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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(UPDATED) Public Responds to LePage FY 2016-17 Biennial Budget (Day 2): Municipal Revenue Sharing

Posted on February 19, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

UPDATED: Here is a clip of Bangor’s Ben Sprague providing similar testimony to Appropriations against revenue sharing elimination in 2014.

The 127th Maine Legislature’s Appropriation and Financial Affairs standing committee on Wednesday heard more from the public on the second day of scheduled testimony on the FY 2016-17 biennial budget proposal put forth by the LePage administration last month. Governor LePage and his new Office of Policy and Management (OPM) Director, Auburn Mayor Jonathon Labonte, held a public town hall in Westbrook last week to discuss the proposal.

AFA Committee member Rep. Gay Grant (D-Gardiner) asks a question of DAFS Commissioner Rosen, as Rep. Linda Sanborn, Sen. Linda Valentino, House Chair Rep. Peggy Rotundo and Rep. John Martin look on.

AFA Committee member Rep. Gay Grant (D-Gardiner) asks a question of DAFS Commissioner Rosen, as Rep. Linda Sanborn, Sen. Linda Valentino, House Chair Rep. Peggy Rotundo and Rep. John Martin look on.

Day 2 was focused on how the proposed elimination of municipal revenue sharing, a hot topic in the last legislative session, would adversely affect local budgets and force towns across the state to either cut services or raise property taxes. Many communities have already had to make drastic cuts due to the previous budget’s 32% revenue sharing slashes.

The following statements were part of a press release sent out by Maine House and Senate Democrats late Wednesday.

    Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, the House chair of the Appropriations Committee: “The state cannot turn its back on local communities. Today we heard about the devastating impact that the elimination of these funds will have on schools, emergency services and property taxpayers, especially seniors trying to get by on fixed incomes and young families. We owe it to our towns and their residents and small businesses to protect these vital funds.”

    Appropriations Committee member Senator Linda Valentino (D-Saco): “We heard repeatedly from town officials across our state that the cuts to revenue sharing are detrimental and miss the mark. We should be looking for ways to reduce property taxes, not shift additional taxes on to homeowners. It was very disconcerting to hear from rural towns about the dire impact revenue sharing elimination would have on their communities since they have nowhere to turn like taxing non-profits as proposed by Governor LePage. No community should have to choose between underfunding and understaffing our public works or police departments in place of rising property taxes.”

    Winslow Town Councilor Ken Fletcher, a former lawmaker and LePage’s former energy chief, testified that the elimination of revenue sharing would result in the loss of approximately $940,000 – an amount that is greater that the town’s public works, police or fire budgets. He expressed concern about the increase in the property tax burden that would result from the loss of revenue sharing and the governor’s proposed elimination of the Homestead Exemption for those under 65.

    “It is generally accepted that property taxes are the most regressive of the three primary tax methods. Please do not place more of a burden on Maine homeowners by underfunding Revenue Sharing and eliminating the Homestead Exemption,”
    Fletcher said in his testimony.

    “Small rural communities like ours don’t have plush budgets. We don’t have administrators. We have no ‘rainy day’ funds,” Perry First Selectman Karen Raye said in written testimony presented to the committees. “People are angry at their increased property tax bills. This is only going to make the situation worse.”

Here are more statements from municipal employees around the state as reported by various Maine media sources:

    Brownville Town Manager Matthew Pineo: “There is no need to keep playing shell games (referencing LePage proposal to let towns tax large nonprofits). I’m in a poor community. We do not have money. I don’t have any taxable charities in my town.”

    Judy East, executive director of the Washington County Council of Governments: ‘There’s already significant regional collaboration on emergency response, dispatch, solid waste management, and there has been for many years. (If revenue sharing is eliminated) Taxes will go up or services will go down. There is no padding left in rural municipal budgets.”

    Kathy Littlefield, chairwoman of Waldo (town) Board of Selectman: (Doing away with revenue sharing would be the “final nail in the coffin” for the town of Waldo, which is already grappling with past cuts and rising costs for education, snow removal and other services) “If another partnership, another trust, another promise is broken, there will be no going back. There are just way too many nails.”

    Republican Bangor City Councilor David S. Nealley: “Since when do you, as Republicans, talk about taking away from the producers and redistributing the income?”

    Vincent Frallicciardi, chairman of the Madawaska Board of Selectmen: (Eliminating revenue sharing would result in the loss of $750,000 and be) “detrimental to our survival.”

