

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting LD 1822 as amended by SAS-505 (PT 2)

3. LD 1820, “An Act To Reduce Abuse of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program through Restriction of Electronic Benefits Transfers”.
ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1820 as amended to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) opposing LD 1820

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1820

4. LD 1842, “An Act To Amend the Laws Governing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
ROLL CALL: Yeas 20 – Nays 15

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1842 to Senate w/ ONTP committee recommendation

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1842

Sen. Eloise Vitelli (D-Sagadahoc) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) Opposing “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Colleen Lachowicz (D-Kennebec) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Rebecca Millett (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1842

Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) Supporting “ONTP” on LD 1842

5. LD 1815, “An Act To Require a Work Search for Job-ready Applicants for Benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program”.
ROLL CALL: 20 Yeas – 15 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1815 (“ONTP”) to Senate

Sen. James Hamper (R-Oxford) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Sen. Ron Collins (R-York) Opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Asst Minority Leader Roger Katz (R-Kennebec) opposing ONTP on LD 1815

Asst Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Cumberland) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin) supporting ONTP on LD 1815

6. LD 1844, “An Act To Increase Local Responsibility for General Assistance”.
ROLL CALL: 22 Yeas – 12 Nays

HHS Chair Sen. Margaret Craven Introduces LD 1844 (ONTP) to Senate

Sen. Geoff Gratwick (D-Penobscot) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. John Cleveland (D-Androscoggin) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. Doug Thomas (R-Somerset) opposing LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

Sen. Chris Johnson (D-Lincoln) supporting LD 1844 ONTP recommendation

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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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