Gov. Janet Mills has signed an order to release a $15 million bond to build affordable housing three years after nearly 70 percent of voters approved the measure at the ballot box. The housing bond will fund the construction of 200 new housing units for low-income seniors while triggering $22.5 million in federal matching funds.

“Today’s action by Governor Mills in releasing the long-delayed senior housing bond means that Maine’s voters are finally being heard, and hundreds of seniors around the state with acute housing challenges will benefit as a result,” said Greg Payne, director of the Maine Affordable Housing Coalition (MAHC), in a statement. “We are grateful that Maine’s construction professionals can now get to work, building the safe, quality, affordable homes that older Mainers need and deserve.”

Gov. Paul LePage had refused to sign off on the bonds for years and his Republican allies in the Legislature blocked several bills that would have forced him to release them. Still, the bond funds will only make a dent in the problem, as MAHC estimates that there are more than 9,000 elderly Mainers currently on waiting lists for affordable housing.

GOP Elects Vice Chair with History of Hateful Tweets

On Saturday, the Maine Republican State Committee re-elected its Chair Demi Kouzounas and unanimously elected controversial Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who is most known for blasting a teenage gun control activist last year. Isgro created a firestorm of controversy after he tweeted “Eat it Hogg,” in response to news that right-wing talker Laura Ingraham still had a job at Fox News after mocking Parkland survivor David Hogg for not getting into the colleges he applied for. 

Isgro also made several disparaging posts about refugees and “third-world hell holes,” retweeted alt-right Pizza Gate conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich, and branded Republicans he disagreed with as “cucks.” In one post, he described Rep. Bruce Poliquin’s bill to improve sexual harassment training for members of Congress as “cucked shit” and once declared that “Weak cuckolded Republicans need to go.” Skowhegan Savings Bank parted with Isgro, who previously worked as its controller, and he narrowly survived a recall election after he refused to apologize for his inflammatory Twitter posts.

Isgro has also been a longtime critic of Sen. Susan Collins and once expressed his approval of right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin’s description of Collins as “disgraceful” and a “hack liberal” who “has spent her entire rotten career in government.” As a federally elected official, Collins has a representative on the State Committee, but her office would not say whether she abstained from voting for Isgro.

A number of Republican leaders — including former U.S. Senate candidate Eric Brakey, former House GOP Leader Ken Fredette and former Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason — initially expressed interest in running for party offices. But in a letter to the State Committee dated Dec. 29, former Gov. Paul LePage urged the party to stay the course and denounced Senate Republican leaders for not working hard enough to get candidates elected. He said his “biggest difficulty” was with “extremely progressive Republican senator,” but he would “not dignify these folks by naming them.”

“As long as we keep eating our own in public this will continue,” LePage added. “The Ds on the other hand have their battles internally not in public.” 

Shortly after, Mason announced his decision to withdraw his candidacy for chairman stating that “a cult of personality has formed around our party. It is not ideas that are celebrated — it’s individuals.” In a memo to members, Kouzounas said her next steps will be to work with LePage to form a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to fight the progressive Maine People’s Alliance and to hire a communications director to “literally Tweet daily, kinda like the President.”

More Bills Sponsored By Midcoast Lawmakers

As promised, here is the second installment of bills sponsored by local legislators. Rep. Jan Dodge (D-Belfast) has submitted an anti-food-shaming bill that would require schools to provide a meal to every student regardless of their ability to pay for the meal or for having an outstanding food bill. The measure would prohibit schools from openly identifying or stigmatizing a student who cannot pay for a meal and it would require the school to communicate about the student’s meal debts directly to the parent or guardian rather than the student. A similar bill passed last session, but LePage vetoed it.

Dodge has also sponsored a bill to allow teachers who have completed their probationary period at one job to not have to start a new probationary period if they take a position in another district. Rep. Vicki Doudera (D-Camden) has sponsored a bill to allow children to bring sunscreen to school.

“Many Maine schools do not allow children to carry sunscreen or apply it without a note from their parents or a visit to the school nurse,” wrote Doudera, “and this bill, which has passed in several other states and was suggested by a local dermatologist, aims to remove these barriers.”

Sen. Dave Miramant (D-Knox Cty.) has put in a bill to require colleges and universities to be transparent about all of the fees they charge students and another one to mandate that adjunct professors, many of whom work part time, receive benefits.

Ranked Choice Voting & National Popular Vote

Sen. Miramant and Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler (D-Montville) have sponsored bills that would require Maine to pledge its electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Currently, 15 states have entered into the National Popular Vote compact, comprising 172 electoral votes. The legislation would trigger member states to cast their votes to the popular-vote winner once states totaling at least 270 electoral votes have joined the compact. Miramant has also sponsored legislation to form a committee to explore the feasibility of adopting a “vote-by-mail” electoral system.

Guns, Criminal Justice & Public Safety

Sen. Miramant is also bringing back the so-called “red flag” bill that would create a process to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals believed to pose a threat to themselves or others. Doudera has submitted a proposal that would require gun owners to safely lock up their guns to prevent children from accessing them.

“During my campaign I learned that while New Hampshire and other states already have such laws in place. Maine, a state in which more than half our homes have guns, does not,” she wrote in an email. “These are simple yet important measures to prevent firearms from falling into young hands.”

Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D-Nobleboro) has put in a bill to require law enforcement to keep sexual assault kits for the minimum of the statute of limitations of the crime. Currently, they only have to be kept for a minimum of 90 days. Sen. Erin Herbig (D-Waldo Cty.) has a proposal to provide more funding for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, as state funding for organizations like New Hope for Women and the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault hasn’t increased since the early 2000s. Miramant also has a bill to repeal the law that allows children under 16 to marry with the consent of the child’s parents and a judge.

Doudera and Miramant have submitted proposals to require more surveillance of public safety and child protective workers. Doudera’s bill would require home visits involving parents and Department of Health and Human Services case workers. Miramant’s bill would require ambulances to have cameras to ensure patients are being adequately treated by paramedics. Miramont has also resubmitted his bill to repeal the law mandating yearly car inspections because he says the law isn’t making the roads any safer.

LePage’s Bills Return from the Grave

Rep. Jeff Hanley (R-Pittston) has put in a number of LePage’s favorite bills, even though they have zero chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Legislature. One bill would repeal the income tax and another would create a school voucher program to allow students to attend any school they want regardless of their geographic location. Supporters of the bill say it would allow for more school choice, but opponents worry it would defund public schools. Sen. Dana Dow (Lincoln Cty.) has sponsored a bill to set municipal revenue sharing at 5 percent for service center communities and 3.5 percent for other towns. LePage cut revenue sharing from 5 to 2 percent, but by law it is set to automatically increase to its statutorily mandated rate of 5 percent for all municipalities in July 2019.

Tribal Sovereignty Legislation

Rep. Jeff Evangelos (U-Friendship) has sponsored a bill to clarify that the intent of the 1980 Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act is to ensure the federal Indian legal principle of inherent tribal sovereignty. Evangelos noted tribes in other states are much more sovereign and don’t have to ask permission to build casinos, but in Maine, tribes are treated more like municipalities.

Evangelos cited a 1980 memo by attorney Tim Woodcock, one of the authors of the Maine Indian Claims Settlement Act, stating: “The municipality concept was adopted because it was believed to be the best device to ensure that the tribes remained under Maine law and did not take on the substantial attributes of sovereignty which characterize many of the tribes in the West … the state believed it was avoiding the creation of a ‘nation within a nation’ which Governor [James] Longley had so vigorously decried.”