    Joseph Slocum, Belfast city manager: “Does anyone in here really think these officials aren’t responsive to the concerns of local residents?”

    Town of Union employee (name unknown): “Another 10-12 hours of this [hearing] and you’ll feel like my public works drivers.”

Many thanks to Bangor City Council’s Ben Sprague for sharing his testimony.

Sprague via Twitter also provided many quotes from those testifying:

Thursday marks the third day of public hearing, so more to follow.

———

RELATED:

Public Responds To LePage FY 2016-17 Biennial Budget (Day 1)

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Public Responds to LePage FY 2016-17 Biennial Budget (Day 1)

Posted on February 18, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Governor LePage rolls out FY 2016-17 biennial budget proposal

Governor LePage rolls out FY 2016-17 biennial budget proposal

Back in January, Maine Governor Paul LePage and members of his administration presented the FY 2016-2017 biennial budget proposal to the state. Since then, various members of the administration have met with the 127th Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs standing committee (with other committees, as applicable) on multiple occasions, met with the public, and held numerous press conferences to sway not just members of the public but also their own party to support the proposals.

Now, it is the public’s turn to speak up. Maine House Democrats shared the following summarized testimony presented to the committee on Tuesday.

    Adam Lee, Lee Auto Malls: “The idea of lowering the tax rate for the wealthiest members of society is misguided…When my taxes are lowered it leaves less to be distributed to the municipalities. I get a tax cut and everyone else in town gets to chip in to pay for it through higher property taxes. Doesn’t sound fair? It isn’t…. My business depends on a strong middle class. I sell good old fashioned Dodges, GMC trucks, Nissans, and used cars, as well as other brands. A strong middle class is not helped by tax breaks for the rich. Competitive rates, and tax breaks for the middle class is much more useful. A skilled workforce is the one of the single largest factors determining where a business locates. Invest in education, training, our University and community College System.”

    Veteran and Nurse Richard Bissell of Bangor: “I’m here to oppose these drastic cuts proposed by the Governor for wealthy Mainers and corporations, especially when those cuts come at the expense of the middle class and poor Mainers…Property taxes are an impossible cost for many Mainers, from young couples and families that are in their first home up to seniors try to age in their homes.”

    Small Business Owner Carson Lynch of Gorham Grind: “This plan would cut taxes for the very wealthy while effectively raising taxes on the lower and middle income Mainers. Not only is this morally wrong, it will hurt Maine small businesses and ship money out of state….My small business runs on very small margins. I’m not a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. A change to Maine’s tax code could make or break my business.”

    Clam Digger Skip Worcester of Hermon: “I’m here today because I am deeply concerned with the Governor’s proposed cuts to income and corporate taxes in Maine…Corporations are making record profits in Maine but they are not paying their fair share in taxes – their taxes have been less and less and their profits have been higher and higher, it’s the reverse for us middle and lower classes. Our wages have stayed practically the same while the cost of living, heating and eating have gone up.”

Among others who spoke to the committee was Davida Ammerman of Madison, whose testimony is below.

    Representative Rotundo, Senator Hamper, Representative Goode, and Senator McCormick, thank you for having me here today to speak with you.

    I am here today to ask you to oppose the cuts to corporate and income tax in the Governor’s proposed budget. With this proposal, we will see the divisions increase between rural areas that are not so affluent and able to carry the cost, am\nd more affluent ones that will. In a town like Madison where I live, the option to tax non-profits is not a viable source of revenue, forcing the town to increase property taxes to continue being viable.

    Without a fair and balanced budget we will be forcing older people to lose their homes, and rural town are going to have a hard time keeping up with basic services like roads, law enforcement, and schools. Being on fixed income, it is hard to be able to conceive of paying more in sales and property taxes, and for the increase in services that I will need as I age. The Governor’s proposal puts revenue at recession era levels, and it doesn’t add up so that means we are going to see more cuts at the state level in future years. This creates a huge amount of uncertainty for us aging Mainers- we don’t know what we can count on. I don’t know that I will be able to keep my house, or if I will be able to pass it on to my children as planned.

    On the other end this is going to be very hard and discouraging for young people in Maine as well. Our daughter, a single mom just barely making ends meet, would have to sell her house that she has worked so hard to get if her property taxes go, if the Homestead Exemption is cut for Mainers under 65, and she loses the chance to deduct her mortgage payment. Young kids that are already fighting student loans and low wages will lose their chance to get ahead. So many kids are just getting by already- this is making the American Dream even more unattainable.

    If we are going to start taxing non-profits and cutting so many programs in the state budget, how is that going to affect funding homeless shelters and other organizations providing services for people who are just barely getting by and depending on these services for life support?

    I hate to see the American Dream being put out of reach for so many of the population.

    Thank You.

Quinn Gormley of Portland was kind enough to share her prepared testimony as well:

    My name is Quinn Gormley. I’m currently an undergraduate student at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, but I grew up in Damariscotta, where my father, a bus driver, and my mother, the director of our local library, still live and work today.

    For most of my life, my family has proudly belonged to the working class in this state. Growing up, my parents taught me the value of a hard day’s work, as my mother pulled sixty or more hour weeks, often with little to no pay, to keep the doors of the library open, and as my dad, who for my entire life has had to balance three different jobs just to help us make ends meet, waking up at 5 in the morning to drive a school bus, and often working late into the evening to get everything done.

    During the recession we were lucky. A school always needs bus drivers, and the library is valued by our community, so my parents managed to keep their jobs. Many in our town were not so lucky. And I so, as I read the details of this new budget, I am concerned. I am concerned that this budget is shifting the burden onto Middle Class families and families like my own are not going to be able to afford it.

    As a student who is used to examining things critically, when I look at this budget, I see the governor’s tax cuts as forced false choices that prioritize income and estate tax cuts for Maine’s wealthiest individuals and large corporations at the expense of property tax relief for families like my own.

    Every dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that will have to be made up for with spending cuts. It just doesn’t make sense to prioritize tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and large corporations and leave the school bus drivers and librarians to fend for their own.

    As I navigate college with the hope to stay in Maine once I graduate, this budget does not seem to pave the way for a state with increased job growth, in contrast, states that have pursued this path in recent years have actually seen worse, not better, economic performance than neighboring states. They’ve had to cut state investments in education, and workforce training. I want to stay, work, and live in Maine but when my state pushes policies that hurt education, job training, and the middle class, I doubt that I can.

    This budget is the wrong path for Maine. It benefits a small percentage of Mainer’s, and the costs will be passed onto those hard working Mainers who are just trying to make it work. And so, I urge you; please oppose the cuts to corporate and income tax in this proposed budget. Thank you for your attention and all you do.

Democrats on the AFA committee later released their own statements:

    Rep. Peggy Rotundo, the House Chair of the Appropriations Committee: “We haven’t been getting the the full story about Governor LePage’s budget. I’m deeply concerned that the ratcheting down of state revenues in the out years will mean fewer dollars in the future for workforce development, education, and many of the very things businesses and workers say we need to succeed. We want a tax reform plan that is paid for now and in the future so we don’t jeopardize our support for Maine families, our schools, or workforce, or for our local firefighters and police.”

    Senator Linda Valentino (Saco): “I support tax reform but this budget sidelines Maine families at the expense of the wealthy and big corporations. We heard a lot of concerns from people today about the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction, the Homestead exemption, and the property tax deduction. If these deductions are eliminated, it will jeopardize Maine’s economic recovery.”

Maine Center for Economic Policy released the following reactions to the budget proposal and information. MECEP economist Joel Johnson’s full testimony can be found here. But these portions jump out:

MECEP economist Joel Johnson speaks before joint AFA, Taxation committees

MECEP economist Joel Johnson speaks before joint AFA, Taxation committees

    The combined fiscal impact of these tax cuts in FY 2019 is about $677 million per year, according to Maine Revenue Services. That’s a tax cut equal to 19% of General Fund revenue forecast for that year. The sales tax increases in the Governor’s budget don’t cover the cost of that tax cut, and as a result, the state must cut spending by $266 million in FY 2019. That spending cut will grow into subsequent fiscal years as the corporate income tax cut fully phases in.

    Approximately $167 million of the governor’s proposed spending cuts will come in the form of the elimination of revenue sharing to towns and cities. Faced with a loss of revenue sharing and struggling to meet obligations to fund K-12 education, state and local governments will have to raise taxes and/or cut spending. That means higher taxes and/or fewer services like snowplowing, public safety, road maintenance, libraries, and parks. The governor’s proposal saves an additional $12 million by eliminating the homestead exemption for most Mainers.

    The governor’s proposal fails to specify the remaining $90 million in state spending cuts it encompasses. In fact, the Governor’s budget only specifies a two-year spending plan while proposing tax cuts that span multiple budget periods. The income and estate tax cuts proposed in the Governor’s budget, combined with revamped arbitrary limits on state appropriation growth, will prevent the state from reaching the statutorily-mandated goal of funding 55% of the cost of K-12 education in the state any time in the near future. Yet the Governor’s budget proposal includes a target of 55% for Fiscal Year 2017 and beyond. That is not a credible, achievable objective given the income and estate tax cuts included in a different section of the same budget proposal.

Other points raised by MECEP for consideration:

    1. The governor’s tax cuts aren’t paid for and are fiscally irresponsible. They set Maine up for future fiscal crises, which will lead to deep cuts to education, health care, job training, and other foundational components of a strong, sustainable economy.

    • By fiscal year 2019, the governor’s plan cuts income, estate, and corporate taxes by $690 million and raises sales and use taxes by $424 million. That leaves a shortfall of $266 million. The governor proposes to make up this shortfall, in part, by eliminating $167 million in state aid to towns for local public services. Legislators will have to make up the remaining balance by additional spending cuts beyond those that have been enacted over recent years.
    • The governor’s plan locks in recession-era levels of revenue putting state spending as a share of the economy at historic lows. That means state funding for education, health care, and other services will continue to fall behind even as the economy recovers. It also means that Maine will have virtually no capacity to absorb unanticipated future expenses or to maintain critical public investments when the next economic downturn occurs.

    2. The governor’s tax cuts force false choices and prioritize income and estate tax cuts for Maine’s wealthiest individuals and large corporations at the expense of property tax relief for middle-class Mainers.

    • Every dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that legislators will have to make up by either raising other taxes or with cuts in spending for education and other services. At a time when the state is already failing to fulfill its commitments to Maine’s students and communities it doesn’t make sense to place a higher priority on tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy and large corporations. For example, eliminating the estate tax will cost over $37 million by fiscal year 2019 and benefit approximately 150 of the wealthiest estates. This potentially comes at the expense of making progress in funding K-12 education, supporting prescription drug assistance to low-income seniors, maintaining cost-effective health care prevention programs, or providing college scholarships to Maine’s future workers.
    • Part of the governor’s plan includes eliminating the Homestead Exemption for Maine residents under age 65 which is equivalent to raising property taxes between $120 and $160 for hundreds of thousands of Maine families. Additional property tax increases are likely for middle-class Mainers as communities are forced to pick up more of the costs of K-12 education, public safety, and road maintenance as called for in the governor’s budget.
    • While we don’t oppose cutting taxes, we believe it can be done in a way that doesn’t force false choices and that distributes the benefits more evenly across all income groups. Because this plan doesn’t maximize opportunities to export taxes to out-of-state visitors and part-year residents and places higher priority on tax cuts that deliver the greatest benefits to wealthy individuals and large corporations, it falls short in terms of securing adequate revenue and in improving the overall fairness of Maine’s tax system.

    3. The governor’s tax plan is a failed prescription for growing Maine’s economy.

    Note: As there will be weeks of hearings and work on the budget proposal, this will be part of a series of posts. This week’s testimonies will be broken up into daily installments of the highlights.

    ———

    RELATED:

  • Sifting Through The LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DAFS Commissioner Rosen Meets With AFA
  • Sifting Through The LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: LePage, MDOT Roll Out Over $430 Million In Projects
  • Sifting Through the LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DACF Meets With AFA, AG Committees
  • Sifting Through The LePage FY 2016/2017 Proposed Budget: DHHS Meets With AFA, HHS.
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Weekly Legislative Update by Rep. Justin Chenette (D-Saco): Overview of Kennebec County Jail, Riverview Pyschiatric Center

Posted on January 24, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , |

This week, Representative Justin Chenette, now serving in his second term, recorded his first video legislative update and kindly gave permission to share:

As he remarked within the clip, some of the members of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety committee has started to tour some of the state’s correctional facilities. His observations of the Kennebec County Jail and Riverview Psychiatric Center are below.

    “What an eye-opening experience. Sometimes you just don’t realize the negative sides of society until you see it firsthand (and this was just a narrow focus). Alongside Sen. Linda Valentino and York County Sheriff Bill King, we toured the Kennebec County Correctional Facility and Riverview Psychiatric Center to ask questions and actually witness some of the issues plaguing our criminal justice system and mental health facilities. Just a few quick takeaways based on my initial observations:

    Sen. Linda Valentino, York County Sheriff Bill King and Rep. Justin Chenette at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta

    Sen. Linda Valentino, York County Sheriff Bill King and Rep. Justin Chenette at the Kennebec County Correctional Facility in Augusta

    At the jail, we met a group of women in an innovative program to help actually rehabilitate their lives while in the system. Focusing on support and getting individuals to change their lives for when they get out is better than just sitting in jail awaiting a return to a life that is not only a determent to themselves but the safety of those around them. Gave me hope that we could use it as a model in other facilities, but much like anything else has been reduced and limited due to a lack of funding. Learned the state has over 21 well-organized gangs. Jail officials have to put special care in where they place certain inmates from rival gangs or violence is extremely heightened. The overcrowding problem was apparent, but partly the issue is so many mentally-ill individuals end up being housed there after ping ponging within the system that the jails have become ill-equipped to handle the influx; not to mention the increased need for proper treatment and care that the jails really can’t provide effectively.

    We visited the high risk part of Riverview that tends to have the most attention about patients attacking staff. I have to admit I was a little nervous about being there especially after we were briefed on the protocols in case patients went on a rampage in our presence who were only an arms length away. The staff have a high level of frustration with CMS and the lack of legal willingness or adaptiveness to policies that could enable the facility to be more hands on in restraining ‘patients’ that cause significant physical harm to nurses and others while at the same time not wanting to become something other than a hospital. It seems like the lines between corrections and high risk mental health treatment though are blurring and clashing at the same time.

    As you may have seen in the media, issues surrounding our county jails and corrections system will be hot button topics as we navigate challenges of overcrowding, control, and funding. Not to mention a huge monkey wrench from the Governor in not appointing members to the Board of Corrections out of protest. Without a quorum for the board, it’s almost impossible to tackle the $2.5 million shortfall until a resolution is settled from the Governor’s Office or we find a way around him. More tours are being planned with my Criminal Justice Committee over the course of the next few weeks to continue collecting needed information from boots on the ground rather than just those at the very top.”

Link here to Chenette’s website for signing up for future updates.

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Weekly Radio Address by Sen. Linda Valentino (D-Saco): “Stakes too high for Maine women, can’t roll back clock on health”

Posted on January 24, 2015. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

House Asst Majority Leader Sara Gideon (D-Freeport) issued a statement on this week’s anniversary as well:

“The anniversary of Roe vs. Wade is an opportunity to reflect on how much this landmark decision has done for American women. Decisions about adoption, abortion or raising a child must be up to the woman. It’s a deeply personal decision that cannot be made by someone who isn’t walking in her shoes.”

 

 

DEMOCRATIC RADIO ADDRESS

Valentino says, “The stakes are just too high for Maine women. We simply can’t afford to roll back the clock on women’s health.”

This week marked the 42nd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade–a decision that affirmed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. A right to constitutional privacy–so that every woman can make her own personal medical decisions without the interference of politicians.

Now, more than four decades after Roe, who would have guessed that we’d still be fighting for a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions?

linda valentinoGood Morning. This is State Senator Linda Valentino of Saco.

Some forty years later, the conversation about abortion is no longer about being “pro choice” or “pro life.” It has, instead, shifted to a more unifying conversation about the impact and real-life decisions women and their families face every day.

We’ve arrived at this viewpoint because we know that abortion is a deeply personal and an often complex decision for a woman. And no one–but her–can make that decision for her.

But even as we celebrate the Roe v. Wade decision, I am deeply disheartened by the ongoing, and unprecedented, level of attacks against women’s health and reproductive rights.

Since 2010, more than 200 restrictions on abortion access have become law. Seventy of these new restrictions have passed in 2013 alone. There have been more attacks on reproductive freedoms in the last three years than in the entire previous decade.

Just this month, one of the first acts of Congress and the Republicans right here in the Maine Legislature was to introduce measures that will restrict women’s health care including access to a safe and legal abortion.

Study after study demonstrates that when women have control over the timing and spacing of her family — or over the decision not to have children — women are able to take advantage of educational and career opportunities and to workplace protections like paid family and medical leave and childcare. The economic reality is that for women, reproductive health and access to affordable health care is an essential part of our economic security and opportunity.

The stakes are just too high for Maine women.

I grew up in a pre-Roe v. Wade world until my sophmore year in high school. I saw what restricting access to a safe and legal abortion did to forever change young women’s lives.

Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. And, I’m thankful for that. As a mother and a grandmother, I want to make sure that my 13 year old granddaughter and my two year granddaughter are afforded the same rights that I had. That we have.

We simply can’t afford to roll back the clock on women’s health.

Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Linda Valentino. Have a good and safe weekend.

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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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